Sunday, August 28, 2005

Homeward bound?

The only international flights that arrive in Madagascar arrive at midnight. The only international flights that leave Madagascar leave at one in the morning. I don't know why it's this way, but it is.
So my plane leaves tonight (or, rather, tomorow morning?), and I should arrive in Montreal tomorow afternoon.
The trip was amazing. In seven days, we managed to visit Antsirabe, Ambositra, Ramonafana National Park, Fianarantsoa, Ambalavan, Isalo National Park, Tulear, and Ifaty. A map of Madagascar can be found here. The internet here is notoriously slow, so I've decided to wait until I get back to Montreal before I post anything about the trip-- it wouldn't do it justice!
I have so much to do once I get back: gather my boxes, sort out my classes, move into the new apartment, get a phone and internet line, begin classes, re-countact everyone... eep! So I'm sorry if I won't update as soon as I get back!

By the way: Steve in W, the reason I'm lucky enough to visit Madagascar is because my parents moved there last August (at the same time as my sister moved to Senegal, and I moved to Montreal...). I'm trying to take advantage of this opourtunity as much as possible seeing as how they've only moved there for 3 years.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Impressions of Madagascar

So I was going to be supremely lazy and simply post pictures of Madagascar instead of actually writing a coherent post, but sadly, our internet is so dodgy that I can't even seem to upload the pictures onto photobucket. In fact, most times the internet doesn't work at all. This isn't an excuse as to why I haven't posted about Madagascar yet--that's my own fault.
It just seems as though every time I sit down and try to describe Madagascar, words fail me. I think it's one of those places that you have to see to believe. There's no way I can give it the description it deserves, there's just too much to say!
So: Madagascar is that big island off of the coast of Africa (3rd biggest island in the world), which makes it particularly unique. The malagasy culture is extremely particular. It strikes me as a blend of african and asian culture. There are two main ethnic groups on the ilsand: the "cotiers" (litteraly, people who live on the coast) and the "habitants des haut-plateaux" (people who live in the plateau). In general, the malagasy people can be recognized by their "cafe au lait" skin (light, creamy brown), dark brown hair, and round asian-ish features. People from the coast have darker skin, frizzier hair, and tend to be skinnier (they look more 'african'), whereas people from the plateau are lighter, have very straight black hair, and are plumpler (they look more 'asian').
The malagasy language is extremely complex! It was only transcribed into the roman alphabet during the mid-1800s by english missionaries, and there are syllables everywhere. If you're actually attempting to pronounce a malagasy word though, you can bet that a fair number of those syllables are not going to be pronounced. Here's an example: to ask "How's it going?", or "What's new?", is spelled "Inona no vaovao?" but actually pronounced more like: "Inan Vovo?". As usual, I've fallen back on the key words:
Hello: Manao ahoana (or, on the coast, manao tsara)
How's it going: Inaona no vaovao
Very well: Tsara fa
Nothing much: Tsi misy
Thank you: Misaotra
Please (or excuse me): Azafady
Goodbye: Veloma
And I was also taught how to count to ten by a malagasy boy nammed Frank, who couldn't stop laughing because it took me so long to remember them (but now, you'll see, I won't ever forget!): rai, rou, telu, yvatra, dim, yen, fito, valu, sivy, ful (this is my own spelling).
It's so complicated, but luckily, a good number of malagasy (in the capital, Antanarivo, at least) speak french, which is the second official language. This is due to the fact that Madagascar was a french colony for a long time.
Currencies, at first, can also be confusing. There are two of them. Sellers often try to confuse hapless tourists at the market by switching between the two. Once you ge the hang of them though, it's not that complicated. To convert the new currency, Ariary to USD, simply take off three zeros and divide by two. To convert the old Malagasy francs to USD, take off four zeros. Voila!
The diversity is stagerring. Everywhere you go, there's an incredible selection of fruits, vegetables, and crafts for sale. The main food here is rice (it rains alot), called "dar". A malagasy meal simply isn't really a meal if there isn't rice with it. The traditional crafts are brightly coloured woven baskets (and frames, and bags... these are very popular at the moment, around the world!), semi-precious stones, carved exotic wood such as pallisander, and jewelery made out of zebu horns (zebu are the 'african cow', and are practically sacred in Madascar). The biological diversity is just as impressive; lemurs, of course, only exist in Madagascar, as do the fussa, and countless birds lizards, insects... honestly, I wish I could just sit down and research everything that I see around me! I'm sure all of my professors would be jealous of me :). But I'm a nerd.
And yet for all of this appearant richness (mangoes fall from the trees here), poverty is omnipresent and overwhelming. The average salary here is 1 dollar a day, can you imagine? In the capital alone, most children spend all day in the streets, barefoot, running through the narrow alleys ways... Everywhere you go you come face to face with it, you see the shacks that people call their homes, the beggars (the children, especially, are pros at this, and they'll flock to any "vaza", aka foreigner, that they spot), the sick... Madagascar is one of the few countries where the bubonic plague still exists.
When I come here I can't help but feel how frivolous I am. I haven't contributed anything yet. I met a young man, Raphael, who is 20 and just spent a year helping out at a local orphanage. He begins university in the fall. To do what he did takes a strength of character that I'm not sure I possess ("I'll never be able to eat green beans again" he told me-- he eats them everyday, with the orphans!). He's taught them english, taken them travelling, taught them how to make jam to sell to tourists... It's really amazing. I'm proud of people like that, or like my sister and father, who actually try to do what they can in developping countries. Ah.
Anyway, tomorow we're leaving to visit a little bit more of the country (I'll get to see more than the capital!), for a week. I'm so lucky! I'll be sure to take lots of pictures, and post them eventually, I hope! I probably won't be able to update until I get back to Montreal-- and even then I'll have to move into my apartment and get caught up with all of my classes. We'll see what happens :)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Birthday Wishes

