Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Now for a Kirsmasy Karol...

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be rice for the planting
And lemurs a’ dancing
And omby out strolling in herds
There’ll be scary brush fires
And farmers all tired
Of guarding their fields from the birds

It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those mangoes and litchis
Those plums and those peaches
When summer is here
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year family and friends! While you’ve all been bundling up I’ve been peeling off sweaty dirty layers of clothing after hours of rice planting each day. Day to day not a whole lot changes; my language slowly improves, my roof slowly leaks, my mind frame and emotional health have become much more stable- still crazy, but mainly happy.
It hasn’t changed much but what is it that I have been up to? Well aside from the aforementioned rice planting (walking 8-20 kms each day to go be bent over for 4 hours planting rice really wears a kid down), my “primary project” has actually been working on finding a way to get some form of watering system for the orchard that I work at. So you all may be hearing about that again as it comes closer to find ways to fund said project ::wink wink:: Our current situation is very difficult. We have one worker that has to water over 200 trees over about 3 hectares of very hilly land by carrying two 15 liter watering cans to and from the little puddle a 10 minute downhill walk (therefore uphill on the way back with full cans) from the start of the park. It’s damn hard work that I can’t do but have tried my darndest to help. Even carrying one of those watering cans up and down the hills just once is exhaustingly difficult. He can only reach about 50 trees a day so it takes half a week for each tree to get water. Thankfully, the rains are just beginning to start again- but it was a very, very dry and exhausting 3 months for him.
Back in October (has it been that long since I last posted!) I went on a work trip with an NGO called Hope for Madagascar. We took elementary school kids on their first and maybe only field trip to a beach town for an exchange of cultural and a tour of various environments here in Madagascar. The program is called Life Experience Exchange Program and it was maybe my favorite project to be involved in so far in Madagascar. Growing up in the states, I got to go on field trips all the time. They were a highlight of every year and there were often several each semester, but here it’s a completely foreign concept and I’ve never seen happier kids than those kids. It was also a platform for me to interact with the principal of our elementary school and we’ve done a few other programs since then; environmental camps at Mitsinjo- a local park run independently of the neighboring Madagascar National Park, and I’ve given a few simple English lessons to the kids each week.
Aside from work I’ve also been blessed with two wonderful visits- first my older brother Matt came for a week and then my parents for 2. It was really great to get to see them all after a year of being away from home, but it was also a reminder that life as I had known it is so far from life as I live it now. So for all those wondering if I’ve changed since being gone- well I guess the answer is yes... But no worries- I’m still a goofball. I have come to appreciate how special and privileged it is to be an American.
That’s my recap. It really is true what they tell us at the beginning of service. It may take a year, but eventually we each hit a stride, each find comfort in our home here. I finally and honestly feel “tamana” or well settled here. I love spending time at site with my Malagasy friends and family just as well as I love hanging out with fellow volunteers. Sometimes, I’m sad to be away from home but other times I dread returning as it means I will never be able to live what I’m living, interact with the people I do on a daily basis, live in this culture, speak in this language like I do today and every day for the next year. For now I savor each and every day as it comes.
Thus it is that as 2010 draws to a close I would like to thank all of you, my dear family and friends, because without your love, support, encouragement and contact I wouldn’t be able to be where I am, be as happy as I am and I can’t thank my lucky stars enough for this experience I'm living. Thank you, thank you. Tratry ny Krismasy ary ny taona vaovao. Mirary ny fety sambatra ary fahasalamana mandrak’izay!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I like to ride my bicycle

Hello all it’s been a while and i’m now typing on a french key board I can’t change. Please be patient with any typos.
So a lot has happened these past two months. I sent an email detailing my first vacation- if you want to be on my emailing list and I actually know who you are- comment on this blog post or send me an email at tolliver.s@gmail.com and i’ll add ya!
Anyway, I got back a few days ago from a sweet awesome bike ride. It was an HIV/AIDS awareness ride that stopped in 9 towns around Lac Alaotra, the largest lake in Madagascar. I sadly had to come late and was only there for 5 presentations, but I learned a lot, worked a lot, sang, danced, and made a fool of myself on a stage more than ever before in my life. It was fantastic. So what’s the difference between cycling across the United States and biking around the largest lake in Madagascar ? I’ll tell you in my go-to form of a humorous list.

