36 Mile Bike Race, Work Project and Raising Ducks!

Trip Start Feb 12, 2006
Trip End May 12, 2008

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Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Greetings from Madagascar! Well, time has been flying by, I can't believe it is already October. I guess the seasons are starting to change back home & a new school year has begun for some of you. One of the things that I thought I would really miss from home was the change of seasons, but Madagascar has it's own. We are moving out of the short rainy season, the mud is starting to dry up and the days are sunny with blue skies, thick white clouds & a nice cool breeze. We have went from wearing fleece, scarves & hats to tank tops, sandals & shorts. Not only can you feel the change but it is visible everywhere. The large spiders are taking advantage of the warm weather and are spinning their webs around town. The grapefruit blossoms fill the air with a sweet fragrance and the limbs of the coffee trees are coated in fluffy white flowers. A few weeks ago the peach trees were bright pink full of blossoms, reminiscent of spring & a month ago we passed a mountainside full of maple trees with the leaves turning to autumn shades of orange & red. Every month there is a new type of fruit in season & mangoes are starting to show up on the stands in the market.

We have been getting into all sorts of things here. Labor Day Weekend we went to the East Coast to participate in a 36 mile bike race, from Foulpointe to Tamatave, to raise AIDS awareness, sponsored by Peace Corps & a few other organizations. Since we ride our bikes almost daily at our site, we thought we were up to the challenge, but let it be suffice to say the ride was quite intense! I was close to tears (several times), wanted to give up (a few times), but ate my Snickers & banana and kept pedaling. After 3 hours of relentless pedaling I rode into Tamatave alone, guided to the finish line by Gendarmes at each intersection. Once there I saw Aaron waiting by the road. He had arrived at least a half hour earlier, rode to the finish line but didn't cross, turned around and waited for me and we rode across together. Isn't he awesome! My muscles were so stiff I could barely lift my leg to get off my bike, but I was glad to have participated.
All in all, the ride was amazing, filled with incredible scenery. We passed through villages in which families & children stood by their palm thatched homes giggling & waving. We rode by zebu's grazing along the side of the road, people working in their fields, stands selling fruit, plants & handmade baskets, and at times the turquoise Indian Ocean crashing on the beach.
Tamatave is an amazing town & our time there was awesome- warm, sunny weather, bungalows on the beach, good seafood, and a great time with friends!

Back at site we have a large project underway with our counterpart organization. We are working in a town about 5 km away with 2 model farmers (Maxim & Yves) to turn an overgrown piece of land into a tree nursery in which over 10,000 trees will be grown & then distributed to the surrounding villages. So far we have cleared the land and turned a hillside into 3 level terraces. All accomplished through strenuous labor with 4 shovels, a pick-axe, a rake and the energy & sweat of two small Malagasy farmers, Aaron & I. In the States a job like this would be completed in a few days using heavy machinery. We have been working for several weeks (building muscles & callouses), but love working side by side with Yves & Maxim, though we are quite exhausted by the time we ride our bikes back to our house.
We leave our house in the morning on our mountain bikes and arrive at the site in about 30 minutes, depending on the "traffic," which consists of villagers walking to and from the town carrying all sorts of wares on their heads & backs, large zebu being led to pasture (which I have developed an intense fear of after hearing that they sometimes gore people, though they seem quite stupid), and children going to school. The road (dirt, clay & some rocks) has recently been constructed by villagers through a Food for Work Program, so it is fairly level and has nice bridges. However, because of the steep inclines in several places there are no vehicles. The road meanders along the main river in town, where women wash their clothes, cattle graze along the banks and on really hot days children swim and play on bamboo rafts.
Once we get closer to the town, the road becomes steep and we go through a reforested area of eucalyptus & pine. We lock our bikes to a nearby tree, out of breath from the ascent, and walk down the other side of the hill (it is too steep even for a bicycle) to a small footpath that takes us to the site of the tree nursery. The landscape here is amazing (except for the one hillside cut and burned to grow cassava). The only house in view is on the opposite hillside, a small wooden hut that Maxim's family lives in, which is only accessible by wading through the river, crossing several rice fields and then climbing a hill. The valley is full of rice fields, mountains surround the entire area, white egrets fly through the valley and perch in trees, zebu's graze in the fields and a river winds through the middle with banana trees & Traveler's Palms on each side. It is one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. You can stand there and hear nothing but silence and the sounds of nature, no vehicles, no electricity, just solitude.
Besides the above fun, we have been entertained by a large addition to the Christman family- 8 ducklings & 2 goslings! Aaron has built a duck "hotel" and an adjoining pond for their amusement (and ours). We are raising the ducks in hopes of having eggs, though one whose name has been "Squealer", has been renamed "Sweet & Sour"(because that's how he'll be prepared) by Aaron and may find his way to the dinner table.
The upcoming weeks will also be filled with excitement as we anticipate the arrival of my (Jenny's) parents! We are so excited that they will be able to get a taste of the Malagasy life & it will be fun for Aaron & I to experience everything again through "new eyes." During their time here we will take a short vacation to Ile St. Marie to visit the white-sand beaches, spend some time on the East coast, and stay about a week at our house, experiencing daily life.

Jenny & Aaron
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