Sunday, December 31, 2006

Half a world ahead

So as many of you are just waking up or getting out of church and starting your last day of 2006, I am sitting at my computer calmly contemplating the approach of 2007. Up until now it really didn’t mean much more to me other than the fact that I can finally stop agonizing over my sloppy 6s at the end of my dates – both Malagasy and Vietnamese think my hand-written 6 is a 4, so finally, I don’t have to stress every time I sign and date something.

I wear 2006 like a comfortable and well-balanced necklace. To me, the first five months of the year are the deep-colored jewels of my final months until I finally reached RPCV status in early June. The next two gems are sky blue and forest green. My two full months in Northern Wisconsin were a time of refreshment and renewal - but also a great opportunity to share time with family and especially an aging grandmother. The final months were a return to Madagascar and to a life after Peace Corps. Finally, Vietnam in December is the clasp - firmly attaching the end of 2006 to my future in 2007.

Now with just an hour and a half to go before Vietnam enters that new year, it’s becoming real. In 2007 I will have officially spent 4 solid years living outside of the US. In 2007 I will learn a new language and work my first real, real job. In 2007 I will celebrate my 10 year high school graduation anniversary.

Yesterday we discussed New Years resolutions with the community English class that Ali has been holding. I’m not sure if I’m ready to resolve anything this year – other than keep my head above water in my new job. That for now is quite enough.

It’s raining now – my first rain in Vietnam – the first time for me to hear rain on the tin roof of a new home. It’s one of my favorite sounds. I only wish it were loud enough to drown out the Karaoke bar across the street (Mom, it’s 2007 and do you know where your daughter is? Definitely not at the karaoke bar). But that is also something I will have to get used to in the new year.

I’m sure there will be many more things waiting for us in this next year. I’m sure not all of them will be pleasant – but if all were good, how could we possibly know when to stop whining and enjoy the good parts? I won’t wax philosophical here, but may I wish for us all growth, new understanding and contentment in this new year.

So here’s to 2007 – check in with me on New Year’s eve and I’ll let you know what it looks like from this side of the date.

Culture Shock

This week I made my first excursion out to observe activities at our most distant field site. It was in Khunh Thang district, which shares a border with the most southern province in China. We had planned to take a couple of hours during the day to drive to the border itself where there is a historically significant and beautiful (I’ve seen pictures) waterfall – but unfortunately we didn’t manage to make it quite that far this trip – I was too interested in the field activities to take the time to drive out there. There will be other times – and other blogs.

But I had plenty to be excited about on this trip as it was – first, it was my first long-distance motorbike ride (60 km and 2 hours each way). Don’t worry – I’m still riding tandem with one of our other staff until I get my motorbike lessons and permit. Second, it was my first excursion out of the city into the “real” Vietnam – my first chance to see the mountainous terrain up close by daylight too. Cao Bang is ethnic-minority center of Vietnam, and people at this training would be speaking the ethnic dialect (or language) of Tây (not that I would necessarily know the difference what with my 10 words of Vietnamese at this point). So I was excited to see some of the peculiarities of Vietnamese ethnic life up closer. Finally, it was my first chance to spend the entire with my staff away from Ali’s benign but constant presence – a chance for me to begin to feel what I am getting myself into for real.

So at 6:30 am we climbed onto the project motorbikes, donned the requisite helmets, and set off into the morning damp chill and fog to seek out mountain highways.

And yet, as we zoomed through the winding mountains all that came as a shock to me was how familiar it all was. I had been here before. Everything was the same – from rice paddies divided into manageable portions by earth barriers, to the herds of livestock (cattle, goats, chickens) that blocked the entire road around blind corners, the burdened villager balancing a load front and back on a stick resting on the shoulder, the snaking winding switchbacks of the mountain byways that rose up to reveal impossible valley views, the sudden potholes nearly jarring you out of your seat on the frighteningly narrow pavement to the village market, empty and forlorn on a cold damp morning that was patently not market day and the ever-busy breakfast shop which always finds customers even on the slowest of days. Even the government buildings were shockingly identifiable – mayor’s offices, schools and village health clinics all jumped out from the grey backdrop with their traffic-sign bright coats of yellow paint with red trim.