1) Road biking and biking on a "road" is not the same. The RN 44 (yes Route Nationale- aka National Highway) is not paved on ¾ the circumference of the lake. I wasn’t there for the paved part so I can only say with confidence that at least ¾ of that ride was bumpy, sandy, rocky and to top it all off windy. Think biking through the corn fields of the midwest but with rice paddies replacing corn fields and ox drawn carts replacing tractors.

2) Due to above detailed terrain and a not-so-recent spill on the highway near my house, I was overly cautious going downhill, at least in the begining. I slowly grew confident and embraced my usual reckless downhill speed and ended up really enjoying what was, by default, the best mountain biking I’ve ever done. (and made it back in one piece Mom and Dad- no worries)

3) Hoping that the showers in the next town would be hot was a laughable desire. Many went over a week without a proper bathing. Those that did brave the cool air for health and sanitation sake took a freezing cold bucket bath- who know’s how ‘clean’ they really got.

4) No peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. No donated day old Panera or Wholefoods bagels, breads or snacks. No pasta, no lasagna. It was rice and loaka (side dish- oily meat, maybe cucmber and vinegar salad if lucky) or it was fried street breads and bananas. Some tried to subsist primarily on THB the local beer (not unlike Bike and Build actually).

5) Biking across America required the biking of a ridiculous number of miles each day, passing out, eating , and maybe giving a brief presentation to a church group about why we’re riding. This time we biked a reasonable amount of kilometers, had a 2 hour raffle where each of 5 tables had to present a topic and drunk guys went from table to table asking for you to sign their raffle ticket so they could qualify to win, then a 2.5 -3 hour performance on stage complete with singing, dancing, condom relay races, and other fun games. Finally the day ended with a Malagasy movie whose message was if you cheat on your significant other wear a condom. We usually packed up our tables, pitched our tents, and got some beer during the movie.

6)It was no longer Mika that serves as a sound track but rqther Shakira’s WakaWaka (with the chorus changed to be about AIDS in the Malagasy language), Rihana and Eminem’s song (which Steph would sing on stage even though she didnt know most of the words nor did anyone in the crowd understand), and other hits from Tom’s CD he brought back from his trip to the States.

7)On our last day of the trip, instead of going to an Indian restaraunt and singing Mika’s ‘Happy Ending’ we had a bonfire, smores and then went dancing. It was then that I found out a surprising number of Malagasy men know how to swing dance. Roger, the Gasy guy from PSI, the NGO that supplied the sound system and the movie for our trip, threw me around the dance floor for a good 10 minutes of jumpin’ and jivin’.

8)I brought home an ornament from Santa Fe for my Mom and chocolates from Ghiradelli when we left San Fransisco on Bike and Build. This time I brought home for my neighbors a live goose inside a rafia bag that was sewn shut to serve as a travel carrier for her. Chris named her Lucy. She is loud and not a fan of soggy bread.

And now to round out a list of ten with two similarities…

9)Water bottle. Chain Reaction’s cycling sports water bottle- still awesome.

10)Bike and Build jersey. That’s right. I wore it-under my rain jacket. Those pockets are just so darn useful. But really I just wanted to be the cool kid in a cycling jersey.

Like I first stated I had an awesome time. I love riding, I love spending time with friends, and I love feeling like I have useful work to do. We decided our Peace Corps service may be better spent as a 2 year AIDS bike tour around Madagascar. But as soon as I got home from the trip I came down with a head cold- ratsy be! For now my garden is growing, my nose is running, and I’m looking forward to Amanda’s environmental summer camp I’ll be helping out with and Matt’s visit soon! Good things on the horizon. Here’s hoping all your hoizon’s are bright too.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Music make me lose control

