NEW ADDRESS!!! Stephen L. Garrett-- Peace Corps -- Parc National de Masoala -- BP 86 -- Maroantsetra 512 -- Madagascar

Monday, November 27, 2006

Update

Here I am in Antalaha where I've just celebrated Thanksgiving with new and old friends. I had been working out in the forest for two weeks, installing a new monitoring program for a reforestation project. I hiked 17 hours over two days to get to Antalaha - my old banking town. It is really nice to be back, although I think I need to head back home tomorrow and I am not really quite yet looking forward to the walk.

I took the GRE at the end of October. I hope I did well. I have also applied to graduate school and eagerly await a reply - hopefully by February. Other details of the past few months are relatively difficult to retrieve, so I will leave you all with a poem that I wrote in the forest.

There are shrouds of low clouds
hanging like the slow scent of a bad memory.
But then!
The sun's ethereal fingers tear open
the bowels of the sky
to reveal
a Blue as Red as blood -
the siren song of our collective knowing.
A color as sweet as honey.
And I have hope again.
----------------------
As for hope, I hope all of you are well. Another update will be due in January or so, the next time I know for sure that I will have internet.

Until then, with love
-Stephen

Friday, August 04, 2006

Bridge? What Bridge?

At 6:15 one morning last week, I awoke to a loud noise like five tons of loose rock being dumped racously from a large truck made of bass drums. The house quaked slightly. Despite all this, and the fact that dump trucks made of bassdrums are either rare or completely improbable, I quickly decided on that unlikely answer to my what was that(?). I went back to sleep.

Roughly two hours later, I stumbled downstairs to purchase my usual: a yogurt and a smal pack of tiny sweet oyster crackers.

"Have you seen the bridge?," asked my yogurt-peddling landlord like a Malagasy Led Zeppelin impersonator. I hadn't, but his following phrase, "it's fallen," piqued my interest. I wandered up the street with yogurt in tow.

The Bridge is a beast of concrete and steel that spans about 80 meters of river. Installed by the French at the tailend of their colonial rule, this structure has been supporting a range of travellers, from the likes of ducks up to huge gas tankers, on their cross-river voyages for over fourty years. The bridge sits at the very northern end of the still terrible road from the provincial capitol of Tamatave, some 450 kilometers to the south.

A crowd of people stood and stared. I crested a small hill and couldn't believe what I was seeing: half of the bridge was no more - sunken like a Titanic in the river, a twisted wreck. I ate some yogurt, contemplating what this meant for myself and my Malagasy friends. As for me, carless and having no real economic ties to this particular structure, my life will not change so much. No more easy jogs to the beach. My Italian friend, Bruno, a tour operator, stood beside his little moto with an ironic smile on his face, sucking on a nervous cigarette. Bruno and his business partner had just this year opened a new tourist office on the OTHER side of the bridge, where most of the nice hotels are. But, he, like most of the townspeople, lived on THIS side. We talked. I ate some more yogurt. Was anybody hurt?

Actually, no. It's a curious story. A man on a bicycle made his way across the bridge alone and made it almost across, when one of the bridge's heavy concrete supports just... gave way, crumpling half the bridge. He slid back down the new 45 degree angle and plunged into the water, scrambled then bikeless to safety. It was in deed the man on the bicycle that broke the camel's back cliche played out in startling reality. Bruno shook his head. A new daily commute by canoe for Bruno, and everybody else. I finished my yogurt giggling. Oh, Madagascar!

We shall see how long this repair takes. COLAS, the company with the contract to pave the road from Tamatave, is about 35 bridges to the south. Most of them need replacement.

In other news, I spent a week on the beautiful island of Nosy Managabe for work. I helped to map tourist trails, went whale watching. A beautiful series of weeks, with good friends, good work.

In Tana now for a conference. Miss you, fair reader.

-Stephen

Friday, July 14, 2006

23,000 miles later

I arrived in Tana yesterday after a long journey across the world.

Upon arriving at Paris-Charles de Gaulle, I found out that my plane to Madagascar was delayed. I had about 8 hours, and though exhausted from the travel, I got a silly idea. I lugged my backpack, laden with too many clothes and gifts, to the train station and bought a round-trip ticket for 16 Euro to the city. I boarded the blueline train and headed to the St. Michelle stop on the advice of the ticket agent.

After 40 minutes or so I climbed a few flights of stairs and rediscovered daylight in a courtyard filled with people gawking at the real-as-life Cathedrale de Notre Dame! I have never been to Europe, so of course I was caught in the awe of seeing something so amazing and... old (the building was constructed between 1163 to 1250 ad). I went inside with hundreds of other tourists - myself the only guy lugging a giant red backpack. What a beautiful building! I had to sit down and just take it all in. One of the carvings, that wrapped all the way round the back of the alter area, was created in the early 1300s. How amazing.

