Peace Corps Madagascar 15 Years Old!

Today Peace Corps Madagascar put on a party for its 15th Anniversary in Madagascar at the zoo in Antananarivo. The theme of the event was:

Malagasy and US government officials, NGOs, and development organizations and personalities attended the celebration. The customary speeches featured an address in Malagasy from the Ambassador that was a very impressive gesture to the Malagasy people and impressed those in attendance. After the speeches everyone retreated to the tents to exchange information. Here are some photos from the event:


Tomorrow we will all head to the American Cultural Center in Antananarivo to re-display our posters and attempt to create a little more Peace Corps buzz.

Malagasy Bloggers

Blogging is starting to take off here in Madagascar. Bloggers are using it as a way to express themselves and their interests, practice their English, and show the world a little more personalized side of Madagascar. What better way to gain an understanding of the Malagasy people than to read what a few of them have to say and show us for ourselves! Most of the bloggers write in English. I especially liked andrydago's insight into the laws regarding Malagasy land. Pati et Toi! also gives a young Malagasy woman's view on abortion. Clairesttuburn talks about circumcision. Here is a list of the blogs I could find in English:

Moonlightgirl's Weblog
Faratiana's Weblog
The Cyber Observer
Pati et Toi!
Theophilus Man
Foko Blog Club

An Image of Hope

Since everyone’s mind is on the election right now and we’re coming up on the final week before it I thought I would say a few words about what the Malagasy people we live and speak with have been saying about the election and their views on America. This post isn’t intended to be a piece to support one presidential candidate or the other but rather to explain what the buzz is about America and create a better understanding of what people think about our country.

We’ve been taken aback by how many Malagasy people are informed and know about the election. Months ago, while Obama and Clinton were campaigning in the primaries, people here in Madagascar couldn’t stop talking about how a “black man†or a woman might become the president of the United States. We honestly couldn’t believe the extent of people’s knowledge about this election and sometimes even the issues being so disconnected from the world. (I joke sometimes to Erin that people here probably know a lot more than some of voters in the US.)

When we first came to site we had people asking us who our president was. We would tell them his name was George W. Bush and they wouldn’t recognize the name. But they did claim to know a few other things about America; things which we, as Peace Corps volunteers, have been working to clarify – working to re-paint their idea of America.

When we first arrived in our little village we were saddened that all some people had come to know about the United States was our apparent love for war and specifically about the war in Iraq. Some people even thought that if an American is hurt, for example, in a small village here in Madagascar that the United States would come and bomb their village. We enjoy laughing with people at their outrageous assumptions and sometimes hysterically false information (ie – a tabloid saying that a man had a baby in the United States – it was actually a woman who had undergone appearance changing operations). We end up doing a lot of clarifying about all kinds of things: American culture, American lifestyles, American intentions (ie - explaining that the vast majority of Americans don’t love war and that Puff Daddy didn't kill Tupac - or did he?), and, sadly, we’ve even had to explain to people that America is not going to bomb their village if an American is hurt by someone in it.

I really think with this election and the excitement that we’ve seen it generate just in the small villages that we work in and travel through could really help how America is viewed in the world. Of course most of their energy is reserved for Mr. Obama because many people can identify with him. But I hope that when either Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama is elected president, he takes the energy and runs with it. Programs like Greg Mortenson’s, which promote peace by building schools in impoverished and neglected areas to further peace and understanding, would be a great start. Increasing the budget (not just volunteer numbers) for the Peace Corps and similar organizations go a long way to promote understanding of Americans. As well as other programs which use small amounts of aid extremely efficiently and sustainably and focus on small groups of people to improve their lives and create understanding of Americans would also be a starting point.

I guess when it comes down to it; I find that people are beginning to change their mind about America. No longer are people talking about guns, bombs, and war; but they are talking about an election and even hope. We need to run with the hope - the buzz - that has been generated, not just here, but all around the world and use it to continue to create understanding and improve the new image of America that is beginning to develop – an image of hope.

Circumcision Dance

Every year after the main rice harvest circumcision 'season' begins in the Antonosy region of Madagascar. Families that can afford a proper party (music, tv, food, sodas, beer, gas for generator, etc) will have their sons circumcized beginning around age 3 or 4. If the family is poor the son may have to wait until 10 or 11 years old. If after that the party still hasn't happened the son will most likely participate in a mass circumcision done by the local doctor.
Most families tend to find a way to make the circumcision happen early. The majority of Malagasy children we ask say that they don't remember their circumcisions - even those who received it at 7 and 8 years old. This is probably because the extended party starts long before the actual circumcision.
Parents and extended family party and dance all night with the young boy refusing to let him sleep - loud music putting him into a trance. When the sun rises (or keeping him awake is no longer possible) the circumcision is done by the local doctor or in some places a skilled villager. The pain is then quickly showered by gifts from his family: candy, toy cars, action figures, soccer balls, money, etc. After that the boy is allowed to sleep but only until friends begin to show up to continue the celebration throughout the next day. The boy is awaken with each new arrival and his father or mother parades him around in front of the group proving his circumcision and step towards manhood. The boy is now closer to being a man but ironically will have to wear a dress or very loose dress-like clothes the following week or more until his wound heals. But with his new toys he'll have no trouble making friends.

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.â€
-Sir Edmund Hillary
After we arrived at the peak of the mountain Naina began playing music on his cell phone (which increasing number of Malagasy people own regardless of whether they have electricity or reception). I took this video while they sang along to "Where is the Love?" by the Black Eyed Peas. Climbing to the top of any mountain (literally or figuratively) is bound to bring about a natural high and strong feelings but listening to them sing and even partly understand that song brought on a moment of clarity. We're all living in this world and encountering a lot of the same problems. Violence, misunderstandings, discrimination (cultural, ethnic, sexual, religious), corruption, and political frustration. A lot of these young men's frustrations could almost exactly echo some young men's frustrations from middle America. We all continued on to sing "Gone Country" by Alan Jackson, "Cowboy Take Me Away" by The Dixie Chicks, "The Good Stuff" by Kenny Chesney, "Changes" by Tupac, and "When You Say Nothing At All" by Allison Krause. Except for the few Malagasy songs we sang (I tried to sing) we could've been sitting on a hill in Wisconsin singing the same songs and discussing the same problems that are frustrating us. When it comes down to it we're all more alike than we could ever possibly be different - we all enjoy the views from above, the feelings of accomplishment, and we all feel good music the same.