Have you ever been high on life for 2.5 weeks non stop? It’s exhausting! That’s why even though I had electricity and computer access that whole time (even free shaky internet for a few days) I didn’t write a blog. I much prefer to hand write my blogs by candlelight with music playing on my speakers (thank you Laurin- those speakers have been such a life saver). Currently (when I wrote this) I am listening to a genius Genius playlist of The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Andrew Bird, etc. But if you wanted to read about folky indie music you can check out any ol’ scenesters blog- I’m sure there’s plenty to be found. Though if you don’t know those artists- check ‘em out. Seriously. Also K*naan- “Take A Minute.” So good.
Instead let’s talk about the Malagasy music scene.
First of all, and probably most hilariously, there is a very popular artist here named Poopy. I sh*t you not. They also play Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” every 5th song or so. If you do decide to brave a Gasy night club, you might be surprised by the wall of mirrors everyone is pressed up against. It’s as though you’re in a jazzercise class- everyone sweating and staring into a mirror to see just how fine they look. Gasy fight for prime position right in front of the mirror so they can check out their own sweet dance moves. If there’s one thing Gasy’s love more than dancing in front of mirrors it might just be singing in front of mirrors. Karaoke (in Malagasy, French and English) is HUGE here. My first experience with both mirrors and karaoke was at this bar called Cool Cocktail (yes the name was English) where later that night 2 Malagasy women got into a cat fight, all music stopped, the people in the bar all poured outside into the cold night air to watch these two girls (one was the bartender) rip each other’s hair and push each other around. I hear the argument was over a guy. Another example of how people are the same no matter where they are. At any rate my first experience at Cool Cocktail was one to remember.
This is a sloppy segue into IST (in service training) stories- but I’ll take it anyway. So the second time going to Cool Cocktail was during an IST tech trip. The environment sector came to Moramonga and as it is my banking town I was responsible for providing our entertainment that night. We took over Cool Cocktail with our melodious renditions of “If You Wanna Be My Lover” by Spice Girls and the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” We also tore up the dance floor when the Malagasy song “Za tsy kivy” (translates to: I’m not discouraged) imitating the music video and singing along- shocking the few Gasys in the bar that Wed night. It was a fun night, but the bumpy 10k ride out to see a vetiver demonstration field early the next morning did not sit well with most people in the van. Thankfully, most recovered by the time we had to load into the CUTEST Tonka like train to go to another vetiver field. The ride was amazing, but the vetiver was even cooler. To let you all know- vetiver is a power plant with incredibly strong and deep roots (up to 7m deep) that help control hillside erosion and create viable farming terraces on steep inclines. Totally awesome.
As a quick recap of other IST events… I learned some really cool things. Bee keeping, VIH/SIDA (HIV/AIDS) games for sensibilizations, new techniaues for teaching English, a technique of farming using natural mulch known as ‘direct seeding’ and also I learned just how hilarious the show 30 Rock is. I also helped (sorta) lead a session on tree propagation at the SAF/FJKM nursery in Moramonga. We also re-established the WID/GAD (Women In Development/ Gender And Development) committee with hopes of girls camps, co-ed sports teams, and overall examination of the relationship between gender roles and empowering both men and women to be active in their communities. I also became the VAC (Volunteer Advisory Committee) representative for the volunteers in the Moramonga region. As such I will serve as a liason between the volunteers in the field and the staff in the capitol. I’m super psyched about all of these things.
I was also a dancing fool- and my friends and I resumed our obnoxiously ostentation love for each other, making 2 rooms into one by moving 2 beds into one room (how they fit is still astounding) we then called “the orphanage.” We couldn’t stand to be apart anymore than we had to. It’s amazing how life carries on as though it never left off- and this fact is most apparent in Peace Corps. Being at IST was almost like the 4 months at site away from each other never happened. But we brought our Malagasy counterparts along and we could all speak Gasy a little better than when we left. Katie’s hair had grown into a sweet Ace Ventura mullet-ish style, and most were quite a bit tanner. So things had changed, but it was hard to tell. By the end of the two weeks however it was nice to get back home. Other than the rotting banana I had forgotten to take before leaving, and the extra couple pounds I had packed on eating the good food at Montasoa - everything there resumed just the same, as though IST never happened.

@ menaraka indray!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

10 things I have learned about food...

