While Jeff is in the Peace Corps, I will be updating this page with letters he sends about what he is doing there.
At any time, you can send him mail to:
Jeffrey A. Allen
c/o WWF Project Marojejy
Air Mail via Paris
I believe that this is the town that he visits every couple of weekends.
"Air Mail via Paris" is very important or the mail may never get there... In fact, it takes at least 2.5 weeks for mail to get to him and mail has been known to take months or never arrive. It is a good idea to number messages so that it is easy to tell if any have been lost.
My Dad suggests putting in "Par Avion" and "Air Mail via Paris, France" on the envelope in various places. It needs to be on there once, as suggested above, we're not sure if repeating it helps.
Packages vs. Letters:
We have found that packages get through much faster and more reliably than letters. Apparently Jeff has to pay some amount to pick up packages, but this tends to assure that they get through more reliably. Good package contents are candy (wrapped really well to keep out bugs), books, CDs & tapes.
What Jeff says about mail (10/24/99):
A word about mail. I haven't gotten too much. I mean that in the most literal sense. I believe it's been sent, because I know of a lot of letters which have been, but it's been lost along the way. From what I've been told, this is typical of training, but mail gets much more reliable once at site - i.e., now. If you haven't heard from me, that means most likely I haven't gotten your letter(s), because I've actually been pretty good about writing back. Please give me and my new address a chance before giving up.
Note: Jeff has begun to receive more of his mail, including stuff we thought was lost...
There has been a request to have links to the letters as separate pages so that letters can be printed out individually. That's what each "separate file" link is in the list below.
Jeff's Itinerary to get to Madagascar
Peace Corps Family Support Web Site
Madagascar listing in the World Factbook
State Department's Background Notes on Madagascar
Since I have the chance, I suppose I should update you on the condition of things here. The destruction in my town from the cyclone wasn't so bad. Many people lost rooves or walls (the former are almost all made out of tin and the latter are almost all made of wood or bamboo) but rebuilt them rather quickly. Lots of trees are gone or stripped bare, but they'll come back eventually. Some crops were hurt pretty bad, but very few people died. So, all in all, things were better than expected. Life is definitely back to normal in Andapa and has been for a while. Antalaha (the other city that got bashed) is not back to normal yet, as it got hit a lot harder, but doing well, considering.
Now I've got about 3 weeks of school left plus tests and administrative stuff. Should be really hectic for me until the 26 of June, the big Independence Day Fete here. Then vacation until September, which means I can chill out and work on other Peace Corps projects.
I hope all is well everywhere (isn't that a lovely sentiment). I apologize to those I haven't written back to yet--I know there's a bit of a backlog--but I promise, it's coming. Take care.
It occurs to me that I've done a rather poor job of describing Madagascar and every day life here in m y previous letters, so I will take a new approach. The following statements are all true (as far as I have observed)
But enough of that. I've just returned from a trip to Antalaha, a town about 180 km from me by road, and I thought you should know about it. You see, Madagascar was just slammed by three cyclones - Eliene, Gloria, and Hudah. Gloria and Hudah both hit my region; and the towns that were damaged the most were Andapa and Antalaha. Andapa is okay, more or less. 99 people died in floods from the first cyclone in the Andapa region. The second one killed almost no one, but ripped a lot of rooves off, almost all of which were nailed back on by the time I got back to town nearly two weeks later (I had been in Tana for a Peace Corps training during the second one). A lot of trees are missing and many of those that are left were stripped bare in the storm, but on the whole, Andapa seems to have rebounded all right and school will reopen after the Easter break as scheduled on Tuesday.
Antalaha is another story. The last cyclone, Hudah, came ashore near Cap-Est, about 50 km south of Antalaha and brutalized an area about 100 km long, from just north of Antalaha, all the way down 50 km south of Cap-Est. I am in Antalaha about two weeks after the cyclone help. My friend and I were stunned by what we saw. Many houses had been destroyed - most wooden or bamboo houses, but even some concrete houses were ripped apart, including a friend of mine's. Apparently, almost all rooves were ripped off by the storm. Many had been partially repaired and people were living in the half rebuilt houses. Due to a lack of metal roofing sheets and nails, many of the rooves were not yet completely fixed. The town of Antalaha appears to be doing relatively alright. There is currently enough food, water and the electricity is mostly back on. The people en brousse- in the rural villages south of Antalaha for 100 km - are in big trouble. Their crops were all destroyed and there is not enough rice anymore. International organizations are distributing rice, but from what I hear, due to distribution problems, and a lack of available rice, there is just not enough food getting to the people en brousse. Many Malagasy houses are made on a wood platform, about 1-2 feet off the ground. I am told that everyone hid under these platforms after their houses were destroyed, during the storm. Amazingly, only a few people died in the cyclones, which brought winds of about 300 kmh. However, the situation is still serious as the people are in danger of running out of food. We'll see how it goes in the next few weeks.
