Madagascar – One Month Update

So I blinked and it has somehow been just over a month since I arrived in Fort Dauphin! In some ways it feels like I’ve been here much longer, and in so many others it feels like I’ve literally just arrived.
Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

getting here

To back up, I left Boston the evening of Sunday, November 11th and after a long journey (Boston → Chicago → Addis Ababa → Tana), I arrived in Madagascar on Tuesday, November 13th.

I was nervous for the chaos I’d been told to expect at the airport, but it was really easy to find my driver and secure myself a Telma SIM card for my phone – everything went smoothly right up until I realized I had forgotten the PIN of my brand new ATM card and had no access to money. I changed what little cash I had and THANK GOD was able to remember it the next morning, when I was back to catch the internal flight down to Fort Dauphin.

Fort Dauphin

Fort Dauphin is stunningly beautiful. I keep having to take a break to look around in shock that I actually live here.

Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

view from my flat

Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

view from a favourite lunch spot

I’m really loving the work aspect of everything, which is exciting as that’s what I’m here for. My projects are all very interesting, and I’m really looking forward to learning so much more about HIV and WASH. I’m going to focus on learning enough Malagasy to get by — the basics, numbers, words for food, etc, and then I’m going to switch to learning French, as I think it’ll be really easy to learn the basics here and most people I’ve met speak it. There’s also an Alliance Francaise in Fort Dauphin where I might be able to take lessons. This is the first time I’ve been anywhere near an immersive French experience, and I want to take advantage!

Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

Settling in

I live with one other girl in house new to our company, meaning it’s empty aside from two beds, a table, and a couch. It’s going to take some work to make it homey, and our first week was a series of unfortunate events where every time we thought we had it figured out, something new went wrong. Finally got buckets to fill up when the water is on at night to use for showering/flushing the toilet, and the water went out for 10 days straight. There was a period of time when I had giardia, no water to flush and all the lightbulbs in our house had burnt out. Stumbling to a dirty toilet with a head torch whilst feeling like you’re dying in a brand new country is QUITE the trial by fire!

When I first arrived it was kind of terrifying how helpless I felt. I didn’t know my way around town and Google maps is not really a thing here. Nor is Google translate, and I didn’t know any Malagasy. So for things as basic as food and water I was so dependent on others to show us where to get them, order for us, handle the money.  I’m so excited for everything coming up and by this time next month to hopefully feel even more settled in than I do now!

The biggest adjustment has been how much time it takes to accomplish anything. It took a full week to get to a point where we had drinking water, toilet paper, soap, buckets to shower/flush with, and a trash can. My first week I learned to celebrate the smallest victories – having a shower was an entire day’s accomplishment, and I’ve grown from there. There are still so many things I need (a fan! a fridge, a functioning laptop, a dresser not filled with cockroaches, etc), but I’m getting closer and closer to living a relatively normal life.

Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

That said, it’s only been a month and I’m now nearly as comfortable killing the roaches as our very capable upstairs neighbor is. We have a good stock of back up water, set up steady laundry service and a cleaner who comes twice a week (what luxury), and everything feels much easier. It’s shocking how happy the ability able to wash your hands, take a shower (even from a bucket), and flush a toilet can make you. I’ve also found a bunch of places  in Fort Dauphin where I love to eat, and beside the giardia haven’t been that sick from food yet (touch wood).

Coming up

Somehow time has moved fast enough that Gareth is currently in the air, on his way to Tana. It feels like we said goodbye so recently, and if we can keep this up through the year I think time will fly and be much easier than our LA to London long distance was. We’re hanging around the Fort Dauphin area while hoping to do a few day/overnight trips to nearby reserves and lodges, and maybe a few nights at the fancy hotel here in town.

After that we’re into 2019 which is almost too crazy to consider! 2018 flew by, and it’s kind of freaking me out how fast time has been moving lately. That said, 2019 will be quite the adventure and I’m looking forward to being even more settled here in Mada.

Big News Part Two: Madagascar

Hi there, it’s been a minute hey? We’ll be back to regularly scheduled Greece posts shortly, however I’m behind on everything due to some Major Life Changes. As of last Thursday, I no longer live in London. I’m home in Boston for a few (amazing) weddings, and next week I’ll be getting on a plane and arriving three days later in Antananarivo. Why you ask? I’m moving to Madagascar.

