Navigating Airports Through Malaysia to Kota Kinabalu

When you join Peace Corps, you are bitten by the travel bug. You want to go everywhere, see everything, and experience it all. I traveled through four different countries on my way home after finishing my service. First stop was Malaysia. It was a bit unfortunate that I visited the country a mere month after the Malaysia Air flight went missing after takeoff. That was all anyone could converse about. I was even a little hesitant myself to get on a plane when more than 5 countries and 13 military ships couldn’t find the wreckage of the plane that supposedly went down. With that being said, I tried to not let the conspiracy bring down the expectations I had for traveling. A little easier said than done. The nearly two months of traveling involved 9 flights. I took one flight at a time, and enjoyed the each destination reminding myself nothing ever comes from being worried.

If you know me, you know I have everything planned out. I want to know where I’m going, and when I’m going to get there. Something I didn’t research, that now I look back and realize I should have, was airports. I assumed that when you arrived into one airport and you have a connecting flight in the same city, you just need to walk to the gate…wrong. Note to any backpackers who might be traveling through Southeast Asia, or more importantly Kuala Lumpur, and happens to stumble across this post, there are TWO airports. One for any international flight and one for regional transportation/Air Asia. They are not in the same airport, and more detrimental, they are not close to each other. I allowed two hours in between arriving in Kuala Lumpur and catching a flight to Kota Kinabalu. I believe a little over one hour before our flight was supposed to take off, a nice gentleman told us that we needed to get to another airport, 30 minutes away. Queue panic mode.

Air Asia terminals are laid out strangely. They screen your bag before you get to the counter. You check in online, preferably twenty four hours prior to your flight, which is when your seat is assigned unless you pay the extra few dollars to pick your own seat. I have also noticed that when you fly with Air Asia, the first seat they assign you tends to be the seat whereabouts you are assigned for the rest of your travels. I never sat in a row less than 22 which my friend always seemed to be sitting around row 9. When we arrived, t-minus 30 minutes to the terminal, we rushed through the lines trying to get through security before our plane took off. Success!
After a short three hour flight to the island of Borneo, we landed at our first destination, Kota Kinabalu. After checking into our hostel, we went searching for food, and our first meal outside of Madagascar ended up being chicken livers and rice. We found some small hole in the wall place right around the corner from our hostel, and the cravings for rice lead us into this little establishment. Filled with Malay individuals who all gave us a puzzle luck as to why two Americans were eating there, we ate our meal, discussing that although we may have left Madagascar, we never really left our picked up habits.

The entire reason for visiting Kota Kinabalu is to climb Mt. Kinabalu and visit Tunku Abdul Rahman Park second. In order to climb Mt. Kinabalu you need a climbing permit and reservation, something we didn’t get, so that was out. Second choice, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. A national park of four islands, it is a relaxing place to snorkel and enjoy the ocean. Tour companies will try to sell you a package tour for nearly triple the price of what you would to walk down to the port and buy the boat hopper ticket and snorkels yourself. Backpackers are all about pinching pennies, so walking and figuring out the program yourself means adding a nice meal to your schedule later on. When visiting islands however, make sure you mind the hundreds and hundreds of jelly fish that hang out on the shoreline.

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Kota Kinabalu also has an amazing food night market, one of the best I saw in the two months traveling. Descriptions can’t even do it justice. Just look at the photos. Fresh fish and seafood, coconuts, and very hospitable people working the stations.
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(photo creds to Amy Wallace)

There are so many tours taking off from Kota Kinabalu to other locations. We opted to see the summit of Mt. Kinabalu and the Poring Hot Springs for our last day in town. The massive size of Mt. Kinabalu alone was worth the trip, but personally, I felt Poring Hot Springs was completely overrated. It had been commercialized to the point that it lost its raw tourism aspect and felt more like a water park than anything. For those that want to really “experience” the island, I don’t think I would ever recommend it as a destination. For a family outing, it would be perfect. But if you do end up venturing out that direction, you can get a free pedicure in the waterfall behind the rope bridge at Poring from the little fishes that eat dead skin.

