Best. Weekend. Ever.
It’s possible that this weekend was one of the best weekends I’ve had in my life. It wasn’t perfect and had a few glitches (maybe I’ll write about those later) – but for the most part – it was incredible. And the part of it that completely amazes me? I’ve been here for less than a month and barely even TOUCHED the island. This experience is just the first of many, many more to come.
Okay, on to my weekend.
All project staff employed by my company (there are 4 different companies involved) were invited to a company party on Saturday. This is a big deal because most of us work Saturdays – so not only did we have the day off – but we had a party to go to! We were told to meet at the Score (the Madagascar version of Wal-Mart) and then we were to be bussed to a local “resort” village for the entire day. For some reason – which still remains unknown – we were given matching t-shirts. We had been required to give our t-shirt size last week - BUT – sizes in Madagascar are NOT the same sizes in Canada or USA or the UK. Most men had ordered XL or even XXL. When the t-shirts arrived – the men couldn’t get the t-shirts over their heads! Some of them were brave and wore them - it was HILARIOUS. They looked like belly t-shirts (where was my camera then!?!?!)
Once I arrived at Score, I ran into some of the locals that I work with – some were brave enough to chat with me for a few minutes – and then we all hopped on the bus. The bus was playing awesome African music, everyone was excited and in such a good mood. I wish I had recorded part of the bus ride there!
I rode the entire way my neighbour and this whitey that I had never met before. We soon found out he was a member of the Social Responsibility department. I haven’t written about this department yet, but we have an entire staff dedicated to: helping the community/country and helping the locals with any issues that they have transitioning to working for our project.
For example, many locals from the bush were recruited to come and work for the mine. The recruits are from extremely small, remote villages and are used to living very simply and with very little – even for Madagascar standards. While employed for the project, they would be paid nicely and provided accommodation. Before the move, these recruits lived in tiny little huts made from bamboo or wood - without electricity or running water. After the move – they have nice, new houses (not huts) and now have electricity, water, and even ovens. They were extremely confused, displaced, and not able to adjust. The Social Responsibility Department worked with them to give them whatever assistance they could think of – even teaching them how to use an oven. It seems like a small task, but when you’re dealing with hundreds of panicking people that grew up in a bush all of their lives– it wasn’t easy.
They also organize various volunteer groups to work in the community - like the group of expat wives who volunteer weekly at various orphanages. The SRD group can’t fix everything, but they try to help as much as they possibly can.
Like many other expats I’ve met who fascinate and entertain me just through simple chit chat - SRD dude was no exception. He was born in Québec, but came to Africa years ago and was employed with the Red Cross - until his office was shut down with the political crisis in January. (Obtaining any kind of funding is always difficult, but it was near impossible after the coup d’état here in the new year.) I chat with him most of the way and we shared our expat stories (mine usually seems to get interest from the seasoned expats because I’ve lived this life for less than a month and I’m super green to it all).
When it wasn’t too noisy on the bus (with... ahem...a certain someone Ooohhhing and Aaahhhing over every little leaf and twig ) I just watched the scenery and the people as we drove past them. This is all SO new to me and as I drive past people, I’m fascinated. True to being Canadian I want to be polite and respectful - and I try not to stare too long or take pictures of strangers walking down the street – because I feel it’s too exploitive. But this weekend, I thought about how I’m watched in this country. It’s not exploitive – I’m watched with total fascination and intrigue – there is nothing disrespectful about it. Just like I’m fascinated by a lady talking her pig for a walk – they are fascinated with a 6-foot-tall white woman wearing her giraffe print rubber boots in the rain (okay – so maybe those boots would cause some attention even in Canada...). So – while remaining respectful – I’m going to take more pictures of the locals here. The scenery is always amazing and deserves a lot of attention – but it is really the people here that make it so awesome – and I want to capture them as best as I can.
