World Malaria Day

April 25th marked World Malaria Day. Stomp Out Malaria is a Peace Corps Initiative, and regardless of our primary job responsibilities, we are expected to work on Malaria prevention and education. Here in Madagascar, many Malagasy feel they are immune because they have built up a tolerance from living in this country. This is in fact not true. They also believe Malaria can not be caught in the Highlands, which as well is not true, but less frequent.

We painted a mural earlier in the week on the fokontany building in Mantasoa illustrating the story of the transmission of Malaria. Of course being the white people in town, we naturally grew an audience, mostly kids. Duck, Duck, Goose became a teaching tool. And it became Parasy, Parasy, Moka (Flee, Flee, Mosquito). In our special Gasy we made a game of teaching Mosquitos are bad because they can be infected by Malaria.



The mural was unveiled during the Mantasoa World Malaria Event. Reporters from Tana came to cover the event. I remember arriving and there was essentially no one there. “This will be interesting…” But I remembered foton-gasy is the way of life around here. Watches are flashy and there is no need/understanding of punctuality.

An hour after the projected start time of the event, rolls of people came in. The schools took a break for the presentation and more people than I ever saw or thought lived in Mantasoa showed up. A ‘How to Make Neem Cream’ presentation was given–Neem Cream is a cream made from boiling the leaves of a plant here in Mada and mixing it with melted soap to make a cream used to repel mosquitos.

All in all a very successful event and the first of many to come in this country.




A scenario gone wrong

Did you know Madagascar needs a subway system? No…cause I didn’t either until I took my LPI today and said that’s what it needed (final language test of PST to see where I test in my language).

For a minimum of 25 minutes, we’re supposed to converse with the tester. The questions are based off of the way the conversation flows so there really is no way to ‘study’ for it. At the end, we are given a scenario and we have to try and act it out. Mine: you have returned home and want to tell your friend about an event that happened to you in country. Describe the place.

(for your pleasure I have translated the conversation. Keep in mind, I only have 2 months of language lessons. And yes, the conversation was not changed from its original content. Hand gestures were most definitely used)

Me: Hello friend.
Tester: Hello. What’s new?
M: Nothing, and you.
T: Nothing.
M: So I just returned from Madagascar. Very good is Madagascar.
T: Ahh good.
M: I went to Tana. Tana is a big city. I live in a small city. I went via taxi brousse. The taxi brousse was bad. Bad roads. Not good. Very bumpy.
T: Oh that’s not good.
M: Yea, there aren’t stone roads here (yes I said stone roads…I know. And this is where the conversation gets interesting).
T: Oh are there stone roads in the United States?
M: Oh yes yes yes.
T: What about taxi brousses?
M: Oh no.
T: How do you travel then?
M: There are these trains below the land called subways.
T: You don’t use cars?
M: Nope (again I don’t know where I was going with this)
T: Do you think Madagascar needs a subway system?
M: Yes they do, but first they need to fix the roads. Bad roads there are.
T: Can you talk to the President about that?
M: Absolutely. No problem.

Yeaaaaaa….I was the entertainment back home and I’m the entertainment here. :)

Oh and my sister works for the police of the water. Can you say language train wreck?

My forever growing to do list

Warning, this is going to be a really gushy blog post, so beware. :). And be warned as well, my English spelling has slowly slipped away so I apologize in advance for any misspellings.

Peace Corps has these awesome posters all over the PCTC and their offices that are really inspirational:

The corner office can wait, some corners of the world can’t.

The difference between a career and a purpose is about 8000 miles.

For dreamers that do.

Cultivate fresh ideas and help them take root.

The smallest change can make the biggest difference.

There isn’t an app for this.

Each has it’s own photo that makes it so more special and near and dear to my heart.

In just under two weeks, I will be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer into this amazing country called Madagascar. As so many PC employees have told me and my Stage, “you have hit the Peace Corps jackpot.” They are not lying. This country is absolutely beautiful and I feel lucky to be have picked to help the Malagasy.

Since Tech Trip, training has been so fast paced. I’m learning a dialect for my region, Betsileo, and while it is the closest to Standard, I find it difficult at times. We spent the first month learning Standard Malagasy, what’s spoken in the capital, and since we have been assigned our villages, we have been divided into classes so we can learn the variation spoken in our region. Mine, we like ‘sh’ sounds so all s’s are pronounced with as a ‘sh’. It’s actually quite amazing. And we have our own sound effects too.

With each technical section, my list of projects I want to do at site increases. Accomplishing all of them is impossible, but for right now I just want to dream.

