My life here

Before 6:20AM:
Eudes and I are quietly sleeping side by side…. I know we shouldn't’t but it’s unavoidable!

6 :20AM :
Alarm rings and now I actually get up as opposed to the first few weeks when I would say some not so nice words at this hour. I even volunteered to make the morning coffee for one week which meant waking up at 5:45 and at 4:45 on Saturday!!!! So no I’m not becoming a morning person but I have to say it’s been nice. I usually have a pre-coffee (the coffee here is insanely good) and walk around outside to say hi to the girls who are usually up no later than 5:30 AM. Some are already studying, washing, showering or attending the optional daily church service at 6:15AM!

Breakfast which usually consists of manioc based baguette (not great but anyhow), jam or honey and of course coffee with fresh milk, and when I say fresh I mean fresh from our cow Niri the day before. No it’s not Lactantia Skim milk but it’s just soooo good.

I make my way over to where Justin and Olivia have their breakfast which is usually a rice-based meal (they love rice here…) and then I or I should say Justin does his morning exercises to help him improve his walking. He can be quite stubborn and there are mornings when it’s “challenging” not to lose my patience…. But then there are those mornings where he’s perfect!

“Mot du matin avec les enfants”

8 :20AM :
School starts !!! So depending on the day my schedule varies a little but I teach in total 7 classes ages from 4 to 13 where I do everything from animal sounds to imitating winter solstices. The main goal is to help them on a pronunciation level (so one could say I’m grooming a population of québécois French in this lost corner of Madagascar) and understanding.

The main problem here as I have mentioned before is that all subjects are tested in French and the level of French understanding is very low not just on a student level but some teachers find French quite challenging. In all fairness I can understand the difficulties, French is by far not the easiest language to learn and Malagasy is very simple in comparison. Furthermore, we’re not in Tana or another big city, we’re in a perfect little village where the opportunity to actually practice French is rare.

Usually afterwards I have classes with postulates (the not-yet sisters) and here I focus mainly on comprehension and expression (oral and written).

12 Noon:

Lunch!!! And the best meal of the day. Our cook, Mme Jacqueline is a wizard, she cooks with a dull knife and a wooden stove and it’s always perfect. The food is very homey-soul food like: Rice (always), salad with fresh veggies from our garden, meat or fish most of the time, beans ( soooooooooooo good), soy beans sometimes, egg plant stuff (soooooooooo good), and all kinds of other good things. Here no one complains if we eat the same thing twice in a row or if we have leftovers, absolutely nothing is wasted ( to the point where we even use the chicken heads and feet), no one is a picky eater and we throw nothing out! I love it.
There are days when I eat with the girls, the food is also good but a little less elaborate than our meals since they are 52 and we’re 10. We have rice with veggies, sometimes dry fish (which I’m getting used to), meat on Sundays and special occasions and rice water.
And of course when we are done we do the dishes, there is no why do something now when we could do it later thinking here which I love. It’s always clean, there is never a pile of dishes to do and we laugh and fool around while we work so it’s great.

Coffee break with Meggi and one of the best moments of my day.

Some days I teach one or 2 classes, on days that I’m free, I do homework with the girls ( I rule 18-19th century history and physics…optics and Electricity!) Sometimes I do laundry with the girls (all laundry here is done by hand…. So dirty and clean have taken on new meanings, Yes I now sometimes smell check things and evaluate my daily activities before I condemn something to being dirty…..but The girls sing when they wash so it’s perfect.), or my hair, or my nails or just hang out with them.

Skule’s out!! Justin and company come pick up some fruit I have for them before they go home and then I’m free.
Some days I read, other days I do homework again…

Le chapelet, yes I am in a religious community but prayer is optional, sometimes I go because it gives me my moment of self-reflection, or to hear the girls sing or just to pray or to hold hangs with the village kids who come for prayer or just to watch the sunset. Some of my most “wow I’m really not in Mtl” happen at this our as I hold a perfect and dirty Malagasy baby in my hand while reciting the rosary in Malagasy and listening to Malagasy religious chants.... Dorothy is very far from home!

Some nights I “supervise” the girls during quiet study and I use the term supervise very lightly because the girls are very well disciplined.

I also shower around this time, so yeah there is a water problem here, meaning we don’t really have any! Water is cut at certain times of the day like in old communist countries so we fill large containers in the bathrooms and more often than not I cup and bucket wash with cold water although cold is getting difficult now so I warm up some water on our stove. Cup and bucket showering consists of washing with a cup and bucket. Now those who know me well or not well know that I can compromise on anything except the cleanliness aspect, no not after 17 hours flying from Mtl to London then London Athens, not dead tired after roads trips, not dead tired after clubbing and being drunk, a day of competition…..nothing NOTHING stands in my way when it comes to showering before bed. Some days it’s more difficult but then there are those days when there is WARM water…but most nights it’s the good old cup and bucket and I’ve developed an order and technique which assures my being clean.

