Tech Trip!

            This full week was the Tech Trip for all of the Trainees.  I am still trying to decide how to state and how much of the week should be stated in this blog, but I will use this section to lay out the foundation of what Tech Trip is.  Tech Trip ultimately is a chance for the trainees to visit and observe schools and to talk to and ask questions of the students and teachers.  It is also a chance for us to explore and practice some of the things that we had been learning in our language classes.  This also would be the first time that we were outside of the Mantasoa area since we have arrived.  We have been unable to leave the area because, until now, we had not received our official documents from the
government.  In taking this trip our stage would split into two groups; split down the center of an alphabetical list.  I being at the end of the alphabetical list was in group two, the most awesome of the two groups (sorry to the cool people that did not make the cut…it happens).  These two groups left the training center for two different locations; group one to go to Tana and group two to Ansirabe.  After two days in that town we would switch towns for two days and then all convene in Tana on Friday. 

Monday, 7/14/14
Little did any of us know that today we would witness a series of events, which in and of themselves may have seemed somewhat mundane, but together would become cemented in our minds as one of the craziest and weirdest days that we would ever experience.  So leaving the training center this morning we started our trip to Ansirabe which would take a total of five hours on paved roads.  I can not stress enough how nice it is to travel on paved roads!  I traveled in what will now forever be called the ‘Butter Bus,’ which is a Peace Corps taxi bruise (van) that looks like a stick of butter.  The driver of our van was Doda, Aka “The Dodanator,” and is by far the coolest and funniest driver ever.  During the five hours we spent riding in the van, we spent no less than 2 ½ hours making up Pô puns.  By Pô puns I mean things like ‘Little Pô Peep’ or ‘Pillsbury Pô Boy’.  We have a whole list of these broken down into categories.  For those that do not know/remember, a Pô is essentially a bucket that you use as a toilet at night time.  It is amazing what you will do to pass the time.  Once we arrived in Ansirabe we went to the hotel (ran by nuns) to drop of our bags and then went to go eat Gasy food at a hotely. 
After eating lunch, Lindsey wanted to get some ice cream, so we drove to Gastro Pizza so that everyone could get some.  Everyone got their ice cream cones and climbed into the van just in time to see Lindsey’s ice cream fall from its cone to the ground with the little shovel spoon still sticking out of the ball ice cream.  We all stared waiting to see here reaction; her being the real reason we had come to get ice cream in the first place, it could go either way.  When she looked up with a huge smile on her face the whole van erupted in laughter.  The man in charge of the ice cream, also laughing at her, was nice enough to give her another ice cream cone for free. 
            After leaving Gastro Pizza with our ice cream we traveled to the second biggest high school in Madagascar, with a student population of 2,400.  We did not know that we were going straight there or that it was so close, otherwise we would not have bought the ice cream cones.  What happened next was ridiculous.  We pulled up to the school and there were kids lining both sides of the driveway from the entrance all the way to the back of the school and all of them were in their uniforms and were clapping to our arrival.  When we came to a stop no one wanted to get out, because we were still eating our ice cream and it seemed a little unprofessional to be eating giant ice cream cones while we meet the Principal, Vice Principal, and their 2,400 students.  But the door was slid open and we all piled out in what must have looked like a bunch of giant kindergarteners with their ice cream cones coming out of a clown van.  We then all promptly scarfed down the remainder of our ice cream cones as fast as we could and then tried to look official.  The Principal then told us the schedule of events that we would see at that school and we found out, for the first time, that we would be singing the American National Anthem, a cappella mind you, in front of these 2,400 students.  We then began our walk down the student lined road, while they clapped, to the basketball court where we took a seat; half on one side of the podium and half on the other.  After taking our seats the students at the school began their show and we saw what can only be explained as amazing and struck awe into all of us.  The students all lined up on the basketball court and began what would be best compared to a military drill; where the all of the students in unity, by direction of the principle, began by throwing their arms out front to space themselves, then slapped them back to their waist and then continued this with the right and left directions as well.  It was the best show of consolidation and drill that I have ever witnessed.  This was followed by all of the students beautifully singing the Malagasy National Anthem.  We were all amazed by their performance and were dreading the fact that we were about to follow that performance with what we all knew was going to be a horrible show.  It now being our turn to sing, we all stood up and looked around at each other as if we could actually start the song in unity.  So how did it go?  Well let me start by saying again we had to do it a cappella and had no warning that we were going to be singing at all.  Now to how it actually went…it went really badly.  We did not start in unison, which is what was expected. What was worse was most of our singing.  At one point a few of us laughed at ourselves because we could hear how badly we sounded and this prompted many of the students to in turn laugh at us as well.  This horrible rendition was ended in true American fashion; in us stopping our singing in a wave that started at one end and went to the other.  We then promptly sat back down, embarrassed at ourselves, and waited for the rest of the show to commence.  The rest of the show consisted of different dance groups of students doing their great routines, but I will only mention a few.  The first was a ‘flash mob,’ in name only because everyone knew it was happening, which consisted of a majority of the students.  It was followed by the cheerleaders and parkour group putting on a show in which the cheerleaders danced while the parkour group jumped and flipped over a table.  Once all of this was over the principle took us on a tour of the school and showed us the different facilities the students had access to.
            Upon leaving the school and heading back to the hotel we were all talking and laughing about all of the crazy things that had happened to us throughout the day.  Then as we passed by a dumpster we all happened to look over at it and see two dogs going at it and I do not mean fighting.  And this is no ordinary dumpster; it’s a third world dumpster over flowing with trash.  The two dogs were standing on the top of the pile of trash in the dumpster; one was eating the trash and the other, ears flopping with a smile on his face, was vigorously humping the other.  Upon seeing this, the whole van burst out into laughter, including the driver.  The driver was laughing so hard that he had to pull over the van and re-gather himself.  I only mention this instance because in the “what is all this that is happening” mood that we found ourselves, this only added to the hilariousness of our day. 

