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!

Pinchos: The five best in Logroño

La Rioja is well known for its wine, but did you know that a few years ago it was also voted the gastronomic capital of Spain? That’s right, the food is nearly as good as the wine — remind me again why I left?? The pinchos, as tapas are called in the north, are varied, delicious, and incredibly unique. And I’ve tracked down the best ones!

The main area for pinchos in Logroño is Calle Laurel. As I was lucky enough to live on Calle del Capitan Gallarza (literally the next street over), I was able to try most of them!

My top five

1. Paganos: iberico pinchos

We call this place the meat on a stick place, because two of its three meat pinchos come skewered on a wooden stick. This is, in my opinion, the absolute best pincho Logroño has to offer. Get the iberico, watch them put it on the fire, sprinkle it with salt, and then die of culinary happiness when you take your first bite. This was the first place I took my mom during her visit, and she went back every day. In Spain you generally “pincho hop,” where you move from place to place, dish to dish. Not my momma. She would order two or three ibericos and just be done with it. #Respect. Also a glass of wine is .80, and though that is common for Rioja, it’s still fun to point out. *I don’t have a photo of this one because it was literally so good I could never put off eating long enough to take a picture, but you can check it out here.

2. ribera: michy pinchos

Ribera is famous for its moro pincho, or pork cheek. I went my entire time in Logroño without trying it, because on my first night I found something that  was impossible to not order again and again. On my last night, I finally did try, and not gonna lie–it wasn’t as good my usual. Luckily, by then I was a Ribera regular, and noting my failure to immediately clear my plate as custom, the bartender quickly presented me with michy, which was my favorite. I don’t actually know what it is–once I passed someone eating the most delicious smelling thing I’d ever encountered, was told simply that it was michy and never questioned it again. Get the michy.

Pork Cheek

Pork Cheek

Michy

Michy

Can I just say, while I’d never argue Europe has anywhere near the customer service we get in the states, in general once they know you (or even when they don’t, as we discovered on our hikes), the staff are incredibly generous and go above and beyond–I’d imagine it’s because most places are independently owned and family run, so more pride is taken in the quality).

3. la Canilla: entrecot pinchos

I found this place from the young adventuress (also where I found my piso…), and I’m so glad I did. At about 5 euros, this is a bit more expensive than the others, but is super filling and just oh-so-delicious. This is entrecot cooked rare and flavored with sea salt (as are all the best meat dishes), with sides of red peppers and little crispy potatoes.  This one is lovely, and as it’s the next street over from Laurel, a great place to go if you’re not feeling the crowds.

entrecot

entrecot

4. Pulpería La Universidad: pulpo pinchos

PulperÍa is famous for its octopus, and once you try, you’ll understand why. It’s unique and delicious and not a place you want to miss. They also have great deals on bottles of white wine, which has led to me accidentally getting a bit drunk a few occasions.

pulpo - octopus

pulpo

5. bar cid: setas pinchos

Bar Cid has the best setas, or mushrooms in Logroño. A controversial statement, as anyone who has lived in Logroño can attest, the generally agreed upon best is Bar Angel. And those are good. These are just better. While the others come from champi mushrooms, these are oyster mushrooms, covered in a garlic/buttery goodness, and served up on a piece of bread. There is nothing to improve on.

setas - mushrooms

Setas

A map, to show just how close all these wonderful options are:

Basically, Logroño’s pinchos game is on point. Writing this post was so bittersweet–man oh man, do I miss all this food . Oh well, at least in London there is Chinese food and delivery.

Coming soon: the best pinchos for specific things: tortilla, patatas bravas, calamares, and even Italian food!

(*credit for the mushroom and octopus photos to Shaina who is much better at photographing her food than I am)

Pisa and (finally!) getting my ID card!

A few months ago I had my first interview at my current job, and left it so (unusually) confident, that I arranged a spur of the moment flight to Italy for the next day, as I knew if I was hired I’d need my proof of right to work in the EU. I had originally planned to get it a few weeks out, and fly into Milan, rent a car, and drive out to the tiny mountain town my ancestors were from. However, with one day’s notice, Pisa ended up being much cheaper, and was about the same distance as Milan. It was also quite close to Cinque Terre, and this unplanned, last minute trip became one of my all time best travel experiences.

I flew into Pisa and stayed at Hostel Pisa. It was walking distance from the airport, and can I just say any city where you can walk to the airport is OK in my book. I was only spending one night in Pisa, and didn’t arrive until 4:00, so my expectations weren’t high. However, I had the best night. I don’t have major Pisa recommendations, other than the tower, obviously, and the most fantastic dinner/drinks place.

I headed straight for the tower because the light was fantastic and I wanted to see it in all its glory. While there I asked two girls to take my photo, and they recognized me from checking into the hostel. They were returning home to Germany a year volunteering at in International Hospital in Jerusalem, and we also met up with a guy who had just arrived in Europe for a year abroad in Florence.

