Today’s the one day of zoning, and Augustin and Florent pretty much begged us to stay here in the village, saying that there were already too many porters involved, more people would make it slower, not much work to do anyway, lots of uphill scrambling, lots of thorns, it’s kind of muggy… I took the hint. Ryan and Charles went, of course, and Jamila went for a while, but an extremely uncomfortable health issue drove her so nuts that she came back early. (That’s one’s not my story to tell!)
I’m sitting in the hut writing this, and Sarah’s out in the tent organizing photos for her video on her camera. I realized this morning, sitting here, that I’ve become so comfortable here that I’m not really relishing the delightful foreignness of it all anymore. So I’ll try to describe this scene.
It smells like sweet wood smoke in here, and I’m sitting on the rice mat covered floor with my back against the slatted ravinala wall, through which the cold, gray daylight shows in cracks. There’s a porter – though I don’t like that word anymore, they’re more like our companions and hosts – tending to the fire and to something in a big pot. He’s squatting on his heels in that way that I can’t quite manage because my legs just aren’t built for it at this point – too many years spent living with chairs. A woven straw pan full of tsaramaso fotsy (white beans) rests on the floor beside him, and a pile of reject beans has accumulated near the fire. Those are the dried beans that haven’t passed his inspection, usually because bugs have burrowed inside them. My feet are bare and full of grubby cuts and scrapes, trying in vain to heal up despite the abuse that I subject them to daily. Hot pink eosine disinfectant stains remain on my skin from past operations, hopefully leaving some sort of legacy of cleanliness in those holes from which I’ve pulled some truly amazing thorns. My “forest pants” are no longer really gray, but more a gradient of shades of brown, broken up by splatters of red, blue and yellow paint, sticky white latex sap from liana vines, and a few bleach stains from Sûr Eau spills – the chemical water purifier that we use in our dishwashing buckets and shower barrel. Voices of children drift incomprehensibly through the thin walls, full of excitement, still, days after our initial arrival sent ripples through the stillness of daily routine in Anarasoa. They really seem to think that we’re from outer space, but we’ve proven ourselves to be friendly aliens, at least. The occasional bold chicken hops up into the doorframe to cluck questioningly and check out the scene, before the chef dismisses him with a loud “fffssshhhh!” and a flick of his hand. The conversation between today’s chef and his companions in the doorway is mostly incomprehensible to me, but I’m pleased to find that more and more of the words set off bells of recognition in my brain. I haven’t figured out quite how to string them together yet… that’s the next project.
We’re in Vohimary Nord, after a most glorious breakfast of omelettes AND voanjobory! Jour de fête. The walk was sunny and pleasant, and only 7km. We shared scandalous stories of our university days as we squelched through rice paddies. Leaving Anarasoa was sad though, especially for Charles, I think. He and Ryan spent three weeks there, so they got to know the porters really well and had a great time goofing around with them. Charles and “Coupe-Coupe” (so called because he was quick with the machete when vines needed hacking) had a sad parting.
Oh! And to get from Anarasoa to Vohimary Nord, we had to cross a river in a pirogue, which is basically a hollowed out skinny log. It was super sketchy. Basically, crouch down and hold on for dear life. And, for an extra twist, the river is home to Nile crocodiles, who have actually eaten two children from a nearby village in the past year.
A rainy, lazy day in Vohimary Nord. We wandered down the road this morning to do some laundry in the river, about 15 minutes walk, and it downpoured on us, so we huddled under a bridge until it slowed down a bit. But mostly, we’ve just been sitting in this room that’s been cleared out for us, chatting and reading, under the close observation of a bunch of curious kids, as usual. I should also mention that Sarah, Jamila and I ran out of toilet paper this week. Well, we’ve been rationing our last roll, really. No nose blowing! So Jamila has had to resort to blowing her nose in a particularly dirty shirt that she wasn’t planning on wearing until post-laundry. (But, I should also mention, she put it on today! The booger shirt! Ha. Desperate times…)
I’m feeling sooo happy to be here though. I’m getting into an awesome groove – learning the language at a wonderful rate, making friends with kids, and loving every minute spent with the other volunteers. It feels like time is chasing me down and I’ll have to leave too soon.
The agents have hired a woman from the village to cook for us, and she is incredible. She’s the sweetest little mom and has an adorable brood of three kids. Tonight for dinner, we had tsaramaso and also zebu meat! This was unusual, and Florent and Augustin explained that someone in the village had committed a taboo – he had told his brother, in a fit of rage, presumably, that he would not be welcome in the family tomb. This is a serious insult, and for reparations, the man had to sacrafice two of his aomby (zebu). So the village got to eat the meat! We wondered what was going on when we saw men carrying bloody organs down to the river and rinsing them off. It’s alllll coming together.
Jamila, Ryan and I followed Florent to Renaomby today – that waterfall that Jamila and I visited while we were in Marolala. It’s only about 20 minutes walk from here, and the plan was to swim and wash our hair. Jamila did it, but I just couldn’t get in. It was freezing! What a pathetic Canadian.
We’re getting picked up tomorrow morning in a vehicle to go back to Vondrozo! How luxe.