Malagasy Music Video

My best friend and counterpart at my old site in Vondrozo, Madagascar, recently released his first music video.  The music is traditional Malagasy music played by him on a valiha (a traditional Malagasy instrument).  It has been a dream of his to become a musician for as long as I have known him.  This is the first of many music videos to come.  Enjoy the video!


A Malagasy Thanksgiving

Our Thanksgiving dinner table. Photo credit: Terra Ojeda

Thanksgiving brings to mind images of giving thanks to what we have, a family reunion, eating entirely too much food, and football.  It is an American holiday steeped in family traditions and recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation.  Away from home and family, volunteers try to piece these traditions together with other volunteers in their regions.  This year I celebrated Thanksgiving with volunteers in my new home in the north.


            I have just celebrated my third birthday in Madagascar, and though this one was spent amongst other volunteers it reminded me of celebrations in the past.  Like everywhere, celebrations are big here in Madagascar, but they are not celebrated entirely the same.  Take birthdays for example.  Had I had this last birthday with my Malagasy friends in Vondrozo it would be expected that I buy all the drinks and snacks for the party, where in the United States you would expect that, though you may provide a lot for the party, those in attendance would also provide things (namely drinks). 

Peace Corps is a Liberal Arts Degree in Action

I'm honored to have been recently interviewed by my university (University of Texas at Arlington) about my Peace Corps experience and how my liberal arts degree from UTA helped me during my service.


New Job

            As the title says, my two years of regular service with the Peace Corps has come to an end and I have extended my service for a third year in a new job.  I am still a volunteer with the Peace Corps and am still living in Madagascar, but I no longer live in Vondrozo nor teach English.  My new job has me living in Diego Suarez (usually just referred to as Diego, for short, or by the Malagasy name, Antsiranana), a much larger city in the northern tip of Madagascar.  I live above the Peace

8 Quirks I Took to America

            During my two years in Madagascar I picked up many things that are culturally normal either in Malagasy or Volunteer culture that are a little weird when done in the United States.  These things though became my norm and were hard to shake, so when I returned home on leave my friends, family, and just innocent bystanders got to witness some of the quirks I had acquired.  Here are the top eight:

4 Things I Found Weird in America

            I lived in the United States for most of my life.  And many of the things that are common place there are not common place in other parts of the world.  I had become used to those things being part of life, but during my time in Madagascar I lived without many of those things and in turn that became my new normal.  I didn’t need/have them and when I returned to America the came as a bit of a shock to me and found them a little weird.  Here are the top four weird things for me when I returned to America:

Coming Home

            I recently retuned to the United States for a month of home leave before starting my new job with the Peace Corps Madagascar.  After all of the stress of leaving my site for the last time and getting all of my stuff to Tana I was looking forward to going home, seeing friends and family, and just relaxing for a bit.  And the food; of course the food.  That was the majority of what I was looking forward to.  Sorry family and friends, but lets be honest, food is what makes up a Peace Corps Volunteers’ dreams.  If you see a volunteer starring into space, most likely there is a hamburger or some other delicious food in their minds eye.  

Leaving My Home

            After two years of service in Madagascar I am going home to the States, Texas to be exact, for the first time since I left 27 months ago.  I have extended my service with the Peace Corps for another year and as such they are sending me home for a month of home leave.  It is still bitter sweet to say the least.  My extension will be in Diego, the far north of the island, and so my service in Vondrozo and my beloved region has come to an end.  

Slam Dunks - A Basketball Court

            A volunteer in my region is currently fundraising to create a better basketball court to promote healthier life decisions.  See below for a write up on her project.

The children and youth in my community here in Madagascar have very limited access to recreational activities during vacation, after school and/or work. Because they don't have recreational activities to keep them occupied, our youth is more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as: drinking, smoking and unsafe sexual relationships and our kids have no place to be physically active.
According to the World Health Organization, the current cigarette smoking prevalence among the Malagasy youth is 19.3% and tobacco prevalence is 22.8% while the alcohol consumption reported by the Malagasy Institute of Public Health is about 59% among teens during the last 12 months. Additionally, the chances of suffering from a sexually transmitted disease are exponentially amplified due to the lack of access to sexual education.
Our local youth and kids are not only exposed to risky behaviors but also they are completely unaware of the health effects they can face in short and long term. But we can promote some change and provide a safe recreational place for the local youth and children by building an amazing basketball court. My project "Slam Dunks" hopes to give teenagers and children not only a place to be physically active, an opportunity to have a hobby to keep them away from engaging in risky behaviors but also to educate them about all these unhealthy behaviors that can potentially jeopardize their future.
The Slam Dunks project has the potential to improve the lives of hundreds of kids and teenagers not only from my local community but also from the surrounded areas by promoting basketball tournaments as well as by developing strong youth leaders than can become a role model to others.

