I hope the past few months has seen joys, challenges over come, lessons learned and life lived for you. I have indeed had my share, 2017 has been a particularly challenging and unusual year (though I am sure all of us could say that for every year of our lives). I have had many unexpected (and unwanted) lessons and am still working on learning the lessons of some current challenges.
|My "I can't believe I was up at 4am to get here and walk 30km|
and now they are making us wait 1.5 hours before starting" face.
Professionally, we have almost managed to get to the end of cyclone season here in Madagascar, with only a mild beating from cyclone ENAWO on March 7th-9th. This cyclone hit right along where we have one of our bases on the northeast coast of the island, and because of this, MEDAIR became a focus for all other agencies to work with and thru because we were the only ones who already had an established team, know the area, transport, etc. This has proved both good and bad. In the first few days and weeks, it was an incredibly stressful, fastpast, and well, emergency response setting. We were able to do good assessments on the ground, guide/advice other UN branches and NGOs in knowledge of the area. Additionally, we received significant media attention and financial benefits from the situation to be able to respond to the needs in the area.
|Ready, set, go|
I have to say well done to Peace Corps for their work here. It is one of the very few countries in the world where I have been where most people have a very good opinion of Americans and start speaking to me in the local language when they find out I am American. This is largely due to the major Peace Corps presences here, inclusive of good language training for their volunteers.
Perceptions of French and English speakers are very contrary to what I would have expected. A significant motivation for my coming here was to work on studying French, and I had the original understanding that French was a common language throughout the country and people would be easy to communicate with if only I could get my self together and SPEAK FRENCH!
I now know, my previous assumptions were completely wrong in every possible way.
A. When I start speaking French high educated Malagasy can tell I am American almost immediately because they have studied English and perhaps work with other Americans, or at least can hear I am not French by my accent. (me? what accent?!)
B. If I speak French with a low educated Malagasy, such as a taxi driver, they either assume I am French and start chatting away, or can hardly speak French themselves, so even my efforts at French don't get us very far. But to my great satisfaction, native French speakers can't get much further speaking French with most taxi drivers than I can (I probably take too much joy from this).
C. Your average Malagasy on the streets of the capital city can speak some French, but would far prefer to learn/speak English because of what I can call the 'generational hang-over' from colonialism (French colonialism obviously). There is an underlying distaste for the French presences here. While it is far from outwardly hostile or dangerous as it is in some other post-colonial countries, and some people may deny it entirely, I see it and it is interesting to observe it in the mannerisms of many locals toward French in authority in the country. And rest assured, there are still plenty of French in high places here. This maybe to large of a generalization, but all I am saying is that you CAN see it in some places, surely not everywhere. Many city born, low earning Malagasy also see English as their way to higher earnings and way to connect with the outside world and are eager to learn.
|I love this. The high-tech hikers, with the local lady in|
barefeet, with probably 10+lbs on her head!! Amazing!
So all in all, communication is not the easiest thing in the world here. Forget being articulate, just figure out which melange (mix) of languages you will use with a person or group.
Add in the aspects of the culture that it is a conflict adverse (Asian cultural influences I think), non-planning culture (a common aspect of developing nations). So you constantly have situations where people have no understanding of what you meant, but they say they understand and walk away, or completely disagree with what they think you said and go away upset without confirming what you meant, or times when someone actually understands - but disagrees - but does not say a word because they are avoiding conflict. This has the potential to build --until they explode, quit, gossip, or you guess right about what they are thinking. Of course this is not true for the entire population, and over all it is a very, very docile population (all the sunshine maybe?) but these are still very evident characteristics of the culture. I hope I gain a deeper understanding of their logic before I leave.
|Still feeling ok and enjoying the local encouragement|
as we pass thru villages.
Of course, as I prefaced, I do not claim to be an expert and I am learning more all the time about the culture. For those of you who have not heard the analogy, culture is like a giant iceberg, you only see about 10% on the surface, but under the water you have 90% more to discover. I dont even know the 10% on the top which is supposed to be obvious, like wedding and holiday traditions. I always like to say, I know I have asked a good cultural question if the person looks at me like I am stupid, with a face that says 'are you seriously asking me that? How can you not know the answer to that?". This is when I know I have touched on what is so intuitive to them (and I have no clue) that it is a piece of culture. Anyway, I dont wish to give a bad impression. Those who know me well have known my struggles here and I am working my way thru with the incredible grace and mercy and patience of my wonderful savior Christ-Jesus, without whom I would have jumped ship after the first month, and it might not have been a figure of speech then.
Ok, on to happier times. In case it hasn't come thru yet, I am going to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro. At least that is the plan. May 23rd I start up the mountain with a small team and a couple of other random tourists I have yet to meet. (The offer still stands for anyone to join me. You know, in case you are fit, motivated, and ready to jump on a plane to Tanzania in 2 weeks!! :)) It was a surprisingly spontaneous decision, and I am not one to go back once I have made a decision. I may wish I did though. Time will tell. I bad the decision and started the physical training the week of the cyclone (perhaps the cyclone hit me harder than I thought). Never the less, I have persisted in my training and reading, shopping (yes, lots and lots of shopping had to happen for every
|Ok, no longer fun around 5 hours. major blisters and aching feet.|
Physical training was not as challenging in the ways one might expect. Though, as I had a broken toe in December, and really had not yet gotten back into regular exercise I was definitely starting from way below my normal fitness level and trying to surpass any level I have been at before, on my own...with out a team or coach or normal gym...during a cyclone response....in the field for several weeks at a time. So actually, yes, that was challenging. I always have had great respect for elite athletes and marathon runners etc, but now I have all the more insight and respect for them. Training can be challenging, but to be motivated to do hard training again, and again, and again, and just keep pushing and pushing, is truly HARD WORK!
I have stayed the course, literally and figuratively and I am sure I will enjoy the great outdoors, the physical challenge, and speaking English for a full week no matter what else happens. But I do hope to have many good stories to share with you from that trip.
|I finished 31km/19.2 miles in about 6 hours 26 minutes.|
done. Now for Kilimanjaro I need to do that long of a walk
about 6 days in a row. No problem
|Well massaged and oiled legs with my bag and race bid,|
in the taxi on the way home.
Ok, I think I have bored you enough with my current state. I love hearing from anyone interested enough to read through all this and even if you just skipped to the end and are reading this, keep me updated on you corner of the globe.
While I am not sure how much longer I will be working here I am always watching for where the Lord will lead me next and will surely be back in CA in July for my gparents 60 anniversary celebrations! Be in touch!
May hope, joy, and peace beyond understanding be yours, along with God's guidance and faith to step past your own personal 'impossible' line, each day.
Until next time,