So, usually my life is pretty boring and mundane, believe it or not--meaning that while it might be vastly different than anything you might be doing, to me it's pretty much the same stuff day after day. Well, that might be about to change. You see, cyclone Hudah (appropriately named - that's Hudah, not Huldah) just bashed the Northeast coast of Madagascar. I was in Tana at the time at a conference, so I don't really know what happened in my town, but I've gotten reports from "the cyclone missed your town" to "your town is 85 percent destroyed." Based on who the sources were and when information was transmitted (communication is sketchy at best in this country), I'm thinking that the 85 percent destroyed is probably closer to the reality of the situation. So, my petite conference is over and I'm heading back to Andapa on Wednesday to see what I can see. Hopefully I'll still have a house and a school.
Anyway, thanks for all the emails and I'm sorry I couldn't reply beyond this but I'm on a public computer and lots of folks are waiting. If you send me real mail, I'll probably get it, and if I do, I'll definitely respond. Take care, and keep in touch. Jeff
Hi there, friends.
In case you`ve forgotten, my name is Jeff and I`m in Madagascar.
So, I`ve completed over 5 months at site. I had a great Christmas and New Year with my friends in Diego and now I`m in Tana for In-service Training for a week.
Teaching is going well and I`ve begun to feel very "tamana" (at home) in Andapa. My language skills are enough to get me by, my french is improving (thanks to the 2 French people in my town) and everyone in my town knows me and treats me almost like any other townperson. Life is becoming more and more routine, which is a great thing. On the whole, all is good.
I`ll probably be able to check email one more time in the next 3 weeks or so (probably next Friday) so if you`ve got anything to say, say it now.
I hope everyone is doing good and I`m really anxious to hear what you`re all up to.
Alicia, if I didn`t get the address to everybody right, please send this on to all my friends.
Thanks, take care, and keep in touch.
How are you? I'm fine, thanks. But enough idle pleasantries.
Let's talk about the Peace Corps. We have entered the 21st Century, and in some respects, the Peace Corps (in my experience) is no longer like the image that you probably have in your head. I have electricity in my house, my mud hut is made of cement, my water comes from a faucet not a river, and the wild animals outside my walls each night are pigs and dogs, not hyenas and elephants. I live in one of the larger towns in Madagascar (although it's no bigger than the small village I grew up in in America) and I'm not digging latrines or hacking trails through jungles - I'm just a boring, old English Teacher. The Peace Corps, however, has not lost all of its charm and mystique. The third world is, after all, still the third world, and with it comes adventure, no matter how you slice it.
You may or may not know that Madagascar has recently been hit by a few cyclones (a Southern Hemisphere term for hurricane). Yes, its cyclone season in the Indian Ocean, and the last one, appropriately named Gloria, barged heads with my town, Andapa, and its environs. Perhaps it came to greet my friend Katie, here for a short visit, or perhaps it meant to prove that the old adage about March coming in like a lion applies to the Southern Hemisphere too. I can't comment on its motives, but I can describe its effects. The most reliable estimate I've heard is that 40 people died in the Andapa area, most as a result of houses being washed away by streams turning into rivers in the night. I've heard talk of some small villages being entirely or mostly washed away by floods. The town of Andapa itself suffered few casualties (human or structural) and other than a little water on the floor, my house was fine.
The rats who live in my roof, however, either disoriented by the storm or taking the turmoil as an opportunity to wreak some havoc of their own, decided to descend briefly from their nests and bite my friend Katie on the foot in her sleep. The bite itself was quite benign, but it meant that she had to get to Tana (the capital) rather quickly for precautionary rabies shots. Normally, getting to Tana entails a 3 hour taxi-brusse ride to Sambava to catch an airplane to Tana. However, during the cyclone, as my French friend put it, "La montagne est tombe sur la route." Yes folks, the mountain fell on the road, and no cars were getting through.
On Saturday (the cyclone had hit Wednesday night), we encountered someone in Andapa who had just arrived from Sambava. Apparently, the road was only blocked for about 27 km outside of Andapa. Beyond that, there were mudslides, but minor enough to still be passable. The mountainous stretch of road, from Andapa to a village called Belambo, was all that was impassible by car. If you traveled this distance by foot, you could get a car in Belambo going to Sambava. So, that's what Katie and I decided to do.
The next plane from Sambava to Tana was scheduled for Monday afternoon, so we left Andapa at 6AM Sunday morning. The mudslides were longer and deeper than I had expected, but I guess that's what you get when a mountain falls on a road. Some could be traveled in 5 strides, others took 5 minutes of careful maneuvering, since the mud was still relatively fresh, a few times we sunk in goo up to our shins! Some of the slides were strewn with boulders, trees, branches and other natural refuse.