Perhaps it has been because of this unexpected familiarity that the things that are different are so much more jarring to me. I came here fully expecting a certain amount of culture shock and I had a mental list of those things that would be relatively easy for me versus those that would be very difficult. And sure enough, the things I expected to be difficult have been. Number one on that list is, of course, language. It’s frustrating for me to not be able to converse with people AT ALL, much less with the familiarity that I managed in Madagascar. But I knew coming in here that that would be painful. Too bad knowing and expecting difficulty doesn’t actually make that difficulty and easier. But add to that frustration the fact that I am continuously lulled by my surroundings – only to be jerked out when once again, I can’t even tell a vendor that “I’m just looking.” Or properly greet an authority that I am being introduced to.

Some other things that have, if not surprised me, then gotten my notice since arriving:

  • Good rice: after 4 years of suffering and even learning to like Malagasy rice – eating rice in Vietnam is like eating candy! I don’t even need to put anything on top of it. I never guessed that plain-old, everyday rice could be so different and so good elsewhere!
  • Motorcycles – everywhere! Everybody has a motorbike…or two, or three. The best picture is the “minivan” – little baby up front, dad driving, older sibling standing on seat hanging onto dad’s shoulders and mom hanging onto all of them in the back. Our projects alone have 7 motorbikes (with more on the way), and not a single car. Cars are by far the minority on the streets here.
  • The poor quality of the products available in the market. And I thought Made in China in Madagascar was bad. At least in Madagascar it was high-quality plastic crap that made it to their shores. Here it’s plastic and it is guaranteed to fall apart before arriving home. They’ve learned to cut corners on absolutely everything.
  • And the fact that the poor quality Made-in-China goods are more expensive here than in Madagascar. Go figure that – especially when we share a border town 90 km away. A lot of prices are right in line with what I was used to in Madagascar, but I keep getting shocked by what things are more expensive – a LOT more expensive – here and the things that are much, MUCH cheaper than over there. A sweater that I wouldn’t have paid more than $7 in Madagascar for was going for $15 here – and no less. Yet, fruit, vegetables and basic market goods are so, so, so much cheaper. But there’s really no rhyme or reason to expensive/inexpensive – but I have a lot of relearning of prices to do.
  • One fun difference, for the time being, is their use of Christmas lights. It’s fun for now, but apparently this is a year-round thing. I don’t know if I’m going to get sick of it, or if I’m going to enjoy the holiday spirit year round.
  • Yet, for all the “holiday spirit” there may seem to be, after being in Madagascar, religious center of the Indian Ocean (or so it seemed some days), it’s downright stupefying to realize that there is essentially NO religion here. After living in a place where a religious calendar ruled and organized everybody’s life from school children to postal workers, and religious music blasted from stereos in the same house that played hip-hop, and prayers before public ceremonies sometimes took longer than the entire ceremony itself, religion became such a culturally infused notion for me when thinking about life in a foreign country. Yet here, that whole section of what “culture” is to me is missing. Simply non-existent. Sunday is just a day off because the rest of the world has decided such – mostly activities simply continue on as usual. And I’ve gotten used to the idea of whole cities shutting down for that day. I guess there’s a good reason the Malagasy could have never really succeeded in real communism.
  • Number of children. It took me a while to figure this one out. Why do the streets seem so empty? And church (because I did go to church in Hanoi my first week) – what was missing? The kids. Vietnam had a very strict 2-child policy for many years. The policy has relaxed a little now, but apparently if you want to go very far in a government career, you should still be very careful about your number of children. But in any case, the result is stores, streets, church, meetings and other public places are amazingly empty of children. At least for one who has lived in a country with half the population under the age of 15, and probably ¾ of that under the age of 5. The cultural impact has been enormous. First children are greatly valued and have every advantage that comes from a population that is earning a lot of money and has lots of selection of cheap Chinese goods to spend it on. Second – and this is amazing to me – education is extremely valued and it is almost expected that young women will delay marriage and having kids so she can complete an education to as far as her intelligence and dedication will allow, and then begin working and essentially live a life first before having children. Not to say there isn’t teenage pregnancy and whatnot here, but geez, talk about flipside of the coin.
  • Then there’s a real cultural thing that has surprised me. I knew that Vietnamese and most Asians are reputed for their general reserve in relationships and getting to know people. But as I’ve been introduced to a many people that I will be working directly and indirectly lately, what I have been really shocked by is their seeming disinterest in meeting a new person at all. There’s a small inclination of the head, maybe repeating of the name and maybe, just maybe, a question or two, and then they turn to each other and begin a new topic of conversation. A little disconcerting when the meeting was planned just so you could get to know somebody. At first I chalked this up to a language barrier. But it kept happening. But then I began meeting people for the second time, or in social rather than formal work situations, and the change was so immense I began to wonder if I was meeting an identical, but opposite, twin. As soon as you’re past that introduction stage, the Vietnamese are affectionate almost to the point of embarrassment (at least woman to woman). They are extremely enthusiastic and fun-loving friends and once you’re in, you’re in. And this seems to go for just about everybody.