Well, as of yesterday, I'm 19! Let's see what this year has in store for me :-). I'm baffled at how many people actually remembered my birthday, it's so touching!
Here are some nice birthdays wishes people gave me:

"Sweet 19... and never been kissed?" (my dad will always be wishful)

"Happy Birthday! I hope you have a wonderful day."

"19th Birthday's tend to be anti-climatic, you just get older, and you get wrinkles under your eyes, your back starts to hurt, and your hearing goes (speaking entirely from experience). I'm sure your Birthday will be wonderful, and you'll avoid the pitfalls of old age."

"I hope that you're having a fantastic time with your family in Madagascar and that you have a wonderful day! I'm so happy that we met each other last year!" (Me too!!!! Shadowfax!)

"You're catching up with your sister, slowly but surely :)"

Thanks so much!! I got a lovely book on "Les murs peints de Lyon". I don't know--I think mom's subtly hinting at something here ("On le laissera a Lyon, hein"). :D

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Smells like Madagascar

12 hours later, here I am in Antanarivo!
The flight wasn't too bad except for the two italians next to me that could not stop kissing each other. It was so gross! The entire time, I kept on trying to ignore the wet smacking noises. Eww. Thank god for Iron & Wine, I must have listened to that CD at least 6 times on the flight alone. And it's not like they were 16 and hormonal either; they were pushing on 40! I wanted to spray water on them or tell them to get a room and make babies already.
As soon as I landed, I remembered how peculiar and unique Madagascar smells. I've never smelled anything like it. It's like... 1 part spice, 1 part sweat, 1 part rain and 1 part dust. With a little bit of wood mixed into it. I kind of want to bottle it so I'll remember it when I'm in Montreal.
It's winter now which means... it's all of 10 degrees outside! To me, this is basically like summer, for I am canadia, bwahaha! The first day of spring is on August 15th, my dad's birthday.
We should be picking up our new dog this afternoon-- named Bemol for the moment, Vaza was too un-p.c.-- I hope everything goes well.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

I am amused!

First off, my family is insane. But at least I can use them as an excuse when my shrink will ask me why I'm so messed up.
I showed Marion around the city today! Our tour mostly consisted of this:
Me: "So... this is le vieux Lyon. Care to invade on several people's privacy and sneak into their courtyards?"
Marion: "Rock on."
Me: "And this is our church--woops, there appears to be several bishops giving a mass in spanish. Retreat, retreat!"
Victoria and Marion run away
Me: "Well, if you climb up some stairs and walk up the rest of the mountain, there's a beautiful view of Lyon from les Fourvieres..." actually exhaused "uh... how about let's just climb the stairs and look at the view from there?"
Marion, who is also exhausted: "How many stairs are there?"
Me: "...Alot."
Marion: "Let's not, and say we did."
Me: "Deal."

