Wednesday, January 28, 2009

update on things going on in madagascar

I am currently safe at the Peace Corps transit house in antananarivo (tana for short). Been under what I guess you could say is a form of house arrest only it's for our safety. Today things seemed to have calmed down a lot as far as looting and violence goes all over Madagascar but I can't promise this will be true in future as well. As of right now we are in the Standfast evacuation alert mode which in short means be ready to leave when you get the word to do so. However in the short term there doesn't seem to be any plans to evacuate us, and I sorely would love to go back to my site as I'm starting feel stir crazy at the PC house. Right now the public transportation is not going, so I could be here for anywhere from 3 more days to a month.

If you'd like news on the events in Madagascar I suggest you search google news.

I apologize if this is vague.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Facebook Sponsered ‘Karana’ PCV encounters small town Mad’

Hello World!

I’ve been far too terribly busy and important these last two and a half months to give you folks some of my time :P So since it would be silly to try and tell you guys everything that’s been going on chronologically, I’m just going to talk about what I feel like and what you guys might find interesting. So if the timeline gets confusing, I apologize in advance, but here goes…

It just so happens that my suitcase full of practical clothes and paraphernalia largely sports the Facebook logo. On any given day I can be seen modeling my Facebook track jacket and guzzling from my Facebook nalgene bottle. If it gets warm, as often times it does, I unzip to reveal one of many Facebook T-shirts. Now, when I actually get down to listing all the Facebook shwag that litter my belongings it doesn’t seem like much – track jacket, t-shirts, nalgene, stationary, and City sweat shirt, which in my defense isn’t exactly a company wide thing, more an Online Ops quirk, and unlike the other stuff, wasn’t free. In fact I remember from the packing effort, making the conscious decision of leaving my Facebook blanket, sweatshirt, and two other T-shirts behind thinking it would be a tad overkill. What I didn’t realize is that all my shwag makes up half my wardrobe here and the other half are completely devoid of any sort of logo. Basically what this means is that when I meet new volunteers or folks US savvy, Facebook is our favorite topic of conversation, more specifically their many grievances with Facebook. I’m sort of a Facebook counselor, and on the rare occasion when we’re in the vicinity of Internet connection The Facebook Whisperer.

Don’t think I’m bitter about it though. I actually quite enjoy the attention and find it all amusing (as do the other volunteers). In fact when in my ‘sessions’ a faithful user tells me how he hates when his profile is all blocky and shifted to the left or rants about his frustration with buttons not working I launch into my spiel about clearing cache and upgrading from Internet 6.0, I get warm fuzzies inside and reflect, “Ah, Janzer would be proud”. I also love having the freedom to spew some mumbo jumbo about Java script and type-a-head as the cause of all internet related problems with out the fear of being outed by some know it all engineer (degree shm-egree) or worse a fellow UO-er who was actually paying attention to one of Ezra’s rambles. The best though is when other PCV’s bemoan their state of poverty and I get to shrug my shoulders empathetically and allude to a ‘nest egg’ and say stuff like ‘stock options’ and ‘portfolios’. I don’t actually know what qualifies as a ‘nest egg’ but either way anything I had resembling it definitely went into purchasing ‘stock options’ and when someone says ‘portfolio’ I imagine a red 3-ring binder filled with many colors of construction paper. Still I love dropping those words – they’re just so grown up sounding.

I must admit though, all these conversations about Facebook have definitely revealed my biggest regret about my time working there. Never sending Zuck a friend request. When people ask me if I know the man personally, I have no concrete proof to fall back. All I have is “oh yeah we hung out at a couple of parties”, when really it was just one company party and really it was me well on my way to wasted demanding where my new hire paperwork promised lunch meeting was from a very sober looking Zuck (which after being scheduled and canceled twice sadly never did happen); or I can do the, “ uh… yeah we were on the pink team together. The Pinking Rich team pride! w00t. w00t.” when in reality he never made it to Game Day cuz he was on some v. imp. business trip to Istanbul. Although, it appears that best buddy of mine, Boogs, has begun playing epic rounds of Risk with dear Zuck, so I’m probably going to start telling people, “Zuck? Of course I know Zuck. We used to play Risk together” and hope to God no one asks me the rules to the damn board game.

While my former job is a common conversation topic with other PCVs and sorts, it’s more a matter of confusion for the Malagasy host family and sorts. They ask what I did before Peace Corps and at first I tried telling them that I worked for an internet company called Facebook but seeing as how I don’t know either the word for internet, computer, or technology and my French terms for these didn’t add to any sort of comprehension, my efforts at explanation just resulted in an assumption that I don’t love/ my therefore choose to live and work so far from them.