After just over 7 hours of strenuous hiking, along a paved road, but through the mountains and over and around 10-15 significant mudslides, we heard the glorious clamor of an engine. We were just less than 25 km outside of Andapa. Out of the distance appeared a taxi-brusse loaded with people, about to begin the trek we had just completed. We flagged her down and covered the remaining 80 km to Sambava in about 3 hours, arriving en ville at about 4:30 in the afternoon on Sunday. Our plan had worked out just how we had figured it. However, as if to remind us that this is still Madagascar and so plans never work out just as they are figured, at the appointed time on Monday afternoon, the plane didn't show up. Just a minor glitch, however by Malagasy standard, as the plane did arrive the next day (only about 20 hours late) and whisked Katie off to Tana for her rabies shots.
Wednesday morning I set off alone for the return trip. After a 3 hour taxi-brusse ride to Belambo, I traveled the final 24 km on foot in just over 5 hours. Along the way I met my Russian-, French-, and English-speaking Malagasy friend, about 20 km outside of Andapa who informed me that he had just begun a trip to Tana by foot (I found him drinking moonshine, Malagasy rum called Betsa Betsa "for force"), 2 Australian precious stone-seekers with a team of Malagasy hacking trails through the mudslides for their 4x4s, and a nice Malagasy man of Chinese descent who managed to produce cold Coca-Cola in a town with no electricity. But alas, these are characters for another novel on another day.
Today, life is back to "business as usual," teaching English and general being (as someone more intelligent than I once said) "A stranger in a strange land".
Take care and keep in touch,
I apologize for not writing again sooner. Let's blame it on, umm, let's see... Y2K. Yeah, that's it! A Y2K glitch. All my other letters were lost in the mail, trapped at sea, or destroyed when my computer - ok, typewriter - OK, pen crashed at midnight on January 1st. Yeah! That's the ticket. But I received a letter from an adoring fan the other day who mentioned he had heard about this website from another friend of mine at a fencing meeting (can you guess who yet?) and it reminded me of how important it is to keep up with the real world. I love getting your letters, so I guess you enjoy reading mine. Besides, it's good for me to remember that there is still a world where people go to work in the morning, come home at night, watch the Simpsons and microwave dinner before checking their email and going to bed, just to do it all again the next day (it doesn't sound so glamorous when I write it like that, but believe me, it sounds wonderful to me right now). And I suppose it's good for you to remember that there is a world out here where people spend hours each day cooking over charbone stoves in makeshift kitchens in 100 degree heat and stand in the middle of town to watch the public t.v. for hours each night during the Africa Cup of Nations football, er, soccer tournament.
So I guess the big news is that I'm much more integrated in my community than I was when I last wrote a few months ago. Back then I didn't really leave my house after dark and got stared at whenever I did leave my house, at any time of day. Now most people in my town know me as Jeff, not "vazaha" (or white person) and people don't look twice when I ride my bike by or stop to watch the public t.v. with everyone else. (They still look once, but not twice anymore.) Last night I watched Morocco and Tunisia draw 0-0 in the Cup of Nations and this morning I actually went to church. Everyone noticed I was there (it's hard not to because I'm a head taller than everybody else when everyone stands) but I didn't cause too much of a stir anyway.
The other big news is that I cooked a really great omlette and hash browns this morning, which makes me very happy.
And the third big news is that there's a new Peace Corps Volunteer in my town. Her name is Laurel and she's a health volunteer, meaning her job is to disseminate information about proper health practices - wearing condoms, and all that jazz. Having another American here will definitely change the dynamics of this small town. We'll see how it goes.
I spent Christmas with my friends in Diego, a very nice, semi-Westernish sort of town, complete with an ice cream store, restaurants that serve pizza, and even a few internet cafe's (I wrote an email to everyone but it got deleted when I tried to send it and I got frustrated and felt like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer so I gave up and went to the beach). We went Christmas caroling on Christmas Eve and camped on the beach on Christmas night. We spent New Year's on Nosy Be, a nice resort island with inflated prices and a beautiful beach. I had diarrhea the whole time I was there, so I missed out on what Jacques Cousteu has called some of the best snorkeling in the world. But all in all, it was a great vacation.
Teaching is going well, I'm getting better at it and as I do, hopefully my students are learning more and more. I'm getting started on other projects as well, including a weekly meeting of English Teachers in the area to give them a chance to practice their English, ask any questions they might have, and help each other (and especially me) to plan lessons. And coming soon - Beginning English classes and English Conversation Club, open to all.
Here's today's deep (or pseudo-deep) thought from someone with too much time for thoughts and not enough people to share them with: When I come back, you're not going to realize how different the world is, but I will.
So that's today's report from the Third World, where "globalization" means that the number one television program is a Brazilian soap opera, the most popular song is some Eurotrash techno-pop called "Exotic Groove," Chicago Bulls merchandise is everywhere, and the the internet exists, but only in theory.