My Teaching Has Come to an End

            Last month marked the end of my two years as a teacher here in Madagascar; at least here at the Lycee Vondrozo.  I have taught 574 students, eight classes (yea that’s a lot of students per class), in the two years that I have taught here.  It has been an experience that I will never forget.  It was rewarding in so many ways, but it was far from easy; many of the best experiences in life seldom are.  Although I most likely will never teach again here in Vondrozo I know that my teaching career is doubtlessly far from over and the experience gained and the many things that I have learned here will

Tratry ny fetim-pirenena! Happy Independence Day!

June 26 signifies the independence of Madagascar from France. This year marks 56 years of independence and like always there was a huge party to celebrate the occasion. (You can read a detailed description of last years Independence Day in Vondrozo here or in Mantasoa two years ago here.) Like last year, everyday of the week proceeding independence day was marked by individual parties and performances of dancing and singing on the podium at the Commune. The morning of Independence Day itself was unfortunately marred by a down pour of rain, but that did not stop the celebrations. After the flag was raised and the national anthem sung the new Chef District (similar to

Secret Language

            In Madagascar the two official languages are Malagasy and French.  While both are known by almost everyone, French is rarely used (or possibly not well known) by those that live in the countryside.  English on the other hand is known by very few.  That is where I come in, to teach English, but even in the classes that I teach the comprehension level is fairly low. 
That gives English speakers the ability to talk to each other without worry about if others can understand us.  Volunteers take full advantage of this but it sometimes backfires when we least expect it.  It is great until the time when some Malagasy person around us turns and starts also speaking English to us.  We are not the only ones that do this though.  It is almost inevitable that whenever those around us do not know who we are (sometimes even if they do know us) they will begin to talk about us in Malagasy, not knowing that we also speak Malagasy and can understand what they are saying.  

Two Years Have Come and Gone

             Two years have come and gone while I have been here in Madagascar.  My Stagemates and I have finally finished our TEFL requirements and have become the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers to graduate from the program and receive our certificates.  This two year mark was also, like all of the volunteers before us, was marked by attended our Close of Service Conference in Mantasoa.  Here was detailed the next steps for our last two months of service and the years to come. 
My conference, along with a handful of other volunteers, was slightly different than that of the others.  About a month ago I had applied for a one year extension with Peace Corps Madagascar as the Volunteer Leader for the north of the country.  I had just had my interview with the senior staff about my extension the day prior to going to the conference and there I waited for their response.  The sessions we all attended were the same; resume building, interview skills, job hunting, ext.  The

A Different School Culture

            Madagascar has a different school culture, like many other things, than the U.S.  Having spent the year before coming to Madagascar teaching high school history, not to mention having spent most of my life in an American school, I thought I was prepared for a teachers life in Madagascar.  Looking at the school culture now, two years later, it seems easy and chill but that was far from the case when I first arrived.  For about the first six months it was confusing; infuriating at times.  I learned over my first year the “schedule” when things would happen or not happen and now I have adjusted and just roll with it. 
            The school schedule has to be the one thing that gave me the most trouble in the beginning.  There are many holidays in the Malagasy school calendar but what is not there, at least in my school

Walk Down Memory Lane

             As I walk down the streets of Farafangana I am reminded of my first time arriving in this town.  I sometimes see the dark empty streets of the Farafangana as they were when I was first came through here during my installation.  So much has changed during these last two years. 
            When I first arrived two years ago it was my first time in the Sud Est.  I had just sworn in as a new Peace Corps Volunteer and spent the last two days traveling with three other volunteers in a Peace Corps car from Antananarivo to Farafangana, our banking town and what would act as the staging point for our installations.  As we had made our way down we stopped at all of the volunteers