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Kota Kinabalu was a fast first stop on the two month adventure, stay tuned for part two: Sepilok and Kuala Lumpur.

To reminisce. To forget.

Before I proceed to publish the next post regarding my travels though Southeast Asia, I decided to take some time and publish something about how I feel right now.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and think I dreamt the last two years. Did I really spend two years of my life in Madagascar living in a rural village and speaking a language so unique I will in fact never use it again? I have been home for nearly two months and sadly it feels like I have never left. That I have always fought the 5 and the 405 traffic. That I have always dealt with people who are impatient enough to not let someone over into their lane or a pedestrian cross in front of them. That’s the difference between USA and Madagascar. They are so completely opposite from each other that even when you have lived in both countries, you forget the other when your living in the latter.

I try to remind myself what I experienced and what I learned while abroad. I don’t want to forget everything I lived and dealt with. I don’t want to fall out of touch with the people I have met and grew so close to; the people who became my family and helped me through the tough times. I don’t want to forget how carefree the lifestyle was over there, and replace that mindset with the “go. go. go.” mentality that is what America is. My days of hanging out with friends or teaching a class while eating fried snacks has been replaced with the stress of trying to find a job, dealing with a sick dog–who I spent my entire savings on bringing back to America and since then has battled not one but three different illnesses–and trying to figure out how I am going to make ends meet.

It seems so foreign to me that just four months ago, I was living and breathing all things Madagascar and now it rarely comes up in conversation. It’s even more foreign to me how few people even bring it up; that my friends have placed on the goggles that tunnel vision right past my last two years. They don’t want me to reminisce about the last two years, so should I not?

So every morning when I roll out of bed and sit there telling myself that Madagascar was not a dream but a reality, I take a look at myself in the mirror. I did not do Peace Corps for anyone else besides myself, so I always ask, “do you like what you see?” Not physically, but the overall image. Have I accomplished everything that I wanted to and am living a life I am proud of. On those rare occasions that I answer with a no, I remember the quote I placed on a wall in my apartment, the English counterpart to the Sanskrit one I have tattooed on the side of my rib cage, “You suffered. You learned. You changed.” As I take the next steps in my life, I will always have that reminder that I DID spend two years abroad trying to help a community. I DID experience a life event that a limited number of people have as well and would understand, and I WILL and forever WILL snap back to reality and remember that Madagascar DID happen and will forever be with me.

Getting a sunburn in Anakao, Tulear, Madagascar

When I met two Botswana Peace Corps Volunteers last year while on Holiday in South Africa, we discussed Peace Corp traveling. The volunteers on the mainland have the luxury of crossing country borders for the weekend whereas Madagascar volunteers are water locked for two years unless they can buy that pricey ticket off the island. So rather than it being visit as many countries as you can, we turn it into see as many of the regions as your can. With 16, if I can remember correctly, dialects, Madagascar is a very diverse country. During my service I was able to see many different regions of Madagascar and when given the opportunity to join friends to go to Tulear, a region I had yet to see, I jumped at the chance.

Tulear is in Southern Madagascar, an 18 hour ride from the capital. Surprisingly, the road is in pretty good condition after you get out of Fianar, where I joined the group. We made a stop at Isalo National Park in the small town of Ranohira, where we spent hours swimming in the natural swimming pools and hiking through gorgeous terrain.

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We spent three nights there before continuing on our journey to Tulear. Tulear is a red flagged spot for Volunteers and typically volunteers are only allowed to spend one day in the city before they have to leave. My group, we spent 3 hours. It was decided that we would just pass straight through and proceed to the fishing village and our final stop Anakao rather than stay I a city known for being dangerous. Boats typically only leave in the morning, but we were very lucky enough to convince a boat to take us in the afternoon. Let’s just say, it was a very bumpy and wet ride. But was it worth it? Absolutely!

