Monday, March 28, 2011

And it's almost April!

(posted by Polly)

23 March 2011

First, I feel it’s important to just say:  I’m not a loyal blogger (in case that truth hasn’t become increasingly clear since the early months of our Mada blog).  It’s a nice idea and all, but it’s just not in my pattern to keep up with such things.  We’re doing our best to put something out every once in a while! Azafady!  Apologies!

Rather than try to catch people up on the months we’ve let fly by, let me recap where we are today.

At this moment, Erik is in the kitchen preparing cheeseburgers and fries.  This makes me very happy b/c I’m starving!  It’s one of the meals he makes best.  (He’s also quite talented at pancakes.)  Last night I cooked a different beef dish:  curried beef mixed with a sauce of tomatoes, hot peppers (sakay), and onions…put over rice, of course.  And even though I purchased rice with small rocks during my last market trip (they were out of the good, rock-less rice – “vary tsy misy vato”), we did not bite down on one rock! Pat, pat on my back. 

I owe this little rice skill to my counterpart’s wife, who taught me a system of getting small rocks out of rice early in our service here.  Interested?  You put your cup or two of raw rice in a largish bowl and douse it in water.  Then you sift down the rocks with the bowl at an angle (so the rocks fall into a “corner” of the bowl), and pour out as much water as you can without pouring out any rice.  All the clean rice should be in the upper 3/4ths of the bowl at this point, so carefully scrape the clean rice out of the bowl and into your cooking pot.  But be very sure not to stir up the little rocks again as you scrape!  If you do, just add more water and repeat process – works great!  (I know this is a huge issue for all you States people.) Alas, many Malagasy families here seem to prefer spreading their raw rice out on a large, woven plate and handpicking out the rocks before cooking.  It takes forever!  Not really sure why the water method isn’t more popular…must just be the deep-rooted fomba (culture) for preparing rice around here.  They probably feel, “the more face time with my rice, the better.” Don’t question Malagasy and their rice cooking fomba.  You will get laughed out of the room.  Anyhoo…

This late afternoon I returned home from a long day out in Ampanidinana, my main “work” community.  The village is about 3.5 km up a windy mountain road from our house.  (The community where we live/shop/chill, and where I have some smaller environmental work projects going, is called Ambohimahasoa.  Because it is fairly large and has a number of small businesses, Ambohimahasoa is more Erik’s assigned work town than mine.)  Anyway, today we focused on bean farming in Ampanidinana – we’ve been doing quite a bit of that these past few weeks.  Also, I planted six more Moringa trees around some of our small vegetable fields out in the forest. 

By the way, have you heard about these Moringa trees?  They’re pretty amazing – I’ve posted a number of pics on my Facebook page.  Their leaves are PACKED full of nutrition (kinda like a multi-vitamin).  They’re fast-growing, they don’t mind nutrient-depleted soils, and they need little care to grow well.  If you dry the leaves, the nutritional value goes through the roof.  Many growers around the world like to crush the dry leaves into powder and sprinkle it on food dishes as a nutritional supplement.  Cooking the leaves into meals is also a great way to use it.  The tree’s origin is India, but they’re being used around the world now to help with food security issues / malnourishment.  Google it!  I’m a big fan. 

Right now I’m in the process of convincing my Ampanidinana community to focus more on growing and selling Moringa trees.  They could be an excellent cash crop tree for our burgeoning tree nursery (pepiniere).  My major challenge is that the majority of people in my community are beyond crazy for a tree called Ravintsara (“Good leaves”).  They can’t get this tantalizing tree out of their heads, no matter how much we discuss how it may not be the best direction for our pepiniere.  For years here in Madagascar, this Ravintsara tree has been THE tree to put dollar signs (or, rather, Ariary signs) in people’s eyes.  The medicinal oil from Ravintsara leaves is a coveted product here in Mada.  However, the seeds for these Ravintsara trees are EXPENSIVE!  (So much more expensive than Moringa seeds.)  They also need a lot more babying than Moringa to grow well, and already a number of local tree nurseries specialize in producing Ravintsara.  No one near us is growing Moringa for the market.  It could be our market niche!  Our shtick!  Really!  When I educate people here about Moringa and show them the tree, buyers come out of the woodwork.   And so far we’ve been selling young Moringa trees for the same price as the precious Ravintsara trees. 

Erik and I did the math. Once costs are accounted for, the profit from Moringa is much greater.  For me, all signs are pointing to us going the Moringa route…at least as a tree we specialize in growing.  We should grow other varieties as well, even Ravintsara when we can afford the seeds.  But for now, I really believe Moringa is the better tree for my community.  It could be the tree that gets this pepiniere moving forward.  And, for sure, it’s a tree that could be a great help in this nutrient-deplete rice culture!  Right?
I know I’m merely a silly foreigner…what am I thinking?  It’s just my US-bred common sense again, clouding my reason.