Serving Alone

            Within the first month of arriving and starting my training here in Madagascar I received the name of the site where I would be living and serving for the next two years;  Vondrozo, a small town in the Sud Est of Madagascar.  I knew very little about the place at the time except for a ruff idea of its location on the map.  Not too far from everything, it seemed, and I had some friends that were going to be living in my banking town just 70 km (42 miles) away; not to shabby. 
The first thing I learned about the site, and what was repeated to me every time the town was brought up, was how bad the road was.  Tena ratsy be ny lalana (Really very bad road)” was every Malagasy person’s response to “I’m going to be in Vondrozo.”  But I mountain biked in the States, I

Out and About

            Those of you that follow me on Facebook have probably noticed that I have been posting pictures of Madagascar with the hashtag #OutandAbout. This has been part of a photo challenge that has a different theme each month with ten different photos prompts aligned with it.  During the ‘Out and About’ challenge I tried to show images from around Madagascar so that viewers could see the differences of this great country.  Madagascar has many different terrains, tribes, dialects, housing, ext but it is still one country, one island, one people. 
            This challenge has had me show many different terrains from all over Madagascar taken


            Morondava, located on the west coast of Madagascar, is one of the most popular destinations for tourists.  The town itself is sits on the coast of the Mozambique Channel and is the starting point for many different excursions along the coastal area.  The two main attractions of this area is the Alley of Baobabs and the Tsingy, sandstone rock formations created by erosion.  The Alley of Baobabs, the only excursion that I did, is a short car ride outside of town on a red dirt road.  As you travel down the dirt road between rice paddies and through small stream crossings you are inundated with the beauty of the Malagasy countryside.  The rice paddies and roadside become dotted more and


            Ambositra is a town in the central highlands of Madagascar located on the RN7, the main thoroughfare when going from Tana to anywhere in the south.  Although it is a fairly big Highland town, it is one that many travelers and tourist simply pass through on their way north or south.  This being said it is a welcome stop for those who want to purchase any wooden souvenirs or see one of the historic Rovas (royal palace).  Ambositra is known as the center of the wood carving industry in Madagascar and one will find streets lined with shops selling wooden figurines, ornately carved furniture, games, and such.  With the trade in wood products comes the occasional trade in rosewood,


            Ambalavao is a small bustling town in the southern highlands of Madagascar set off the main road on the way to Isalo from Fianarantsoa.  Though it may not be a main stop, or even a stop, for most passersby’s it is a great town to see the creation of some of the iconic souvenirs found throughout Madagascar.  The town itself is a typical Highland town with its brick houses and churches but what makes it different is the large cattle market, Antaimoro paper, silk making, and it is the stageing place for the trek up Andringitra, the second tallest mountain in Madagascar. 
            Upon my arrival in Ambalavao I found a hotel just outside of town which turned out to have

Isalo National Park

            Isalo National Park is located just outside the town of Ranohira, which is in the south central highlands.  The area, now known as the center of the sapphire trade, is sacred to Bara tribe who use the caves and areas inside the park as burial sites.  The park is known best known for its enormous sandstone formations and canyons, tranquil pools, endemic plants, and lemurs.
            Upon arriving in Ranohira I made the short trek to my hotel in sight of the cliffs of the national park.  The following day we hired a car to take us into the park and with a guide made the day trek through the park.  First walking through the sandstone cliffs where we saw some of the burial sites of the Bara tribe.  The tradition of the tribe is to first put their dead in a cave, which is walled up with stones, for five years.  After this time they exhume the body and move it to their

School Week

            Every year, three days in the middle of February are given to celebrate the students here in Madagascar.  Each of these days has planned activities for the students to participate in to honor them, allow them to give back to the community, and to show of their skills in sports.  Although some of these events differ from year to year, many stay the same. For example the parade, assembly, and sport tournaments.

Market Day

Here is a video of market day in my town, Vondrozo, in Madagascar.


Every Monday before school starts my school has an assembly where the students line up in military fashion, sing the nation anthem, and then listen to a speech from the Proviseur to find out what is new for that week. For a video of the Assembly click here.