The when

I fly out next Sunday night, and arrive midday Wednesday. The contract is for 12 months to start, which feels great professionally and long personally. This is without a doubt the most exciting, terrifying, adventurous thing I’ve ever done. I vary between confidence and fear, along with overwhelming sadness at leaving Gareth (OH GOD AND BRADY), both of whom I’ve already had to say goodbye. But it is an incredible career move – and in that respect I’m nothing but excited.

The What

I’ll be a Project Development Officer for Community Health in Fort Dauphin, which is on the south-eastern coast of Madagascar. I’ll be working on project design and development, funding applications, donor reporting, and implementation for three projects – HIV in both rural and urban settings and WASH in schools.

MPH

ALSO, I was accepted to begin my Masters of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Classes are through distance learning, so I can complete the work online while living in the field in Mada. It’ll take 2-3 years to complete, and I’m honestly shocked my degree in writing/TV got me into LSHTM, as it’s one of the top programmes in the world!

So by this time next year, I’ll be halfway through a masters and have a year in the field as an Officer on my CV. I’ve felt this urgency to progress as I changed careers quite late, and haven’t been so pleased to still be an assistant at 28. But now (I hope) the ball is finally rolling and things are going to only get more interesting from here. These are two things I’ve been trying to do for years, and I am SO happy it’s all happening!

What next

I’ll be able to check off number 12 and 23 of my 30 before 30, which are probably the most important ones on there. I’ll be posting more frequently as this is definitely a time I’ll want to look back on years from now. I’ll be talking about how to survive long distance, the preparation needed before moving to a developing country, and once I arrive, all things Madagascar. I’m so excited for this next chapter!

Sunset, Greece

A Week in Greece Itinerary

Guys, the countries left on my 30 before 30 list are dwindling right down! When I made that list 3.5 years ago, I didn’t think there was any chance I would come close to visiting all the places on my list – and now I’ve just crossed off my third to last location!

I’ve wanted to go to Greece since about 2001, when Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was first published. 17 years later and I finally made it!

We had 9 days and in that time we visited Athens, Paros, Santorini, and Crete. Due to an unexpected ferry strike, we had far less time in Crete (and much more in Santorini) than we had planned on – but I’d recommend following our original itinerary.

Athens

Athens Acropolis

We had just over 24 hours in Athens, and used that time to explore Plaka, climb to the top of Lycabettus Hill, and (of course) stopped by the Acropolis. I wasn’t expecting to love Athens, but I really did – it felt young and artistic but still quite traditionally Greek. Given our short time in the country we wouldn’t have traded anything out to stay longer, but Athens is definitely a city where you could happily spend a lot longer than 24 hours.

Paros

Paros, Greece

Paros, Greece

Our three days in Paros were the highlight of our trip, without a doubt. Before going, so many people had told me it was their favourite island, and now I understand why. It is the perfect size, is set up for tourism but not overcrowded, feels authentically Greek, and has some incredible beaches. While there we did a day long boat tour around Paros and Antiparos, rented an ATV and drove around the island, and hiked up to a gorgeous lighthouse. If you’re deciding which islands to visit, definitely include Paros on your list.

Santorini

Santorini, Greece Sunset Santorini, Greece

We originally planned to be in Santorini for just over 24 hours. I really wanted to go, but had heard it was extremely crowded, expensive, and commercial due its popularity. 24 hours would have been perfect, but we ended up being there for about four days due to a ferry strike – and that, to me, was much too long. I’ll explain why later, but it just wasn’t the island for us.

Crete

Elafonisi Beach, Crete, Greece

Our 4 days in Crete had become a day and a half, which was disappointing – especially once we arrived and realised just how beautiful the island is. I definitely want to go back to Crete and spend more time there, but I think we came up with a great itinerary for the time we had. The highlight was spending a few hours at Elafonisi Beach, with its amazing views, clear blue water, and PINK sand!

