Category Archives: In-Mad

8th Continent Cuisine

Getting creative with the seasonal produce here in the highlands. Ingredients I’ve been obsessing over lately: cabbage, zucchini, and chickpeas. Its what’s at the market, so its what’s for dinner!

Simple garden salad with a homemade red wine vinaigrette and furikake (seaweed)

A take on “kimchi chige” (Korean cabbage soup) with tomato and furikake

Chunky garlic mashed cauliflower with parsley and rosemary

Homemade hummus cabbage wraps with zucchini chips

My favorite. Spicy peanut butter and bok choy (greens) spaghetti, on whole wheat pasta.8th Continent Cuisine

Zucchini “pasta” with homemade tomato ragu sauce


The Norman’s Prayer

(From a postcard a close friend of Peace Corps brought back for me. I finally got the translation!)

La Prière du Normand

Mon Dieu,
Donnez-moi la santé pour longtemps,
De l’amour de temps en temps,
Du boulot pas trop souvent,
Mais du Calvados tout le temps.

Grant me good health for a long time,
Love from time to time,
Work not too often,
But Calvados (apple brandy) all the time.

5 Frip Tips!

My latest contribution to Verge. Check it out here:Image

East Coasting

Last month I went to the east coast with my NGO to conduct field visits in the Vatomandry and Mahanoro regions. It was lovely…beach and brochettes…SO ONO! And I can’t complain about the company either. I met up with a handful of fellow volunteers along the way, and I got to know my counterparts at ADRA better–Clovis, VSL coordinator/ my immediate supervisor, and Mahefa, Agribusiness department head. They are great guys, and so easy to work with! It was a nice bonding experience, and we learned a lot through our VSL observations. It was encouraging to see the successful groups on the coast. Apparently, I can be expected to be making these trips to the coast (Mananjary, the other region we work in) often. Lucky me. Can’t wait to get back to the warm weather!

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Ode to Imito

Goodbye mice and must
and moldy walls,
Confused roosters
and cattle herders calling
at all odd hours

Cupcakes baked over
temperamental charcoal
in rusty tin cans and
Mexican lettuce wraps served with
white boxed wine

Farewell bleak mornings
viewed from a crack
in the kabone,
orange-peeking afternoons and
mountain peaks, vibrant
at dusk from the castle top

So long wind
chilled cheeks, knee
caps and soles muddied from falls in
to rice paddies

Food flavored with candle wax
and curry, bowls of burnt popcorn and half
cooked kernels munched over
just-as-bad TV shows

and redemptive public radio
after a long run- French
lessons/pressed coffee, black
and white boxed crosswords
with banana oatmeal

Be well my mountain town.

Foara Brooding

I’m feeling nostalgic. Ironically, the town has decided to plan a weekend of cultural celebrations, three days of song and dance and speech, to commemorate the accomplishments of Imito’s village health workers—this all coming right after finding out about the Change (see “Citrus Season” post). My future work partner, ADRA, also ironically, is funding a bulk of the festivities.

Its Friday, the day of the big community fair, and I’m sitting on stage next to Wallie, my site-mate, with the mayor and other prominent figures, looking out at a sea of faces, people who a year ago, last May, I could not distinguish one from another. I live among and work with a lot of these people now. I know their names, where they live, have shared plates of rice or steamed sweet potato with most of them. They are for the most part comfortable around me, aren’t afraid anymore of the intimidating foreigner who sits pink-faced and smiling on the stage before them.

I shake the hand of DePaul from my VSL group in Soamahatamana, and congratulate him on his certification. I smile at the Chef Fokontany of Mandimbisoa, who is probably drunk off the local moonshine at eight in the morning. I wave from the stage, like a princess on a parade, at the children who I taught “Head and Shoulders” and Simon Says to at English Club at the secondary school (back when the students were still going to school; the teachers have been on strike now since Easter).

I sit with fresh eyes and faded jeans looking at the communities lined up before the stage with their painted and handwritten signs, coordinated colored hats and t-shirts, standing unsmiling and squinty-eyed in the sun. It reminds me of May Day back at Ahuimanu Elementary for some reason. Wallie and I take pictures with the honorees, like local celebrities, the token vazaha.

As the formalities of speeches and acknowledgments ensue, I look out further, past the mountains and valleys beyond, and the vast sky sheeted with billows of off-white clouds, like a heaven that seems close enough to touch. I think of the book of Ecclesiastes, my favorite book of the Bible at the moment, with its message of equanimity: Everything is Meaningless. Everything is like…chasing wind.