Anakao is really just a tourist destination and there is not much there to do except walk along the beach and relax. You don’t have to tell me twice to R&R. I decided that I would try to learn how to surf and others wanted to join. After all, who gets to say they learned how to surf while in Madagascar? Not that many. Well, it ended up that lessons were not going to happen. The boat took us to the middle of the ocean where the waves were, dropped us off, and said mazatoa (enjoy!). Longest three hours ever. Some nice British volunteers helped point us in the right direction in terms of how to start; I guess it’s better to get to your knees first before trying to a stand. I caught a few waves, little dinky ones, but that’s beside the point. Most of the time I spent trying to get back to the starting point and unfortunately kept getting pushed farther out, or wiped out in the process.

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Those three nights we spent in Anakao were pure bliss. We ate really delicious, but really cheap seafood ($5 for lobster) and explored the island of Nosy Ve. (Direct translation for the island name: Is There An Island?)

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I returned back refreshed and ready to tackle anything. Maybe a little sunburned…okay a lot sunburned. But again, worth it. I am still feeling the effects to this day. So much peeling. Word to the wise: 100+ sunscreen. The sun in Madagascar is brutal.

Building an Artisan Boutique

In previous posts, I mentioned and covered my views on extraneously large projects and the unfortunate circumstances in which they tend to fall apart when the volunteer leaves. I still stand by that reasoning. But I also believe that if the community donates enough time, money, and effort, chances remain strong that the project will be sustainable. During the two years I spent in my village, I spent a large amount of my time with a family of artists. They are extremely gifted painters who just needed a little bit of direction and focus. It took the better part of a year to convince the family I could help them with constructing a boutique, they just needed to provide a minimum of 25% of the total costs, and that boutique was as good as theirs.

Eventually they came around, and the paperwork was started. Originally, the boutique was going to be a one room, one floor house. That was how much money I submitted for. However, after the project was approved by Peace Corps and started sitting on the web waiting for money to be collected from generous donors, plans changed. It should always be assumed, especially in Madagascar, nothing ever stays the same. Surprise! We’re adding a floor so that a guardian can live above. They did understand though that these added costs would be coming out of their funds and were more than willing to add this to the contribution.

Construction started November 2013 and while it was supposed to take two week maximum to complete the build, we did not officially place the last nail until mid January 2014. Multiple things prolonged the construction. Workers fell ill. Supplies ran out. The artisans had other jobs. I had to travel to Peace Corps meetings. The organization couldn’t agree on no date for their training. Eventually however, the boutique was finished, painted, and experienced their grand opening party.

I was really lucky that there were a lot of volunteers in my region that came out and supported me on this special day. They do say Peace Corps becomes a family to you, and that is very much true. Maybe that was why so many people stopped to see what was going on. Alakamisy is used to two white people in their town, not 8 foreigners. We played traditional, easy party games that would be able to be explained in Malagasy and surprisingly, they were a huge hit. Kids and stopped partook in the simple games of egg tosses and pin the tail on the pig.

When I left site last week for good, Hasimira, the head painter of the organization was painting one wall of the boutique with a mural. It was incredible to see what he could do with just a few paint brushes and some paint and it was a great cumulation of my time at site, the friends I mad,pet and the projects I worked on.

Thank you so much for the donations everyone. You made this boutique possible. Mihone Artisan Association appreciates you and so does Alakamisy in general for that matter.

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One of the construction workers daughters

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The ground breaking ceremony/building

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Playing the egg toss

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Pin the tail on the donkey

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Egg race

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My artist is better than your artist.

This is a sneak peak to the upcoming post regarding my PCPP funded project to build a boutique in my village for all the artists. My painter donated his time and paint to decorate the walls of the boutique. I have to say, he was causing some traffic. Cars and people were stopping right and left to watch this masterpiece come alive. Stay tuned for the full story in the boutique.

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Peace Corps Week

Today marks the end of Peace Corps Week, today being Peace Corps Day. Doesn’t it seem like everything has it’s own holiday? National Hot Dog Day, National Volunteer’s Day, National Pirate Day, even International Panic Day. What are you supposed to do on that day? Run around yelling the entire day about every little thing. I got to try that one day.

