The ramblings of a Peace Corps trainee in Madagascar....

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rice, Celebration, and Friendship in Madland

 Winter is rapidly approaching the highlands of Madagascar.  As the temperature drops, the farmers finish up the rice harvest, and start preparing to sell a large bulk of their rice.  The harvest is a celebration in itself.  Rice is life here in Madland, and after working hard to prepare, transplant, and weed the fields, the culmination of the harvest is now behind us.  I am proud to say that my SRI fields did very well, and I have been approached by many farmers interested in forming a fikambanana (community group) dedicated to using the technique next season. The days have gotten shorter, the rain has stopped, and the celebrations begin.  

June 13-16th we celebrated Environment Day by hosting a 3 day fety (party) in Morarano focused on raising awareness and appreciation for the natural environment here in Madagascar.   Guests from Namoly valley, where the east entrance of Andringitra park lies, hiked over to celebrate the event, as well as park affiliates from a neighboring city.  Morarano is a very small village, and this event was a source of pride in the community.  In preparation of the event the community members and myself spruced up the village, picked up trash, and prepared skits/songs/activities all in celebration of the environment.  Musical acts from the area performed, and a race was held, which I participated in, and was easily defeated by a number of 15yr old Malagasy girls.  Naturally, a cow was slaughtered for the community to share, and everyone donated their share of rice.  I am also proud to say that the soccer team here in Morarano defeated that of the team from Namoly; and in a shootout nonetheless.  
Morarano is in green!

Not a bad spot for a soccer game...

Nothing like slaughtering a cow in the dark...

A local musical act performing some popular Betsileo tunes

Some important people doing what the Malagasy do best....give very long speeches.

The next celebration is that of Independence Day (independence from France in 1960, to learn more about the history of that period, go to:http://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/History_of_Madagascar#The_independent_Malagasy_Republic) here in Madagascar, which is on June 26, but essentially lasts for an entire week.  The tradition in my valley is to slaughter pigs, have a feast of rice and pork, and to light small bonfires all over the valley while chanting traditional Betsileo songs.  Dancing is also always involved. The Malagasy are (I’m pretty sure) genetically awesome dancers, and I especially like the Betsileo style.  Last year, it was quite a site to see small fires lit all over the valley.  I mean, there are no wildland fire crews here in Madland…but none of them were out of control, and it is pretty much the equivalent of the US tradition of lighting fireworks.  

Aside from the celebrations; it is also the arrival of the valala!! Valala=large crickets/locusts.  A few weeks ago I was riding my bike home from teaching the guides at a nearby campground when I found myself caught in a storm of valala.  Locust storms are embraced by the Malagasy, as they are a preferred side dish this time of year.  I tried them a few times last year, the last time leading to a little marary kibo (upset stomach), so I’ve stayed away from them ever since.  When it starts raining valala, the Malagasy break out their fishing nets and catch large quantities, which they later lay out on a mat to dry out, and then eat or sell.

Those black spots are indeed the Valala Mena (red locusts)

The ladies catching the valala.

They're everywhere!

Up close and personal.

My little friend proudly showing me her collection of valala maitso, a different species of valala.  She is saving them on a stick as a snack for later.

After living in Morarano for 13months, I have developed some close friendships, and the thought of leaving these people is already causing me to feel a little choked up.  I would like to spend a minute telling you about my best friend in my village, Mino (literally ‘to believe’). 
She is 32, has 5 kids, and has the same birthday as me.  She is my confidant.  I go to her with problems, good news, when I’m bored, when I want someone to share a beer with, and when I just want someone to sit around with on the dusty ‘road’ through my village killing time, playing with the village kids, staring at the amazing mountains that shelter my valley.  She has it rough.  Five kids present many mouths to feed, and the majority of her income comes from rice farming, and with a small store she opens a few months out of the year (starting now, when she has enough money from selling her rice to actually open the store, which sells beer, soda (warm..), candy, crackers, sugar, and beans.)  In the rougher months, I’ve walked into her house and seen her feed her kids plain rice, with no side dish.  On these instances she always looks a little guilty.  She knows this is not enough; but going through the effort of finding something else to cook was maybe too much for her that day.  Sometimes I give her family food.   Sometimes I present with her a suggestion on where she can find more food.  After living in the village for a year, I get it.   During the hunger season all that is really left to eat is rice, and maybe some dried beans or corn.  Most people don’t garden in my area during this time because the water sources are far away, so watering is an issue.  People are low on money, so they are less inclined to walk the 18miles round trip to the market to buy some veggies.  I get it.  It’s hard enough fetching water to drink and cook, let alone water an entire garden.    Maybe I shouldn’t give her food.  I know many other families often don’t have enough food during the ‘hunger season’; but I can’t help but play favorites.  I am human, after all.  And, I LOVE her kids. While 5 kids are a lot to care for, they also help out immensely.  Most of them are old enough that they do almost all of the work their parents do, and go to school on top of it all.  They cook, collect firewood, harvest (rice, beans, etc.), clean, man the store when Mino is busy in the fields.  They are adorable, resourceful, intelligent, and resilient beyond belief.  They can be a little wild at times, pestering me non-stop to play with them when I’m trying to write a lesson plan for my English course.  But, to be honest, I have never heard a Malagasy child complain the way I’ve heard American children complain.  Face it folks; we spoil them rotten, whether we think we do or not. I could easily have been Mino.  I am one year younger than her, yet I do not have 5 children ranging from 6-12.  Our upbringings were so incredibly different, yet here we are, farming rice together, braiding eachother’s hair, scolding her kids together.   I have met so many amazing people here.  The Malagasy people as a whole are the most welcoming people I have ever met in my life.  Sure, there are plenty of things that drive me crazy about this culture (yes, I eat rice, and no, it does not hurt my stomach...I have lived here for a YEAR), but I have never, for a second, felt unwelcome in this country.    
Mino braiding the hair of her oldest daughter, Olivia

The little cutie, Leony.

Three of Mino's sons checking my feet for parasy (the little bugs that like to burrow into the flesh of unsuspecting humans..).

Yeah, she's pretty gangsta.
Rolan, Mino's husband, in the hat.

As some of you may know, I am working on a project to build a bridge in my community.  There is a large river which runs through the Sahanambo Valley, and separates many villages from schools, ricefields, the local health clinic, the market, the one dirt road that connects my valley to the outside world, etc.  During the rainy season the river rises significantly, and is often impassable for anyone trying to reach the other side of the valley.  I have already set up another blog dedicated specifically to raising funds for this project, so please check it out at  The project is going to cost around $8,000, no small chunk of change (around 16 million Ariary!)  Spread the word!!