Stay cool (I guess that's not a problem for most of you right now) and keep in touch.
Next time I'll try to remember to talk more about cool exotic things like lemurs, sharks and pre-historic plants.
I now have a new life and I think I'm going to like it. I'd like to preface this letter with a disclaimer: My life here in Madagascar is so different from anything I (or any of you I suppose) have experienced before that I don't think there is any way short of seeing it for yourself that I can explain it to you. Nevertheless, I will try.
Let's start with the present. The electricity just went out, so I am sitting outside my one room cement house writing by the dim light of the disappearing dusk. It's beautiful here in Andapa, and especially so at this time of day, but in 5 minutes it will be completely dark. [Last night, the electricity came back on after 10 minutes. If the same does not happen tonight, I'll have to revert to my old friend the Mag Light. I shouldn't whine too much though, many people don't even have electricity here.]
My boss, who lives next door, just brought me a candle, so I'm back in business again now.
My story goes like this: I arrived in Andapa on Thursday morning with 2 other volunteers ( 1 veteran and 1 rookie) and the Assistant Peace Corps Director who was here to "install" me. We spent the day doing introductions - at the middle school (CEG) and high school (Lycee), at the school district office (CISCO- these are the players in the Malagasy education system), the mayor's office and the police station (Gendarmerie). In between all this, I moved into my house - it's one room, made of cement with a tinf roof, about 15 feet by 15 feet, and oh yes, pink and white. We had a nice dinner at the hotel the others were staying at, and then parted company. As of 11:00pm Thursday night, I was on my own.
It only took about 14 hours for me to have a breakdown. Well, perhaps I'm being a bit melodramatic - or perhaps not. Anyway, I woke up early Friday morning and walked to the CEG to observe an 8:00am class at the 6eme level (roughly equivalent to 6th grade in America - the first year in which Malagasy students take English). After observing for 2 hours, I spoke with the Assistant CEG Director about the school's rules, policies and logistics. He was an extremely nice man and even offered me a room in his house if the one I had wasn't satisfactory. (I assured him that it was fine where I was.) Then I walked home and started to clean my house/room.
It was around 1PM. All I had eaten that day was a package of cookies. I couldn't get my new petral stove to boil water. My stuff was everywhere in my room. The only furniture I had was a bed and a school desk. I felt the need to unpack my stuff, but had nowhere to put it. I felt the need to eat, but didn't know how to go about it. Even if I could boil water (which I still couldn't do) and put my filter together, I didn't won a glass to drink out of. I could buy glasses, but where would I keep them when I wasn't drinking out of them. What if I spilled water? I didn't have a rag to clean it up with. I could use a shirt, but they're too precious since I had absolutely no idea how or when I was ever going to get laundry done. I was in an awful state - with too much to do and nowhere to begin. Starting a life on one's own is hard enough when one knows the area and the language, but when you don't know where to buy a broom or how to ask where to buy a broom - when the simplest of tasks seems impossible - just getting started can be too much to handle. And it was for me. So I allowed myself about an hour of self-pity and mental breakdown.
Then I got down to business. I asked for another desk in my room. With 2, I could put them face to face and essentially have a picnic table (Note: the second desk still hasn't arrived, but it has been promised.) I went to the Lycee. The Proviseur was not yet back from wherever he went, but Augustin, the English teacher whom I had met the day before, invited me into his home. I told him that I did not want to begin teaching at the Lycee this coming week but the week after. He agreed that that would be better. He asked me how I was doing and I said okay. He asked me if I felt alone and I said yes. He told me that he had trained in England for 5 months a few years ago, so he knew how hard it can be to live alone in a foreign country. He was very kind to me. I told him that I needed to buy furniture and he helped me order it from a carpenter. Since then I've felt much better.
I spent Saturday and Sunday working on little jobs in my new house - putting together my bike, getting my stove and filter to work, putting things on the wall - and talking to the veritable parade of students who have passed by my house to speak English with the new American in town. These kinds want to learn English so badly - its amazing. I've had at least 5 visitors each of the first three days that I've been here, all students wanting to practice their English. I never went to any of the French people in Larchmont to practice my French skills. These kids really want to learn. I run into them all over town too. I end up being escorted practically everywhere I go by a student. I speak so much English that I've realized that I'm going to have to be very self-motivated if I want to learn Malagasy.
The town of Andapa is large by Malagasy standards but still not on the level of the large cities of Tana and Tamalave. I would say it's approximately the size of Larchmont (maybe a little smaller), for those of you who can make that comparison, but it only has 2 paved roads. One of the signs that it is a larger town by Malagasy standards is that there are more cars/motorcycles than long horned cows pulling carts. It is absolutely beautiful here. Andapa is located in a valley, with mountains all around. The views can be absolutely breathtaking, and I've heard that they are even better from the tops of some of the hills. Hopefully I'll have pictures to send soon.