Greece was incredible. It lived up to my expectations and more – I wasn’t expecting to love the food so much. I’ve had Greek food before and enjoyed it, but it tastes so, SO much better there. I don’t know why – maybe the quality of the produce? But Greek yogurt, Greek salads – things I like but don’t love elsewhere were things I went to bed dreaming about in Greece. Honestly – I might like actual Greek food more than Italian food (never tell my dad I said that).

One of the best parts of Greece are the endless islands to discover. While I can’t really imagine anything topping Paros, I want to go to Folegandros and Milos – and spend more than a day or two in Crete.

Have you been to Greece? What were your favourite places? We only just returned and I’m already desperate to go back!

Safari in Kruger National Park

Kruger was the best introduction to South Africa. It was the most anticipated, dreamed of part of the trip, and even with sky high expectations, it didn’t disappoint. This post is more of a photo diary, but you can find my tips for going on safari in Kruger here, and a cost breakdown here.

We arrived in Kruger around midday, and spent an hour getting settled in to our home for the next few days. Our tent had everything we needed – even a full-size refrigerator and a wardrobe! It was hot, so the fact that we were in separate twin beds was not as tragic as it could have been.
Kruger National Park Permanent Tent

kruger day one: Guided Drive

We left a few hours later for a sunset game drive, one of the two guided drives we went on. It was a perfect start to an incredible few days – we saw four of the Big Five on that drive alone! This experience was different (read: better) than our second guided tour. Here, we were in a smaller truck with just 5 other people, who were all experienced and knew so much about the animals we were seeing.

Lions in Kruger National Park

Highlights were going off road (I guess technically not allowed!), and seeing four sleepy lionesses semi stalking an impala. We also got up close and personal with an elephant at sunset, saw a group of rhino, and quite a few buffalo. We didn’t see a Leopard (spoiler alert: we never did!), but otherwise saw so much. It was actually quite overwhelming. I was living out a dream I’ve had for so long, and it was even better than I had imagined. It didn’t feel real – here I was, a few feet from a lion, an elephant, giraffe! I settled in, but the dream-like quality lasted the entire trip.

Lions in Kruger National ParkYawning lion in Kruger National ParkRhino in Kruger National Park Rhino in Kruger National ParkGame drive in Kruger National Park

kruger Day Two: Self Drives

The next morning we slept in (for Kruger) until 6:00 am. We decided to drive to the Lower Sabie camp, because the route from Crocodile Bridge to Lower Sabie is one of the best in Kruger. We were alone with four giraffes, just meandering down the street, and an elephant that got so close we had to keep backing away. There was no one else on the road, and being alone with these animals was so cool and special. At one point when we were driving, I put on the song Africa, which I had always known I’d one day listen to while on safari, and maybe shed a tear or two at how incredible big and sprawling and beautiful everything was.

African elephant drinking water in Kruger National Park African elephantGiraffe in Kruger National ParkGiraffe in Kruger National Park walking giraffe in Kruger National Park

We then came upon a huge group of cars, probably the largest we saw the whole time we were there. It took ages to figure out what everyone was looking at, but finally we spotted it. There was a dead impala that had been dragged up a tree. Everyone was camped out, waiting to see if the leopard who had done it would be back. We waited for two hours, but never spotted her. However, she was there, just under the tree. The woman in the car next to us saw her lift her head, look around at the commotion, and go back to sleep. It’s hard work being a leopard.

Dead impala in a tree in Kruger National Park

We made it to Lower Sabie around noon, where we had lunch, a nap, and read a bit. It was a good place to hang out because from the desk we could see hippo, buffalo, and crocodiles. We’d already had such a busy few days with only one of the past three nights sleeping in actual beds, and we were feeling it.

hippo, crocodile, and buffalo in Kruger National Park

can you spot the crocodile?

After a few hours of blissful relaxation, we headed back out for a final drive before returning to camp. We saw a few more lionesses, and millions (approximately) impala and zebra.