Office/Teachers Lounge

Last years school schedule

My New Normal

            In coming to Madagascar I had to learn a completely new language which was nothing like any language I had ever heard before.  During the first three months of training we had language training everyday to ensure that we would be able to converse with people once we arrived at our sites.  There are some words that did not have direct translation into English, relate a more direct meaning than the English translation, or are just easier to use than the English words.  In these cases many Volunteers will just use these Malagasy words when speaking English to each other.  It has become our new normal of speaking.  It is so much a new normal that I find myself quite often using

Tour de Sud

            For those of you that have been following my blog you know that I recently completed a bike ride along the south eastern coast of Madagascar, from Vangindrano to Fort Dauphin.  This of course, for me, was the most epic part of my travels during the holiday season, but it was far from the end of them.  The rest of my travels during the holiday took me all the way around the southern tip of the island in a big circle ending back at home (see picture below).  During this trip I was able to see the southern most point of Madagascar, visit the sites of a few other volunteers, see the spiny forest,

Top 5 of Vondrozo

            Most people will never see Vondrozo in their life, which includes Malagasy people, so I have compiled a top 5 for what you must see/do in Vondrozo. 

#1: The view of Vondrozo from the hill over looking it in the south
            This is the #1 pick by every Malagasy person asked, as well as my own.  Although this view does not give a good view of the town proper, it does give a good view of the area as a whole.  From this vantage point you can see the tree filled town backed by the Corridor (mountain range) with views of things like the High School and Middle School, Protestant Church, both the public and

Proverbial Wisdom

            Proverbs are more than just a saying, a list of words strung together.  They are a reflection of the people and the culture that created them; a message that someone wanted to get across.  All countries have their own proverbs, but in Madagascar they take on a very special place in the life of the people.  Before any speech, whether official or not, the speaker will start with a proverb that encompasses the whole essence of what it is they are trying to express.  Not to mention that on every lambaoany (the cloth that every woman wears around their waist) is a different proverb. 
Translation from one language to another can be hard.  There are many words that do not have

Hurry Up and Wait

            All volunteers in Madagascar have to travel by taxi brousse at least sometime during their service; if not every time they want to go somewhere.  Though it gets easier for some, catching a brousse at the station can be one of the more trying and chaotic times during our service.  This is intensified at the stations in the capitol, Antananarivo.  I am one of the few volunteers that do not mind the regular brousse ride back to my region.  Usually for me it is an easy comfortable ride, especially when compared to my brousse ride to my town.  But the thought of having to go to the station sometimes fills me with apprehension and has me thinking of what else I can do to put of the

Tsy Malala Fomba Anao (You Don’t Follow Custom)

In Madagascar there are many cultural norms, known as fomba, and taboos, known as fady, that the regular traveling tourist would probably never pick up on.  Though they may be seen as unimportant to the average tourist they are fundamental parts of the Malagasy culture as a whole.  Following is a list of just a few of these that can be found in my region, the Sud Est of Madagascar.
  • When pointing at something or in any direction you must not point with an outstretched index finger like you would do in the western world, but instead point towards it with a bent finger.  The reason for this is that there may be a grave in the direction you are pointing and it is taboo

Money, Money, Money…Monnnnney

            Madagascar may be very expensive to travel to but once you are here the Dollar goes a long way.  On average the Dollar equals 3,000 Ariary.  That might be just an arbitrary number for most people, and it was for me when I first arrived here, but let me break it down for you.  Almost any food stuffs can be bought for under a dollar.  Fruit is something I buy everyday and it is in abundance in this country.  The most expensive fruit for me to buy, a pineapple, cost me 400 Ar or $0.13.  Most fruit cost 100Ar ($0.03) for multiples; for example four oranges, a bunch of lychees, or two mangoes.  A regular meal for dinner cost on average about 900Ar ($0.30) to make and if I feel like

Meet My Counterpart

Meet Donald, my counterpart and best friend in Madagascar.  He is a chief in the Sahafatra tribe and has lived in Vondrozo all his life, except for his time at University in Tana where he received his Masters in Law.  He owns his own private school, The Light School, and was the proviseur of it as well until he became mayor of an adjacent Commune.  He speaks the very good English, best English of anyone in Vondrozo by far, which is the reason why we first became friends.  More than that he is very musically gifted and plans to release a world music album this year. 
Donald during a party to congratulate the new mayors of the District


Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Thats Happened

            I have lived in Madagascar for about 1 ½ years now and things that were once weird or strange to me at arrival have now become just part of my normality.  Things that I originally thought were weird or rude for others to do I now find I do myself.  It is hard once you have become integrated into a culture to look at it with open eyes and see those things you once saw as so different.  Following are a series of tweets relating just some those things:

Bike Ride Continued

The Hardest Bike Ride Ever Bike Ride!