After Notre Dame. I wandered along the river and stopped in a small park to listen to some guys playing jazz - the music creeping out of a trombone and a tenor sax. Kept going and chose one of endless compelling alleyways through too narrow streets walled by ancient buildings still used as homes and offices and restaurants. I came out into another beautiful street, a sort of shopping district, which had another beautiful garden lined with lovers fawning all over each other, not afraid of PDA, just acting out love in public. I leaned the trusty pack against a tree and just sat there as my jet lag disappeared (for a few minutes anyway), my hands clasped behind my head - hard not to just smile. Hungry!

I only had an hour and a half left before my self-imposed back-to-the-airport time. So I picked a cafe - a classic one with awnings and black raut-iron tables and chairs, smoking French, plenty of passers-by to stare at. At one end of the street, the Pantheon, a massive put-the-US Capitol to shame dome, and at the other end a traffic circle and a view of the Eiffel tower. I ordered a croque-monsieur, a sandwich I had heard about in Lucy Griffith's high school french class, and a giant chocolate ice cream, which appeared with a long spoon in its own water glass and a spinning colored fan stuck in the top of a mountain of whipped cream. And an Evian water, of course. It was wonderful to sit alone and look at an endless flow of beautiful women, fancy cars, and the unparalleled scenery of the Parisian built environment.

My three hours in Paris was the perfect end to a vacation that brought me to amazing places:

Yosemite
Sacramento
Point Reyes National Park
Portland, Oregon - Beaver's baseball, the riverfront
A fourth of July fireworks day at Vancouver, WA
The Columbia River Gorge/Multnoma Falls
A day of swimming - swinging on a rope swing/ exloring the cold water at Moulton Falls, WA
Mt. Saint Helens - a clear day!
Berkeley, CA. Exploring the town and the U of California.
An amazing tour of San Francisco with my parents. (We took a ferry to Sausalito, saw the Golden Gate, cable cars, etc. Fantastic!)

In a little over two weeks, I travelled 23,000 miles.

I thank Cat and Court, who made this all possible. The wedding was beautiful. I'm proud and amazed to be a part of it. Thanks to all of my friends who made my trip even better. Everybody at the wedding, folks on the phone. Brooks, what happened?

To Richard, who drove me around, a lot. And to Daniel for the same reason. Thanks.

To Mom and Dad, for adventurously meeting me in Berkeley. I love you both!

To Derek, who gave me an insiders look into the ERG program at Berkeley and for lodging and fun.

To anyone I've forgotten. Sorry about that!

Back to site for a while. I hope all is well.
-Stephen

Friday, June 30, 2006

Fooled You!

I am sipping "Smart Roast" coffee out of a styrofoam Holiday Inn cup. It is cold because of what must be a massive central air conditioning system in this large and immaculate, but totally common, American hotel near Portland, Oregon.

That's right ladies and gentlemen, I am in the United States of America. A friend of mine is getting married, and to surprise him, his fiance flew me to the US. It was amazing to see the look on my friend's face when he realized who the stranger standing in front of him actually was!

Several days ago, I went to Yosemite National Park. It is a truly incredible place. When you drop into Yosemite valley, the scenery wraps around you like some giant fake screen. The valley is quite developed as far as tourist infrastructure goes. We were there on a day when the park service was testing a handheld PDA/GPS device that talked to you and played videos as you walked toward a waterfall. It was actually a nice experience and didn't really detract from the scenery. We were interviewed about our thoughts afterward by some Australians who said, "how did you get on then?" Luckily, I am used to strange forms of English and understood the question. Maybe other 'Mericans had problems. Visiting such a well-run, highly visited jewel of a park like Yosemite is a huge contrast to the park where I work in Madagascar.

For the first few days, riding in cars was a little scary. There are a lot of them, and they are all fast. Grocery stores are a little overwhelming too. There is so much stimulus. I start to panic when I think about the differences between Malagasy stores and American stores (where there is SO MUCH on display). If I think about the system that exists to support our form of commerce, I begin to feel a sense of awe and terror. Everything here seems so developed and new and fantastic. I only wish the masses could be in a position to realize how truly amazing our country is - how we've manifested our destiny. And then, if the masses could understand the underlying negatives that go along with all the positives of our way of life as well.


I sat down in my seat on a plane in NYC, next to a well-healed woman in her mid forties. She began to complain about the leg room in the plane.

"On Jet Blue, all the seats have plenty of room. I mean, look at this!"

A stewardess walked by. The woman thrust out a stack of magazines.

"Can you take this from me? They're in my way. I already don't have enough room and you stuff these pockets with all this crap."

The stewardess was swallowed in a sea of people busy arranging their things for the cross-country flight. (My third flight after 16 hours in a plane).

"I'll come back, I'm busy," said the stewardess, stating the obvious.

"Well, I'll just put these here." Said my new neighbor, dropping the magazines in the aisle.

The stewardess whipped around.

"Oh that's great, just put them where everyone can trip over them," she said and picked up the stack, and moved toward the front of the plane.

Tense.

The woman looked at me.

"Can you believe these people? On Jet Blue, they treat you so well."

My first thought was, what is Jet Blue? But I said,"Have you ever been to Africa?"