Speaking of pictures, I'm sending one of all (or most anyway) of us taken at the Ambassador's house in Tana after the swearing in ceremony.
[Picture will go here on Monday]
People of note: 1) Myself, in the back row, once again with more hair on the face than on the head. 2) My best friend Katie, who was 1 of 4 of us chosen to give a speech during the ceremony, wearing the black dress with red roses on the right side of the picture. 3) My other best friend Rachel, with her head tilted a little, just below and to the left of the bearded guy above Katie. 4) The Ambassador, Shirley Barnes, standing in front like she owns the place (remember, she doesn't, the American Taxpayers do). 5) The Peace Corps Country Director, John Peddu, a really really nice guy, in the back row on the right with glasses with his head barely peeking over a blond girl in front of him. Most everybody else in that picture is really cool too and deserves mention but there's just no way. I already pity Alicia for having to read my handwriting and type this all up. Thanks Alicia! Everybody say, "Thanks Alicia!"
So anyway, the ceremony was pretty cool. 4 of us gave speeches (not me) in 3 dialects of Malagasy and French. We sang songs in each dialect we had studied. There were a few official type speeches and we were out of there in under an hour. We had a nice reception with very un-Peace Corps-like food (croissants, quiche & champagne) and took some pictures. After the picture, everyone sang Happy Birthday to me since it was my birthday. It was all very lovely, blah blah blah.
And so that's how I've come to be where I am right now, siting at my desk writing by candlelight (the lights never came back on), a little disorganized, a little disoriented, a little scared, but on the whole, quite content with how things have gone and how things look for the future. I'm not quite sure what my exact purpose is here, or what I'm going to see or do in the next few years, but I'm confidant that it'll all be very worthwhile in the end.
Take care and keep in touch, and I'll do the same.
A word about mail. I haven't gotten too much. I mean that in the most literal sense. I believe it's been sent, because I know of a lot of letters which have been, but it's been lost along the way. From what I've been told, this is typical of training, but mail gets much more reliable once at site - i.e., now. If you haven't heard from me, that means most likely I haven't gotten your letter(s), because I've actually been pretty good about writing back. Please give me and my new address a chance before giving up. Here it is:
PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER
C/O Chef CISCO
Air Mail via Paris
[Note: Jeff's handwriting *was* pretty bad, but he wrote his address in 2 different places and that's really what it said.]
Hello everyone again. First an apology for any repetition, as I don`t quite recall what i have and have not said already.
Next a note about mail. I'm in Tana for the next week (until 10/15) so I expect to cxheck my email one more time (probably on the 15th) but after that I don't expect to get any more email for a long time as I'll be going off to my site far far away. Please send me real mail, it's great to get it, and I most likely won't get email.
Now about life - Training ends on Thursday, 10/14 when I am sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and an employee of the United States Government. I leave for site the next day. My site is a town called Andapa in Northeast Madagascar. It's been described to me as a city of gardens, surrounded by rainforest and mountains--hot, rainy, and ready to learn English.
Training's been great. I really feel like I've accomplished a lot here--I've made some really good friends and gotten a good base in the Malagasy language. It's been emotional--at times quite difficult, tremendous at others. I taught in a Malagasy school for 3 weeks which gives me a lot more confidence to go to my site and have my own classes for 2 years.
I don't have much of an idea what my life will be like at site except that in 2 weeks, I'll be on my own to sink or swim (and avoid the sharks in the Indian Ocean). Believe it or not, that's 100 times more exciting than it is frightening to me.
Well, good luck to all, and keep in touch. It's questionable whether or not all my mail gets to me, but keep trying. When I get my new address at site, I'll make sure everyone knows because it'll be much quicker and more reliable thanmy current address, but until then, I can still be reached at:
Jeff Allen/PCV - note the change from PCT to PCV!
Airmail via Paris
Take care, all.
Tomorrow will be a historic day in my world. On Labor Day in America, 1999, I will enter the world's labor force for real for the first time as I teach 2 middle school English classes in the small Malagasy town of Mantasoa. From 8-10am, I teach what is the Malagasy equivalent of American 6th graders. This will be the first time most of these kids will have ever heard an English word. I have an image in my head of 40 Malagasy 11 year-olds staring back at me while I jump around and bark at them for 2 full hours. A friend of mine just told me though, that during his first French class ever, the entire class just laughed at the teacher the entire time. Believe it or not, that actually made me feel a lot better. After I teach the absolute beginners for 2 hours, I will teach the Malagasy equivalent of 7th grade from 10-12. I do all this teaching with another person, so I'll have someone to share all the painful, awkward screw-ups with. Should be fun. Well, I start teaching in just over 8 hours, so its bedtime for me, but I'll be sure to update you all on how it goes.