There are booths for each community group, selling dried corn and beans, sweet potato, taro, fresh fish…I scan each booth from the comfort of my shaded seat. I realize I can actually follow the speeches, if my mind quieted enough to listen, if I wasn’t so distracted by the colors and sounds around me. Its a powerful realization though—to be able to function, to thrive in another language. It hits me, suddenly, and I feel wistful.

Right now, I can calculate, easily, the amount of electricity I use (none at site, save the solar charger I use every other day to charge my phone and iPod, and even that depends on the temperament of the sun; one pack of six candles for light at night, and thats if I’m liberal with them), how many rolls of toilet paper (two) or jerry cans of water (five 20 liter cans) I go through a week.

I’m going to miss the simplicity of it all. I think of my favorite four-mile jog on the dirt road leading to Zanabahona, and of biking to Sandrandahy, where Natalie and Dan used to live, former volunteers and close friends of mine. I’m going to miss it.

The mantra this year for me has been to “be content with little and much will be given.” If I’m not satisfied with the love of my family and the support of my friends, how will I handle romance? If being the richest person in town with $200 a month is not enough than how will I manage having ten, a hundred, a thousand times more than that back home? If I’m not happy working on my own schedule, pursuing projects I am passionate about, even if not in the most ideal conditions, even without ample resources, how will I manage my own business someday, in better conditions, and with more?

If I’m not happy now, in these circumstances, I will never be happy—not here, not home, not now, not ever.

I smile at the crowd. In a few hours, Wallie and I will sneak away to start a charcoal fire on her deck and bake delicious white choco-coco carrot cupcakes, eating them in the semi-darkness, spooned straight from old rusted tuna and tomato paste cans (it sounds disgusting, but it was so GOOD). Tomorrow we will watch savika (bull-fighting), Imito’s own rodeo, at the stadium that the villagers built and painted with their own callused hands. And there will be a soccer match later at the local high school, where the seats are uniquely, beautifully carved into the earth.

The sun peeks out from the overcast sky, shining harsh, like a spotlight, for just a few minutes on the stage where we sit. I am so blessed—and I am never able to forget it, even if I try.


Citrus Season

Its citrus season again here in the highlands, and the chilled air, like the prematurely picked green-tinged mandarins, feels refreshing, tastes bittersweet. Ah, but the sweetness!

Pick this fruit from the tree and eat it: I have just gotten approval to move to Ambositra (currently the closest “big” town near me, about an hour or so away) next month to be working with ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) as their new Assistant VSL Coordinator in the Amoron’i Mania and Vatovavy regions! Its an exciting and unexpected change, in so many ways; and in the midst of all this celebration and citrus, I am trying to catch my breath to give thanks for it all.

What does this change mean exactly? And how did this whole thing come about? I’m still trying to process it all.

Looking forward and onto my second year as a Peace Corps volunteer, I was beginning to feel anxious about my service. As much as I’ve enjoyed the past year, I can’t say that its something I could see myself doing for another twelve months. Its cliché I know, but really, I’ve challenged myself and grown in more ways I could have ever imagined—and I am truly grateful for this first year experience of hiking biking off-the-grid mountain life. But I began to question if my skills, soft as they may be, and my interests, however random and wide-ranging, might be better suited in another job, another place, possibly another country.

So I started making moves. I applied for a position within Peace Corps as a PCVL, which is basically a more structured leadership position within the organization, with greater administrative and management responsibilities. I thought this position would be perfect for me–utilizing my organizational skills, providing the resources for me to pursue the secondary projects I was interested in, like working with higher skilled English speakers/students, starting a Peace Corps podcast project, etc. At this time, I’ll be honest, I also entertained the idea of applying for a position with an NGO in Portland, Oregon.

But then, enter Mid-Service Conference: the time for us volunteers to reflect on our first year of service, create dialogue about what has/not worked, a sharing of best practices and techniques, a time to encourage and uplift each other (involving a lot of booze and bitching), collaborate and plan for the following year. ADRA has been calling me throughout the weeklong retreat, and I finally connect with them, set a non-committal date to meet in Tana. I’m still at this point fixated on the position within Peace Corps. Also, I have these assumptions about ADRA being an organization that works solely with hospitals and health workers, and frankly I’m uninterested.

