What makes a good blog post from a Peace Corps volunteer? In general, I think the expectation from my American audience back home is a report of my crazy adventures mixed with examples of interactions that illustrate how backwards this culture really is. People want to hear about how exciting the strange and foreign can be, but also, they want to compare their way of thinking and approach to life to another’s. The problem is, as time goes on, these moments seem less and less significant, less and less crazy, less and less backwards. In fact, I might actually call my life normal now. Definitely not normal the way that my American life was normal, because I still don’t fit in here, but normal in an “in between” kind of way. I’ve gotten used to living as a foreigner who routinely puts up with loads of weird stuff. Also, upon first arriving here, I had several moments everyday when I wanted to stop someone and point out how weird or inappropriate their behavior was. Today, I would say that filter has been shut off.
So what am I trying to say? The more time I spend in this country, the harder it becomes to remember those strange moments that occur throughout the month that my American friends would consider blog-worthy. This month, however, I tried to stay conscious of this, so I made a list of crazy and funny things and things I find not so crazy or funny anymore (but that you would). In the end, I also ended up including some interesting things I’ve learned here too. Here goes…
1. It is not inappropriate for young children to play with big knives or to drink a little beer from their parents.
2. The black people in my magazines from America are actually Malagasy. Why? Because they are black.
3. Rihanna and Beyonce are Malagasy… or at least part Malagasy. Why? Because they are black.
4. Kids bring lemurs to school for show and tell.
3. People are aware that Americans have gone to the moon. I’ve convinced several people that I’ve been to the moon too.
4. Many people, even after I explain that I’m American, find it difficult to believe that I am not actually French.
5. Other white people are my “family members,” even if I’ve never met them.
6. I woke up to a scorpion in my bed last night.
7. Always greet everyone when you first see them and make sure to give them a weak handshake.
8. Eggs are good forever.
9. It is almost expected that men will cheat on their wives. The woman will get very angry, but all a man has to do is apologize and the marriage is saved. The exception to this is if the married couple is older. Cheating isn’t okay when you’re over 45.
10. In the southwest, it is permissible for a man to take multiple wives.
11. Almost every Malagasy film is about a man falling in love with a girl and then cheating on her. The tone of these movies is usually comedic.
12. I’m occasionally asked if I believe the end of the world is coming in December 2012. Most people don’t believe it is.
13. Another volunteer once had to explain to her coworker that the world is round and not flat like a paper map.
14. People are not ignorant about health issues like STDs, condoms, water sanitation, latrines, bacteria, and malnutrition.
15. People are not ignorant about a lot of things. I’m perpetually surprised by what these people know despite many not having the resources to finish school.
16. Occasionally, I hear about world events first through my neighbors, who are able to explain what they hear in Malagasy on the radio.
17. Given five minutes and a machete, everyone is capable of building almost anything out of ravinala and bamboo.
18. Sometimes it’s best to just let go of how you expected your day to go. The next thing you know, you might end up 15km off in the forest at some ceremony you would never have had the chance to witness.
19. Need a coconut? Find the nearest small boy and ask him to make the 30 foot climb straight to the top for you. No one fears for his life.
20. Interesting language tidbit: The Malagasy word for “hungry” is noana. The word for religion/faith is “finoana.” Words that start with “f” are typically nouns, so I think its cool that religion could also translate as “the hunger.”
21. Way to get around in the city? It’s called a “pousse-pousse” – either a guy pedals you around on a two wheel carriage or pulls you with his own two feet. At first, I thought this was cruel. You feel like a king going around like this. Now, I barely think twice and don’t hesitate to bargain for a low price.
22. Digging the eggs of parasy lafrika out of my feet is a routine hassle. If I’m not in the mood, other people are very, very eager to help.
23. Malagasy students are better behaved than American students, perhaps because the bad ones get their ear twisted. No one is spanked though.
24. When the teacher enters, all students stand and say,” Bonjour, monsieur” or “Bonjour, Madam.”
25. Buy something new? Everyone is going to ask you how much you paid.
26. Madagascar now has female police officers and gendarme.
27. When riding in a taxi brousse, it is normal to be stopped by the police and then five minutes later, the gendarme, and then five minutes later, the police, and then five minutes later, the gendarme. Repeat until you reach your destination. Why? I don’t know.
28. The Work Day: A few hours in the morning. A two hour lunch and nap. Another hour or so in the afternoon. Go home and eat dinner.
29. No one gets angry on taxi-brousses regardless of how many stops are made to cram additional people in.
30. Going somewhere with a friend who doesn’t have a bicycle? Don’t be selfish, give them a ride.
31. No one has breaks on their bicycle. Don’t try for the stop and chat.
32. Lately, I’ve been helping fight the wildfires that break out around the park. Tools needed to put out a wildfire here? A watering can and a machete.
33. With enough glue and bike tire patches, you can usually squeeze another day out of the village soccer ball. On those days when you can’t, a ball of plastic bags tied together with string can suffice.
34. Oh, BTW, Kids lack school supplies, soccer balls, soccer jerseys, and playground equipment.
35. The director of the school is around fifty and rides his bike 75 miles a week so he can teach in my town and then in another town in the afternoon. Talk about motivated.
36. Will the Peace Corps eliminate poverty? No.
37. Will the Peace Corps increase Americans’ understandings of other peoples and other people’s understandings of Americans? Yes.
38. Torrential downpours are torrential.
39. If you have a fruit tree in your yard, the kids are going to climb it and steal the fruit.
40. My stomach has grown a layer of armor against bacteria. That said, I still get the occasional upset stomach followed by… well, you know.
41. Poverty isn’t just a lack of money…
42. Sakay is the name for hot pepper. My neighbors grow a type of sakay called “Dimylahy,” which translates as “five men.” Apparently, this is because eating it is like being beaten by five men.
43. Chickens are smarter than they look. You can’t trust them… and they know better.
44. Malagasy people understand sarcasm.
45. There are two main types of rice: white rice (imported) and red rice (Gasy rice). Red rice is better. It holds more water and has a fuller texture.
46. A new fruit I’ve never heard of is always coming into season.
47. Bicycle breaks down? I guess, I’ll walk the 15 miles.
48. Lots of people know me… lots of people that I don’t know.
49. I will never know some of my friend’s names. This is at least partially because some people are called by other things like “the mother of (insert her child’s name here).” Or, “the wife of (insert husband’s name here).”
50. People go to church because they like to sing. They’re really good. It’s cool to hear the entire village singing together.