We have dinner, sometimes I eat with the girls and other nights with the community. Dinner is usually less elaborate than lunch but still very good. If I eat with the girls I hang out with them a little after to “chat” in Malagasy or dance around, or help with dishes.

Le mot du soir de Sr Dora, la directrice de notre communauté. It’s usually a little something to see us off before going to bed. Then dishes and then we have some time to goof off, we either play cards, danse, sing….Whatever.

I’m dead tired and usually get a few words of reading in and then I crash. Some nights (Fridays or Sundays) Meggi and I have a few beers and goof off, some nights we’re just too tired.

The rule is we have to be home by 6PM unless we get a special permission. Yes this rule may seem difficult but the gates close and the security guard comes at 6. Other communities are a little more flexible but our head sister is very conservative. Also from a security point of view it’s best that we come home at night fall….Also there is nothing to do here in Betafo at night, we would have to go to Antsirabe which despite being only 25kms away takes about 1hr by local taxi-B (25km at 25km/hr still takes an hour) and the taxi-bs coming back at night are very rare. I can’t say there have been too many nights or any really where I wished that I could go out rather than be here. I won’t lie vacation was nice and we went out and drank and did all the things we can’t do here and it’s perfect this way.

Saturday is cleaning day. Our house is over a century old, electricity is fairly recent not to mention the phone. Every door squeaks, the floors are hard wood and a haven for dust the windows have shutters and no screens. There are not cleaning products so we make due with water and soaps and blast our music while we clean.

Sundays so church is not mandatory they just tell us we’ll go to hell if we don’t attend….(kidding) I, by choice go to the first service at 7AM and then at 9:30 Meggi and I go run on the local track with some of the girls.
Sundays we get the best meals at lunch. Sunday afternoons is l’Oratorio which is Don Bosco’s idea. This is when all the kids from the village come to our school and play for about 3-4 hours. They wait outside the gate at least 45mins before it starts. Meggi and I usually throw around a fees balls, I bought ropes and I think I’m going to start a rhythmic gymnastics club soon. It’s very physically demanding but I love it.

Mondays is our day off, we usually go to Antsirabe by local T-B, which is a station wag which fits about 17 people and the exhaust always gives into the car (I think it’s a pre-req). There are “police checks” for “security” and respect of passengers limits, this is a local theatre act that the drivers and police like to engage into. The police looks at the car filled to twice it’s capacity and whose engine doesn’t start unless 12 people push it for about 1km and whose wheels are holding onto the car with dental floss…..but The police looks very serious, the driver hands him the car’s “registration” plus a little extra and we’re off. This usually occurs 111152789 times in the 25km separating us from the big city. Mondays is internet, shopping, restaurant day. Some weeks we try to do something different….all depends on our overall mood.

So that’s my life, it’s simple and perfect. We eat the food grown in our garden, wash our clothes by hand…..I never have to worry about traffic or rent or what I’m going to wear. The kids are always outside our door, the girls are wonderful, the sisters are great and I’M TRULY HAPPY. Happier than ever really, I’m not saying I wasn’t happy at home, as you all know I was always gay about my apartment, about having you guys over, breakfast and long walks on St-Denis, Old port and ice cream, Maché J-T….bagels, l’Assommoir….eggs Benedict…and just all of you. But the happiness I feel here is completely different, I don’t ask myself if I’m doing something with my life because I get so much satisfaction out of what I do…I’m trying to think of a way to bring this home with me but I’m not sure it’s possible.

I’m not saying there aren’t days that are hard, especially when the girls write to me or some to me in tears and tell me a little about their stories, or when I see how Justin lives, those days are harder and then I ask myself am I actually doing anything for anyone other than myself here? Also of course living with conservative, culturally different sisters also has it’s moments. But overall I am happy and I am grateful for each new day.

Things or habits I intend to bring home

-the handkerchief and non throw away napkins
-eating more frequently with the spoon
-eating rice more often
-more leftovers based meals
-drinking rice water....
-and more which I cannot think of right now

Things or habits I do not intend to bring home

-sleeping on a single bed and tucking in the sheets (although I’m liking the tuck right now)
-Cup and bucket showering
-the burning of our rubbish (sooooo not cool)
-reusable feminine stuff......

PS: Eudes c’est la puce qui vit dans mon lit, et je dis la puce puisque l’idée qu’il y en aurait plus que une me ferait partir d’ici…et je sais que c’est un mâle à cause des endroits précis de ma physionomie qu’il choisit pour me piquer ( il semblerait que les puces africaines sont attirées vers les mêmes traits que les hommes africains.

PPS : Ceux qui appèlent leur tendre moitié « ma puce » arrêtez, il n’y a rien de tendre d’une puce, ce sont des créatures répugnantes qui semblent avoir un faible pour la chair canadienne/québécoise


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