A quick shout out to folks who sent me packages!!
Benjamin: CUZ! Thanks so much for the Christmas package buddy. It was great getting all those books and goodies all the way from Georgia to this island in the Indian Ocean. Merry Christmas Buddy!!!
Joffrions: You guys rock. And no, I do not yet have, nor have I yet read, "Lords and Lemurs" and very much look forward to digging into it. Also, the Blue Ridge Parkway Calendar rocks! Helps remind me of the differences in climate throughout the year as compared to Madagascar (it's steaming hot and wet hear now whereas there's snow and ice on Grandfather Mountain). Merry Christmas to you!!
Mawmaw et al: You know I love you and always love the packages I get from you. The cookies were slightly crumbled but still DELISH. And I look forward to getting into the books by Garrison Keiler and the other about the Holocaust survivor. Merry Christmas and I love you so much!!!!
I returned to site about a week ago after a fantastic vacation around this huge island. The Friday before Christmas, I traveled back to the old Anjozoro (where I lived during my first month on the island) and I visited my host family there for one day. It was great seeing them and getting to actually be able to converse with them. My skills in Malagasy are greatly improved now compared to when I first got here (when I'm sure I sounded like a cave man) so we were actually able to have decent conversation. After that, I left Antananarivo on a Saturday afternoon and arrived in Antsiranana (Diego Suarez) on a Sunday afternoon. That's right, a 24 hour taxi-brousse ride from the capitol all the way to the northern-most tip of Madagascar. There were about 20 volunteers who went there to celebrate Christmas and it was amazing. Our first day there, Christmas Eve, we all hired a boat to take us out to what are called the Emerald Islands. It took about an hour and a half to arrive there. The boat ride was fantastic, sailing through the blue-green waters of the Diego bay, which also provided us with a viewing of the Nosy Lonja (Sugarload Island), a very famous natural landmark in the bay. Along the way, we picked up our lunch from a spear-fisherman, a stringer full of fish freshly caught/speared. We left the bay for the open waters of the Indian Ocean and arrived at the Emerald Islands, where the sand was white and the waters were, truly, emerald green. There were several palm bungalows that helped to provide us with shade between swimming and sunning (though I turned down the sunning). We also had lunch of rice, crab, and the fish we had picked up on route (cooked by our friendly Malagasy guides). AND we even sang some Christmas carols. To say the least, by the time we arrived back in Diego in the late afternoon, we were all fairly exhausted from beaching and sunning all day (though I didn't get a sunburn, WOOHOO!), that we had dinner and called it an early night. On Christmas Day, we went to one of the finer hotels in Diego and got to use their pool (for a fee, which included a very nice lunch). It was real interesting spending Christmas Eve and Day beaching and pooling in very hot weather (definitely a first for me). Diego is a great city, very different than Antananarivo. Very clean, good roads, Tuk-tuks (moto-taxis that carry passengers for 25 cents wherever your going, and taxis for 50 cents the same), GREAT food (fried shrimp!!!), and cool architecture (Google: Antsiranana or Diego Suarez). A very Merry Christmas indeed.
For New Years, I travelled back to Antananarivo (it's just fun typing that name, isn't it?). I bought a suit on the streets for $7 and a belt with a silver electric guitar buckle with a spinning dollar sign emblem for $1.50. Gotta make sure to look good for New Years, ya know? We had a great house party at our Malaria Initiative Coordinator's house then, for the midnight countdown, moved to downtown Tana at a nice place called Planet Terrace. Since there was no real countdown led by Malagasy, we wound up having two, unsynchronised countdowns to midnight. Ah well. So much fun though. Happy New Years!!!
Site has been slow but good since returning from vacation. I got visited by my good friend Nick for two days this week (thanks for the double IPA beer from the states!!!). I am planning on traveling to Antsirabe in the coming weeks/months to start getting more information on the cattle market. Rice is growing well. We just got visited by THE Dr. Patricia Wright (aka Mrs. Save the Forests of Madagascar) who is looking into getting us some help from her friends in high places (WOOHOO!).
Rat update: I had them under control. I even quit counting because there weren't too many to worry about anymore. I'm guessing the current number is around 15-18 that I have personally killed. However, since returning from my holiday vacation, they have taken over my house. They have eaten through the wood of my house to create their own personal entrances everywhere. They ate my rice winnower. They my oil and petrol bottles. They ate my spices. This is war. I tried being fair. I let them bring the battle to me for too long. Time to show them what America can do. Stay tuned...
Happy 2013 to everyone back home! This is my full year, from beginning to end, in Madagascar. I've been here for more than 10 months already. Sometimes the time seems to drag, but it flies most of the time. I can't believe I'll be marking a year in a little less than 2 months. I guess I'll be home before I know it. See you guys next year!!