First, a quick thank you to everyone for staying in touch via email, this blog, letters, packages etc. Your continued interest over the past 9 months has really meant a lot to me. The best way to keep in touch is email. I check my email as often as once per week and I promise to keep writing as much as possible and respond to emails in a relatively timely manner. Keep ‘em coming.
Unfortunately, I have no Tsimihety proverbs, funny stories or half-baked philosophy in this month’s entry. I rushed this out because I wanted to take the time to give a quick update on things in Madagascar but more importantly, to wish everyone back home a very Happy Thanksgiving spent with family and friends. To my family, I wish that I could be there today to enjoy your company and my favorite holiday. To my friends, I hope that you enjoyed Black Wednesday and continue to make bad decisions in my absence.
Celebrating Thanksgiving in Madagascar is different. There’s no turkey, football, 5K or crisp fall air. Oppressive humidity and 95-degree weather make it hard to believe that winter is just around the corner in Chicago.Despite plans to spend Thanksgiving visiting friends in Mandritsara (about 100 km east), I awoke this morning to the sounds of a raucous demonstration that I later learned was a taxi-brousse driver strike. As a result, plans to leave my district had to be put on hold and for the moment it looks like I’m stranded in Befandriana.
There are a lot of things that circumstances have prohibited but conditions haven’t stifled my holiday spirit. While I spent the morning preparing registration papers for the blacksmiths, I made it clear that they’re on their own for the rest of the day and visited my friend in Befandriana for the day. I also got my hands on a box of Argentinean wine with a Turkish label in a Malagasy storefront owned by an Arabic family. I’m thankful for the Era of Globalization.
My work is still progressing steadily and I feel very at home in my community. I find it hard to believe that I’ve only been in Madagascar for 9 months. It feels like I’ve lived here for years. That said, it’s daunting to think that I still have 17 months of service left; not to mention how much I still hope to accomplish.
Construction continues on the blacksmith’s new workshop and roadside store; however, as predicted, progress has slowed significantly and we currently find ourselves in possession of a workshop without a roof or and a store that’s little more than a foundation and some rebar. Such is the reality of completing a construction project in the middle of nowhere (said affectionately of course). With miles of bad roads separating us from the capital or any port city the construction company spends a good amount of time waiting for materials. Fortunately, after weeks of waiting for rebar and roofing, the truck finally arrived from Tana and we’re back on schedule to complete both structures by the New Year.
The blacksmith association “Loharanonkariana” is finally starting to become a business rather than a loose association of childhood friends. This past weekend we ratified the constitution, elected an executive board and gathered member fees. All that I have left to do is harass the last few members for their fees before registering the association with the government next week.
The news that I’m most excited about is that my counterparts have agreed to teach me the tricks of the trade. In December, I’ll begin as an ‘apprentice’ blacksmith, studying under my friends Fizel and Evariste who have a combined fifty years of experience. I’ll be spending three days a week working over a hot forge, pouring a significant amount of my own money into making knives that no one will buy but I couldn’t be happier to learn the new skill.
Finally, the spirit of Thanksgiving has caused me to reflect upon what I’m truly thankful for and I’ve reached the following conclusion: I’m thankful for the opportunity to live and work in Madagascar but, more than anything, I’m thankful for the type of friends and family back home that not only supported my decision to live abroad for two years but continue to encourage and inspire me every day. I miss you all and hope that your Thanksgiving offers a welcome repose from a hectic pace of life. Enjoy yourselves, relax and more than anything else, enjoy the company of those around you.