So, after work “up the hill,” I walked back down through our bigger town and distributed a fresh supply of highly desired English-Malagasy vocabulary sheets.  Erik developed these handouts a few months back.  They have some simple English conversation phrases as well as other common vocab., and they go like hot cakes.  We try to get them to whoever requests them, but it’s tough keeping up as these requests happen all the time.  (We get to talking with new people around town and they realize we can help them with their English…and we have vocab. sheets we can print for them and hand deliver…oh my!).  I also dropped off some books that Friends of Madagascar and Peace Corps published recently (in both Malagasy and English) on health-related topics.  Folks at the local hospital and schools love them.  It’s always fun dropping off little gifts like that – the recipients get giddy over the handouts and books, especially b/c the gifts help them practice their English.  The English language is in huge demand here these days!

Erik spent much of his day in Ambohimahasoa trying to help a local micro-finance office get their computers on a network.  However, today was unusual -- not Erik’s day for winning over technology.  The office doesn’t have the right hardware, and then all the software is in French.  Incredibly challenging.  French software isn’t much help to us Malagasy/English speakers.  (Since our first Malagasy class here in Mada over a year ago, nearly all French has been forgotten! Frickin’ frick!! I was really looking forward to learning French here too.  But, no; evidently my brain can only balance two languages at a time.  Same for Erik.)

What’s that?  Burgers done?  Dinner!  Should wrap up for the night…more tomorrow.

24 March 2011

Happy Birthday, brother Ted!

This late morning Erik and I walked up to Ampanidinana. Erik’s helping me develop a tree nursery/pepiniere business plan (something we very much need now that we understand better the strengths and weaknesses of my community).  The day was already quite hot when we went out b/c we decided to have a semi-relaxed early morning (…I admit Erik did most of the a.m. chores).  But, we sweat it out and made it up there in decent time.  We used many lalana manapakas (short cuts) that I’m advised to avoid when walking alone, so that helped our trekking time. 

We met with my counterpart at his house about some upcoming activities, such as a training/work day with a new group of Peace Corps Trainees visiting our pepiniere in April.  We did some work out in the pepiniere and took a tree inventory – important data for our business plan. (Currently, any “big” work days with my community in the pepiniere have been put on hold until we get the business plan worked out.  For a number of months I was working regularly with groups on various tree nursery jobs…hoping those work days can start again soon.)

At noon we lunched with my counterpart’s family, then grabbed a newly constructed plaque to take down to Ambohimahasoa.  We’re getting the plaque painted by a professional artist to advertise our tree nursery.  Erik and I had my counterpart approve a design we made for the plaque.  Then, we jumped in a truck with some guys who were willing to give us a lift.  The plaque’s large and heavy – a pain in the butt to move any real distance on foot.

In the afternoon I went out to a school on the other side of Ambohimahasoa to give a training on how to grow Moringa.  Several kids from my Ampanidinana village go to this school, so the village pepiniere has donated some young trees and seeds.  I’ve been swinging by the school now and then to teach them about their new trees. 

Tomorrow visitor V (Vanessa) arrives!  Hopefully she’ll help with our community permagarden.   This week is tiring!  I am CHILLIN’ tonight.  For reals.

28 March 2011

OK…time lapsed…

Our friend Vanessa, a Peace Corps Volunteer from our group/stage (March 2010), arrived at our site on Friday morning.  She’s serving waaaay up in the hot north of the island and wanted to visit us southerners.  We gave her a little tour of the town, made lunch, then gathered up the local kids to put in some hours on our community permagarden.  The afternoon sun was quite hot, but the kids enjoyed themselves and learned some new stuff (I hope!).  We adults got a digging workout, new blisters on our hands, and things got planted.  I had to run out several chickens that squeezed through stakes in our fence (argh!).  It never ends with them!  The littlest gap – and they’re through it!!   By the end of the day, I was ready to call the work week OVER.  We three had a long, fun dinner with drinks out in town that night after refreshing bucket baths.

Since then, we’ve been hanging with Vanessa over the weekend, doing a little bit of this and that…giving her a little tour of our southern Mada home.  Yesterday, Sunday, we made another trip to Anja Park to see the ring-tailed lemurs!  We grabbed a couple more friends in the Fianar area and headed south.  Such an amazing day!  Weather was perfect, lemurs abundant, friends plentiful…and the taxi-brousse situation was even easy.  What?!  Pictures will be posting soon on Facebook.

Tomorrow morning, Vanessa and I head north to Tana.  She needs to get back to her northern home, and I need to get over to the PC Training Center in Mantasoa.  A new group of Environment and Small Enterprise Development (SED) trainees have arrived.  I get to help with their training for a few weeks.  Really looking forward to meeting all the new blood.  My third week with them will be spent on the Environment sector’s technical trip.  They’re visiting my community’s tree nursery for a portion of the trip, so the past few weeks here have involved a lot of preparation for that upcoming training day.

Meanwhile, Erik is staying in Ambohimahasoa and then meeting up with the new SED sector for their technical trip that happens next week.

Lots of file organizing and packing before I’m outta here with V super early ampitso/tomorrow/manana.  Almost had to attend a funeral today too, but got out of that…this day has flown.  Enjoy your week, all!


  1. Great blog post Polly, definitely my favorite thus far! :)

  2. Great Blog Polly! Keep them coming! We are so proud of you guys!

  3. Thanks Stef and Mer! Glad to learn you all are OK after the NC tornadoes!