1 Even if you run out of oil, eggs, and sugar you can still make pancakes. All you need is a banana, some honey and a little creativity.
2 Eating healthy by default is a whole lot easier than being healthy by choice.
3 Stewed pumpkin and beans is delicious.
4 So is stewed dried fish and potatoes.
5 There are many many ways to eat a peanut. Boiled with rice, roasted and chopped with rice, made into peanut butter with rice…
6 Pounding rice is a good work out before eating rice.
7 When ‘bread’ is the ariest, driest most bland version of baguette you can imagine- you start to crave a whole wheat sandwhich more than an ice cream cone…well maybe that’s not true but man do I miss bread.
8 One end of a cucumber is different than the other. They cut off the thinner end and “scrape out the bitterness” with the cute piece. Try it out- perhaps American cucumbers are different- let me know!
9 When a cucumber is about 1 kg and has started to turn yellow on the outside it’s getting super super bitter on the inside and the seeds are now tough. I may have cucmber vine growing in my stomach as I type. Scary.
10 Cassava root- a huge staple in Niger, Madagascar and I’m pretty sure many other places in Africa- is one of my favorite staple foods here. Most think it tastes like nothing- but I’ll grow it in America since I won’t be able to find it at the grocers. The leaves are good too- pounded with peanuts and served with rice (see number 5). Mmmm cassava.
Well I’m off to IST (in service training) and I can’t believe it’s been over 3 months at site now. I would like to change the saying “Time flies when you’re having fun” to “In retrospect, time has flown.” I find that to be more the case-though don’t get me wrong- I’m having plenty of fun. Three months in means I’m 1/8 done with just over 20 months left to go- for those that have asked. I’m sure that time will fly as well.
So what’s been up? What’s the news (as they say over here)?
Well, I’ve started my compost pile- a necessary project even if just a way to dispose of food trash and paper. I have also planned and dug out my garden- it’s going to be rockin! I’ll plant once we get back. Tantely (my neighbor/ counterpart) have also decided to test out these hot boxes and cookstoves that we were taught in training to see what works etc so w can teach other people in the village. The cokstove project will be especially helpful in this town 15km from me that I went to a couple weeks ago.
The town is Mahatsara (which means to make good) and it’s right outside of National Park Mantady- a 10000 hectare reserve of primary rainforest where SAF/FJKM is collaborating with other organizations for a reforestation project.My trip out there was pretty sweet though I got a stomach bug and had to walk back the 15 km still sick- not too fun but still beautiful.
We also had a Cinco de Mayo party- not on the 5th of May. It was sad because it’s the last time I get to see a new friend of mine. Her work here is done so she’s going home, but I will be at IST when she leaves. So we celebrated with tortillas and beans. It was great teaching Gasy friends also in attendance to make food from a different culture. Americans are lucky that they are exposed to such a wide variety of not only food, but music, culture and styles- even if it’s not quite authentic (Taco Bell?) it’s still more than most are exposed to. So go enjoy some Daal, or Pad Thai followed by Gilato or Flan!
Mazotoa and until next time peace!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

Tomorrow. This is a shout out to my Mom.
Dear Mom,
Sorry I never became a ballerina. Now that I am in Madagascar, I have found my dancing skills to be seriously lacking in the booty shaking department. Perhaps if I had taken your advice and been a dancer instead of a soccer player I could have represented better when made to dance with my Malagasy friends. I don't know how it's possible but it's truly as though their butts are not attatched to the rest of their bodies when they're dancing. Quite the site to see.

This is a quick post because frankly it's impromptu and not much exciting or funny has happened and why fill this blog with dribble? I'm healthy (ish), happy, working hard and most excitingly about to see all my fellow PCV from training at IST in a week! I'm so excited!
I promise a better post to follow. Everyone wish your mother a happy day- and appreciate the fact that you're in the world right now thanks to her. Give her a hug- and if you see MY mom- give her a hug too- from me.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Trip into the cloud forest