In general, after these few differences, Vietnam seems simply like a more-developed and advanced Madagascar with a better work ethic. The roads are better, there’s electricity even in the most remote areas that I’ve driven through, and there are very few vehicles on the roads that seem more than 10 years old. Taxis are almost brand new, and even few of the motorbikes are the noisy rattle-trap types. The streets are clean! One of the happiest things about where I live is the big green community garbage cans which are not only conveniently located, but are emptied on such a regular basis that I never have a problem getting my trash to go in. But the surroundings feel so much like where I’ve been before that I wonder if it would have been better/easier for me to go somewhere further away culturally and environmentally. Like Niger or Indonesia or Afghanistan. There I would have KNOWN I was in a new place – and maybe the double shocks wouldn’t have been so bad.

Still, for all the shocks that have been, I can’t at all complain. Things are very nice here – and with time, the language too will come and I will truly begin to feel at home again.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Vietnam races to restore Internet access




Telecom corporations are working to quickly re-establish Internet access after a quake ruptured undersea cables off the coast of Taiwan, with two companies claiming repairs are 80 percent complete.

Vietnam Military Electronics and Telecommunications Co (Viettel) and Vietnam Data Communication Co (VDC) said late Friday that 80 percent of international Internet access had been successfully restored.

Connections to Yahoo, MSN, and hotmail were reportedly accessible with Viettel reporting access pace bouncing back to 310MB per second.

But Internet users are still in the doldrums about sluggish access to many international websites.

A Viettel official said the company had dispatched standing personnel to handle arising problems.

VDC also said they would remain in touch with international counterparts to sort out the problem within the next few days.

But another Vietnamese giant telecom company, FPT reportedly saw little improvement in this manner.

Truong Dinh Anh, FPT general director, said only 60 percent of disrupted Internet connection had been restored.

“[That] is because FPT’s chief partner, the Hong Kong PCCW telecom corporation, was also hit hardest in the Taiwan quake,” Anh elaborated.

He also admitted only when PCCW begins their repair work this weekend will FPT customers see grounds for hope of access improvement.

Vietnam was largely cut off from the World Wide Web Wednesday after a strong earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale hit Taiwan a day earlier, damaging undersea cables.

The unprecedented accident also took tolls on broadband service providers as well as foreign exchange trading in Asian countries.


Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas from half a world away!

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night –


Especially as it is still just after midnight where most of you are at this moment.


Here in Vietnam, we’ve baked cinnamon rolls and Christmas cookies and Hawaiian bread and eaten as much as we could, accompanied by crisp apples and juicy sweet mandarin from the market while huddled around the warm glow of our livingroom space heater.


We’ve opened the presents under our tiny tree perfumed by the two dozen roses a secret staff member gave me as a secret Santa gift.


We’ve listened to the Christmas music on our few CDs and while I drank warm peach tea to warm ourselves when the space heater and the long underwear weren’t enough.


And now it’s time to send my Christmas greetings to all of you who have yet to celebrate the day. Ours has been a blessed one – may yours also be so!


Finally, I’ve had some time to update my blog – so please, check out to see pictures and read stories from my last two weeks of exciting changes. There’re about 5 new posts, so just keep clicking the list of titles on the lower right-hand column. I’ve had much to say, but very little time to say it – now, finally there’s something to read.


I promise there is much more to tell, and I will try to find time this coming weekend before the New Year to update things yet again.


May the blessings of Christmas be upon you and yours during the holiday season!


Love always,




Sunday, December 24, 2006

And now for a bit of fun

So, fortunately, my first week here hasn't been all drudgery. Several exciting things happened that really helped me feel much more at home very quickly.