    -Try to teach farmers SRI, a method of planting rice that greatly increases the output meaning more income for the farmer.
    -English club (started by my predecesor)
    -Youth IT classes (same as above)
    -Development of the community website (same as above)
    -WID/GAD (Women in Development/Gender and Development; not really at site but a committee in which I have already joined)
    -Fruit drying
    -MFI support (micro-finance institution; they offer small loans to IGAs, income generating activities, for the community and most don’t seek them out because they lack trust in the bank.)
    -Basic accounting education
    -Basic health education (handwashing, nutrition, Malaria prevention)

Not to mention things I want to do for my own personal benefit and interest.

    -Container gardening
    -Fruit drying
    -PC baking
    -Charcoal making
    -Construction (as in furniture…possibly)

Not what you expected from me right? ;).

Tech Trip Whirlwind

Dramamine, hostels, vazaha food, and long car rides have been the focus of this past week. It seems it has just slipped by. My fellow stagemates spent the last seven days on the road visiting different current volunteers sites and having technical lessons in a wide range of categories. This week, aka Tech Trip, was a way for us to see parts of Madagascar outside of Mantasoa, practice our language with the Malagasy who have not been prepped by PC to talk realllyyyyyyy slow, and experience the culture of larger towns where vazahas really aren’t commonly seen. If I try to explain it in words, it will become a very unneeded, lengthy post, so I will show you with pictures. Mazotoa!

Our major cities of travel were Antsiribe, Ambositra, Fandriana, and Ampefy with smaller stops in between. Estimated, I think we spent a day alone over the past seven days in a car navigating through the country and what infrastructure that exists.

Even a month into my volunteer commitment, Madagascar amazes me everyday. The beauty of this country is absolutely astounding, a what I would think is an obvious choice for tourists who want an exotic adventure and picturesque landscapes. However, this country is one of the poorest countries in the world, where a person lives on only $2 a day.


Corruption is ever-present and food security is a huge issue for many Malagasy. The poverty I have seen since in country makes me even more passionate about trying to just increase one family’s living standards by time I COS in 2014. My goal is to try and create some eco-tourism so people begin to realize the amazing potential this country has. Hopefully my pictures this past week do it some justice.

Our site visits included a federation of silk weavers, a family of wood carvers, fruit driers, fish farmers, and rock sculptures. These people are so mazoto and are really taking the advice of the volunteers have to heart.

the silk weavers doing what they do best

the finished product (silk scarves)

Wood carvers



our attire for the fruit drying tour

on the boat ride to the fish farm


Nights consisted of sitting around a table playing poker (with bananagrams as the chips; we’re too broke to actually use Ariary as wagers) and it was one of these nights that Scrap Metal Stanley came into existence. He is now our Stage’s official mascot and will be passed from volunteer to volunteer to travel across the country. (blog site coming soon…)

We celebrated the first of our many April birthdays in Ambositra, Emily, and made the best of a Malagasy night (most are in bed by 9pm).


There were some crazy beautiful landscapes that turned into photoshoots.





And there was our “bonding activity.” It was the last day of Tech Trip and we were visiting a fish farm. We took a boat across the lake to the farm, but at the end, an hour and a half behind schedule, the President of the co-op
said he would show us a ‘shortcut’ to the cars which were moved while we were learning about fishing. PS
It was not a shortcut but rather a scary rock jumping/’bridge’ crossing that we all cheered when we were done. And this is my second experience of a ‘shortcut’ gone wrong, a sign maybe?



And then there was just some stupid goofing around. :)



This is how I manasa lamba.

Manasa-ing lamba deserves a post to itself. Washing clothes sucks here in Mada. With the continuous rain and humidity, it takes a good two days for any article of clothing to be semi dry. And the back pains from bending over a bucket for a few hours scrubbing, no fun. So Leslie, Sarah, and I have made the decision that if we really want to manasa lamba we do what any normal American would do…use the shower. Warm water and being able to sit down, I’ll take that any day. The other volunteers laugh at us and think we’re a little strange, but last time I checked, some have made the switch to shower manasa-ing.

Oh washing machines…I miss thee.


Taxi brousse-ing it…Mada style

I would say yesterday was our first real taste of traveling Mada style. We have the luxury of having PC drivers whenever we go anywhere, but for our IGA, we had to travel like the Malagasy do.

What is an IGA you might ask? It stands for Income Generating Activity. As a CED volunteer, we have multiple projects during training as a sort of qualifying project for Swearing In. For this IGA, we were divided into groups of three to four and we had to create a feasible business and sell our product in Manjakadrina Market (1.5 hrs drive from Mantasoa). My group, Aaron, Lance, Daniel, and myself decided to create a business around friendship bracelets and selling the American custom. After all, we had the Vazaha factor and people might buy stuff from us because we are fotsy (white).