We went to the Parc de la Tete d'Or instead and fed the bambis some bread (which is one of my fondest childhood memories... le Parc has a whole enclosure of bambis that are just adorable).
Then we went to go see "Land of the Dead" (in french, no less), which was quite fun! I love the zombie movies. I screamed and scared most people in the theater :-). The funniest thing was that everyone there was either a) a very manly man trying to look tough, or b) on a date. Hehehe.


Marion thinks I'm weird because I go on the internet so much. I sneaked out of the room while she was sleeping this morning so I could log on. Hmm... maybe she has a point.
I'm going to be visiting the old city for the third time this year! I'm thinking I should become a tour guide. Or write tour guides like my always-awesome-cousin Andrew in Thailand.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

High School Reunion(ish)

Ah, well, I've avoided it as long as possible. It's time for an update!
My trip to France has been pretty hectic so far. On total, I've realized that I haven't even spent a full week in Lyon. But I've been everywhere else!
As soon as I arrived in France, I spent roughly a week in Dordogne. Some of our very good family friends moved there in 2002, and we've been going to see them every year since. It's pretty much in the middle of nowhere (seriously... the roads get so tiny that it takes forever to drive there)-- lost in the collines of Province. They bought and renovated an old farmhouse in the region of Perigord Noir, which is characterized by it's soft yellow limestones and many chateaux. In fact, Perigord Noir is called 'la region des 1001 chateaux' because every other hill(or so it seems) has a castle on it. Funnily enough, we have the English to thank for the beautiful buildings; a fair number of them were built by them during the 100 year war!
It's very quiet and relaxing in Dordogne. There isn't a whole lot to do, apart from walk, swim, paint, visit the town's market, and relax in general. Most cell phones don't work there, and forget about the internet! To pass the time, my mom and I try to visit a castle (or garden, or bastide...) every other day. After three years, we've only scratched the surface of what there is to see!
After Dordogne, I had to rush back to Lyon to greet Scott and Beata, and then spent a week in Poland.
The day after I got back from Poland, my best friend Chantal invited me to her house by the Mediterranean, right next to St. Tropez. St. Tropez is the super-posh city by la Cote d'Azur that Brigitte Bardeau (a very famous French actress) made infamous back in the 1960s. Ever since then, St. Tropez has been basking in its own fame: tourists flock there to try to catch a glimpse of French actors, visit the very expensive shops (Chanel, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton... they're all there), or stare at the ridiculously huge yachts in the harbor. We did spend a day in St. Tropez, but the rest of the time we spent at the beach (there were so many people I couldn't help comparing myself to a sardine in a can), or sitting on her terrace, enjoying the stunning view of the sea. It was so nice to see Chantal again... she's so easy to talk to, and I've missed not seeing her daily this past year. She also made me discover Iron & Wine, which is my musical epiphany of the summer! The worst part is that I KNEW that I would love them, I was just too darn lazy to bother listening to their music.
When I got back to Lyon I felt strangely blue. It feels like Montreal is so far away already... like it's some dream that I'm forgetting as the day progresses. I'm starting to feel the-day-before-school-starts nervous... only university is a month away! I can't help but feel that Montreal will be different somehow when I get back.
Anyway, yesterday I called my good high school friend Marion (her and Chantal are the only I've bothered keep in touch with... is that bad?), who just arrived in France via Kiev (where her parents live now). Well, she's arriving today! It'll be a very welcome distraction, and I can't wait until I can make her visit Lyon. It's so nice to see old friends. There's no effort to be made; they already know you, you have no one to impress (having embarrassed yourself in front of them many a time already), so you can just relax.
I leave to Madagascar on the 12th of August. I'm feeling nervous about that too, although I try not to acknowledge it. Not that Madagascar isn't great--I'm incredibly lucky, and I know it-- it's just that last time I got so sick, and I ended up leaving more tired than when I arrived. I hope things go better this time.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Some pics of Montreal

Hey, my friend Vanessa just sent these to me. They're pictures she took the day it was pouring at the jazz fest, but I decided to swing dance anyway. They aren't very good, but keep in mind that it was raining and she didn't have a digital camera!