Man oh man so much has happened since my pre-Passover post!
I went down to Ranomafana with the NGO I work with to see their arboretum there. Ranomafana is a beautiful cloud forest that I would say is maybe even more beautiful than my rainforest- and that’s my home! So maybe I wouldn’t- but it’s still gorgeous out there. I didn’t see any lemurs but I was about 15ft (5m) from a Madagascar Harrier Hawk, picked up (oh yea) a 6 feet (2m) long boa (freaking out my Gasy coworkers- who are terrified of snakes), and saw the COOLEST chameleon- more then a foot long without counting the tail! That last bad boy was actually in the arboretum- they have a beautiful space there. It had been Dan Turk’s (NGO guy) experimental site for his doctorate 15 years ago so now it’s full of big, beautiful native tree. Now they’ve added an orchard and have made it a tourist friendly area to learn more about the trees you see in the forest. Every outing spent with Dan, Germain, and Rolland (two aforementioned Gasy co-workers, they work with Dan in Tana) is a learning experience, not only trees but my language also seems to improve after our trips. I’ve received a lot of positive reinforcement lately and I attribute to those outings and to my rockin’ neighbors that always talk to me.
After Ranomafana, I got to meet the new PCTs while they were on a tech trip in Andasibe. Ryan and Letti were there too giving a presentation on VOIs (community based conservation associations) and Amanda joined me in a presentation of what life is like the first few months at site. We spent the night with them and went on a night hike (though 30 loud people traipsing through the forest don’t usual see much- and we didn’t), a morning hike (the next day) and wanted to follow them to the beach. We weren’t allowed to go which is sad because Madagascar has pristine beaches which I still have not been to. Bummer! It was however nice being ‘home’ after so long away.
A couple weeks later SAF/FJKM celebrated its 20th anniversary at Moramonga (my banking town and our supervisor) so there was a big party! I wore a skirt (which made my neighbors ‘gaga’- the Malagasy word for surprised) and all my coworkers were all spiffed up for the festivities too (making me ‘gaga’)! There was prayer (it is a Christian NGO after all), speeches, tours of the tree nursery, slideshow presentations and a FEAST! Sooo muuuuch fooooood! Dan and co. were all in town for the festivities so they took me and my neighbors back home and assessed the condition of the nursery there. Their recommendations for the site have been keeping us very busy lately.
I pitched an idea about using the empty space in between the trees of the orchard as plots of land for the landless community members to use for crops. It’s a start and perhaps we can tweak it and make it more sustainable or try it out and see what exactly the flaw are and hopefully be able to fix them up.
So that’s work life. As for culture, I spent Easter with the family I go to church with every Sunday I’m in town which was really nice. I made guacamole and tortillas for my neighbors, and pancakes for the orchard workers. I got a break down on the different types of witches that are found here (yea we got witches) and my neighbor has been teaching me French in addition to Malagasy. I’ve been trying to learn about the trees I’ve been planting and the Malagasy names of birds I’ve been seeing.
So life is has been good, educational, difficult, fun, lonely, comfortable, busy, cold, hot and basically just life, but with cooler fruits. I recommend persimmons, annonas, carambolas (aka starfruit), ramboutans (crazy looking litchis) and the number one fruit I’ve been eating here (besides soooo many bananas) guava! YUM! Until next time…
As my friend Lupe Fiasco says: Peace and much love to you!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hello everyone! My name is Jazz. Lars Jazz. Most people call me Jazz, some people call me Lars and everyone else call me Lars Jazz Monkey. I am a special envoy, chargé d'affaires, internuncio and substitute correspondent on temporary assignement for Sara. She's bummed out that her computer crashed so she has engaged me to assist in updating her blog. Enjoy! It's a good read! All the best! LJM
Well it’s getting close to that time of year again, when Jews stop eating bread and start drinking wine. Four glasses per sedar to be exact. It’s got me thinking of that magical story of Passover. In particular about the story of the 10 plagues. So in honor of the season, I’ve composed my own Madagascar version. Enjoy
The first plague God turned water into blood for Moses but for me it’s swept floor to dirt in seconds flat. I’m not sure how it happens as I sweep it out it blow right back in. My concrete floor is perpetually covered in dirt.
The air shall be filled with mold …”that it shall come up into your house and into your bedroom and on your bed.” Exodus 8:3
“All the dust of the earth became [poultry poo].” Exodue 8 :17 My neighbor has a goose and 3 chickens. Their favorite thing in the world to do is defecate on my porch and in my front yard. I have a special chicken poo broom now.
Guess what thinks chicken poo is just tops? Ants! They’re everywhere inside and out. I had a friend buy me Muesli while she was in Tana- it’s the equivalent to about 3 weeks worth of groceries at site but it’s delicious and I savor it. After eating it once I found the next day that where once there was delicious oats and seeds there now was ants. I may have cried- I’ve tried to repress the memory.
Thankfully spiders eat ants. Unfortunately I’m freaked out by large spiders at night time. I slammed on in my door one night and found it the next morning being devoured by a swarm of ants. Then a battalion of spiders set up webs to combat the ants. Everyday I am plagued by stepping through their delicate and sticky webs.
Thankfully my skin remains boils free unlike the Egyptians of yore at this point in of God’s wrath, it is however torn up by thorns. It used to be just around my ankles as I trek through thorny brush a lot. Now that I’m spending a lot of time in the tree nursery though, my arms have fallen victim to the thorny wrath.
My number seven plague is not hail, but hail in it most liquidy form- rain. There was a hurricane last week and has been raining every since. Perhaps I should allegorically be refrencing Noah instead…
They swarm when I’m at my smelliest, dirtiest, and most disheveled state. No- not locusts, but young Malagasy men. By virtue of being American and white I’m whistled at and hit on constantly. Despite inadequate and inconsistent bathing, lack of deodorant and the general even-though-I-just-washed-this-shirt-it-still-smells state of my wardrobe I’m batting them away! I must be irresistible.
Exodus 10:22 “So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch black in all the land of Egypt three days.” Here in the heart of darkness, I can’t even see my hand if it’s touching my nose at night time. But this isn’t a plague- even dark, dreary days offer rain yoga and puddles to play in. It’s more something to wonder at- nighttime in a rainforest is really dark.
And finally…
Death of the first born…mosquito. And the second born, and the third born… We have several different species- some bite in the day some at night. Some can give you regular run-of-the-mill malaria, some cerebral malaria and yet others a slew of different diseases. Plus as any outdoorsmen knows- even without the threat of disease- their bites itch like crazy!
So I hope my list was more funny than concerning. Life here is really great despite these pesky problems. I’m finally receiving letters and packages (thanks Staci and Gabe, Kathy and Larry and who ever this new package I have yet to pick up is from!). Thank you all for keeping in touch- I love hearing from you and my mailman laughs at me every time he drops off a letter because I do a little dance. I write everyone back (I have 4 letters to mail today!) though it sometimes takes a little while for me to get a chance to buy postage.
In other news, there was a big celebration here for Women’s Day on the 8th of March. It’s great that it’s such a big part of culture here. There was a parade and speeches and women’s only basketball game in Andasibe. I went to be a spectator, but was ushered up to the stage by my vice mayor as an impromptu female VIP. There was a reception afterwards for all the VIPs on stage. I got cake and coke- it turned out to be an awesome event.
Last weekend, Amanda rode her bike to my site and stayed the night. We made chocolate chip pancakes (courtesy of her sister’s care package) and toured the orchard. It was serendipitous that Dan Turk- an American man I’ve been working in association with due to his role with SAF/FJKM- and his family were visiting the park that same night and invited us to spend the evening with them. They treated us to a delicious dinner, and we played games with their 2 kids. It was really great to spend time with an American family. Plus we got hot showers, and to use their hotel room’s electricity to charge our phones! So things have been really great. I’m spending a lot of time with the trees- getting dirty and working hard. I love it. I’ll be traveling to another part of the country soon for work so I’m really excited to see a new place! I also get to meet the new stage in about 2 weeks and talk to them about life in the first few months. I hope I can excite them, assure them, and calm any nerves they have- because although the first 2 months have been really difficult- they’ve been so wonderful at the same time.That’s all for now. I wish happiness and health to you all! Salama tsara!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Everything you ever wanted to know about propagating trees...