I've finished my first week of teaching. Teaching is very hard and extremely time consuming, but I like it. The first day went better than expected. The kids actually responded a few times, and even learned how to say "Hello," "My name is Herinandro," and "Good-bye." On Monday, I taught with my friend, Katie, for 4 hours. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I taught alone for 2 hours. On Thursday, I taught with my friend, Andrea, for 2 hours, and on Friday, I taught alone again for 2 hours. [If my writing sounds funny, it's for one of two reasons: 1) I'm currently observing 2 of my friends teaching, so I'm a little distracted, and 2) I've begun to speak English like a 6th grade Malagasy student, saying every word slowly and distinctly, not using any complicated words, and gesturing constantly - at least you won't be able to pick up on that through this medium.] I teach for 2 more weeks here in Mantasoa - mostly doing team teaching - then I have about 3 weeks more of training, and then I go to site and get my own classes.
Teaching alone is a lot easier and usually a lot smoother than teaching with someone else because, while I always have a detailed lesson plan prepared, some of the best teaching and student involvement seems to occur as a result of flashes of brilliance which come to me in the middle of class. These flashes of brilliance are much easier to implement when teaching alone. For example, I finished class on Friday by having the entire class screaming/chanting the days of the weeks as I jumped around the front of the class like a mad professor. It was great.
So anyway, teaching is hard, but fun. I'm becoming very accustomed to living in this culture, too. We walk home from school every day along side cows and bulls. There are chickens everywhere. I went on a 7 or 8 kilometer run yesterday through rice paddies. None of this seems bizarre to me anymore.
I'm very excited to hear what everybody's lives are like in America.
I've enclosed a 5000 Franc note because I think it's really cool. On one side are lemurs, butterflies, and other Malagasy wildlife. On the other side are Malagasy farmers, cows pulling a cart (which you see everywhere here) and the famous baobab trees. [Editor's note: It will be a day or two before it gets scanned in]
Hello to everybody.
Sorry for the mass email, but email in Madagascar costs more than an endangered Lemur and I'm not making U.S. Dollars anymore (or even their equivalent).
Madagascar is great. It's a little cold at our training center, believe it or not, but I've just spent a week on the east coast visiting a current volunteer who lives just off the Indian Ocean, and it was warm and beautiful there. I won't find out where my ultimate site will be for a couple of more weeks.
Training is a lot of work -- we have class for about 6 hours a day -- but it's a lot of fun too. All the other trainees are great, so I've made a lot of friends and we have a good time. Learning Malagasy is difficult, but it's coming along slowly but surely for me.
I hope life is turning out as well for everybody else as it is for me. Keep in touch, and Let's Go Mets!
You would not believe me if I told you how cold it is in some parts of Africa right now - especially this part - but I will tell you anyway. Each night I sleep in heavy sweatpants, a heavy sweatshirt and wool socks, inside a thermal sleeping bag (on a bed, of course). I only wish I had a wool hat to sleep in too because my head sticks out of the sleeping bag. I will buy one in town. By midday, however, I can strip down to just a t-shirt and jeans. The cold weather only really comes at night and in the early morning.
We are now at the training site on Lake Mantasoa ( pronounced "Mahn-ta-shoo"). We arrived Thursday evening around 9:30pm after an incredible journey from Washington which began on Tuesday afternoon. We left the hotel Tuesday around 2:30 PM for a 6:30 flight. After an eight hour flight, we arrived in Zurich at 8:30 am. We spent a lovely day in Zurich looking at stained-glass windows by Marc Chegall and sleeping in parks. At 8:30 PM, our next flight left for Johannesburg, South Africa. This flight lasted about 10 hours. Midway through the flight, a bored friend and myself ventured up to the cockpit of the 747 and hung out with the pilots for about a half an hour. They explained to us the flight path, how they communicate with other pilots, and what their jobs are like in general. We saw the moon rise over the eastern horizon and we watched as we passed a northbound jet at a vertical distance of 2,000 feet. The pilots explained to us that it is okay to fly over the Congo even with the fighting going on there because, "They don't have anything that can hit us." Some might also be interested to hear that because it was a South African Airways jet, we were able to fly over Libyan airspace. We also discussed South African politics with the white, South African pilots, which was interesting to say the least. After approximately a six hour stopover in Johannesburg (which is affectionately called "Jo-burg" by many), we flew another two hours to Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar.