Impala in Kruger National ParkKudu in Kruger National ParkScratching baby monkey in Kruger National ParkMonkey family in Kruger National ParkImpala and lake in Kruger National Park Hornbill bird in Kruger National ParkZebra crossing Zebra in Kruger National ParkLionness in Kruger National ParkKruger National Park

kruger day three: guided drive

The next morning we did a sunrise drive, meaning we had to be up at 4:30 for the 5:00 am start. This drive was less fruitful than the last one. The highlight was finding some baby hyenas, which were seriously cute. We also saw a rhino, some zebra, and an elephant, and some gorgeous landscapes.

Baby hyena in Kruger National Park Baby hyena in Kruger National ParkKissing impala in Kruger National Park fighting implala in Kruger National Park eating giraffe in Kruger National ParkAfrican elephant in Kruger National ParkKruger National Park River

kruger day three: self drive

We got back to camp and drove around looking for cheetah and leopards on our way to Skakuza. We didn’t see any, but instead had a fully grown male lion walk down the road right near our car! It was incredible! His lady was waiting for him in the grass nearby.

Lion walking down road in Kruger National ParkLioness in grass in Kruger National Park
We had lunch there (the steakhouse is delicious), and then headed back out. As this was our last day we wanted to see absolutely everything we could. A fun thing about this area of the park is that there are three camps fairly close to each other, and you bump into the same people over and over. After only three days there were so many familiar faces and people to swap stories with – the couple camped next to us had a leopard and her cubs cross right in front of them!

giraffes in shadow in Kruger National ParkGiraffe in Kruger National ParkAfrica elephant in Kruger National ParkAfrican elephant in Kruger National Parkbathing buffalo in Kruger National Parkwalking rhino in Kruger National ParkJumping Rhino in Kruger National ParkStomping Rhino in Kruger National ParkKruger Road

As we drove back on our final safari, the sun was setting so beautifully and we put Africa back on and it was one of our best drives. We saw elephant and lions and a rhino playing around. I was so, so sad our time in Kruger was coming to an end, but so grateful we got to experience it. I’m happy we did this first, because for the end of the safari to also be the end to our trip might have been too much – at least this way I still had our Garden Route road trip, Franschhoek, and Cape Town to look forward to!

How I got Italian Citizenship (and how you could too!)

Today is a year since I was notified my Italian citizenship application went through. I posted that it happened, but gave very little further detail. As it was a huge life moment, it’s beyond time I posted about how I became recognized Italian Citizen (and how potentially you could be too!).

I think perhaps the best way to start would be to go back to the beginning. It was 2010, I had just come back from studying in London, and was desperate to get back to Europe. It was my first time out of the country, and I had loved London, and my visits to France and Spain.

I did some research and quickly discovered I didn’t qualify for Irish citizenship, as my great grandmother was born there and it only allows you to go back to grandparent. (My mom, however, did qualify, and she’s in the process of applying as well!)

Then I looked into Italian citizenship jure sanguinis (by blood) and lo and behold – there was no generational limit! There were some other requirements though—my qualifying ancestor couldn’t have renounced his Italian citizenship (aka become American) before the next person in my lineage was born—otherwise he wouldn’t have had the citizenship to pass down to his child, my great grandfather. Yes, that’s right—I qualify because my great-great grandparents were born in Italy. It’s a tenuous claim, but a legal one nonetheless. Other technicalities include a woman not being able to pass on citizenship prior to 1948, however this is never upheld in court, so if you fight that you’ll win.

My first step was getting my great great-grandfather’s immigration paperwork from USCIS/NARA. It took quite a while to come, and wasn’t cheap, but when it finally arrived I had confirmation that I qualified for citizenship—Giovanni (my great great grandfather) declared his intent to naturalize in his 70s, but died before he could ever finish the process. Either way, my great grandfather was born well before the declaration of intent, and therefore the citizenship was passed, unbeknownst to us, “by blood” right down to me, born almost 150 years later.

Another requirement to note that is your ancestor must have been born after Italy became a country, which didn’t happen until 1861. My great-great grandfather came a bit close to this date, but was born in 1866. Lucky me! I’m the first generation that can really go back so many generations—my parents great great grandparents were all born before Italy existed—which I think confused the man who runs the Italian consulate in Boston. The first time I called, he told me I didn’t qualify and couldn’t go that far back. It wasn’t my favorite conversation, but obviously all worked out.