...just kidding that would be a super boring post probably. Unless you really really like trees. In which case call me up and we can chat grafting techniques.
At any rate- that's what I've been doing for the past week at my 7:30 am- 5pm job. It's been a 4 day long training workshop (though it's just me and one other Gasy guy getting trained in Malagasy by another Gasy- so that was tough) in all things trees. I get to take these skills I now have back to my home and propagate trees on my compound. Rockin'! If anyone wants hot chili peppers let me know- though it would be illegal to send them to you. Oh man do I need to share my hot chili pepper story with you all. Not my most brilliant moment- but entertaining nonetheless.
So about 2 or 3 weeks ago I was preparing my dinner of spicy beans and rice. I take 3 of those tiny peppers we call "sakay" and tear them up with my fingers because I don't have a cutting board. I would like you all to keep in mind that I had never cooked with these peppers before and therefore didn't know what I was getting myself into. So I throw the peppers into my simmering beans and wipe my nose (i had previously chopped onions and my nose was all runny). About 20 mins later my nose begins to tingle. Then it begins to hurt. Then it feels like I have flames shooting out of my nostrils and I'm a mythical dragon freak. So I of course try to wash my face with buckets of water, but where ever the water goes the burning seemed to spread. As a former chemistry student I know that water dilutes things, but it doesn't neutralize acid burns. Bases do- like milk. But I don't have milk, I have powdered milk. So in a stroke of pure genius I decide to put powdered milk all on and up my nose to see if that will help. It didn't. Now, in addition to the virtual flames shooting out of my face, I had cheese paste in my nose making me nauseaus. At this point my food is cooked, and I've been in pain for a good 40 minutes. So I call up our doctor over here (probably disturbed his dinner) and asked what I could do. "Wash with water" he says "it may take several buckets full." Great. After 2 full buckets of water my face calms enough to be able to sorta eat dinner, wash dishes, and crawl into bed. I'm in bed reading Dune (at that point I was reading about the gom jabber- I think you should look that up right now bc it adds to this story) when all of a sudden my hands have that same on- fire feeling. It hurts so bad I untuck my mosquito net and bring my bucket of water next to my bed, all the while using the light of my candle to check and see if my skin was blistering from the 'burning.' Everytime I took my hands out of the water it's excruciating pain, so I lay half in bed, half out shaking my hands in my bucket of water- for a good 2 hours. I was so exhausted at that point (it was close to midnight) that I was able to fall asleep half in bed half out. I woke up the next morning completely fine, my hands slightly dried out from keeping them in water all night long.
I'm completely fine now, though I may forever be a little emotionally scarred from the powdered milk failure.Two weeks later I braved the chili peppers once again, using only one this time. Delicious!
I've had a great past few weeks, and I great few weeks coming up. We are getting a new group of trainees in (today actually!) and the environment volunteers will be taking a field trip to see my tree nursery and the national park I live next to. I get to tag along with the newbies for a night hike, teach them all about grafting (maybe?) and show off my super awesome home. I'm super excited. We've got St. Patrick's day coming up (we will partay), Passover (I will make people get together for a sedar), Easter (probably a rockin' time with my villagers), and my bday! (see below for possible care package ideas :)
Peace and much love to you!