The point of interest that did liven up broken conversation was the fact that I am of Indian ethnicity or ‘Karana’ as they call folks who are of Indian background here. It started over dinner one evening early in my 10 week stay in their home with them whispering to themselves. At that point the only phrase I understood in their conversation was ‘Karana mitovy Indienne?’ (Karana is the same as Indian), so I basically broke in with the Malagasy equivalent of ‘Hey what’s up?’ and, oh boy, of all the questions they could have asked about me being Indian, their first question was why do Indians burned bodies. Now, realize that I only figured out after ten more minutes of broken Malagasy mixed with broken French that they were actually asking why it was that Indians (I’m assuming more specifically Hindus) cremated their dead rather than bury them all in a family tomb and, if you have the money for it, bring them out every year and re-wrap them in cloth and basically try and make sure their earthly bodies are as comfortable and ergo their spiritual existence is comfortable, as many Malagasy families do in a rite called Famadiana. But anyways somehow through my limited Malagasy and their limited French I managed to give them an answer they were able to understand and accept.

Then the next week they asked me what the difference was between Indians and Indonesians, the week after that they asked if Karanas in the States only married Karanas in India, and basically every week after the questions became more and more specific and relatable, so that by the last week I spent with them my Karana conversation consisted of ‘yes Karanas eat really spicy food and wear a lot of jewelry’.

One nice thing about not being white though is that I can pass by unnoticed much of the time. A lot of other PCVs have to deal with having ‘Vazah!’ (foreigner) shouted at them when they’re out and about. They’re also more obvious targets for annoying beggars. But yeah in general I get harassed considerably less, usually it only happens when I’m shopping or using public transportation as my limited ‘gasy outs me. I also don’t get hollered at as much and even then it’s usually a confused ‘Karana?’ rather than a ‘Vazah!’.

I swear in this week and move to my new beautiful house in a small village near Antsirabe and one of the things I’m really curious to discover is how I’ll be perceived without the cushion of other PCVs to broadcast I’m American. I’m thinking in personal life and day to day living it’ll be easier as far as integration goes, but I can see it posing some really interesting challenges in the workplace. We’ll see though, and of course I’ll keep y’all posted.

Thanks for reading. Love, N.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Les shenanigans de l'aeroport

Uf, I'm at the Peace Corps house in Tana... finally. Luckily the house had internet installed last month so I get to fill all you guys in on the ridiculousness of our journey.

Perhaps when the bus dropped the 20 of us off at the wrong terminal at JFK, we should have known we'd be in for a bumpy ride. It took us about an hour and a couple of incorrect airtrains to the right terminal, before we finally joined up with the Peace Corps Mozambique group who was flying on the same plane to Johannesburg before taking their connecting flight. Either way we chilled at the check in counter for a couple of hours, as we were really really early and there was no one to check us in. After I checked in and was leading my checked luggage to the carousel, I thought it odd that instead of sticking the baggage tags to my passport as most airlines do, these folks had stapled them to my boarding pass. But I figured oh well I'm a pro at flying and I shouldn't have any problems keeping the receipt of my air ticket and boarding pass stub all together.

Now, while all 20 of us experienced a bumpy ride to Tana, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one to have other stupid things happen to her on top of everything. Sadly, I have no one to blame but myself for the extra bits of trouble. My first individual scare was at security. I show my brand new peace corps passport to the dude and almost immediately he tells me my passport isn't valid. I'm totally freaking out and the guy takes his sweet time messin' with me before telling me that I hadn't signed my passport yet and that it's not valid until I do. Apparently a whole bunch of people who'd gone ahead of me had had this problem as well since we didn't realize we needed to do this, but as I was the last in line for a bit the guy must have gotten tired of it and decided to have some fun. Sure it's kinda funny now, but I wasn't laughing then.

So we get on the plane, awesome. Land in Johannesburg, awesome. Waited for 4 hours to get on the hotel shuttle to the hotel which was literally two minutes away. The thing was though that the Mozambique group was also staying at the same hotel and there are 57 of them and only two shuttles that between the two can take only 16 people at a time. Plus, the Mozambique crew hadn't checked their luggage all the way through and it probably took even longer for them to load and unload. Still the wait was well worth it, cuz the hotel was absolutely fantastic. Amazing. I swear to god it must be a 4 or 5 star. I slept like a baby for 11 hours.