Tuesday, 7/15/14
Today we continued our tour of schools in Ansirabe.  We first went to a private language school and talked to the head master about the school and then to some of the students.  Our conversations with the students mainly revolved around topics about America.  After lunch at a hotely, where I had my first burger in Madagascar and some really good Chinese soup, we went to a private technical university.  At this university we joined a business class and allowed the students to ask us questions, translated when necessary by the professor.  The questions that were asked at this school though were unlike any we were ever asked before.  As simple as possible we had to answer questions about the U.S. legal system, how the U.S. came to be, disparity between rich and poor, U.S. international relations, ext.  All of the questions were ones that you could take a whole class period or more to answer and we had just a few minutes for each, but I think we did a fairly good job of summing it all up.  We then went to a language school that was set up by a Volunteer there and talked to the students at that school as well.  The students were very happy to have us because they were supposed to be taking a test and were able to get out of it to talk to us.  Many of us ended the day by joining some of the Volunteers in the area at Green Park for pizza, or a calzone in my case.  Green Park is a Vazaha, which means foreigner, restaurant.  This means that it is full of foreigners, usually French, and is more expensive than everywhere else. 

Wednesday, 7/16/14
            Today we switched cities with the other group and we traveled to Tana.  Once we arrived in Tana we went to the PC Meva, which is a transit house for the Peace Corps.  It is a four bedroom house, with a bunch of bunk beds in each room, for Peace Corps Volunteers to stay in when they are in Tana.  Once we got settled in we were able to just chill out and meet some of the Volunteers that were there.  That evening we split up to go eat at different places, but a majority of the trainees went down the street to some hotelys.  The hotely that a few of us ate at ended up having karaoke and so after eating we joined in.  The other trainees who had planned on stopping by to scoop us up and go somewhere else, saw how much fun we were having and we all ended up spending the rest of the evening there.  We all had a great time and had so much fun.

Thursday, 7/17/14
            We are going to title today “Tomorrow will be Better,” because today definitely was not my best.  I had too much fun last night and not enough sleep, leading to a horrible day for me, but a hilarious one for everyone else.  There is actually a pictography of my worst day ever, taken by Chris, documenting the great moments of my day.  This of course is accompanied by my quotes of the day.  We did tour a school and a university, but the two highlights of my day was first going to Happy Days in the mall and eating one of the best burgers I have eaten in a really long time and second going back to the Meva and going to bed. 

