Mmm, Endangered Species, Tasty!

Trip Start Feb 24, 2005
Trip End Jul 23, 2005

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Saturday, April 16, 2005

Every last muscle is sore. Every last drop of sweat has, I'm certain, been squeezed from beneath my skin. Even if I wanted to, I don't think I could even look at a bike tomorrow.

Yesterday Lacy and I biked to her friend Maya's Peace Corps site. It's quintessential Peace Corps: A loose collection of thatch huts, electricity-free, clustered along a sandy road. The market is almost bare--a few oranges, some spindly roots, some faded clothing. The women sit on stoops in brightly-colored sarongs (and nothing else), weaving mats, tearing greens from the stems, or just chatting the heat away. Maya's walls are thatch and her ceiling is made from dried palm fronds. Even her latrine is picturesque. She's collected a chicken, a disturbingly young kitten, and a gaggle of children that still, after a full year, stare after her wide-eyed. She's the first volunteer in her town, and the villagers along the road leading up to it now believe that "Maya" is synonymous with "white girl." They called it out to Lacy and me as we biked down the road.

We arrived barely before dark, having underestimated the time it would take to bike a bumpy, shifting sandy road. We dined with Maya's neighbors, an adorable family who filled their candlelit hut with laughter and kept trying to sneak more rice onto our heaping plates. The dim light made me feel OK about not taking the main course: Baby Hammerhead Shark. I'm not sure of the status of Hammerheads, but fear of nibbling on endangered species limited my meal to cucumber salad and rice. Maya had no such inhibitions, and I saw it as nature's little joke that she wound up with one of the eyeballs.

In the morning we ate homemade yogurt (so good here!) and bread, and Maya prepared for a 12-day jaunt into the bush. As part of her work, she occasionally wanders out of town with a guide, a porter, and a dump-truck-sized bag of rice, and hikes to far-off villages to train people in topics like hygiene and nutrition. These villages are a two-day hike from anywhere and sound like the poorest of the poor. We asked Maya what they eat there, and she said, "Sweet potatoes." End of sentence. Most of them have not been out of their village, and when Maya first showed up, they thought that since she looked so different from them, she must be from Southern Madagascar. They don't have latrines--they just use the forest--and they say they don't want them. They're open to the idea of washing their hands, but they don't have any soap. It's an uphill battle, and one that the villagers aren't necessarily interested in waging--the project was not their idea (or Maya's), and so far she feels frustrated by the lack of progress. But she plugs on, and I admire her for being able to immerse herself so fully in difficult and often unrewarding work.

This afternoon Lacy and I turned back toward Maroantsetra, sliding and skidding through the sand to avoid the throngs of people walking along the road. We stopped for a dip in the ocean, enjoying a totally deserted and beautiful palm-lined beach. We arrived back sore and exhausted--will I ever feel in-shape enough for long bike rides?--but a cold bucket of water over the head has never felt so good.
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