On the walk to the tower I had stopped to take passport style photos for my ID card. (They did not come out well—Gareth kindly pointed out the shading makes it look like I have a 5:00 shadow, which is an accurate analysis of the photo). Nearby, I saw a dock on the river that looked like it may be a restaurant. I mentioned it to the crew I had met, and we decided to head there for dinner. It ended up being such a lovely night. Two of us were heading home after a long journey, both to graduate school. One was arriving for the first time in a country he was about to make into a home, and I was there to get proof of my newly recognized European citizenship. Arno Vivo was half on a dock and half on a floating raft, where we grabbed a table. There was live music, mood lighting, and the buffet style food was free with a drink. We shared a bottle of wine and swapped travel/life stories, and it was one of those moments that reminds you how absolutely wonderful travel can be.

The next morning I walked back to the airport to pick up a rental car, and headed out for Vernasca. I was so nervous the whole drive, that they would be closed (our communication was all in Google-translated Italian, and I wasn’t sure they’d be open until I arrived), or that I didn’t have the proper documentation. It seemed too easy, honestly, after the process leading up to it had been so drawn out and difficult.

The drive was beautiful, through the mountains and farmland, and the little village was so cute. I headed straight for the municipal building, and there was one woman working behind the counter. She was expecting me, and we chatted away—her in Italian, me half in Spanish and half in hand gestures. She filled out my ID card right there (so easy, it’s just made of paper!), and handed it to me with a big huge and a congratulations. It was such a surreal moment, being in my ancestors old village, even being in Italy, and I’m honestly so grateful that’s how I received my ID, rather than at a consulate in LA or London. Afterwards I wandered around the town a bit—there’s a big church up a hill right behind the municipal building that offered incredible views, before getting some lunch and starting the drive back.

downtown in the village

I was eager to drop the car off because that night started the second part of my trip—Cinque Terre!

Donald Trump: One Year Later

This time last year I was in Brussels, surrounded by women and men from around the world who needed a place, a voice, to express their shock and horror at Trump. I’ve been pretty silent on here about the election. Less so on Facebook, which has basically just become a platform for me to share links to political articles and outrages, but I didn’t know what to say when it first happened, and I still don’t know what to say now, a year after his inauguration.

It was really hard for me to get my absentee ballot. You can track it online and my status said delivered, but delivered it was not. There was an emergency number and I got a replacement right in time, but I remember my urgency (other than the normal, civic duty) was about wanting to be able to say I had voted in the election for our first female president–not any kind of worry about the outcome. I was embarrassed, especially living abroad, that Donald Trump had gotten as far as he had, but had read the polls and felt little anxiety. Actually, from the day he won the Republican nomination I stopped worrying about Hillary’s chances.

I spent the week talking about the election with my students, and we talked about words like racist, sexist, and predator. Those were the words my elementary school aged children associated with Trump–and I couldn’t blame them because they were the words I associate with him as well.

Because I was in Spain it took forever for news to start coming in. There was talk of arranging an event at a local pinchos bar, but when we realized it would be morning before anything really happened, we decided to stay home. My roommate Shaina and I stayed up until the bitter end. Even before Florida was called I realized it wasn’t going to be the same as Obama’s election, when his victory had never really looked in jeopardy.

By 7:00 am it was clear what had happened. I was sobbing, we all were. I called my mom and she had gone to sleep–had slept through it all and was shocked he had won. She was sure I was wrong. How could so many people have chosen to vote for him??

Afterwards I felt depressed, and very far from home. I had thought I was safe, in the impossibility of a Trump victory, by living so far from home. But in reality, as soon as he won all I wanted to do was be back in the states, trying to help in any way I could. I love America. I love being American. The more I travel the more I value where I came from, and how deep my patriotism lies. Being away is still hard. I seriously considered leaving Spain and going back to find a campaign or NGO to work for. I think it’s a large part of how I ended up working where I am now. 

I remember feeling so afraid. What would happen when Obama left? Who would protect those of us who aren’t rich middle aged men? Who would lead the country, and join the world in leading important initiatives–the Paris Climate Accord, the Mexico City Policy–so much of the United States decisions affect the international landscape. How could we trust Trump to manage all that??

I felt so angry. At the people who voted for Trump. At the people who voted 3rd party, or didn’t vote at all. At anyone who felt safe enough to say Clinton and Trump were equally bad, because that statement comes from such privilege I can’t even comprehend the sheltered lives of those who felt comfortable uttering such a sentiment. I wonder how they feel now.

As time moves on and we watch Trump fail again and again at following through on his campaign promises, but in effect kill Obamacare and lead through another government shut down, I’m still waiting for the next Democratic leader to show up. It still feels like Obama, but he can’t save us, not anymore. We need congress and senate to be brave, even the Republicans. To save the DREAMERs and save healthcare, and stand up to a leader I refuse to believe any of them actually respect.

Heading into the midterms I don’t feel very hopeful. We just had amazing local elections, where so many diverse people were elected, which was an inspiring and hopeful thing to see. But while we didn’t elect a pedophile in Alabama, but it was closer than it should have been. I do think the country is fed up with Trump, and I know historically the president’s party doesn’t fare well in the midterms. The issue is really just which seats are up for reelection. They will be hard wins and we’d have to win most of them, and hang on to all our current seats as well. It’s possible, I mean Trump’s election didn’t look likely either, but mainly I am just waiting for someone to step up and become the person who can lead us back from the edge, when they appear, that’s when I’ll really feel hopeful.