Monday, 12/14/15 – Monday, 12/21/15
            The bike ride from Vangaindrano to Fort Dauphin, in the south east of the country, can be argued as being one of the hardest bike rides in the country.  When the condition of the road is factored in with the length of time it takes to complete it and the obscurity of towns along the way a case can easily be made that it is the hardest ride.  Before doing the ride I had known that two other groups had done the ride in the past and had completed it in just four days of hard riding during the dry season.  We, unable to find time during the dry season, decided to brave the elements and try a ride during the rainy season.  Coupled with the ride we had decided to do some malaria workshops
and surveys for the recent bed net distribution.  To work in more towns and make the ride a bit easier on us we decided to stretch the ride out to five days; it ended up taking us eight though two of the days were not spent traveling.

The Malagasy Way of Life

             The Malagasy way of life differs of course depending on each person’s profession/s, but it is in many ways the same.  This similarity in many peoples life is due to the fact that many Malagasy people have more than one profession/job to be able to earn enough money to live on.  It is also due to the fact that many Malagasy people also own some land in which they farm rice or some type of produce in order to supplement their income.  Those people that have somewhat similar work schedules as we would be used to in western society are usually vendors at the market (who stay at their stalls all day selling their wares), store owners, and officials; although this is not always the

Another Day in My Life

I woke up this morning the same way as every other day, by the sound of rosters crowing and pigeon’s feet stomping out their morning dance on my ceiling at 5 am.  Waking up this morning I was confronted with the question of what to wear today and was answered with a shrug from a pile of clothes sitting on the floor.  I had planed to wash the clothes “tomorrow” for the past few days; putting it off because “I did not have the time for them to dry.”  In hindsight it seems that was a mistake now that the rains have started and there is even less chance for them to dry.  So there they remain a testament to my laziness until a later, sunnier, moment presents itself.  The question still

Home is Where I Find Myself

           I have always found myself at home where ever I am.  The fact that it is now in Madagascar makes no difference to me.  Home here is much more different than what I was used to in the States though.  For instance I only have electricity at my house for four hours a day, in the evening.  This makes things a bit more interesting.  I can not just plug in something to charge, turn on the air conditioner when it is hot (and oh does it get hot here!), turn on a microwave to heat up my food, or keep perishable foods in a refrigerator.  Instead I must prepare food for each meal with fresh foods bought at the market each day.  Also, none of the houses here in my town have running water either,

Why Did I Do This?

            Why did you join the Peace Corps?  Why did you want to go live in a foreign country away from family and friends and without the comforts of American life?  Why did you commit two years of your life to volunteer and make no money?  Why?  These, along with an array of others, are questions I was presented with by family, friends, and, at times, myself when I was in the process of applying to the Peace Corps. 
            It seems like a life time ago, and in a sense it was, since I started writing my application for the Peace Corps or even from when I came to Madagascar a mere nineteen months ago.  Though I have at times had to reassert my ‘why’ during the duration of my service, many of the ‘whys’ has

Blogging Abroad Challenge

            I have recently been asked to join a blogging challenge that will have me writing, or more correctly speaking, posting, more frequent blogs about my service.  In this challenge I will be given a prompt to write about two times a week, every week, for six weeks total.  So you can expect my more frequent blogs than I normally give; which I intend to continue after the challenge is concluded.  For those of you that like to follow the day by day blogs that I usually do do not worry.  I will continue those on top of the challenge prompts as well, you will just get them sooner than usual.  So in short, those following my blog (thank you by the way for doing so and please continue) be ready for a barrage of new blogs coming your way with a Blogging Abroad stamp.

Club Vintsy Plants Saragisy

            Club Vintsy is an environment group of high school students at my Lycee (high school), and although I do not work with directly as my primary job, I usually attend their meetings and functions with my sitemate since a large majority of it attendance is my students.  Every Wednesday afternoon the club has a meeting and then will usually do some sort of gardening activity; whether it be planting seeds in the sapling garden, learning composting techniques, or building new gardens.  But one special day a year WWF funds an excursion into the ambanyvolo (countryside) for a replanting activity and today was that day.  So after everyone meeting at the Lycee, we made our way through town and up the
4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14