"We were not supposed to leave. We have to go back [to the island]!"

-Jack Shepard

Thursday, April 29, 2010


This is my first actual attempt at a blog. I’ve tried to keep journals periodically throughout my life, but they never seem to last more than a month or so, if even that. Some of you may remember my incredible idea to keep a running vlog of my last stay in Madagascar…I believe that vlog is now listed in Webster’s under the definition of “fail.” That is, if it’s even possible to fail at something one never even starts… But I figure this one might just work out. I’ll be in the country for 27 months straight this time, so even if I get lazy for a few months, at some point I’ve got to be inspired (or bored) enough to write an entry.

A few notes about this blog though: Those of you who know me (yes, I’ll be using that phrase a lot) know that I’m horrible at updating people via email, letters, facebook, etc., and when I do, I rarely write juicy details about my personal life or the minutiae of everyday activities. Instead, I tend to wax philosophic or write offbeat cultural commentaries. I doubt this blog will be any different, but it’s all new territory to me, so we’ll see. Also, it goes without saying that you probably won’t agree with everything I write. I don’t know the details about commenting on posts and all that jazz yet (assuming anyone actually wants to read this thing), but this is most definitely NOT meant to be a forum for debate. If you don’t like what I write, please keep it to yourself or just stop reading. I absolutely despise all forms of conflict, debate, politics, and the like. I respect everyone’s opinions, so please do the same for me. Oh yes, and this would probably be a good time to state that my views and opinions do not reflect those of the Peace Corps or US government.

Groovy, now that I’ve got all that crap out of the way, time to start the craziness!
I’ve been bombarded with questions about Mada, the Peace Corps, my life in general, etc. recently, so I thought I’d take this time to clear up some of the common confusion and misunderstandings:

• Madagascar is that big island off the coast of Southeastern Africa (about the size of Texas). The adjective form is “Malagasy,” NOT “Madagascan” or “Madagasy,” (e.g. the Malagasy people, Malagasy food, Malagasy school system…).

• Lemurs are NOT monkeys, nor are they rodents, although I’ll admit that I don’t do much to remedy this mistake by describing them as “the lovechildren of monkeys and squirrels.” They are primates, though. If it helps you to think of an evolutionary “hierarchy,” it would go: humans, apes, monkeys, then lemurs. They are, however, just as funky and musically inclined as the movie suggests.

• Notice the “s” in the spelling of Peace Corps.

• The Peace Corps is a well established and highly internationally-respected government agency. I’ve heard way too many people say, “I thought anyone could join the Peace Corps!” Becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) is an arduous and extremely competitive process – I’m still not there yet. The very minimum requirements for most assignments are a four-year degree and significant work or volunteer experience in a specialized field. In order to even be considered “competitive,” you must have extensive volunteer/community involvement experience, a high GPA, demonstrated leadership abilities, and, in many cases, a certain amount of foreign language proficiency.

• This is because volunteers are sent to host communities to completely integrate themselves in order to develop and implement sustainable projects. They must become fluent in the local language and live the same lifestyle as the average community member. I’m definitely not saying any of this to be self-righteous, I just really want to emphasize that the Peace Corps is not one of those “white man bringing aid” missionary organizations that sends volunteers to help out with already well-established projects. Its focus is on sending skilled men and women to requesting host countries to integrate themselves into a single community and develop sustainable projects as an actual member of that community. This is why the minimum term of service is 2 years.

Woot! Mkay, I can’t think of anything else right now, but please please please let me know if you have any questions or want to know more about any part of the crazy process. And PLEASE don’t think I’m trying to get all preachy on your okole by pointing out all of these misconceptions – I didn’t know half of this stuff before I experienced it first-hand. I just enjoy teaching people…which is good because that’s what I’ll be doing for 27 months!

I’d like to end this entry with a little side note to my college homies: No, I am NOT a hippie, nor will I ever be. And yes, I am actually working for the US government. Hehe.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Madagasikara! ...Again!

Those of you who have followed the general course of my life over the past 7 years or so know that I have spent a disproportionate amount of time on islands (disproportionate to the average person at least), particularly islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Those of you who know me well are also familiar with my lifelong desire to live in Sub-Saharan Africa. My draw to both of these areas culminated when I was able to spend two field seasons working as a field assistant to the brilliant almost-Dr. Sarah Zohdy (who better be reading this blog because she’s probably the only person who’s going to understand some of the references I make) in Ranomafana, Madagascar, studying wild brown mouse lemurs. I absolutely fell in love with this island and have felt an overpowering desire to return ever since I left…which really wasn’t all that long ago…but that’s not the point. For those of you who are Lost fans, I will use yet another Jack quote to describe my feelings of longing and despair after leaving in December, “Every Friday night I fly from LA to Tokyo or Singapore or Sydney, and then I get off, and I have a drink, and then I fly home. Because I want it to crash…Every little bump we hit or turbulence – I actually close my eyes and I pray that I can get back.”

Obviously this quote should not be taken literally because there are few things in this world that I hate more than flying. Anywho, through an incredible amount of work on my part and a CRAPload of luck, I’ve somehow managed to land myself a Peace Corps invitation to serve as a TEFL teacher in Madagascar from July 19, 2010 – Sept. 11, 2012. And that is the [extremely abridged] background to my story.

Tonga Soa, Bienvenue, and Welcome to my Peace Corps blog!