In Philly we had been told at staging that our contecting flight to Tana was at 3:30 pm the following day after landing in Jo'berg. But when we got to the aeroport we find out that actually there had been a last minute change or some miscommunication somewhere and that we had actually been booked on the 9:30 am flight and that it had obviously left without us. Lots of scrambling, lots of phone calls, lots of uncertainty of whether or not we'd be leaving today or tomorrow. At one point we even thought that half of us would be able to leave tommorrow while the other half wouldn't be able to leave till even the day after. Through all of this though I really have to remark on the group's chill factor. A few of us took charge and the rest of us let them. No one panicked, everyone was really calm and pretty jovial even (of course the prospect of possibly spending another night in a really nice hotel probably helped). I, however, had something to worry about.

Remember those baggage tickets and it's odd placement? Well almost right after I got of the flight and was standing in line for customs, I realized that I no longer had that envelope of receipts and baggage tickets. Now, I was bit concerned at first, but decided that there wouldn't be any problem cuz there's no way anything could go wrong with the flight right? And even if they did they'd probably be able to track my luggage with just my passport right? So, I'm sitting with the group next to the pay phones and this sense of 'uh oh' starts to creep up on me. Cuz eventhough I'm sitting on the tile floor of a relatively fancy-pants aeroport, I'm still in a developing country, and with my experience of developing countries nothing is ever easy. And the longer I think about the lost envolope of receipts and such the greater this sense of foreboding mounts.

Our tickets get figured out and hotel accomodations get squared away, and this amazingly helpful airline employee comes over to us to give us directions on what's gonna happen. And sure enough she needs our baggage tickets cuz while we've been booked on the new flight our bagagge tracking numbers have not been entered and the only way they can garuntee our luggage will be on that flight is with those numbers. I beg plead and do my brown thing, but it still doesn't look so good. The only thing she can advise me to do is that when I come in the morning to explain at the check in counter what has happened and ask her to add a note for the luggage folk to look for my bags manually.

We get there in the morning and check in. One other guy is in the same boat with me and together we try to navigate through the ridiculousness of Jo'berg aeroport to try and get a print out of our boarding info from the flight to JFK that would have our baggage #'s on it and we'd be able enter that into the computer. No dice. But honestly at this point, I'm so exhausted and so heartsick and angry with myself for losing the tickets in the first place, I'm just letting go. I had all my valuables and essentials I'd need to live in Madagascar on me, so if I lose my luggage I'm ok with it, I convince myself.

So we board the flight and just as we take off, the captain comes on the intercom. There's an electrical problem. We have to disembark and our flight is indefinetly delayed. We sit again in the aeroport for another 8 hours for the third day in a row. However, as we board again finally at 4 pm, the super helpful and wonderful person from the day before finds us and lets us know that since the flight was delayed she was able to go down herself and make sure all of our luggage was boarded on the flight. Omigod such a huge relief, and now I feel a little silly for getting so worked up over it in the first place :P

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Really quick post. I'm in Jo'berg tonight after a 17.5 hour flight. off to Antananarivo (Tana for short) tomorrow. I won't have internet for at least a month. Please send me letters! My address and some directions for sending are in the side bar.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


So my nomadic saga of moving, packing, repacking and repacking again continues. From a week in Seattle, to a week in Philadelphia sleeping on my brother's floor, to finally a room at the Holiday Inn- Historic dist. in Philly. Will be here till Tuesday morning. I do have my cell on me but I may be too busy to actually talk so it'd be a quick hi/bye.

I'm feeling a bit lazy/tired tonight so I will list some random highlights of the past two weeks:

- my computer died and Apple's genius bar didn't fix till the day I left for philly even though they had it in their custody for a week, and they had promised it back in two days. Very stressful. Their excuse? Sure it would only take 3 hours to actually fix it but their queues are backed up and there are other older wait times that need to be attended to. Totally makes me feel guilty about those users I let stew in my opens for a week when their problems were actually quick and easy fixes.

-Philly! Family! love them, heart them. So happy we all got spend a whole week together. It was a really good and cozy time.

- New York for a couple days included tasty tasty cookies from Levain, boat cruises, and Broadway. Speaking of family, isn't mine pretty?

- Liberty bell, Independance Hall, and Ben Franklin's non-existant house when we got back from New York

- Lots and lots of tv and couch chillin'

- Parents went home. very very sad.

- Brother drops me off at Holiday Inn. Also sad.

- No longer Peace Corps Invitee. Now officially Peace Corps Trainee. very cool

- Meet training group. Very cool kids. Like them bunches. Plus they're fun to hang out with.

