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