First, I am quickly learning that I have a fabulous staff to work with - and a huge part of the gratitude for that goes to my predecessor in this job, Ali Crandall. Ali and I went to school at Loma Linda together, and honestly, she's one of the most amazing people I know. For starters, she came into this project when it was in ruins, and, without speaking a word of Vietnamese, not having a proper orientation (like the fabulous one she's giving me), never having administratively managed staff or project budgets like, while still just being in the process of hiring a translator, AND without any social support AT ALL, she took the project and completely turned it around and has now made the 3 projects here some of the strongest public health projects I have ever seen. Kudos to you Ali - I can't thank you enough.

Lam (second from the front, in glasses) with her co-workers as the engagement equivalent of bridesmaids - all her co-workers from the ADRA office!
So, part of that project turn around was Ali's building up and hiring a wonderful staff. Most of them are young, but the youthful energy is well-balanced with some well-placed mature wisdom. Intelligence, drive and commitment are all universal qualities. As is fun-loving and caring. All of them have unhesitatingly welcomed me in and accepted me as their soon-to-be number 1.

And so this week we were taken to a variety of events, starting with Lam's engagement party (an event only the closest of friends are invited to here).

And all the food!

During a monthly staff meeting, one of the staff members decided to give a presentation on traditional Vietnamese mountain culture (from the Tay ethnic group). Visuals included powerpoint with pictures and description of traditional clothes, music and - these staff members modeling the traditional black dress:

BTW: They DO indeed wear those iconic conical hats on a daily basis around here, but not this particular ethnic group. You'll see plenty of pictures of those here in the future, I am sure.

Then there was the festival of floating cakes on December 22nd. Floating cakes are a traditional rice-flour ball boiled in a sugar/ginger syrup that are often eaten around the Winter Solstice to celebrate warmth in a time of cold and dark. One of the staff members decided it would be a great idea if we all went out one night to eat them - and eat we did!! Ate so enthusiastically that I even forgot to take a picture of the finished product!!

Then on Saturday Ali arranged to throw a Christmas party, complete with Santa Claus, but our staff decided that we needed a big Vietnamese feast to carry us through before hand. So they spent all morning cooking up a HUGE storm in our kitchen, while we frantically scrambled to decorate the conference room in advance of the arrival fo 45 (!) Christmas revelers!

(The Christmas hats were a Veitnamese addition...)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cao Bang - and ADRA in Cao Bang

So, wow, I've officially survived my first work-week in Cao Bang town. At first I was afraid this week was going to be overwhelming and non-stop work - the first day certainly was! But fortunately things got much easier on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and I hit the weekend tired, but feeling much more confident.

On Tuesday afternoon, our first full day in the ADRA office, we had a meeting with peer educator leaders from the local high schools. At the end of the meeting one of the students asked me what I liked best about Cao Bang town. I told him that for now it must be the office - because that was the only thing I had seen at that point! Fortunately, that has changed, but only a little.

So here I'll give you a bit about my work as I will come to know it: I work for ADRA in Vietnam. ADRA is the Adventist Development and Relief Agency. As you might guess, it's associated with the Adventist church, the same church that sponsors the school where I did my MPH degree, Loma Linda University.

ADRA is structured a little differently than other international NGOs, mostly in that each country office is entirely it's own entity and ADRA in Washington DC (or Silver Springs MD to be more precise) is more of an umbrella organization to its numerous regional and country offices. ADRA in Vietnam is a small project, and Cao Bang province is currently its biggest office and project base (they also do cyclone relief projects in the south and they're currently thinking about expanding more permanently in the south by setting up a regional office in Ho Chi Minh City).

Here in Cao Bang there are currently 3 large projects with 14 full-time staff and 2 part-time staff who are shared with the Ministry of Health (2 of the full time staff are also seconded from the ministry). Here's a quick breakdown of the projects as I understand them:

  1. ACHI: Adolescents Choose Health Initiative - by far the largest project involving the majority of the staff and budget and basically our bread-and-butter. It mostly consists of two major components. The first is a youth education including sex education, substance abuse education and life skills education which are carried out by the field staff and peer educators. The second component is a counseling component. Here staff maintain a hotline telephone and website counseling service for adolescents who are encouraged to ask/send questions about love, life and growing up, and our fabulous staff gives them all the answers to life! Wish I were a Vietnamese youth...

  2. ENSADE: Enhancing Safe Delivery for Ethnic Minority Women - this is one of the founding ADRA projects and one that is so well established that we don't have to stress much about it any more. This project is in close partnership with the Ministry of Health and works on improving knowledge and training for rural health care providers in ensuring safe delivery and reaching of underserved and minority populations. Mostly we're just concerned with how to scale up this project.