The thing about Mada is they work off of foton-gasy time, meaning no schedule at all. We confirmed with the taxi brousse station twice they would have a taxi brousse waiting for us at 5a Monday morning. The 14 of us showed up at the station at 445a, still pitch black, and surprise, no taxi brousse. Almost an hour passed, nothing. We were told we needed to be at the market by 630a to start selling our products. Randomly a truck passed by and asked if we needed a ride. Our heads told us “Johanesa (our SSO/Safety and Security Officer) will be so disappointed in us if we take this ride,” but we had no other choice. We needed to get to the market. That was part of the task. And all of us were together so we were each other’s security. Well, do you think 14 of us could fit into this car?


The correct answer is no. We realized pretty fast, it wasn’t going to happen. 8 were able to fit, but Aaron, Lance, Daniel, Eric, Emma, and I were not. We told the other volunteers to go ahead. Some of us HAD to make it to the market, we would figure out another way.

At 630 a taxi brousse finally made it’s way down the lalana. Yay! We scurried in and got seats and settled in for the bumpy ride. As we continued through Mantasoa, more and more people got in. We estimated it was a 15 person van (sitting comfortably). The final number after we started moving, 33! Some hanging out the back, some squatting in between the seats. When I got in originally, I put myself beside who I have dubbed my protectors in my Stage, Eric and Daniel, and I couldn’t be more thankful. People were squished together and the Malagasy really don’t have an understanding of personal space, so it was reassuring to be squished up against two friends rather than a random Malagasy man. And boy was that ride fun. We had to get out once while the brousse navigated through a muddy portion in the road which I later found out the first group had gotten stuck in and had to push their car out off.

But, we survived! And made it to the market, just a prompt nearly 2 hours late. Our product sold, we ended up making a profit of 2700a, a little over $1, but by Malagasy standards, enough money to feed themselves for the day.

Here are some photos below from our adventure…and thanks to Leslie and Aaron for providing these awesome photos.




Mahandro miaraka amin’ny Sarah sy Lance aho=Tsara be!

This past Sunday, we were given the task to cook for our homestay families using their methods of cooking. We could cook anything we wanted, but vary and tsaramaso were required. The groups were decided by location of our houses, so naturally, Lance, Sarah, and I were assigned to cook with each other.

Not going lie, I thought it was going to be a trainwreck. Cooking in the States is difficult enough, but cooking over a fire…unimagineable. Optimism though. Sarah and I quickly got in our heads that we wanted to cook Mexican food and I really wanted to try this tortilla recipe I found in the cookbook PC gave us the second day in country.

Success!!!!! No food was burned, everything turned out perfectly. Cooking here takes FOREVER, and we were given 4 hours to buy ingredients and cook. We finished in 2.5. We must be mahay at cooking. :). There really is no perfect English translation for mahay the best I can say is it is to be expert/very knowledgeable. It has become very common though for us to mix Malagasy words into English sentences if we feel English just doesn’t do it justice. “You’re mahay at that” has officially become our favorite saying here in my little possie I guess you can call it. Sarah started it. :)

And thanks to the easy and yet delicious recipe for tortillas, I will be cooking them everyday at site. Yummy!

Enjoy the cooking pics below and this blog is officially vita.





Sarah’s mommy…hi! I heard you enjoyed my previous blogs. Thanks for reading! And like Sarah told you, beware that everything that can go wrong goes wrong for me.

Alakamisy Ambohimaha!

Site placement, Alakamisy Ambohimaha!! The 29 volunteers in my stage were told our sites yesterday at PCTC. It was actually really cute how they told us. A huge map of Madagascar was painted on the basketball court and the LCFs and PCVTs (PCV trainers) blindfolded us and let us to our sites where we all took off our blindfolds and found out our sites together.


We were given a packet of info about our site as well as an official welcome letter. My letter was in my eyes so cute that I just have to share it with y’all.

PCV Christina Nielsen,

You have been assigned to Alakamisy Ambohimaha in the Haute Matsiatra Region.

Your degree in science in Hospitality Management as well as your trainig in entrepreneurship, human resources, strategic leadership, accounting, and marketing played a key role in this decision. There is also a wide range of potential secondary projects such as English clubs, environment, health sensitization, etc. The counterpart agency encourages any secondary project (in any sector) you wish to pursue. Keep up with your passion for community (particularly youth) development, thus continue to train youth and adults in different computer skills.

