January 11, 2012

Karibo my Trano (Come into my house!)

For those of you who have wondered what life looks like for a Peace Corps volunteer in Northern Madagascar, look no further. The following video, filmed over the course of several days in the summer of 2011, exposes just how harrowing such a life is: the peering children, the long water-hauls, the taxi-brousse rides, the cartographic mishaps. It may look like we are having fun, but peer a little closer, this is no child's play. 

*Special thanks to Katie Minton for providing the equipment, 
filming, and editing.  All I did was bring the camera presence.

January 10, 2012

Critters: It's Their World, We're Just Living In It [Photos]

One Ticket to Paradise, One Passage through Hell (or, Civilizational Disillusionment)

The plane lifts off from Antananarivo two and a half hours late, but as we are all still operating on Malagasy time, no one is- as is said in Madagascar- “working their head.” We are homeward bound for the holidays, on our way to the land of milk and honey, leaving behind the heat-stifled chaos of Madagascar for the calmer and cooler pleasures of civilization. We sink into our delightfully comfortable chairs, stretch in the expansive legroom, peruse the endless entertainment options, and marvel at how all that magical food can be crammed into a single plastic tray. This is heaven, we declare to each other, what could possibly go wrong?
We land in Paris thirteen hours later and three hours behind schedule, a wrinkle in “making up time” that only a pilot outbound from Madagascar could claim with pride. We  disembark confident that our two hour layover will prove more than adequate, for we know that in this world all proceeds like clockwork, rigid within the laws of logic and efficiency. We bask in the glory of this disillusion for nearly three minutes, until we find ourselves in the back of a line that refuses to move. A rabble of more aggressive travelers have disregarded the line altogether; they push with insincere apologetic gestures to the front. I am appalled. I had believed these ropes to be a divine mandate, now I see their true nature, flimsy and easily ignored. A part of me yearns for the land I just left behind, where at least there are no pretensions of order that I feel obligated to obey.
After a static hour, we are told, scoffingly, to proceed directly to our terminal, 2E. We board a bus, only to discover that there are two terminals 2E. We exit, of course, at the wrong one and find ourselves at the back of another line, this one so long and chaotic that we cannot even determine what it is for or where it is headed. We are told to board a train to the other terminal 2E; I begin to feel as though I am trapped in a hellish children’s transportation book. The second terminal 2E proves even more chaotic than the first. We are commanded to re-board the train and return to the original 2E: we refuse. At an impasse, we are then informed that we need to be on the other side of the security barrier, look, you see, right through there. How do we get there? Oh no, you cannot, you are on the wrong side.
We look at the clock and realize that we have missed our plane.
We exit through passport control- stamp, stamp, Welcome to Paris. Glowering through the sheet glass window at the border guard, we turn and encounter a maelstrom; suddenly in all the chaos it all makes sense. Swirling hordes of people are packed underneath the domed ceiling, chanting and shouting. Bullhorns echo and harried travelers shove between the riot police. The security personnel at the Paris airport have gone on strike. I feel myself developing a sudden strong aversion to European labor unions.
We dodge the strikers and the riot police, trying our best not to look like strikers, and find, at last, a customer service desk without a line. Glancing at the itineraries our new savior tsk tsks, consults her watch, and says, this may take a while. She clacks away at her keyboard while we stare determinedly at a twenty-second loop of birds gliding over an estuary. We are not soothed; we hate civilization. A half hour passes before she looks up suddenly: your plane has not left yet, hurry, see if you can catch it!
Now we find ourselves running, back through passport control (oh, yes, we just adored Paris), and up to security. Off with the shoes, off with the belt and jacket, out with the electronics. We are almost through and then a hand stops our progress: is this your bag? Yes, the man before us replies. Are you aware, sir, that you are not allowed to carry on kitchen knives? A precious two minutes are lost as the man defends his god-given right to carry on kitchen knives. Running again, this time past swanky shops and well-dressed travelers. I see the gate; I see the doors open; I see the green lights on. I am thirty yards away, twenty, ten. The door closes.
We have missed our plane, again. We have somehow missed the same plane twice.
I nearly cry. Tatum- the other half of the we in this story- does cry. We stand there and watch our plane pull away from our gate and we curse this horrible place known as civilization. Then we get in the back of another line. 
We are split up, I through New York and Tatum through Detroit. We bid each other farewell, after yet another train ride and yet another panicked run through a terminal that starts with 2E. I board my plane, finding the seats not quite so comfy, the legroom restrictive, the entertainment options uninspiring, and the magical food, well, no longer magical in a positive way. We depart Paris an hour late.
When we land in New York I have exactly one hour and thirty-seven minutes to catch my connecting flight to Greensboro. This would be entirely manageable if it were not for the fact that my flight has landed at JFK and the next is departing from LaGuardia. Again, I find myself running, through the airport, through passport control (Welcome back to the United States!), through baggage claim. I shiver and shiver as I wait for the bus. We circle JFK for ten minutes, collecting other nonexistent passengers, then crawl along the highway as the bus driver hums Christmas carols. We circle LaGuardia, dropping off all those other nonexistent passengers. I am left at baggage claim and, of course, I am running. The check-in desks are deserted except for a single one. Hi, IthinkImissedmyflightbutIwouldliketotryandcatchit, I gasp. 
He types in the info, glances at the screen and says, in a deadly serious tone of voice, don’t ask questions, just RUN. 
Through security: Off with the shoes, off with the belt and jacket, out with the electronics. They are paging me over the intercom: final call, passenger Browne, final call. Is that you? The security guys ask. They are throwing the bins down the line in excitement. RUN! Jacket, belt, shoes, and bag in hand, I am streaming through the nearly deserted airport, a half-undressed madwoman returned from an uncivilized land. I see the gate, the door is closed. I keep running, more out of momentum than enduring motivation. Gasping, I entreat the woman behind the counter: did I make it? Sure, she said, you didn’t have to run.
I have made it. My legs are like jelly; I am still straining for air; does anyone have some water? I collapse into my seat, a mere shred of the human I was when I left Madagascar thirty-eight hours ago. I cannot decide whether this is a miracle or if civilization has betrayed me. 
Katie, a shocked voice says, Is that you? The neighboring seat is occupied by a friend I have not seen since high school. Katie, she repeats, what the hell happened to you?