Ok – sidetracked – We arrived at the village/resort and once again, I WAS SHOCKED. Madagascar is a place of such extremes. It can be so ugly here and then others it can be so incredibly beautiful. This village was amazing. I had such a WONDERFUL time. I walked and ran along the beach (only up to mid-calf because there are sharks here), kayaked in a river, ate with the local project employees, and – the coolest thing of all – DANCED, DANCED, AND DANCED!!!!!! It was so cool. The music was awesome and pretty easy to dance to. I had a stupid grin on my face the entire time! At no point did I have any clue what anyone was doing, but it was so so so so so so much fun.
The dancing started similar to a dance floor back in Canada. Everyone dancing in a circle with the braver ones going into the centre and busting a move for a few minutes, then moving back to the outside of the circle and making room for the next person to strut their stuff. But the centre dancers would do things that I have never seen before. We did a lot of conga lines too. Sometimes they would show me what to do, other times I would just try to follow along in my lame-whitey way, and the rest of the time I just swayed back and forth. It was by far the coolest thing that I have done here.
Before lunch, about 15 of the local project staff performed an AMAZING dance. Each wore a beautiful sarong-type dress from their province in Madagascar (there are six provinces) and performed a dance native to their region. It was amazing! The audience would go crazy! Hollering and clapping, it was a blast! I sat there the entire with a dorky grin on my face. At one point, I almost choked up. It’s just so incredibly surreal to be able to just sit and enjoy the culture and these experiences. The atmosphere was amazing, and I just couldn’t believe where I was. Never in a MILLION YEARS did I think I would be sitting – on a beach – on an island in Africa – watching my co-workers perform their tribal dance. Moments like this make me think that it was always in my life path to come here – even if I didn’t know it.
Later on, I was talking with my boss and he said it was so incredibly good that I was mixing with the locals and not just sitting with the whiteys. He said it would help me personally and professionally here a lot. Okay, that’s cool. But that’s not why I have been doing this. I told him I went in tried to mix in with everyone because I can sit with a Canadian any day of the week and I didn’t come here to pretend I was in Canada. A good sign, he said.
I then went on to tell him about what I realized in my first week here – that thinking with my “Canadian” brain here is pointless. When I’m faced with a problem, I have to throw all Canadian logic/experience/habits out the window and start from scratch.
He said that if I can remember that my experience here will be amazing. Good to hear!
He then went on to give me some advice – something that an old expat told him when he first started - Make your expat experience your own. Everyone will always have their ideas of what is the best/worst of the country and what HAS to be done or experienced or seen - but just do your own thing and do what’s important to you.
And he’s right. Everyone can tell me their best advice and the best places to go but it’s totally up to me where I want to go or who I want to see or what I want to get from this experience. And he’s also right – it IS really easy to get caught up in just having fun with everyone else and not really think about what I want from this. So I’ll take his advice and hopefully I’ll continue to remember what he said.
Anyway, I’m glad that we had that talk and that he actually sees that I’m doing okay. I had heard he was a bit worried if i was doing okay (but that’s good too! I’m glad he showed some concern!) He also mentioned that he’s impressed with the way I have been handling myself in the department so far – which is good to hear because I’m a total sucker for praise from my boss.
On the way home from the party we stopped in town for a quick beer. There was a “Miss Tamatave” contest, but I unfortunately I couldn’t stay... I can’t keep up with these seasoned expats! I was BEAT! I got a ride home with a few of the oldie expats and nearly peed my pants laughing the whole way home. The guys I was with are 45 – 60 years old...and they bicker and fight with each other like grade 10 girls. It’s worse after a few drinks! Sometimes my mouth hurts from laughing here.
I got back to the camp, had a bite to eat, tried to drink a glass of wine (I was too tired) and came back to my room and PASSED OUT! The long days, the fun nights, exploring the island as much as I can every minute I’m not working finally caught up to me. I spent ALL day Sunday lounging by the pool and napping in the room. It was awesome! ( I should mention I didn’t have a choice to do much else – the power was out from 09h30 to 19h30!). I woke up today still feeling a bit tired, but I had such an awesome, amazing weekend!
So often, I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be even allowed to be here.