  3. New Start - the New Start project is the newest project, and it is a tobacco, alcohol and substance abuse research project with the long term goal of establishing grounds for a substance abuse intervention in Cao Bang town. Badly needed, but not a lot of local capacity for dealing with these issues. So this one is going to need more time and attention.

Of course there's a lot more to it than all of that, but I'm still trying to figure it all out myself. Somehow I'm supposed to learn about all of these projects, timelines, budgets, staff, policies and procedures, implementation, etc., etc., etc., by the end of this week so I can officially take over on January 5th. Whew, it's a huge learning curve, but I'll get there in the end. I only hope it's fast enough because, of course, it's not that all could be running smoothly, but there are already bumps in the road that are only going to make it all more challenging. But it's a fantastic opportunity - and a fantastic staff to be working with. I really feel blessed to be in this place at this time.

I only wish I could say hello to the people on the street downstairs...sigh, all in good time...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hanoi to Cao Bang

Here's some pictures from the ride from the capital city to the provincial capital of Cao Bang - where my office is located. It's about 270 km north of Hanoi into the mountainous highlands on the border with China. The road is generally good - a lot like the drive between Tana and Fianar in Madagascar. About 7-8 hours in the dry season, good paved road for the most part, but lots of wind-y mountain switchbacks and whatnot to deal with. This time we did get out of Hanoi until 1:30 in the afternoon, so I don't have a lot of pictures from the road. The first 1/3 of the trip is very built up and urban, and then it steadily becomes more rural until is almost all mountains for the last half into Cao Bang. It was dark by the time we reached the halfway point, so these pictures are from the first third of the trip. The light was hazy to begin with, so the quality isn't the greatest, but you'll get the point. Basically - it looks like Madagascar with water buffalo!

Saturday, December 16, 2006


I have to say, I think I like Hanoi as a capital city far better than I liked Tana in Madagascar. Now, the initial fascination may still wear off with time, but first impressions are important. I liked Tana well enough - it definitely had character...or something. Depending on how you viewed it, it had the ability to keep you completely enthralled with a single activity the entire day - or you wasted whole days trying to complete one measly errand. I don't know that Hanoi is any more efficient, but relative to Tana, 1) getting around is much simpler (metered taxis!!! I still can't get used to the idea that I can just jump in a cab and go rather than standing in the rain and bargaining to save my pocketbook) and 2) you can actually find stuff here. Streets have names. There are updated tourist maps. And 3) breathing the are is much, much, MUCH more enjoyable. I still am very happy that I am not living in Hanoi. It's fun, full of lights, and offers plenty of gastronomic and shopping orgy opportunities - all important factors for the expat life - but something that could get old very quickly, and probably best left for those regular trips back and not for every single night of the week options. But, for those of you who will best understand me - let me share a few of the reasons that Hanoi will be come my next favorite home away from home: 1) The morning motorbike taxi (xe om) commute to the office...and the tree-lined (!!) streets of Hanoi - this will be far more pleasant in the hot summer months than the treeless streets of Madagascar cities... 2) Who wouldn't love a country where "Young Green Rice" is a popular ice cream flavor?!?! BTW: In Hanoi there really is a surprising amount of French - but basically in the inverse of French/English in Madagascar. Menus in most restaurants are automatically in English, but the good ones have French translation. And I've run into a lot of French-speaking tourists in hotels. Most information is given in both French and English. But considering English is essentially non-existent outside of the capital, you can bet there isn't any French to fall back on either... 3) Okay, so not really a love, but what's up with this architecture? Granted, it can look nice when done right and viewed from the front... 4) REAL international food choices: over my first days/weekend in Hanoi, we ate American deli sandwiches everyday for lunch (yes, Jon, I know what you're thinking of me right now...), and real Indian, Thai, Italian, and Japanese (picture of Ali and one platter of sushi) for dinner. Oh, and then I almost forgot the fruit juices! Smoothies with every meal. And there will be more sampling for my next trip there. 5) Cleanliness. The streets are wide, tree-lined, and CLEAN. Sidewalks exist (although are usually used as motorbike parks), and main roads are wide and well-maintained. There's still narrow cobblestone back alleyways, but they're manageable. Oh, and those metered taxis? They're all practically brand new. No clunker old yellow Peugeots that leave you to wonder if they're actually going to make it to your destination. There are lakes scattered throughout the city, similar to Tana, and those are about as clean as in Tana, but hey, it is still a developing country. You do get more of that open-sewer smell that is ubiquitous in Tana, but it's intermittent enough that you are actually surprised when you suddenly happen upon it. 6) Number of beggars is sooooo much more manageable. And most often they are old, old, old people who walk around a bump you with those funny cone hats turned upside-down for collecting spare change - no annoying children that I've seen yet. I'm sure I will continue to discover things that I love and hate about my new central city, but all went well on the first meeting, and I have plenty reason to anticipate going there on a regular basis! Now...if I can only find some friends to share the city with...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Toto, this definately isn't Madagascar anymore...