Then it happens. The unexpected, the unplanned, the divine. I spend an excruciating night with that familiar “pulsating” pain from a root canal performed four years ago. The pain is indescribable. I talk to the doctor here and he suggests I make an appointment with the dentist in Tana after the conference. The pain killers he gives me helps assuage the pain, but remembering how bad it felt the last time, when I waited until two days before a flight to Thailand to get my root canal done, in California with a dentist I had never gone to before, I disappointedly cancel the vacation plans I made with the other volunteers the following week. Morondava and Tsingy will have to wait.

But, as you can predict, everything works out. No I didn’t get my vacation. But I spent the week in the capitol instead, eating and drinking and being merry with my fellow stage-mates (the other crazy people I came with to this country in March last year). Its like America–I get katsu one night after a classy cocktail party, drink some brews at a barbeque another night, get dressed up and go to a nice meal next, even walk to a coffee shop and share a chocolate sundae and refreshing conversation with a friend I haven’t connected with in awhile. The week flies by.

And then at the end of all this fabulous fraternizing, ADRA sends a driver to pick me up for our meeting…and the incredible opportunity to continue my work on a larger scale throughout the region, with greater resources at my disposal, accessibility, and mobility—this is presented to me as if on a silver platter, as if I were being mocked by God for worrying so much and trying within my limited means to plan and structure, as if there could have been any other way than this.

I’m still a Peace Corps volunteer, with a year left to go in my service. I’m still living off less than $200 a month, a peasant’s salary. But I’ll be living, starting next month, in a  “high-rise” (relatively, five stories high, which is the highest building in Ambositra), in an apartment with a flushing toilet, a bathtub, and a communal washing machine. With electricity to charge things, cell phone reception and internet access. I am overwhelmed with the possibilities!

I am excited and, I can’t help it, a little anxious. I don’t anticipate the next chapter to be any less difficult. The responsibilities that come with the resources are great and daunting, and will indefinitely bring with the territory a whole new set of challenges—adjusting back into the conventional nine-to-five structure (Casual “Friday?” I thought everyday was “Unwashed Jeans For Two Weeks” Day?), giving presentations in English (Wait, not flipchart paper?), meeting a specific set of work objectives (People showed up to my meeting! We can all go home satisfied now, right?). Yeah I’m nervous, but I’m ready for the change.

When life gives you unripe oranges…sometimes you have to taste the sour to appreciate the sweet. (I’m eating a choco-coco twist ice cream cone as I type this, no joke)

Obligatory One Year Post

I’m sorry I don’t have an insightful quote or experience to preface this entry. I don’t know of its lack of inspiration or motivation of me seeking it, but no pearls of wisdom this time. I do however feel obligated to write an entry, since I have, officially, completed one year of service here in Madagascar. Yay! (imagining the fragrant puakenikeni leis of accomplishment around my neck).

I’m sort of decompressing from a month of constant…constancy.  I’m on my way back to site, after a week of catching up with fellow volunteers in my stage at our Mid-Service Conference. I may or may not see these people again until we finish up our two years of service next May. Its a bittersweet feeling—that feeling of accomplishment, paired with the realization that a year has gone by, and what have I done with the last year of my life? Also being both overwhelmed and appreciative of the social interaction (which within the Peace Corps volunteer circuit, consists of a lot of talk about bowel movements, American food, and media exchange). As excited as I am to go home and see everyone, I am equally nervous about my social regress. Will I remember how to interact, as we say here, in “mixed company?”

Anyway, this month is full of projects. I’m finishing up the last of my VSL trainings with my four groups this week, and starting the Entrepreneur’s Club/Vacation Enterprise program with ten students on Saturday. I’m looking forward to it. Just bought all the supplies and withdrew the seed money for the project to begin! The girls are so excited. I’ll try to post some pictures online when I get connected next. So far, there is a girl who will sell bisquit/cookies, one who will sell sweet potato pancakes (I told her I would be a loyal customer), another selling dried fish, another rice, a few raising chickens, and a few selling woven mats and hats. I can’t wait to see what will become of their businesses. It seems like just yesterday that I was the girl selling watered down POG and li hing mui seeds door-to-door for a dollar. Or posting ads for “Purrrfect Pet Walking/Sitting Service” at the community bulletin boards. I could have been a millionaire. Haha. Anyway, I’ll try to keep you updated on their progress this month.

