…and what do we have to show for it? Well, first of all, we have a home. We rented a lovely old house in a district called Andohalo (pronounced An-dooo-ah-loo). There is plenty of room for visitors, as promised. Every room has a view; the house is situated half way up the largest hill in the city on a narrow pedestrian walkway. The neighborhood is calm and leafy, seemingly far away from the hustle of downtown, yet within easy walking distance of bars, restaurants, and many street markets. We have some pets: gekkos and golden orb spiders. Luckily, only the former come inside. (One of our friends has a baby chameleon in his garden – about an inch long!!)
We also have a lot of official stamps, with more on the way. The worst of French bureaucracy took firm hold here, including the need for every transaction to require numerous official-looking stamps and signatures of VIP. Our registration with the Fokontany (city district) resulted in three red stamps and one black one; the notary on our lease: one red and one black on each page of the lease and a big blue one on the receipt; the official copy of our passports (handy so that we don’t have to carry the real ones around): a big red one and two signatures; the receipt from the telephone company: a black one; the receipt from the internet company, another black one; even the receipt from the office supply store: a black one and a signature. I think you get the idea…But each receipt represents progress in arranging our lives here, so I am content.
And if you think that is a lot, today we also had out first Malagasy lesson. We now can greet people, introduce ourselves, have a polite (SHORT!) conversation asking about each others’ health and well-being, and say goodbye. Oh yeah, and we can say “Excuse me!” and “Where is a bathroom?” Both very important things for bumbling vazaha. Between 90 minutes of daily ‘gasy class (and at least that much of practice), along with an hour or so of French, our work days are quite full.
Research forges ahead as well. We’ve already had meetings with Blue Ventures, Conservation International and REBIOMA (an NGO with wonderful habitat maps). I’ll let Tom tell you about his amazing junket with CI coming up in March (think: chartered sailboat, diving each day on reefs, all-you-can-drink-wine, getting paid for it…He’ll kill me for posting that it is a junket because of course it isn’t but I am just jealous). Suffice it to say that the first field season is coming up very soon. Tom will be on a sailboat SCUBA diving. I’ll be visiting flea-infested villages doing socio-economic surveys. HOWEVER, I will be speaking Malagasy and learning about the north-western culture, and Tom will be with boring ex-pats, so who has the better deal?!?!
Life feels pretty settled already. Our home (and home offices) are taking shape. We landed in a partially furnished house, so we have some places to sit and to sleep. Aside from good pillows and perhaps a duvet that is the same size as the mattress (Tom and I fight over a single one), I think we brought just about everything we need. Our new neighbor Rich, a Reuters stringer, is moving to Kenya (sadly), so we are buying a lot of his furniture. Luckily, he has a “real” mattress (= Chinese = the springs pop out sometimes). The one we inherited with the house is foam. Our shoulders fall asleep and when Tom rolls over I bounce into the air. Rich also has a cookstove that doesn’t throw flames, unlike ours which ejects gas so forcefully that it blows itself out – not the safest situation in a wood house. In fact, cooking with it is terrifying. So I wouldn’t catch the house on fire or burn dinner EVERY night, I splurged on cooking pots and pans from the immensely over-priced French supermarket. We’ve made regular trips to the immense market downtown (Analakely) to haggle over towels, cutting boards, colanders, woks, etc. Tom likens the experience to ocean bait balls – where a school of fish gets attacked from below by tuna and above by birds. I think we are the lil’ fish in this scenario.
Our social lives are also amazingly active already. The British crew associated with BV and Reuters seem to have dinner and/or beer and/or tea and/or do exercise circuits nearly every day. We have met some of our neighbors, and we hope that as the language barriers diminish, we will have more to say to them! We have yet to meet another American, but our priority is to socialize with some of our Malagasy colleagues/friends (and to make more).
All in all, we’re doing really well. This weekend we are going to explore someplace (maybe even leave Tana) – I’ll keep you posted.