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Africa, As A Peace Corps Volunteer, Madagascar, The Nomadic Life

Volunteering in the Shadow of Madagascar’s 2009 Political Coup

Diego Taxi Sequence

Since the beginning of May, protests have been held the capitol. Several minor incidents of violence were reported on the embassy’s website. Some public school teachers began striking for better pay early in the year, and many have since joined. They continue to strike. (In response, at least one of my friends has been stealth-teaching English to high school students; a gesture I can only describe as “bad-ass”.) More recently, there’s been talk of health workers and other government employees joining them. Whether it’s a genuine threat or nothing more than a rumor, I won’t pretend like I know. In fact, I won’t pretend like I know any more than what has been texted to us by Peace Corps, posted on the Embassy’s website, or mentioned to me in passing by a friend who works in Antananarivo and weekends in my town.

Yet, Madagascar hasn’t had a lot of time to bounce back from the coup of 2009.It seems like old news to me, but I forget that probably none of my friends or family back home ever knew of it.The coup of 2009 acted as the catalyst for a lot of foreign aid (including Peace Corps) to pull out of Madagascar and although some have returned, things aren’t totally sorted. But some people think it’s high time they were. According to a co-worker, the protests are nothing in comparison to those leading up to the 2009 coup, but they’re happening nonetheless. I have no personal opinions towards the matter, but have seen some of its effects on my work with my local English Center. One English teacher mentioned that “before the 2009 coup, the government was going to pay for someone to work there at all times. But then the coup happened, and the government stopped talking to us.” And of course, the second volunteer to work at my site was evacuated after four months of work, leaving behind little more than a legacy of her love for iced-tea and a cooking class. In our personal situation, it seems more stable to find help in the private sector, like the English Center of Antsirabe (ECA) has with the local cigarette factory. Unfortunately, I am absolutely ignorant in how to turn our ambitious educational establishment into a sustainable, business with paid employees.

I am also getting a bit off topic. I merely mean to express that after all these months of blogging about such-and-such beautiful spot of Madagascar, I never bothered to mention that even though Peace Corps has been back in Madagascar long enough to see the first of the non-reinstatee volunteers through an entire service (yay!), we’ve been serving under questionable political circumstances and without an official ambassador to the American Embassy here. I suppose I never mentioned it before because I don’t want to worry friends and family back home, and also because I’ve grown used to it. It doesn’t seem unusual enough to mention anymore. But somewhere between an increase in incidents in May and listening to Doom Tree’s song “Bangerang” on repeat, it suddenly seemed worth telling home about. It hit me that the students in my town are incredibly fortunate that we’re not striking, that their education isn’t interrupted, andto consider how important it is that Peace Corps be, and stay, in Madagascar as long as circumstances will allow. I hope for the sake of Madagascar, we do stay because sadly, if we leave again, we’re gone for good.

Also, let me repeat that none of this reflects the opinions of Peace Corps but are wholly my understanding of the situation in Madagascar.

Also, also, enjoy the non-riotous photo of a taxi sequence in Antsiranana (Diego), Madagascar and my current musical addiction. The secret’s out: I like hip-hop.

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About Jessie Beck

Vagabond in training.

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