I honestly can’t say why I’m surprised – I mean, Bangkok is well-known as a modern city which draws people with attractive prices on everything from designer goods to gourmet food and inexpensive cosmetic surgery. Yet somehow I was completely taken aback by how shiny and new it all is.

Not shiny in the way that I was necessarily expecting either. I wasn’t particularly surprised by the airport shiny-ness, all new and white marble and buffed metal. Even the airport limousine the hotel had sent for me wasn’t that shocking – I knew they’d made me a reservation at one of the nicer corporate hotels, and it does come at a price of 1,200 Baht (about $30). Something I didn’t realize is the Thai drive on the wrong side of the road with their steering wheels on the wrong side of the car – maybe shouldn’t have surprised me if I’d thought about it (former British colony, etc.), but my fuzzy sleep-deprived Madagascar brain wasn’t on top of that one.

No, it was the road that got me. I guess I was expecting golden temples and curvy turrets and narrow old streets – and I’m sure there are plenty of those to be found, but it’s late at night and I only went direct from the airport to the hotel. And within seconds of pulling out of the airport funnel way, I was completely shocked. It was 6 lanes wide, smooth and well marked. Big green signs hung over the lanes giving directions with street lighting illuminating clear striping demarking the mass of car lanes. Off to the side all one could see were modern sky-scrapers and multi-story office buildings and hospitals. In fact, if it weren’t for the gibberish characters on those green signs and the disconcerting seating of my driver on the wrong side of the car, I easily could have been fooled that I had landed back in American summer.

Everything here is shiny. The roads are smooth and shiny. The toll booths are shiny. The huge buildings are modern and shiny. All of the cars and taxis on the road are shiny. The people are smartly dressed and shiny. And of course my hotel is extravagantly shiny. New York City shiny. Suddenly I’m more thankful for those trips with Yvonne to New York for those performing arts conferences – at least I don’t openly gawk when I enter a place like this.

I’m beginning to feel very Madagascar scruffy. My bags definitely look scruffy. One of the bags was the first bag to come with me to Madagascar almost 4 years ago – it’s lived in Bealanana and Fianarantsoa and traveled back and forth from the States 3 times. It’s been prettier. The second bag was a Madagascar-bought little duffel that I hauled around with me on mission. It’s held together with duct tape. Not exactly a class act.

But I only have to get through one day here – and then we’ll see how I feel in Vietnam. I’ll probably still feel scruffy, but I hope it will be less of an insurmountable gap. Now I just have to figure out what I’m going to wear tomorrow.

Last days in Madagascar

I’m sorry I haven’t written any more after my big news announcement, but rest assured, we had a fantastic Thanksgiving (37 people!), and now that the turkey and chicken and potatoes and all else are nothing but a memory, I can say that I sucessfully finished out my time with my two projects, made sure things got handed over, and left the country with no more than the standard variety regrets. Meaning, I’m going to miss my friends and co-workers horribly, but I feel confident that the work will continue. I was blessed with one last weekend together with the people that have meant so much my last two years in Fianarantsoa – and I got to see Kristen and her new baby as they arrived on the Friday evening before I left for Tana. Then I went up to Tana and got down to work getting all of the last minute stuff up there. One of my friends just got a car there, making my last minute errands so, so much more sane. We did one last HASH (weekend hike in the countryside around Tana) with friends, and then, at 5 am on Monday morning, I was off!

And that is the tearless version of how I closed the door on nearly 4 years of my life. Last night as I closed the door to my hotel room behind the bellman, and the last words of volume I were written:

The End

I know this is anticlimactic, but that’s why there’s a volume II.