But a day I will always hold close to my heart is today is Peace Corps Day. It’s a day to celebrate current volunteers and previous volunteers and their dedication and commitment to serving. While me myself is currently serving, I would to thank the 220,000 some volunteers before me for their service. If they had not successfully finished their service and created great relationships with their host countries to allow the program to continue and get stronger than ever.

I never thought Peace Corps would be as rewarding as it is and will be. I find great joy in volunteering, living in a community of people who have wholeheartedly accepted me into their group, experiencing a country I will always love and cherish, and getting to know people, that if not for Peace Corps I would never have been able to meet and get to know. I owe JFK a huge thank you when I see him in my next life for creating the Peace Corps in 1961.

Happy Peace Corps Day. Send a letter of support to a fellow volunteer out there. “Like” our Pages on Facebook (Peace Corps and Peace Corps Madagascar) and keep updated with what volunteers are doing and their projects, and finally, spread the word about Peace Corps. After all, what’s the point in having a national holiday if no one knows about it. :)

The shape and size of bullies

**Warning: This will be a very controversial post, as well as very truthful and I would like to remind my viewers, that these are my views and do not reflect the views and opinions of Peace Corps**

Bullies come in every shape, size, and color. I have dealt with bullies in high school, in college, and at work. Maybe that’s why I am a huge supporter of organizations that try and stop bullying, because although it may be difficult to believe, I was a victim of bullying myself. For some diluted reason, I thought coming into Peace Corps would be different. After all, you have to be a little bit quirky and crazy to join the Peace Corps, or so they say. That makes everyone just as quirky as the next, meaning you are on common ground with each other. There’s this unspoken bond you share with other volunteers in country and while the reasons of joining Peace Corps are endless, it all centralizes around one idea: you want to make a difference. That idea creates that everlasting bond between each other. You become a family. So, imagine my surprise when I thought I had escaped bullies for two years, but in fact came in contact with one of the worst ones I have dealt with since high school.

You always imagine bullies being this aggressive, “I’m going to shove you in your locker” type of person. But just like the name of this blog, they do come in all shapes and sizes. Even given the setting you are in, it’s bound to happen. Take a group of 30 and drop them into a foreign country together, personalities our bound to clash. Lock them into a training center, where their only contact is their other stagemates, people will get on each other nerves and ‘leaders’ will arise from the crowd.

I didn’t encounter my bully until towards the end of my service. Previously, we had been great friends, coworkers, and fellow Californians, or so I thought. We shared a lot in common, and I was convinced our friendship would last past our service. Maybe that was part of the problem though. We spent too much time together. There was no personal time. We worked on large projects together, we lived an hour from each other, and we saw each other nearly ever weekend at the local transit house.

There’s no set definition for the word ‘bully’. All the dictionary gives is that a bully is “a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.” Bullies can be friends, family members, or significant others. It doesn’t always have to be someone you go to school with or barely know. It can be someone you are the closest to. Funny enough, our downfall started with my wish to bring my dog home. I mentioned in earlier segments people in this country were not as supportive as I thought they would be to me taking my little one to the States. This person was one of them. She made it very vocal she did not approve of my love for my dog, and so it began.

I could go though you every little thing that lead the transition from friend to bully, but that would be wasting time, both yours and mine. If you don’t know the individual, then you wouldn’t want to read what seems like a neverending story of how a bully was made anyways. However, it happened. I became an outsider in my region. This person worked so hard to not include me in events and functions happening anywhere within traveling distance. She visably ignored me and make it awkward for others with her to hold a conversation with me. She broke me down emotionally multiple times by sending very pointed emails telling me my Peace Corps experience only amounted to anything because she took pity on me and “included” me in her projects. She made it clear that all of my projects were not accomplishments but rather handed to me by people who felt sorry for me.

When everything started to happen, I was distraught. I was losing a good friend. I tried to save what was left, letting myself be walked over and not allowed to contribute. I was introduced to Malagasy people as “her helper” in public, and given trivial duties like tearing pieces of tape, take notes in the meetings, sit there quietly without saying anything. If there was any meeting involving higher ups from local organizations, I was told to remain silent. “You are not allowed to talk.”

