Wild Wild South

Trip Start Aug 15, 2012
Trip End Aug 01, 2013

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Flag of Madagascar  ,
Friday, December 7, 2012

Wow, so much has happened since the last time I did one of these things. I have traveled across the country and back again while simultaneously having my work schedule turned absolutely topsy-turvy.  To top it all off, it seems that the availability of power and internet here never corresponded with my motivation to type up a blog post.  As a result, we have a lot to catch up on.  In spite of this, I promise I will keep it concise.

Since the seasons down here in the Southern Hemisphere are opposite of the states, we are heading into our hottest months of the year.  If people didn't continuously tell me that it was going to get hotter than it already is I wouldn’t think it possible, but apparently the continuous sweating will continue unabated for many months.  Already the only reliefs are the bucket baths that I take as often as possible, dumping cold water all over myself.  They never leave me feeling very clean, but that is irrelevant since the profuse sweating starts up again as soon as I start pouring.  I am not telling you this in an attempt to complain or garner sympathy, just to say that IT IS HOT HERE!!!  Having chosen to spend the last year of my life before Madagascar in Alaska, my body just isn’t quite used to the desert heat.  The heat does, however, add to the challenge and the adventure of being in such a unique and, despite the weather, wonderful part of the world.  The plus side: I have sweated off about 10 pounds simply from trudging around through the sand and heat.  So here’s the take away: if anyone needs a new diet/workout plan, come visit!

There are quite a few great opportunities that have come way in recent weeks.  I continue working with Fenolily on his various projects including dispersing papaya and coconut seedlings to rural communities and working with the World Food Program on testing a new kind of soil-friendly plough in the area.  I am loving working with him both because he is a very passionate individual and because he has been a great friend to me.  In addition to Fenolily, I have begun a project with a man here in Ambovombe named Taza.  He is an incredibly forward-thinking individual, and is very passionate about the environment and the youth of Ambovombe.  As a result, he and I are in the early stages of planning a youth camp on his property just outside of town.  Our vision for this camp includes both environmental and theological programming, but we see it primarily as a place for structured activities, learning, and fun for the youth.  I am excited to see how it develops.

I continue to teach English and environmental science at the Lutheran Private school 2 days a week, and I recently began teaching English at the bible school in town, which is somewhat of a continued theological learning center for adults.  It is MUCH different teaching adults than youth. 

The most exciting thing that has come about is my upcoming work with the World Wildlife Fund.  Beginning next Thursday, I will be spending three to four days a week out in the field with Sylvan, the WWF project coordinator for the region.  He and I will be conducting research on endangered species of tortoises, lemurs, and snakes in addition to educating communities all around the South about benefits in preserving these species’ habitat.  I have barely been able to stop smiling since my meeting with Sylvan yesterday.  Ever since learning that I was coming to Madagascar, this was the kind of work that I was hoping I would be able to do.  I truly do not have the words needed to express how excited I am and how blessed I feel to live out this dream of mine

While I’m sure it seems that I am very busy from the above list of activities, there are still plenty of days where there is nothing to do except entertain myself for one reason or another.  For example, three weeks ago, I could not work for three days in a row because either a motorcycle was broken or because someone left me in Ambovombe.  Life in Madagascar can be full of these little quirks, but it is all a part of the experience!  Anyways, since days like these have happened with surprising frequency, I have been working on a couple personal side projects to keep me entertained.  After all, there is only so much reading, plucking on the mandolin, and sweeping the floor I can do.  So, of course, I decided to build a "rock" climbing wall on the side of my house.  Who wouldn’t, right?  I have been methodically nailing wooden blocks all over my house so I can keep up with climbing here.  The Malagasy look at me like I’m crazy, but it isn’t the first time and surely won’t be the last.  Also, I have been building a gym from various pieces of wood, rope, rock, and plastic that I can get my hands on.  I love little projects like this.  Finally, since my Peace Corps friend Beau and I are missing barbeque and beef jerky like crazy, we decided that we are going to build a smoke house.  Please pray that we don’t burn the town down.

One of the biggest excitements in my life right now is the progression of my Malagasy.  I am completely comfortable walking around town and talking with anyone, and only rarely do I make myself look like a complete idiot.  It is a great feeling to finally be able to communicate because it is helping open doors that would be impossible without it.

An exciting story of the last month or so was a recent taxi-brousse ride to Fort Dauphin.  Taxi brousses in Madagascar vary in size, shape, and comfort, but they mostly resemble what would happen if a minivan, an ice cream truck, and a cold-war-era soviet tank somehow had a baby.  Now take that, and shove in 20 or more sweaty people along with whatever livestock they have brought along for the ride.  The result is a human sardine can.  Actually I take that back: we envy the sardines.  It is not uncommon to have a full-grown person seated in your lap the whole ride on a rode strewn with craters to make the moon proud.  This most recent ride was a doozy.  They seated me in the only movable seat in the bus, and it broke about 30 minutes in.  As a result, I had to do a sustained squat for 6 hours to keep from sitting all 200 pounds of my bulk on the pour old Malagasy man behind me.  Also, the bridge to Fort Dauphin is under construction, so we had to wait 3 hours for our turn on the ferry.  Ha!  This might sound awful, but they always turn into surprising bonding experiences.  Everyone is just as uncomfortable, so people just kind of laugh it off.  It’s all a part of the adventure!

I continue to have fun with the family I live near.  Almost every day, the two youngest boys stop by with some idea or other for playtime.  One night, they stopped by with a coloring book and a fistful of crayons.  Another time, we played around on home-made toy stilts, played hacky sack, and took shots on goal with a soccer ball (football) improvised from bunched up plastic bags and rubber bands.  These kids have been great to have around.

I started writing this post while I was hanging out in Fort Dauphin while waiting to fly out to Antananarivo to begin a week-long retreat with my fellow YAGM volunteers.  I will write about that soon since it deserves a post to itself.  It was a wonderful time filled with great community, food, and laughs.  And lemurs!  More on that to come.

I hope life is wonderful on your side of the world.  Keep me posted on any developments you want to share.  My email is luke.stappler@gmail.com.

 Peace and love,

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Austin on

Good times, brother, thanks for sharing your story.

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