-Photos! Of you right now, of us before I left of us from 1st grade(shout out to Jillian- your pictures are so very amazing it’sfantastic)
-Reading Materials! Magazines like Time or Nature or NationalGeographic are great. If you just read an awesome book send that too!
-Any Gators paraphernalia- it makes me ridiculously happy. I specifically could use a pillow case or blanket if anyone can findthose. But anything would be awesome
-Funny shirts, movies, Q Tips, hand made crafts (noodle frame to go with the pictures you send- absolutely!), or anything silly.

And now that I’ve waited an appropriate amount of bullets to make me seem less the glutton I am…the food category!
-Condiment packets- BBQ, ketchup, mayo, etc. Extremely useful here.
-Anything sweet- cookies, gummies, frosting, starbursts, m&ms, reeses- anything chocolate, really anything sweet.
-Dried fruit- blueberries, apples, mangoes, etc
-Trail mix! Granola! If it has oats and or nuts and/ or dried fruit its for me!
-Beef Jerkey! I never liked it in the states but Teryiaki BBQ sooo good!
-Tuna in water! It’s impossible to find here!

Just some ideas. Don't feel like you have to send a care package, letters really make me super happy and are $0.98. I have successfully received my first package (thanks Staci and Gabe) though it was sent to the address below- which still and will always work. My new one has so far been pretty unsuccessful- but you can try (my new one is on the right hand side of this webpage and on facebook).

(old address- still works well)
Sara Tolliver, PCV
Corps de la Paix
BP 12091
Poste Zoom Ankorondrano
101 Antananarivo

LOVE YOU ALL! Healthy and Happy Passover and Easter!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Words of Wisdom from MadLand

1 Birds don’t like 6am rain showers either, so you’ve instead spent 2 hours discovering how many leeches you can accumulate on your legs.

2 You may think you’re going to collide with oncoming traffic in a capital city without traffic lights, but never underestimate the skills of a taxi driver. He’ll get you from A to B without even nicking an ox cart.