It was after a month of this submissive behavior that I realized I didn’t need this. Someone who called me a ‘friend’ shouldn’t try to control me, put me down in front of my bosses, dictate what I could write on my final Peace Corps report, etc. Yes, it was difficult to cut things off between us. We had spent nearly 1 year together, she personally helped me not Early Terminate at the beginning of my service, but this emotional rollercoaster wasn’t healthy. The end of the relationship made me a stronger person, inside and out. I gained the confidence to stand up to bullies in community, and I gained confidence in myself. Bullies are discouraging things in society, but they are also great learning experiences. You can learn and grow from them. I will always support organizations like The Trevor Project, Stomp Out Bullying, and Stop Bullying. I don’t know when society felt it was okay to put other people down and make them feel like less of a person, but it’s not acceptable. Hopefully my voice will help these campaigns, even if in a small way.

You want me to explain what in Malagasy?

At Close of Service Conference, many things are running through your mind. What COS date will you get? Who are you going to COS with? COS trip? Where? Ugh, final language test.

When you first enter Peace Corps and finish PST (Pre-Service Training) you must complete a language evaluation that will place you on a scale as to where you are with language. When you finish your service, you must complete the same test to see if your language skills have improved since your started. The test is all dialogue and typically is guided by how you answer the previous question. For example, they always start out with you having to tell a little bit about yourself. If you mention your work at site, then you can almost guarantee the next question will have to do something with your work, and so on until the 30 minute time allotted is up.

I was extremely nervous going into my final language test. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel confident in my skills. It was because I hate tests and I always feel like people are judging me for the little errors I make when speaking Malagasy. It’s started out a little rough but then I got into the grove. I explained the differences of hotels here in Madagascar and the States, and then transitioned into Ritz Carlton’s $1000 limit for staff to compensate/serve an unhappy guest. I thought I was home free until the following question was asked:

Tester: Ianao no niteny mamaky boky any Alakamisy. Efa namaky Harry Potter ve ianao?
Translation: You said you read books in Alakamisy. Have your already read Harry Potter?

Now if I was smart and knew where this was going, I would have answered no. But, I answered eka, yes.

Tester: Tsara izany. Mbola tsy mamaky aho. Afaka lazalazao?
Translation: That’s good. I still haven’t read it. Can you explain it to me?

So then ensued a intimidating two minutes of me struggling to explain the storyline to Harry Potter.

Me: uhhhhhhh…..de misy mpampsavy. Anak’telo. Roa lehilahy. Iray vehivavy.
Uhhhh. So there are witches. Three of them. Two males. One female.

Tsara fanahy izireo. FAAA misy iray mpampsavy tena ratsy. Lord Voldermort no anarany
They are good spirits (in Malagasy, you use this when you want to say that someone is good and honest.) BUT there is one wizard that is very bad. His name is Lord Voldermort.

Namono ny neny sy dada’ny Harry Potter-izy ny mpampsavy tsara raika- izy. Niezaka namono Harry i Lord Voldermort fa tsy afaka.
He killed Harry Potter’s mom and dad-Harry is one of the good wizards. Lord Voldermort tried to kill Harry but he couldn’t.

Mianatra any sekoli’ny mpampsavy ahaona manao magique ny mpampsavy telo tsara. De isan’taona miady miaraka amin’ny Lord Voldermort izireo.
The three good wizards learn at a wizarding school how to do magic. And every year, they fight off Lord Voldermort.

I believe at this point I had gotten so flustered that my lovely language tester felt bad that he guided the topic into another category. It seems so easy to discuss whatever you are asked after living in a country and learning the language for two years, but that’s wrong. I honestly believe no matter how long you live in one place, you will never be able to speak that language fluently. I’m American, and I still have issues with English. What was my GPS again in college? (Inside joke for those I worked with at Disney). I just have to take it one word at a time.