In other news, there are some exciting developments having to do with my plans for next year. Opportunities have presented themselves, completely unexpectedly, and I don’t want to post anything until I know for sure, but I keep thinking about the divinity of it all—and how I always do this, worry about finishing the marathon, when I should be focusing on running each step (might break an ankle that way anyway, especially on the roads in this country). So hopefully I’ll have more news on that also at the end of the month.

I’ll be holding my first regional VAC meeting in Antsirabe also at that time, which I am excited for. We’re planning a small soiree (complete with games, if you know me) to get to know the newest members in our region, and to celebrate the end of service for the oldest stage.

Anyway, nothing of real interest or insight to report, but I hope to write more again soon. I can’t wait to see everyone back home for Hope’s wedding…still have to work on fitting into that one-size-too-small Maid of Honor dress though, haha. Veloma until next time!

Preparing for Rain

This month marks one year in Madagascar for me.

One year ago, if someone were to ask me to describe a typical day here–I couldn’t. Nothing was typical, or planned. There was two months of intensive training (which I have tried to relay as best I could in previous posts). There was a hectic three months at site- alone, confused, utterly lost in the mountains- literal, physical, spiritual. Enthralled, overwhelmed, appreciative, isolated, frustrated, impatient- just some emotions I felt during those beginning months.

And then IST–our In-Service Training with Peace Corps and fellow volunteers. It was a wake-up to what I had been losing myself in–some things healthy and productive (cooking creatively, journalling) and others not (realizing that those things, in excess, were coping mechanisms that essentially made me fat and recluse to the rest of the world).

Then the family’s visit in the fall. The fall before the rise. Reclaiming of pride. I came back depressed, defeated, but not before asserting a new outlook. I came back new- to a new site mate, as well. To running, which has become cathartic for me. The structure of every morning, in the mountain mist, a little longer each time. 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes. Destination in sight.

The holidays, and my birthday with new friends. It was refreshing, necessary. And I began to feel better about things–myself, my life here. The past three months have been marked by movement. Of my projects and spirit.

I’ve made some good friends, including a bike I’ve nicknamed “Thor.” Biking through hills and dirt roads to bake a cake with my newly engaged Peace Corps friends in their charcoal oven (I mostly eat, they bake). Or making veggie burgers out of beans and homemade fries with them . Or chili cheese nachos and playing rugby with Wallie and the kids on Super Bowl Sunday. And most recently, Mardi Gras with the other trainers at PCTC– dancing in the rain at night, pretending to jump rope.

This morning I walked through sunshine, a wooded lush glade on a quiet dirt road, carrying posters I made on savings and loan principles. I passed through babbling brooks and muddy rice fields, children who knew my name and shouted good morning to me at 3 in the afternoon. I conducted an entire financial training all by myself in a foreign language. Made the group laugh with jokes in Malagasy, and not because I said something funny or looked strange, but because they understood me and liked my jokes. I ate rice and a freshly killed chicken with a group of farmers, gave a customary speech of thanks at the end.

I carried in the sunshine a poncho, umbrella, and plastic tarp; because a typical day here, I have learned means always preparing for rain.

As I write this, the thunder rumbles throughout the valleys I have come to call home. The rain drips steadily on the tin roof, as I sit warm, dry by candlelight in the comfort of my home. Home–a strange concept.

V Day and More

The sun has forgotten something. Its shining too obnoxiously into my window this afternoon, as if the category four cyclone that hit the island just two days ago never happened. No, Giovanna didn’t hit so hard here in the highlands, thank God, save for the tops of a handful of homes here in Imito, and the hoards of trees lining the main dirt road into the village. Fields of corn stalks lie flat, defeated, and oh- the outhouse of the main hospital in town now has a functional sunroof. The large meeting/ping pong room in my house flooded a bit, and for most of last Tuesday I had little to no cell phone reception. But as far as I have heard and seen in my part of the island, the damage has been minimal. It could have been a worse Valentine’s Day. Or at least, less eventful.

The New Year has brought, along with the temperamental weather, a spirit of productivity and new beginnings. As much as I try to reason cynicism into 2012, somehow something, someone, always comes along to bring me up and force me to see the good and right in life right now.

I have so much happiness for those around me right now, it sounds cheesy, but I can’t help but feel myself enlightened. Most notably, over Christmas, as some of you may know, my cousin and closest friend, Hope, became engaged to her long-time love, Jon, and you are now reading the blog of a freshly christened Maid of Honor! I’ve been excitedly beginning to plan my trip home for the fall wedding taking place later this year, and posting inspiration for Hope on my newly acquired PINTEREST page (why was I so late on this fad? Love it). Though I wish I could be home now to preview the wedding dress fittings, and other fabulously fun details, I am so grateful to be in some way part of this special affair. I keep daydreaming about the day we can both lay out on Lanikai beach with our iced chai lattes or acai bowls, getting our tans wedding ready. Sigh.

