Velom iaby e

Rarely have I felt as heartbroken as I feel right now. I have been putting off writing this blog, but now seems like the perfect opportunity to curl up in my hotel bed, put on some Ben Harper, and write. Around the end of January, I was living in my village of Ifaty, happy because I was finally able to have real conversations in Malagasy, planning a big public toilet project, and just generally loving life (although, I admit the heat was getting to me). One day I received an email about a political rally in the capital, Tana, but it barely made a bleep on my radar. A few weeks later there were more rallies, and rumors started spreading about the mayor of Tana, a former DJ named Andry Rajoela, challenging the president, Marc Ravalomanana (listening to newscasters trying to pronounce these names has been very amusing). When I heard that the television stations and all Tiko and Magro (president-owned dairy company and supermarkets) stores had been destroyed I was totally shocked. In Tulear, people were being killed by bags of rice falling on them while they were looting. At this point the police were doing nothing.
Peace Corps went to consolidation, and at the time I thought it meant we were mere days from leaving the country. I said goodbye to my friends and left for my consolidation point, only to find out that the plan was to stay there for 10 days until things calmed down, then go back to site. I was pissed. Nothing was happening in my village! Only in the cities, one of which I had to travel through in order to reach my consolidation point. I wanted to go back to my village, and the fact that the “situation” in Madagascar changed daily did not help. We ended up staying in consolidation for 3 ½ weeks. Everyday was different. One day the plan was to deconsolidate in 2 days, then the next day we’d be packing for evacuation. It was a stressful situation. When we finally went back to our sites, I had the creepy feeling like we were in the eye of the storm. Propaganda videos for Andry started inundating the villages, showing soldiers shooting civilians at rallies, and people dead from gunshot wounds. They were effective, and while no violence occurred during the UN negotiations, the real war was secretly being fought. I didn’t bother to unpack my bags.
Although I live far from the capital, in an area where people generally don’t care about politics, the existing poverty and global food crisis was combining with drought and heat to create an environment where any added tension could push people to violence. After a series of looting incidents in Tulear, Peace Corps decided to close the region. This meant that I would have to move to a different area of the country. I packed up my house so that PC would be able to pick up my stuff in a few weeks. I flew to Tana with just my backpack to figure out where I would live, and to prepare for training of the new volunteers scheduled to come at the beginning of March. After a week, however, violence resumed and I found out that the training had been canceled. A few days later came the devastating news that the entire program was suspended. We were being evacuated to South Africa. The decision was precipitated by the news that the military had fractioned, and it was unclear who, if anyone, was in control.
Wave by wave, we were sent to Johannesburg. For the past week I have been going through medical examinations, psych evaluations, writing final reports, and waiting in lines to cross my Ts and dot my Is. Oh, and there is the small matter of what to do with my life now that I have lost my job and my house (multiplied by about 130 other people in the same situation). We were told of a possibility to direct transfer to another country, but that it was a difficult process for which “the stars would have to align”. Also, we wouldn’t even know the possible transfer locations for another 5 days, leaving us 2 days to decide what to do before being out on our asses. So, while I considered direct transfer, I also planned a trip through Africa from Capetown to Cairo.
So far my stars are aligning. There is a great program in Tanzania that I qualify for. My initial interview went well, and tomorrow I am going to Pretoria to continue the process. My current heartbreak is due to the departure of most of my friends. Many of them are going on a safari in Kruger National Park, and some are going straight down to Capetown. I can honestly say that I love all of these people. They have been an incredible support network made up of some of the funniest, smartest, and most caring people in the world. I’m shocked at how intensely I already miss them, and can’t wait to see them again.
That’s my story. If things work out in Pretoria I will be trading in Malagasy for Swahili, lemurs for lions, and rice for cassava. I do fear being lonely without my support network, but it seems that my fate is to meet amazing people wherever I go, and I am confident this will be no different in Tanzania. If things don’t work out, I will be able to see my friends sooner than later in Capetown. Either way I have many things to be thankful for. I want you all to know that the possibility of coming back to the US and seeing you sooner than expected did weigh heavily on my decision, but I am just not finished with Africa yet. I hope you understand. I love you all, and can’t wait to see you all again.

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3 thoughts on “Velom iaby e

  1. Mo,I am so sorry for the trouble and heartache that has come with all this. Even as I read about troubles in Madagascar, I kept thinking you’d be fine being so far out in the bush. Didn’t think of the whole program pulling out. I suppose you’ve already thought of every possibility and then some that I could come up with, but I’ll chat up some old friends who’ve worked in Africa to see if they have suggestions, in case all else falls through. Which it won’t. You will land on your feet, even if you have to tumble down a scree slope covered in sticker bushes to get there. Sorry I had to write this here, NAU has kicked me out of my email for the time being, but I’ll try and get back in with Nic’s help. Good luck, travel safe… and see you down the trail.

  2. I’m glad to know that you’re safe, but I’m sure you are heartbroken right now. I hope Tanzania works out for you, and that you love it as much as you have loved Madagascar. Keep us posted!

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