Being Female in a Third World Country

Regardless of the country you call home, have lived in, or have spent time traveling through, chances are there is a list of “needs improvement” in regards to women. It doesn’t matter what state the country is in. The United States is one of the most powerful countries in the world and we have yet to break the glass ceiling in certain categories. While there are some countries that are leaps and bounds in front of the pact for woman empowerment, nothing is perfect. Women are still objected, discriminated against, harassed, and treated as sub par to the male population.

Before you ask, I don’t regard myself as a feminist, but the time I have spent abroad has put everything in a larger light. I am Pro a lot of things: Pro-freedom of speech, Pro-people spending copious amounts on an animal, Pro-gay rights, and Pro-reality tv to name a few. But one of the most important things I stand behind is Pro-WID/GAD (Women in Development/Gender and Development). Not just because I am a woman myself, but because I believe we were created on the basis of equality. That no one was supposed to be superior than the other.

With that being said, living these past two years in Madagascar, a third world country and a country up until one month did not have a recognizable government, has been anything but normal. This is something I have emphasized over and over again in my blogs, and yet I feel like it can never be enough. Think of everything about the States and reverse it…welcome to Madagascar.

This post is by no means meant to scare people, including my loved ones or make anyone worried about overseas travel. I do want this, however, to be an informative post for anyone who happens to stumble onto my blog and is getting ready for a trip into The Third World setting. There are a few things people should know.

Ever country has it’s own form of sexual harassment. It varies due to culture, lifestyle, host country national’s behavior, etc. I regard Madagascar’s as more of a “More Talk Less Action” sort of harassment. There tends to be much more verbal harassment than physical. This can be deceiving as better than other types/combinations, but if I was being completely honest, I don’t think there can be a better form of harassment. They all stink. I wasn’t prepared for it when I first arrived in country and even after 2 years, I am still not prepared for any of it. The infamous and creepy tsks from men. The ever obvious up and down look as they’re whistling at you. The licking of their lips. The first and sometimes only thing out of a male’s mouth being “so, are you married?” The guaranteed wink. The “accidental” slip of the driver’s hand from the gear shift when you are riding shotgun that just so happens to graze your upper thigh.

At Staging, Peace Corps tries to prep their future volunteers on what living in a Third World Country will really be like. I think at that time, most of us were just focusing on the obvious things that would be drastically different than what we were used to. No running water. Electricity if you were lucky. Using latrines for bathrooms. Hand-washing clothes. Etc. We all knew that treatment of foreigners, especially women would be different, but I don’t think any of us thought it would be to the extent that we have experienced thus far.

It’s important to remember, that there truly is no way to prepare for life in another country, let alone if you were just moving states or cities. It varies. But one thing remains the same. When you first arrive to your new home, it is important to take everything in. See how other women are being treated in your town. Chances are that’s how you’ll be treated too. I am treated slightly better than women in my village because I’m an American, and people who were born and raised outside this island are considered lucky. But in terms of harassment, it’s worse for me due to the same circumstances as above. The first few weeks are like a honeymoon period. Everyone’s on their best behavior, but you’re feeling each other out. You want to get to know the HCNs and the HCNs want to get to know you. It’s also in those first few weeks the your “rules” are established. Do you let people into your house? How do your react to the tsks and actions of men in your town? What type of people do you befriend? So before you set off to try and be the most liked person in town, set your boundaries. Regardless of the time spent in the town–one day, one week, one year–their first impressions are key.

Putting this post into a better light, I have also found being female to be a rewarding experience. I have helped women in my village to gain the confidence to stand up to people, including those they are being harassed by. I also have found that being a woman, it has been easier for me to integrate into a group of people, and for local women accept me. Well, as long as they know I’m not after their men. They look up to me as a form of a role model because of the level of education and where I came from. I have been able to break stereotypes and show that life isn’t just about birthing children and cooking for their husbands, but about opportunities. Finally, they look to me for advice or someone to push ideas off of. I have helped two young girls in my village follow their dream to continue their education by supporting them in their endeavors, mentally obviously.