- Maria ( my room mate) and I found a mouse in our hotel room. It looks like a pet that got left behind by a family. Holiday Inn concierge very unalarmed and unconcerned when we let them know there's a mouse in our room. Basically just shrugged their shoulders and said, "So?". Well so, Maria and I have decided to name the mouse Shadow, since I didn't want to believe there's a mouse in the room and almost convinced Maria that it was just a shadow... and then the darned thing scurried right past as though summoned.

- sleepy, tired, want to go to bed but must call mom. Good night!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Let's get the logistics out of the way

While I'm lounging around in my mud hut not using the outhouse for fear of a snake jumping out of nowhere and biting my ass (k, my expectations on living arrangement are perhaps a bit exaggerated), I will not have internet. In fact if you email me, I wouldn't expect a response till about a month and even then it'll probably be unsatisfactorily short because of time limits on internet usage. And so I welcome you all to rebuild your cursive muscles and become my pen pal. For those of you too young to remember what a pen pal is/forgot what the heck it is, wikipedia is your friend, you ignoramus. Bonus for you, you get real live mail in your mailbox addressed to you, with stamps, paper and ink galore. Bonus for me, when someone offers me some fried locust I can gracefully bow out with a "ahem... I .. uh ... have some correspondence to catch up with. thanks anyway". Alright fine I admit, I'm just super psyched to reintroduce the word "corresspondance" into my vocab. Could it be the tipping point that sends me down the slippery slope of "pip! pip!", "cheerio!" and all that other "balderdash"? Perhaps, but at least you won't be around to hear me sound like an obnoxious nitwit.

So here's my address during training:

Bureau du Corps de la Paix - ATTN: Nandini Jayarajan
B.P. 12091
Post Zoom Ankorondrano
Antananarivo 101

Don't forget to add "PAR AVION" somewhere on the envelope so that it goes by airmail.

The Matt Fernandez Plan:

For those you creative writing types, feel free to join in on the Matt Fernandez Plan. As it takes about 6-9 weeks for me to receive mail, you can plan on having a story or sample of writing done ever 6-9 weeks. By the time you send your new work you'd have received my edits and comments on the last sample plus a sample of my work. The plan is genius cuz 1) I'm a great editor (just ask Matt), 2) you'll have a defined but flexible deadline by which you need to have something finished, 3) I'll waste precious stamp money on you asking where your writing sample is and you'll feel so guilty, the shame will fuel your creative juices (ahem... Ryan).

As far as other telecommunication methods, I'll probs get a phone soon after I land and you guys can send me drunken text messages for free, and I'll save the best ones, for example:

From: Matt
Aghh' ask drunk right now' ur my fav dry jk wperson! I live u why can't I hit the tight keys !& woooooooo
Feb 9, 12:13 am

From: Jeff
Wow, I like Indian men... can be very hot!
Mar 1, 7:42 am

And the cutest...

From: Morgan
Im sort of drunk but i love you!
Mar 7, 10:59 pm

(omg matt, jeff, and morgan please don't kill me for re-posting these!!)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Omigod, fine already! here's the blog you all insisted on. jeez

Alright blog time, finally.

I am completely knackered from the past week. Quit Facebook Thursday 4th, 2008. Holy crap. Pretty sure on some level it's the stupidest thing I've ever done. sigh, *shrug* and oh well on that I suppose. Then of to Portland from Friday to Sunday for some Morgy and Jeffy time which happily turned into Cora, Gretchers and others joining in on the reunion. And then Palo Alto again for a two day intense nauseating packing and cleaning session of the apartment. Ugh I say, ugh. I have glimpsed hell folks and it's being trapped packing up and cleaning an apartment that refuses to be packed and cleaned. Finally Wednesday, I turned in my keys, folded myself into my car turned sardine can on wheels, and had Krista drive me to Portland. Zoning out for 12 hours gazing out at the largest trailer park in America (or what certainly seemed like it) and pretty winding mountain scenery was glorious. Oh and watching Krista's face as she chomps down on a Jelly Belly she thinks is birthday cake flavored but is actually booger flavored; priceless. Everyone should feed that girl gross flavored Jelly Bellies. It's a gift to yourself that keeps on giving. Crashed at Morgan and Cora's, and wrestled with Tobias the cat last night, drove up the rest of the way to Seattle suburbia, with a stop to drop of Krista at the airport. Came home ate glorious mommy food, unpacked car with dad and cousin, and am now writing the world's worst blog entry ever, which makes me realize I should've probably started this thing when I was more awake. But maybe it's better this way. Keep the bar low, that way no one will expect more out of me until BAM i wow them all with the awesomest blog entry the world has ever seen. K, now I'm just talking to myself. Typy-typy later.