Throughout this journey, my emotions were completely mixed up. I felt happy and confused and scared and excited all the time. When we arrived in Tana (the nickname for Antananarivo is Tana), however, that all changed immediately. As I stepped off of the plane and walked down the stairway to the runway below, I could do absolutely nothing but smile. I felt happiness in the purest sense I can remember feeling, just for being here. I looked at my friend Chris who was also smiling so big it was hard to tell where his happiness stopped and the world around him began. He said to me, "I can't remember being this happy in a really long time." I couldn't have agreed more. At the airport, we met the Malagasy Minister of Education, and then the 23 of us trainees piled into two Peace Corps vans for the ride to Lake Mantasoa. The 70 kilometer trip took another four hours. The traffic in Tana was worse than in LA (someone said), and the roads for the last 15 km were worse than what I imagine a Serbian minefield to be. The vans literally crisscrossed the dirt roads searching for flat ground, sometimes driving entirely into a pothole before coming out the other side. We were warned beforehand to take Dramamine if we were prone to seasickness, and that was no exaggeration. At 9:30 PM, we finally arrived in Mantasoa, where the staff, and a couple of cases of 22oz beers welcomed us to Madagascar.
Now we've been here for five full days. Everybody is incredibly nice to us. Our teachers and all the staff are happy to stop and talk to us and even hang out with us all the time. This helps us to improve our French as well, since everyone on the staff speaks French and few speak any English. I speak English with the other trainees, French with the staff and at meals, and I'm taking Malagasy classes.
We have four classes a day - one for two hours, one for an hour and a half, one for one hour and 15 minutes, and one for one hour. We take classes in language, health and safety, culture, and how to teach. My French is good enough that I've started on Malagasy already. It's interesting that we're learning Malagasy in French because the Malagasy class helps me improve in both languages. I've even begun to think in French from time to time. At the training center, we have a small basketball court and a volleyball court. We're also on a lake, so when it warms up in a month or so we will be able to swim and canoe. We play basketball, volleyball and ping-pong every day. The teachers/trainer/formateurs are very good at ping-pong, but so are a lot of us. The last two days have been our first two taking classes, and there's a lot of work, but we still manage to have fun.
Each new step I've taken so far has been scary at first, but ultimately well worth taking. I was very nervous leaving for Washington, but once I arrived, I found 22 other people in the same boat. Again I was apprehensive when we arrived at the training center, but now that training is underway, I'm perfectly content and excited to be learning things that are or will be immediately applicable to my life. Now I've begun to look ahead to when the 23 of depart for our individual sites all over the country. Being alone in a new town, doing something I've never done before - that is a scary proposition. I know many of you can relate to that. Well, that's still a long way off.
I realized that I've jumped around a lot in this letter and some of you may be more confused about my life now than when I started. So I will try to sum up what is important. Most importantly, I'm very happy. I miss my family and friends at home, but am making new ones here. Mantasoa may be cold, but we have fireplaces in our meeting rooms (for hanging out) and some of our classrooms. This makes for warm classes (if you can get a good seat) and cozy, fireside chats among new friends. The people here are great, and I'm learning a lot from them. I've been into the town of Mantasoa twice. Everyone we pass smiles and says hello - "Manahaona." I'm excited to go into town and interact with the locals more.
My life and my impressions of everything around me are changing every day. I will be sure to write more soon and update everyone on everything here. Sometimes I sit on the dock and think about how different life must be in American right now. I can't wait to hear about it.
A plus tard de Madagascar,
PS. One of the things this country is is inspirational and so I've written some poetry. Here's one that's not very polished, but which I'd like to share with you nonetheless:
Only time will tell - about all of this...
about worth on this earth
But I don't know what determines that...
about what people think of m e
and what I think of the world
and what the world thinks of each of us
But I don't know which one matters...
about how an economy fails
and another one thrives
and what the second does to help the first
But I don't know if that's important at all.
These people are poor but so happy.
I don't need time to tell me that they'll be okay.
But will I?
There's so much I don't know.
Departs DC on 8/3 at 6:10PM on Swiss Air
Arrives Zurich on 8/4 at 8:25AM
Departs Zurich 8/4 at 8:25PM on Air South Africa
Arrives Johannesburg on 8/5 at 6:45AM
Departs Johannesburg on 8/5 at 10:25AM on Air Madagascar
Arrives Antananarivo (Madagascar) on 8/5 at 2:30 PM
Will take a bus to his 3 month training program
Dear everyone I know:
As I enter into a new phase of my life, I like to send a letter
everyone I know, just to let them know where I am and where I'm going. You
are everyone I know, and this is the most recent version of that letter.
I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania this past May,
with a degree
in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. My job search ended relatively
early, when I was offered a position with the Peace Corps, teaching English
in French-speaking West Africa. This happened last November. Ultimately,
for various reasons, my assignment was changed slightly. I will still be
teaching English, but now I am headed for Madagascar, an island off the
eastern coast of Africa. My commitment to the Peace Corps is for
approximately 27 months -- 3 months of training, and two years working
Most have heard of Madagascar, but very few know much about
it. It is the
fourth largest island in the world. With a per capita income of $220, it is
quite a poor nation, but its scenery and wildlife are unparalleled
throughout the world. Temperatures range from the high 90s to the freezing
point in some places during its winter (which is during our summer -- except
for you, Anita). There are plains, plateaus, rainforests, beaches, lakes,
and more. Because it is an island, much of Madagascar's animal population
evolved independently over the years from the rest of the world's.
