On my way into Tana on Sunday I thought that I really didn’t want to leave site. I had just gone to Fianar to watch Obama’s inauguration speech and had only been back at site for a few days before leaving for a conference at our training center. Usually when I know I need to be in either Tana or Fianar I can’t wait to go. The attraction of the internet or the pull of the beer at Hotel de France or the fear that I’m missing out on fun with other arriving volunteers forces me onto the first brousse out of site. But this time, I took the last brousse out, and wished I didn’t need to attend this conference that was taking me into the capitol a week ahead of a planned two-week training session (to prepare for the next group of volunteers!).
But the trip in was pleasurable. I admired the greenness of “my” highlands, the effect of all the recent rains, and enjoyed an uneventful (so rare!) arrival in Tana and easy negotiation for a cab to the Peace Corps bunk house. Surprisingly, the cab driver said there was vaovao in Tana. He explained that there was a fight between the mayor in Tana and the President of Madagascar.
We passed lots of people demonstrating along the streets. People had parked their cars on the medians, their car radios blaring the political speeches and the news through open doors and windows so the crowds could hear. My driver said that people were angry because the President gets richer while the people get poorer. I’ve heard that view often since arriving last February and naively thought it was good to see some peaceful political activism in the capitol.
However, a few hours later and a few blocks away, we heard of angry mobs burning down the President’s radio and tv station (supposedly retribution for the President’s closure of and damage to the opposition station), then we heard about buildings burning, and finally looting and most unfortunate, the death of one or two people caught in the crowd.
The eight of us here at the bunk house are not able to leave but with nowhere to go anyway. Most supplies and gas are efa lany so the shops are closed and there are no taxi be, taxikely or taxi brousses. Peace Corps has taken good care of us: keeping up informed, driving us in a 3-car caravan to get rice and beans and money, and we are safe and lucky to be well-stocked and out of harm’s way (though shocked by the sight of the trashed streets and hazy smoke in Ankorondrano).
If I had remained at site, I would not even know about this political unrest. I probably would not have believed that the Malagasy would exhibit such discontent. But since this did happen, I’m glad I could experience it surrounded by the wonderful Peace Corps staff who explained a lot of the news to me and also shared their emotions with us. Their concern for their fellow residents and the future of their country made me proud to be here working with them, and made me realize just how much I do want to stay here. I still have so much work to do!
I am keeping my fingers crossed that in 2009 I will see the rebuilding of Madagascar’s fragile democracy, the arrival of the new wave of volunteers and the lessening of conflicts of interest. We are all hopeful that the violence is over.