December 20, 2011

PDAA (Public Displays of Affection in Androy)

A Lesson with Dodofioke
One day, I was walking to the market with my friend, Dodofioke.  Dodofioke is around 18 years old, and a really nice guy.  He always takes the time to explain things to me and has an abundant amount of patience.  So we were walking to the market together.  I noticed he kept walking closer to me, and so I would sidestep slightly to regain my personal space.  But then he would inch closer again.  Ok, I told myself, they have small personal bubbles here, so I’ll just go with it.  So we walked, shoulders sometimes bumping, knuckles sometimes brushing.  Whatever, I said to myself, just keep walking.
About 100 yards into this walk with Dodofioke, I noticed that his knuckles were brushing against mine at a steady cadence.  Every other step.  Brush, step, brush, step.  Then the cadence picked up to every step.  Brush, brush, brush.  How uncomfortable.
Then it happened.  Dodofioke delicately began to loop his pinky into my fingers.  A warning siren began wailing in my head as I realized that he was trying to hold my hand.  I immediately started talking about something and gestured with my hands to make them unavailable for holding.  The rest of the walk to the market was awkward, with me blathering on about I don’t remember what, and struggling to gesture the entire time.  I knew that if I stopped gesturing for just one moment, I might find my fingers affectionately intertwined with his.  I never gestured so enthusiastically in my life.

December 19, 2011

The Doomsday Machine

Culture Fatigue
Since living in Madagascar for the past eight months, I’ve been confronted with a variety of cultural differences that required adaptation and tolerance.  This was not something I was unprepared for.  Peace Corps provides its volunteers with cultural training before deploying them to site, so as I when installed at my site, I figured I had an inkling of what I was in for.  I really didn’t (and I don’t discredit Peace Corps’ cultural training – it’s just that some things are better learned through experience).
Many people describe exposure to a new culture as “shock”, but I don’t see it this way.  I never experienced a shock, as in an immediate and extreme jolt.  It’s more a gradual force that works by attrition, gradually wearing you down until you relent and throw your hands up helplessly and say, “Ok!  I accept this part of your way of life, and I will adapt to / tolerate it from here on.”  I think “culture fatigue” is a better term for this experience.  It does wear on you, especially if you examine it through the lens of your own culture.  It takes a lot of conscious effort to learn to look through an unbiased lens.  There is no compromise here.  You either accept new culture and go with it, or you be stubborn and let it grind you into the ground.

December 18, 2011

Tall Coffee with Shot of Bug

What Would Bear Grylls Do?
I was waiting for the bush taxi this morning.  It was late and I was waiting at a table at Hotel Madagascar, a small restaurant beside the bush taxi station.  I was bored and idly watching the owner prepare food.   She was using her bare hands.  Then, before she breastfed her baby, she blew nose through her fingers.  When the baby was full, she put her mammary away and went back to the food prep, using her fingers to mash boiled potatoes and carrots together.  I felt my throat dilate.  I made a mental note never to eat the potato salad here.  Or anything else that involved mashing.
But I was bored and so I wanted to consume something while I waited.  What would be safe?  I decided that all the food here could potentially be tainted with breast milk and mucus and other bodily fluids, so I ordered a cup of coffee.  Making coffee doesn’t really involve any touching.  Just pouring and stirring in some sugar.  Safe.

December 1, 2011

Fear and Bloating in Ft. Dauphin

This post is dedicated to Amarilis, who shared many Ft. Dauphin experiences with me.
28 Days Later
In a previous post (“Riding the Bush Taxi on Southern Madagascar’s Route 13”), I explained that I go to Ft. Dauphin monthly for a weekend.  I do this to withdraw money for living expenses at my site in Antanimora-Sud, where there is no bank.  Going to Ft. Dauphin is also my chance to have electricity and internet access, to hang out with other volunteers, and to take a break from the rural monotony of my site.
Ft. Dauphin is the antithesis to my lifestyle in Antanimora-Sud.  It has stuff like fruit and bread, other foreigners, and beaches.  Because it’s a city, there is a sense of anonymity that I lack back at my site.  I can have solitude in Ft. Dauphin, and people don’t impose themselves on me.  There’s something relaxing about being ignored.
Antanimora-Sud is about work.  That’s where I cook and wash dishes all day, where I teach English classes, where my diet is fixed and healthy, where I exercise, where I struggle to get my projects going.  My life there is disciplined and to the point.
Ft. Dauphin is about excess.  That’s where I eat inordinate amounts of carbohydrate-heavy foods, where I spend entire days online, where I watch movie after movie on my laptop.  My days here are few and I push myself to overindulge.  It balances the other 28 days of the month.
After a weekend in Ft. Dauphin, I’m thoroughly disgusted with myself and want to return to the purposefulness and simplicity of life at site.  Twenty-eight days later, I’ll be ready for Ft. Dauphin again.  The cycle repeats.