Friday, 7/18/14
            So this morning we were supposed to go to the zoo in Tana, but on hearing from the other group that the zoo was horribly sad we decided that we did not want to go.  So in protest we committed a peaceful rebellion and when told that we were going to be taken to the zoo we just replied “no…I don’t think we want to go to the zoo.”  Baffled that we did not want to go they were unsure of what to do with us.  I mentioned that the Palace would be a cool thing for us to see and after some deliberation that is where we went.  The Royal Palace was amazing.  When we got there the people at the gate did not believe that we were not just tourist and that we were actually living in Madagascar and spoke Malagasy.  To ensure them that we were actually who we said we were we had to show them our official papers and speak to them in Malagasy.  Once they were convinced, one of the workers who spoke good English served as our tour guide and took us around the grounds telling us about all of the sites.  It was amazing!  The Palace itself sits on the highest point in Tana and can be seen from just about anywhere in the city.  Also, although it had burned down some years ago, the inner wooden palace was built with wood from Mantasoa, the city that we currently live in.  The outer stone palace still stands as well as many of the other buildings, some of which date back far latter. 
            After touring the Royal Palace, we returned to the Meva about the same time the other group of trainees were also arriving back in Tana.  After hanging out for a bit and eating dinner at the hotely we all decided to join a bunch of people at a bar in Tana.  So walking down the street to the gas station, we hailed a taxi to take us to Out Cool.  This was our first experience in a taxi and we were not sure what to expect.  For starters the taxi had definitely seen better days and we were not sure by the rattling it was making if it would even make it to our destination.   The driver also had to stop at a near by gas station on the way to get some gas, which he only put in a portable tank and sat by his feet inside the car.  When we finally made it to the bar we were surprised at how nice it was.  There were a lot of people both sitting on the steps outside the bar and standing around inside, although a large majority of them were us.  The prices were more expensive than what we were used to, but were not extremely over priced.  Regular bar stuff ensued so I will skip to the end of our night at this bar.  The night ended with one of the trainees (I will leave him un-named, but all of Madagascar knows who he is) dancing to close to the window and shattering it with his elbow.  This was a huge window and took forever to stop breaking into smaller pieces as it fell.  This caused everyone to decide that it was time to leave, so after compensating the bar for the window we all left.  Most of the people went home, but a few of us decided to go to another bar down the street.  This bar was insanely expensive, like American prices, so we only stayed a short time before deciding to also return to the Meva. 

Saturday, 7/19/14
            This morning we all made our way back to Mantasoa on our own…ish.  Every fourth person was given the money for all four people for the taxi brusse ride back.  So leaving the Meva, we had to walk down to the gas station again to hail another taxi to take us to the taxi brusse station.  Once at the station we had to find our way to the right Taxi brusse that would be leaving to Mantasoa and buy our tickets from the vendor.  There were three of us that traveled together to the station, but when getting on the brusse we saw that we would be traveling with many of the other trainees as well.  What was bad for us was that we were the last people to get on the brusse meaning that I had to sit in a fold down seat in the isle of the brusse. This was the most uncomfortable ride I have ever been on in my life.  There was not even enough room for me to sit on the seat itself and I had to sit on to of the trainees laps and then just wiggle my way down to the seat.  Once there my knees were then in the metal frame of the fold down seat in front of me.  The only good thing about the ride was that since it was so packed I was able to sleep without worrying about moving around at all.  We also were able to stretch our legs for a little bit about half way when we had a flat tire and we all had to pile out of the brusse for the tire to be changed. 
            When we finally arrived home I was so happy to finally be out of the brusse and get to go home.  When I arrived at my host home I was surprised to see Chang Yu, the previous volunteer that stayed with my family.  This gave me an opportunity to talk to him about Peace Corps and learn a little more about my family that I was unable to ask myself.  After talking with him for a while I left to meet the other Volunteers that were in Mantasoa for IST (In Service Training).  This was great because I got to meet my site mate, Greg, who will be living in Vondrozo as well.


Royal Palace and pool

Church at Royal Palace

Royal Palace from the university

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