So in conclusion, being a female is that bad I guess. Yes, sarcasm intended. The things I have learned will help me again as I set off on my next travel adventure, Southeast Asia. Oh the excitement! But I’m not invincible even after all that I know. I live by what our Safety and Security Officer says, “Remember to stay vigilant.”

Christmas Time!

It’s Christmas Time, it’s Christmas Time! Wait…it’s February already? Where has the time gone?!

For the holiday season, I ventured down to the humid South East, because nothing says Christmas like 100 degrees and a beach right? I made it a goal when I first arrived in this country to try and visit every region in Madagascar before my time was up in this country because unfortunately, I will probably not be returning to this country any time soon. I will not reach that goal, but I have succeeded in seeing as many as I can. The South East is only an 8 hour drive from my village (which in this country is nothing) and I was afraid I would never go down there if I didn’t go now.

Amy joined me on the travels and we hit up three large towns before getting to our final destination, Vangaindrano, the home of one of my dear friends in PC, Emily. First stop, Ranomafana, a national park near my village. We ended up showing up at the most inconvenient time, in the morning just after the lemurs had eaten, so we failed to see anything too spectacular.

Next stop, Mananjary, the home of a stagemate Monica D. Mananjary is a little off the beaten path, but I felt I owed it to myself to go visit this beach town. It is home to the children orphanage of Catja, whose primary purpose is to take in multiples who have been abandoned by their families. In the South East, as well as other locations on this island, giving birth to multiples, whether it be twins, triplets, or more is taboo. While the reasons vary and are numerous, one thing is constant–giving birth and raising one child is hardship enough, but giving birth to two, three, etc at one time is in their eyes, impossible. It’s no secret that I am a multiple myself. To think if myself and my two sisters were born in this country to a Malagasy family, it would be difficult to be raised together and to survive. However, we were blessed to be born to loving parents, who hit the ground running preparing when they found out they were expecting three. With that being said, I wanted to visit this orphanage, see and play with the children and just show them a smiling face. Who knows, maybe in years to come, if I am still not married and childless, I will return to this island and adopt a set.

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We passed though Manakara, spending the night before transiting down to Vangaindrano. While the trip was only 8 hours maximum, the infrastructure was one of the worst I have experienced in country. It dumbfounds me how the road can be paved fairly well and then abruptly stop, 30km from a very large town, and then pick up again after. We transited the road a few days after a rainstorm, but I can only imagine taking that road just after it has rained when the road has flooded and the potholes have grown to the size of small meteorite impacts.

For being one country, there really is no uniformity. Nearly every town you go to has a different variation of Malagasy that is spoken. I would be trying to feed my ego if I didn’t admit that I didn’t understand an absolute word of what anyone said in Emily’s village. I have learned through time though, that because my tribe is Betsileo, the hillbillies of Madagascar, it is completely acceptable for me to just nod my head and say the Betsileo word for yes/comprehension that you are following the conversation/agreement eh eh (said fast without much pause between the two) while throwing in a few kai ve? (while the first word’s spelling may not be necessarily accurate, it translates to no way!/no shit!) and no one would ever know. Yes for being apart of a tribe that is so often made fun of by other tribes in by his country!

To both my and Amy’s enjoyment and glee, we arrived just one day before Emily’s cat gave birth to 5 absolutely adorable kittens. They were dubbed “Christmas kittens” and when we were no biking the 30km to see the beach, frosting cookies Emily made in her fancy toaster oven–something her electricity could handle and most definitely mine would have not–or just hanging out talking, we were staring at the precious little kittens who still had their eyes and eyes closed, nursing all day every day.

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For my last big vacation in country, I was pleased by what I accomplished. I can honestly say I will leave this country without having seen everything that I really wanted to see in this country during my down time and allotted vacation days. I have stated this many times before, but Madagascar truly is a country like none other, with so much environmental diversity, indigenous animals and vegetation, and natural beauty. It will be sad to leave when my COS rolls around, but I will forever wear my Madagascar pendent around my neck keeping on of my two homes close to my heart.