The woman said no.

"I live there right now. Anytime I want to travel over land I have to take a taxi brousse. A brousse is usually a 25-30 year old small French truck which is crammed with 30 smelly people - children, chickens, huge sacks of rice, luggage. And the roads! Don't get me started about that! I'm just glad to have my own seat."

The woman looked at her knees and was silent for a moment.

"I guess you feel differently when you get out and travel the world."

------

It's hard not to preach to people now. We ended up being good seat neighbors. And the stewardess won my new friend over by giving her two free small bottles of vodka. They were laughing and smiling at each other by the end of the flight.

I hope that everybody is well. I'll write more soon.

-Stephen

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Change for Me. Ha!

For some time I have been trying to get a site change approved. I was placed in a small village and then asked to travel away from the village for long periods of time. Eventually what seemed to happen was that I was away more often than in the village, so I had the feeling of living out of a backpack for nearly a year. After some lobbying, I convinced the powers governing my experience in Madagascar that a move to Maroantsetra would be beneficial both to myself and to my partner organizations, WCS and ANGAP. Last week, I was told that I would be relocated to work at the park office in Maroantsetra and be assigned to regular missions to various locations around the park like my last mission to a place called Ambatolaidama. There I mapped out a reforestation program that has been underway on former agriculture fields. The hand drawn maps that exist make long term scientific monitoring difficult, so my maps will improve the current system by being more accurate.

I walked from Maroantsetra to Antalaha over the course of two days starting last Friday. There weren't any planes so I set out by boat for an hour, and then began walking. The Malagasy make the journey to a town called Mahafinaritra in two days. There you can get a taxi to Antalaha. I decided to push myself and give the journey a shot. And I made it! What's more I completed the trip entirely solo. No guide or porter. This is possible only because I can now communicate in Malagasy fairly well, and the people in the countryside are very kind. I got a little worried when I started walking behind 12 large guys with machetes, but they quickly outpaced me because of my blisters anyway.

My next few days will consist of a logistically frustrating trip to Cap Est to gather my belongings and then travel with them to Antalaha. I must then figure out the best way to transport the stuff to Maroa. Boat or plane. Not gonna walk with 80 kilos of stuff!!!

I am very excited to have the opportunity to work more closely with Parc National de Masoala. The work is fascinating and I have an excellent counterpart who is teaching me much. Unfortunately, this move will take me away from internet access for longer periods of time. I should have access again in August when I travel to Tana for a conference. Or perhaps before if my work takes me to a larger town..

I thank everyone who has sent me an e-mail, package, or posted a comment to this blog in the past month.

Caroline - I'm so glad that it's getting warmer in Ukraine. You sound like you are doing amazing things. Can't wait to see you sometime in the future.

Annie C - Congratulations on your decision to join PC Georgia. Get ready for the ride of your life.

Mike Winninger - Still forgetting the correct spelling of your name. Thank you for being one of a select group of individuals who have taken the time and care to send me magazines and Oreos. Your packages are amazing. I can't believe that you take the time to be so nice to me despite the engineering studies and running and all. You are wonderful!

Mom and Dad - look forward to the call tomorrow!

Tricia K - Good luck in Nashville. I'm so happy for you that you are so happy there. This kind Australian guy told me that there was a tornado there recently. Can you give me some info about that? Thanks for keeping in touch.

Everybody else - a few of you have been wonderful to keep in touch. Others, specifically Brooks Clardy, have not sent me more than one e-mail during my more than a year in Africa. Not to call you out but I just called you out.


Love you all,
Stephen

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Update

Here I am back in Antalaha where the temperatures are warm and the humidity is humid. I've been in Tana for nearly a month where the temperatures are cool and the humidity is much less... humid. I always need a few days back here to adjust to sweating and feeling the good layer of body oil between skin and t-shirt.

I loved being a PC trainer. I got to watch the new group walk off of the plane, to see them in their first few minutes in Madagascar. Later, I helped to announce their sites for the next two years. Then I helped to teach classes in organic gardening, composting, permaculture, seed collection, storage, and treatment, and tree nurseries. I also led a session on "American Diversity." I got to know the new group in at least a cursory way and I look forward to seeing all of them as volunteers.

I enjoyed Tana this time around. I got to see more of its winding european-style streets. The air quality was better than normal, making the usually grimey town look pretty. We ate at great restaurants and visited a museum. I got to play tennis one day, too. Which I happen to have only played three times in my life, but apparently I have a killer serve. So look for me at Wimpledon.

I return to my site for nearly a week. I will then head back to Maroantsetra to meet friends. I may be in charge of purchasing grafted orange trees for park tree nurseries and transporting them by boat from Tamatave to Maroantsetra. After that, I will go to assess and help to improve a corridor restoration project in the northern area of Parc Masoala. I will be in the area well into April.

So there's a brief update. Please stay in touch,
Stephen.

I've now been here over a year, just in case you were keeping count.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Pictures!


This is my new look: with friends Beth and Randy on Halloween in Fort Dauphin.