After getting the naturalization paperwork and confirming I was eligible, I began collecting documents. Exactly what you need varies from consulate to consulate, but I applied in LA and needed:

  • My great, great grandfather’s birth certificate – from Italy
  • My great, great grandmother’s birth certificate – from Italy
  • My great, great grandparents’ marriage certificate – from Italy
  • My great, great grandfather’s death certificate – from MA
  • My great, great grandmother’s death certificate – from MA
  • My great grandfather’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My great grandmother’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My great grandparents’ marriage certificate – from MA
  • My great grandfather’s death certificate – from MA
  • My great grandmother’s death certificate – from MA
  • My grandfather’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My grandmother’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My grandparents’ marriage certificate – from MA
  • My grandfather’s death certificate – from MA
  • My father’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My mother’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My parent’s marriage certificate – from MA
  • My birth certificate – from MA

After collecting everything, I needed to get all the certificates not from Italy Apostilled and translated into Italian. Not exactly cheap!

At my appointment with the LA consulate in December of 2014 I was accepted, paid my fee, and was told to expect to hear back five months later, in May of 2015.

Many, many months passed, and finally I heard back in May of 2016 that I was retroactively rejected. To be honest, I wasn’t completely surprised—I had a lot of errors in my application. My great grandfather was called Secondino Negrotti, Secondo Negrotti, and Andrew Negrotti on different documents. My great, great grandfather went by Giovanni, Joseph, and John. Dates didn’t match, spellings changed. But, I had expected to be denied back in 2014, meaning I could begin working on corrections. Instead two years went by and suddenly I was back at square one. Only worse, because I was halfway through year two of a long distance relationship and beyond ready to move to Europe.

I hired a lawyer to make the changes. The case was rejected, my lawyer took a few months off from responding to my emails, and finally on Christmas day, 2016, I heard she’d gone back to court and had success! I had the changes I needed and a much stronger case. I sent the court order to the LA consulate and on March 21st at around 3:00 am Spain time, I saw an email with the subject: ITALIAN CITIZENSHIP.

It had happened!

For anyone who is also thinking about applying for recognition of their Italian Citizenship, please see my tips and advice below.

  • As soon as you decide to start the process, step number one should be making the appointment at the consulate. These appointments are a year+ out at nearly every consulate, and it would be incredibly rare for it to take more than a year to gather everything (unless you need to make amendments, which can take a while).
  • The next step should be getting the naturalization paperwork, as this can take a few months. I ordered through both NARA and USCIS, as I wasn’t sure exactly how it worked, and they both sent me copies of the same documents, however NARA was much faster and the copies were much, much clearer. So in my experience, they are the better option.
  • At the same time, you should reach out to to your ancestors’ comune in Italy. There is a template you can use on the Facebook page, in case you don’t speak any Italian. I used that and google translate, and had a fantastic time with my comune. They sent me multiple copies of everything after I had some paperwork destroyed, each time for free.
  • A huge and costly mistake I made was getting all my vital records from city hall in my hometown. These versions aren’t accepted–they need to come from the state records (most people use Vitalchek to order them, but it’s quite expensive).
  • You can only have records Apostilled in the states they are from, another mistake I made. Give this a few weeks, as if you’re mailing it in it can take quite a while.
  • Make sure you use a translator that is approved by your consulate.
  • For more information about how to obtain Italian citizenship, go to your local consulate’s website. Additionally, there is a Facebook group which is an amazing resource—I don’t know how anyone could DIY it without them.

Please note  that this was just my experience from the requirements in LA. In 2015 they made me produce all my non-linear records, which weren’t required in 2014, though they didn’t need to be translated or Apostilled and could come from city hall. But requirements vary massively from consulate to consulate, and can change from one month to another.

All in it cost me about 3,000 — the application fee is 300 euros, and the documents, Apostilles, and legal fees were about 2,700 more. If your case is easy, with few documents and no errors, it could come to much less. If you apply within Italy using a service, it’ll be at least 1,000 more. Though at the time spending the money was incredibly stressful and felt quite risky, looking back I feel confident saying it was the best 3,000 I’ve ever spent in my life!