They Call Me ‘The Mpanjaka’

            This weekend was my third VAC (Volunteer Advisory Committee) meeting in country, but my very first to fully plan and lead as my regions new VAC leader.  This was also the first VAC for our new Health Volunteers that had just recently installed in their sites.  We also had a special guest in attendance, Brian, the first volunteer in my town, Vondrozo, who had returned to Madagascar to do research for his Ph.D.  It was great to have him there to see that all the Sud Est traditions were still being upheld.  I scheduled this VAC to coincide with the 4th of July so that we could all be together for both occasions.  Overall the weekend was a great success, though everything did not work out the way I had planned. 
            The VAC itself was scheduled to start at lunch on Friday, so Rory, Julissa, and I spent the morning running around the market buying all the food we would need for the weekend.  With no refrigeration all vegetables and meat had to be bought as close to the time of consumption as possible, which is the reason it was not done earlier.  I had decided to do things a bit differently for this VAC than had been done in the past.  In the past everyone went to the location of the VAC and everything (meeting, ext.) was done there, but with this VAC I had decided to have lunch in town, with our meeting while we waited for our food, and then travel to the VAC location.  So for lunch we all meet at Big Bang, a restaurant in Farafangana which is notoriously slow when it comes to big groups. So after placing our food orders we had our meeting while we waited for our food.  After lunch is when I had to change my original plans.  The Sud Est is known for cycling, we cycle everywhere in our region, but after lunch we decided that since we still needed to grab drinks for the weekend, and because of the light rain that had started, we might not make it the 50 km to Mahabo before dark.  So we all split up; some to grab drinks, others to grab the gear and food, and others to find us a brousse. We were lucky in that we had so many people we were able to commandeer a brousse just for ourselves.  So stacking our packs and 12 bikes on top of the brousse we headed out to Mahabo.  Just north of Mahabo, Missouri Botanical Gardens has a site with a bunch of small bungalows which would be the site of our VAC.  So after settling in and eating dinner we made a bonfire and hungout.
            The following morning after breakfast we were surprised by a group of guys that had brought two rosters and had decided we needed to see a cock fight.  Cock fights here are not to the death and they do not tie razors to their feet, but it is decided by a point system much like boxing.  During the fight I was pulled aside by the manager of the site and asked if I still wanted to do the hike through the rainforest that had been planned since it was still raining.  He also warned me that there was a lot of water in places that would have to be waded through.  I of course told him it was not a problem, were PCV’s, but like any good leader I kept that bit of information to myself.  So we proceeded into a four hour hike through the rainforest, in the rain, and most of us barefoot (if not started barefoot, most ended up that way).  What none of us knew was that halfway through the hike there would be no trail and it would turn out to be a true trek through the rainforest; we only got lost once!  Due to the rain the guides were only able to find one brown lemur, who quickly ran away, and one of the world’s smallest chameleons, but in truth it had just fallen on one of the volunteers. 
            For the rest of the day after the hike we just hungout, listened to music, and played yard games.  That night we built another bonfire and made S’mores, from real American ingredients!!! Then we shot of roman candles; a poor mans firework show.  After that we just sat around the fire and hungout.  The following morning we packed and left in true Sud Est fashion, on our bikes, and rode the 50 km back into Fara.  

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