The position needs you to work within a governmental structure, without really working with them. You will have to take initiative, be active in your community, be self-motivated and a strong self-starter. As there is no specific project to place for you, you must be able to identify potential projects and create plans and objectives within the projects’ counterparts. The existing fields of activities are tourism, hotels, restaurants/hotelys–your favorites–painting, embroidery, design, woodwork, brick making, soldering, and agrobusiness. The choice is yours, the municipality staff is very busy and most likely to leave you to do your work with minimal supervision, but they need to be kept abreast of your endeavors.

Congratulations Christina!

Lucie, Robert, Leif Davenport

So Alakamisy get ready for me! I’ll see you in a few weeks!


Ummmm, menatra aho. I think.

I have absolutely no idea what just happened. One minute I’m studying in my room and writing in my journal, the next, one of my host sisters is knocking on my door telling me I’m going to Lance’s to study. Lance lives in the house directly behind me, so I tend to see him a lot; we had language class together for two weeks before I got moved to a more advanced group. Normally, after coming home from the technical trainings at the Commune, I’ll spend an hour going over notes from the day in my room and then go downstairs to sit with my host family around the kitchen fire before dinner is ready at 7p. Never in the past three weeks have I left the house. Here, the unsaid rule is once the sun goes down, you stay in your houses. The reasons are numerous. That’s when the mosquitos start coming out, the drunks make their way to our villages’ bar, and possibly the “mpamosavy” (witches)–if the village even ‘has’ any come out to perform their rituals.

So I thought it was a little weird that at 615, when it’s pitch black outside, my family is having me walk to Lance’s house (literally 20 feet) to mianatra, but I just went with it.

Long story short, turns out that Lance and his mom had no idea what was going on when I arrived and I ended up having dinner by candlelight with just Lance (we both don’t have electricity). No mianatra-ing, just dinner. I tried to tell Lance’s mom I was confused by saying ‘menatra aho‘ thinking menatra was the word for confused, which btw is not, and she kept saying tsy menatra ianao, namanas, “don’t be shy/bashful, friends.” Yes menatra was in my dictionary under confused but I didn’t find out until later that it actually means bashful/shy/embarressed. My 17 yr old sister and 20 yr old brother explained to me later in my special Malagasy that I could understand that I was saying I was shy because I liked Lance. **hand to forehead.

And no matter how much I tried to explain that I meant tsy mazava, I don’t understand, I don’t understand what that was all about, all I got was ‘oh okay *wink wink*.’

Adventures through the rice fields

Never and I mean never trust a guy who says he knows a shortcut home through the rice fields when you have only lived in this town for three weeks. Never!

To me, Saint Patty’s Day was a day to come and go without notice. However, I’m in Madagascar now; things are different. I don’t have electricity or running water, I fetch my water from a spring 200 meters away, my stove is a fire, and vary is the main food I eat. So, anything American sounds and is appeasing.

These last few weeks have been stressful in the fact that 29 of us have been thrown into a culture we don’t know and are rapidly trying to learn a langauge where EVERY verb starts with an ‘m’. We’re in language, culture, and technical classes from 8a to 5p M-F and have projects, assignments, and essays due frequently. So Saint Patty’s Day, an American fety was a day to relax and blow off some steam.

Hotel L’Ermitage has become like a second home on weekends. It’s what we volunteers call an escape from the constant language lessons at school or at home. Like any other Stage, our group has become very close and we look forward to the times when we can spend time with each other, all judgements placed aside.

It takes roughly forty five minutes to get back to Mantasoa from the Hotel, and a few of us told our host family we would be back at 6, so we headed out at 5. However, along the way, Lance asked us if we wanted to take the scenic shortcut through the rice fields.

“I take it with my brother all the time,” he said.

So we decided why not? Wrong decision. Lance didn’t know the way, and it turned into a maze of narrow walkways between the rice fields and no idea how to get out. There was jumping from pathway to pathway over the water in between each field, and you may have already guessed it, but yours truly fell right into the muddy rice field. It was karma. I was too busy making fun of Sarah trying to jump across the water to realize I myself was standing on the edge of the path.

We spent 30 minutes in the rice fields. 30 minutes trying to find our way out. It would have taken us 10 minutes to just walk the lalana around the fields. But we wanted an adventure, and an adventure we got.

My host mom was not very pleased that I came home covered from head to toe in mud. I wouldn’t have been either. All I could say was azafady, azafady over and over again as I rinsed off my feet and scrubbed my Chacos, now covered in dry fotaka (mud).

Until my next crazy story….