Also, in keeping with last year’s WRITE 2011 impromptu vision boarding workshop, I recently led a modified version with a small group of young girl students, and Madame Angeline, a Malagasy teacher, as well as Wallie, my sitemate—the workshop for the most part conducted all in Malagasy, which made for an interesting intersection of words and ideas.

The day began with a visit to the Chef de Commerce in Ambositra, the largest town nearest to Imito, about an hour away. The girls prepared some really well-thought out questions to ask Madame Hanitra, about her work and education as related to goal setting—for example, how she got her job, what kind of education she needed, and what advice she had for them. Then we sat down to a simple but filling lunch I had set up beforehand, at a cozy restaurant in town (no Chad Lou’s in Kailua but it sufficed). I had the girls complete a few ice breaker activities, and together went through a workbook I prepared on goal-setting and visualization; later, over juice and popcorn, the girls were able to create and share their own vision boards, which they took home with their workbooks.

It was a really special event for myself, and the girls as well. I think we really bonded, and that each girl got something out of the experience. To put things in perspective—very rarely do these girls leave Imito for Ambositra, even though its only an hour by car, and often when they do leave, they walk by foot as they often cannot afford the fare (roughly $1.50). Many thanks has to be given to the language coordinators at Peace Corps for helping me with translation of the workbook, as well as the $10 Club of the US Embassy here who helped fund the entire event. Without their help, this small yet significant event would not have been possible.

I hope to work with the same girls this summer in a more entrepreneurial project called Vacation Enterprise as well. Its a really cool idea that many volunteers have implemented at their respective sites here, and I love the premise of it. Basically each girl receives a small seed of start-up money in which to begin a small business. The girls are required to attend a series of business trainings (conducted by myself) in areas such as management, finance, marketing, etc. At the end of the program, about two months, the girls get to keep their profits to be put toward a fund for their higher education. Its the exact kind of thing I wish I had growing up! Back when I was convinced I would be selling ice cream from a cart called “Island Flavor” at the Aloha Stadium swap meet every weekend (another blog post in itself).

And speaking of business, I have another ongoing project I am very stoked on. My work with the weavers has been put on hold, and I have pursued VSL instead—which stands for “Village Savings and Loans.” Its a simple yet effective solution for all kinds of businesspeople, farmers, merchants, teachers, to help them save and borrow small amounts of money. There are some great resources on the subject (The Poor and Their Money, for example) but in short, it works kind of like a small scale credit union.

Basically, a typical VSL consists of 10-25 members with an elected board of President, Secretary, Money Holder and Counters. Each member commits to purchasing at least one share each meeting—this is their savings, and the bulk of the Loan Fund. Every month, members may borrow up to three times their savings, if all members agree to it, and the interest collected from these loans is distributed to each member, respective of their shares, at the end of the cycle (9-12 months). Its a really simple program, but its had success in many developing countries, in greater Africa and Bangladesh (Grameen Bank).

Anyway, I’ve spent the last couple months preparing meetings and translating documents for this project. I’ve held three large community meetings, and the response has been positive and encouraging. The people know I am just a facilitator, not a money lender, and still they are interested. Its been great. Already there are seven separate groups in four different communities who have signed up to begin training in March! So I think I will be busy with that for awhile…wish me luck!

On another note, I’ve decided to start making lists of relevant things in my life right now.

Hunger Games trilogy (finished in like, a day)
The Help
Round Ireland with a Fridge

CURRENTLY READING (always a revolving list)
One-Straw Revolution
100 Years of Solitude
The Hobbit
Iranian Rappers and Persian Porn

Crazy Stupid Love
The Descendants

OBSESSIONS (see correlations with above)
Ryan Gosling
All things Irish
Avocados- in season again!
Fripped shoes (most recently, $20 New Balance running shoes and barely worn Diesel floral flats)
New Florence&Machine
Flash Mobs
Cake Pops
PINTEREST (follow me NOW)
Plane ticket perusing

Books on Ireland
Travel books- Europe, Middle East
New music! Pleeeease! Good acoustic stuff, pop, indie, HAWAIIAN, hip hop

Cookbook project…more details soon
Videos of life here