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Dancing in the rain (I'm the dork in the white and black skirt).

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I had to wring my skirt dry before they'd let me walk into the store!

Monday, August 01, 2005

And another hiatus

Ok, so I'm back in Lyon once again, for the grand total of 20 hours! I got back last night, utterly exhausted after 15 hours of traveling (bus, tram, bus, train, bus, plane, bus, metro, train, then home sweet home)! Poland was... intense, for lack of a better word.
Beata and Scott arrived in Lyon last Thursday, and I gave 'em the grand tour of the city. Appearantly I make a pretty good tour guide... I took them through all the traboules and shared all of the quirky stories behind them (like: they were used by the Resitance during WWII; or, this one was designed by the same guy who built le Louvre...). I also essentially force-fed them all of Lyon's traditional cuisine (not that they were complaining, mind you!). We took a day trip to St. Etienne to watch the Tour de France, where we waited for eight hours, got a bunch of free stuff, burned under the french sun, and saw Lance Armstrong win! It was really cool, and I would have never have gone had it not been for Scott, who is obsessed with le Tour.
Then I followed them back to Poland.
The first half of the week was spent in Wroclaw, with Beata's family: one grandmother who chronically overfeeds anything in her sight (again: not that we were complaining!), her aunt and uncle, who live in a communist-built building that has a 'no gaying' sign spray painted on it (more on that later), and her other grand-mother, whose house we were invading. They were all adorable, and spoke polish. Alot.
The second half, Beata and I went a-travellin': we went to the country-side to visit distant cousins, we went to visit Scott in Krakow, then to see the mountains at Zakopane... This is when the trip got intersting: we were all strapped for money! For the last 3 days, I was surviving on: 1/2 a yogurt for breakfast, fruits and bread for lunch and dinner. Also, we became a little psyco when it came to being tourists. We'd get up between 5:30 and 6:30, be out and about (oh dear my poor feet hate me so) until 7PM, when we'd go back to the hostel, shower, collapse (and put our feet up... litterally), then, wearily, get up around 9PM to try and take advantage of Krakow's rich night life.
Poland is a really interesting country. On one hand, you can still spot the relics of communism (the blocky concrete buildings, the service is still quite bad... 'the client is always right' does NOT exist there, there are many alcoholics and unemployed people... especially at night), but on the other, I was strongly reminded of 15-years-ago-France when I was there. They're fiercely proud of belonging to the E.U., and have begun attempting tourisitfying many areas (particularly the South, which has been less ravaged by WWII and the Soviet influence). It's also incredibly, incredibly catholic. I'm talking about 98% of the population, here (there used to be a fair amount of Jews, but they were so thoroughly wiped out during the Nazi reign that only about 10000 remain). They have a radio station that has been dubbed 'more saint than the Pope' because the priests that comment on are so conservative... and influencial. There are also almost no minorities. My entire trip there, I saw one black, and one asian. Both were at the airport. Homosexuality is outlawed. It was a shock coming back to France!
Polish is very interesting as well. Beata describe its sound as 'a waterfall'-- it's all shs and chs and jeuhs and dzeuhs... All sounds made with the teeth! And it's grammar is insane. There are seven declinaisons (don't know how to say that in english), no less! And each word (even names) is conjugated... so each word must have a different suffixe, depending on how you use it, why you use it, and where you use it! And I'm not even mentioning prefixes. I mostly fell back on two words: dzienkuje (thank you) and dobrje (good), which can also be said dobre or dobja, depending on how you use it. I hope Beata doesn't read this post, because I just know that the spelling is all wrong.
Anyway, I'll probably post more about each city. For now, I'll just say dziendobry (good day), and I'm off to bed. I'm still completly spent from the trip! Walking all day (we even went on a four day hike in the mountains one day) with little sleep and food definetly takes its toll! I still can't believe how much I managed to see in one week, I'm so grateful and happy.
I'm leaving to the beach tomorow (even though I swore to myself that if I had to take another train, I'd throw myself on the rails, Anna Karenina-style), so I probably won't be able to update until another week. Sorry about that :-).