Madagascar is famous for animals such as the lemur (a small, wide-eyed
member of the primate family that actually resembles a ferret more than a
monkey) and many species of chameleons, which exist no where else on the
I don't yet know what my living conditions will be like. From
read and been told, I could be living in anything from a mud hut with a
thatched roof to a concrete house with a tin roof to an apartment within a
concrete building. I may or may not have running water or electricity. All
this depends on where, within the country, I am assigned. There is a ten
week training period which takes place in Madagascar at a place called Lac
Mantasoa. Midway through this training period, all off the volunteers
(there are approximately 25 in all), will be assigned to posts somewhere in
the country. Only then will I have a better idea of what my living
conditions will be.
Two languages are spoken in Madagascar -- French and Malagasy. My knowledge
of French, while certainly not exhaustive, will help me to get by, and
hopefully, by the end of my two years, I will have achieved fluency. I will
be learning Malagasy as well while I am there. I am sure I will use it and
need it, but I don't expect to return to the United States fluent in
Malagasy, as I have no background in it and it will undoubtedly be nothing
like any language I have ever studied before.
I am called a "volunteer," but that is somewhat of
a misnomer. The Peace
Corps pays all of its volunteers a salary commensurate with wages at their
site. I will be making enough to live on in my town. I will not live like
an American, but a Malagasy (the word Malagasy is both the word to describe
something from Madagascar and the name for a native of Madagascar). I
expect my income to be modest, but sufficient -- enough to live on, but not
enough to save anything. At the end of my service, the Peace Corps pays me
$200 per month served, which would be $5400, assuming I stay for the entire
period to which I am currently committed (yes, I can leave early if I decide
to, but I doubt that that will happen because I will have responsibilities
to my school and students in Madagascar which are not easily dropped in an
instant). The Peace Corps also pays for my airfare to and from Madagascar.
This will indeed be a tremendous transition for me, from the
protected, college life, to a life of responsibility and few traditional
comforts. Do not pity me, though. On the contrary, I am thrilled to be
going to Madagascar and living the life I have chosen for the next two
years. I adapt to new situations well and love the outdoors. I don't need
most of the comforts to which I've become accustomed to be happy. I am
confident that I will quickly learn to derive pleasure from my environment
in Madagascar. In addition, I will be participating in what I consider to
be the most necessary and worthwhile profession on the earth -- education.
My job, as it has been described to me so far, will be both
to teach English
to students in a middle school or high school setting as well as to help the
native Malagasy English teachers to improve their English-teaching skills.
And now I come to the selfish part of this letter. While I
am excited to
change my lifestyle entirely and live in Madagascar for two years, there are
some things I cannot and will not leave behind. Most importantly, these are
music, books, and my friends. I do not expect to have any access to email
while in Madagascar (while it is not totally out of the question), but I
will have lots of paper and a really good pen. I have enclosed my address
at the bottom of this letter, and I hope you will all get the chance to
write to me and update me on your lives. I would appreciate every letter
very much and try to respond as quickly as possible. I am also working with
my sister to create a system whereby I will send her letters updating my
situation and she will post them on the internet. I will update you all on
the URL for this site once we get the logistics finalized.
I will also be taking a portable CD player and a heck of a
lot of batteries,
as well as a small selection of books, but certainly not a two year supply
of either. For those of you who know me really well (or even just a little
bit, for that matter), when you come across a book or CD you think I would
like, I would really appreciate it if you would send it to me. I will have
no access to either of these valuable commodities for the next two years, so
what I am sent will be what I read and hear.
I am terrifically excited to move on, but I will miss you all
You have all been important parts of my life, and while you may be out of
sight for a while, you certainly won't be out of mind.
During my training period, my address will be as follows:
Jeffrey A. Allen / PCT
Airmail via Paris
This is technically the address of the US Embassy in Madagascar,
should route mail to me at the training site. After training, I will find
out my direct mailing address. I'll have my sister post it on the web where
she posts my letters, but the embassy will have my new address as well and
should continue to forward mail to me. And don't be concerned if you don't
hear from me for many weeks after you send me something. The mail in
Madagascar is quite slow and not totally reliable -- it may take a few weeks
for me to get a letter and a few weeks for my response to get back to the
United States (or England or Australia). Also, if you are interested, there
is a Peace Corps Family Support Web Site at
http://www.royalpages.com/family/. I haven't seen the site, so for all I
know, it might be totally lame, but it might be worthwhile. For more
information on Madagascar, see its listing in the World Factbook at
http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/ma.html or see the State
Department's Background Notes on Madagascar at
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Alicia Allen firstname.lastname@example.org