3 Along the same lines- just because your van piled high with mattresses and tables and your life for the next two years gets stuck in a mud divot 5 k away from your off-the-beaten path town doesn’t mean you won’t get there. You’re driver will take out a shovel to dig out the tires while you walk to find nearby townspeople to help push the van out of the ditch and then construct a make shift bridge out of rocks. Amanda made it to her site and all was well!

4 Hand washing a wash cloth is really something to ponder.

5 Eating rice at every meal is not weird. But not great for your waist line. Unless you’re a Malagasy rice farmer.

6 English is hard. How do you explain the difference between “to say” and “to tell.”

Finally and most importantly…

7 Communication doesn’t depend on fluency of language. Mimes get their point across too. I in much the same fashion- gestures go a long way.

So I’m in my new village and have been there for 2 weeks. I have awesome neighbors that are taking very good care of me and I’m making friends with locals and park guides a like. I really really really miss home- especially when I have time to sit and think. Time has slowed down since the whirlwind of swear in and installation- now I spend time cooking, sweeping, washing my clothes, winnowing my rice, reading, and walking EVERYWHERE. I have a bike that I ride into the National Park a couple times a week and will be making a serious 20 mile hike into my banking town every few weeks over some really gnarly hills. Language is coming in leaps in bounds but it’s still so frustrating at times. Especially when you have a farmer that wants Peace Corps to give him money to buy 150 chickens to start his own chicken business. I went to this massive tree planting the other day where the planted 2,000 endemic forest trees as a reforestation project. There had to have been about 1000 people there so it took about 2 minutes to plant the trees (I did 3) and it was the most amazing, massive, well coordinated event I’ve seen. Complete with hand washing station, sandwiches and water for all participants. Truly amazing!

So for now I’m trying to get “tamana” or well adjusted. It’ll be interesting to see what I decide to spend my time on for the next two years (which is so daunting to think about) since I have a lot of possibilities.

My computer died and with it went many of my photos and all chances of possible skype to skype connection for now. SUPER sad! But I have a new address and a post man that delivers my mail to my door.

Sara Tolliver, PCV

SAF/ FJKM Antsapanana- Andasibe

Fokontany Ampangalantsary, 514


So I miss home and all you wonderful people so much. Letters, emails, blog comments, facebook, all of it makes me happier than you could imagine. If you have skype and can call my number is the same (country code 261)341890626. Even texts make my day and they’re either free or really cheap from skype so check that out too! (include your name in those texts though)
I want to hear about life in the states- even the mundane!

Like this:

Current book I’m reading: Dune (it’s awesome)

Last meal I cooked: my breakfast 2 days ago of leftover rice and roasted salted peanuts (a nat’l dish and surprisingly delicious!)

Last cool animal I saw: The biggest, greenest chameleon you could imagine- it was like 10 inches long and maybe 5 inches high.

Likewise if you have specific questions about my life here send me an email or blog comment and I’ll answer them as best I can. I miss you, love you, and think about y’all all the time.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tonga Soa Voluntaire!

After 3 long months of training they decided to let us volunteer! Hi all! Just wanted to make a quick update while I had access to my APCD (PC jargon) computer and internet access. My computer died 2 nights ago so instead of a well thought out and elaborate post full of pictures you get this hastily made entry.
So this morning was swear in. I made it through training- 3 countries, 14000 miles of flight, 2 hemispheres and countless parasites later. We had a big party, sang a Malagasy song (Salakao), and then binged on pastries with our staff, embassy personel, some counterparts (mine included!), and about 10 Gasy journalists. The wandering turtle stole the show though as it did laps around the "stage" (grass lawn of the ambassador's house) eating the decorative rose arrangements. It's ok because it's a protected endangered species of turtle being kept as a pet- over 100 years old too!
So life right now is a whirlwind of confusion as PC tries to work out the logistics of sending 36 people around a nation the size of California with only about 9 mains roads and the most discombobulated routes imagineable. We also have to open our bank accounts, withdraw money (all in French) and buy our beds and cook stoves before leaving the capital because our local banking town wont have it.
Anyway have to go. More to come soon hopefully. This was just a taste.
Miss you all so much. I got an abundance of letters today and cried with excitment so keep them coming.
Much Love