Jeff Allen's Peace Corps Web Page
Jeff's main page can be found at http://web.mit.edu/iggy/Jeff.
This page is the letter that Jeff sent on: April 21, 2000
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)
- The entire population cooks on charcoal (charbone) stoves.
- Most people cook out doors.
- Every Malagasy person eats rice three times a day.
- About half the population doesn't wear shoes and of those that do, almost
all wear only flip-flops.
- Over 90% of the roads are unpaved.
- The people are, on the whole, short, but also very strong because almost
every single person does some sort of farming at some point in his life. Even
most teachers and others with traditional jobs have a rice field too.
- Most places I buy things won't have change for any bill over 10,000 FMG
(approx $1.50), and some won't have change for that. When I take money out
of the bank, I ask for small bills.
- I teach two classes of 45 students and two classes of 65 students. All my
students have desks, but I do have one classroom with a severely leaky roof.
A friend of mine, in the west, teaches classes of 85 students where half the
students sit on the floor or in windows. Another PCV, in the south, teaches
classes of 100 students without a single desk.
- Everyone gets up around 5 and goes to bed around 9. Siesta is from about
12 to 2:30 depending on who you ask.
- Showers, when taken, are almost always performed with a bucket and a cup,
usually in an open-air "douche." Except in really nice hotels, hot
water faucets don't exist. People often bathe in rivers or other pools of
- Depending on where you are, water comes from a public faucet, a well, a
river, or rain.
- You see a lot of physically disabled people here - many as a result of polio,
which wasn't combatted by a widespread vaccination campaign until the past
few years - but the idea of handicapped-accessible anything is unfathomable.
- Nobody would think twice of sending an 8 year-old to the market, to get
water, or to buy beer, by him or herself.
- People carry everything on their heads - EVERYTHING!
- I've been told that the tallest building in the country is the Hilton in
Tana - 14 stories.
- There are parts of the country where, no matter how much money you might
have, there is no food to buy other than rice and leaves for much of the year.
- In my opinion, the most striking natural feature of the country is its topography.
- I was told before leaving the US that the only English words I would hear
for two years would be "Three Horses Beer" which is, incidentally,
the name of the most popular beer here. This is not true. I estimate that
I speak about 50% English (what we refer to as "Special English"),
30% Malagasy, and 20% French.
- The French National Geographic-esque magazine, Geo, did a big story on Madagascar
in its November 1999 issue with some really good pictures of what it looks
- I can see the Southern Cross every night.
- My clothes are washed once a week by a woman who takes them to a river and
bangs them on a rock. At approximately $1.50 a week (10,000 FMG), I drastically
over pay her, but I think its worth it. I did it for a while by myself - in
a bucket, not the river - and it is not easy. Let me tell you.
- There are gekkos everywhere.
- They've never heard of baseball.
22 April 2000
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
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.
Any questions, comments or concerns should be sent to: Alicia Allen firstname.lastname@example.org