When I first learned the news that I had been placed to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in the mountainous highlands of Madagascar I was heartbroken. My language teacher Dr. Jaotombo, who is from Diego, the tropical hub of Madagascar, got my hopes up by telling me that I might be a good fit to replace a PCV that would be closing her service up north in the Diego region. But as it turns out, on Friday, June 30th, 2017 my dreams of coconut trees, hot blazing sun and beautiful endless shorelines were crushed. On that cool, sunny yet breezy afternoon, up in the cold mountains of Mantasoa, I learned that I will be serving in the Bestileo region of Madagascar in a town called Sahambavy.
Sahambavy is a small town located in the southeast central highlands of Madgascar. The closest city to Sahambavy is Fianaratsoa (Fianar) which is dubbed the “education capital” of Madagascar. Sahambavy literally means "The women's field" in Malagasy. Although I was still coping with the loss of not being able to serve in an ocean paradise; a part of me was still very excited for the adventures that awaited me in this new and obscure region of Madagascar. Sahambavy is a beautiful picturesque sea of very green tea fields, and it is home to the only tea plantation in all of Madagascar. It has a population of roughly 20,000 people. The majority of the population works as either farmers or by raising livestocks in the many of the farms located in town. The most important crop in Sahambavy is vary (rice), which seems to be the most important crop in all of Madagascar. Cassava and potatoes are also popular to the Fianar region. Sahambavy is also home to the Canadian owned Lac Hotel (Lake Hotel) which is a 5 star, eco friendly resort, located right next to the Lake Sahambavy.
Sahambavy is also one of the final stops on the Fianaratsoa-Cote Est (FCE) railway, the famous antique train that Anthony Bordain and film director Darren Aronofsky took when they filmed an episode of Part Unknown in Madagascar. The train goes from the town center of the city of Fianaratsoa, all the way to the beautiful coastal town located right next to the Indian ocean, Manakara. During the winter season, in the highlands, cold winters reach temperatures as low as 45 degrees, and during the hot seasons weather spikes up to at least 90 degrees. Unlike the highlands the coastal regions tend to have more of a tropical climate and their winters are very mild in comparison to the Fianar region.
I would be lying if I told you that I was initially ecstatic to find out I would be spending the next 2 years living in Southeast central highlands of Madagascar. When I was originally invited to serve in Peace Corps Madagascar, all I could think about was a tropical island paradise in the middle of the Indian ocean. However, once I arrived in country, I learned that Madagascar is HUGE, it is the 4th largest island in the world. Climate wise Madagascar is also very diverse, with the mountainous central highlands having more variety as far as seasons and having colder winters. Me being that Afro-Dominican that I am, I wanted to be placed by in a coastal town by the ocean. I wanted to get away from the harsh New England winters and experience 2 years of hot tropical weather, similar to what they have in the Caribbean, where my family is from. But 2 years of serving in tropical weather was not what destiny had in store for me...
When I made the commitment to become a Peace Corps volunteer I committed myself to serve my country of service under conditions that may somewhat be considered “harsh”. Going into this experience I knew that it would be challenging yet rewarding, I knew that there would be many adjustments I would need to make, especially as an individual that has grown up in the United States of America. Going into this I knew I would be giving up many of the western world amenities I am used to back home in Boston.
When I first visited Sahambavy back in July, during my pre service training “site visit” I could not help but notice the beauty of all of the rice fields, the hypnotizing green of the tea fields located in town and the picturesque mountains located nearby. When I finally installed on Wednesday, September 14th, 2017, I was greeted by all of the elders in town, they were all extremely happy to have another Peace Corps volunteer serving in their community. Sahambavy is no tropical island paradise and it gets very cold during the winter season. But Sahambavy has a beauty of its own, its own wisdom, and charm that is waiting for me to discover it. When I signed up for Peace Corps I did not sign up for a 27 months vacation. For me, my Peace Corps service is about putting my needs and wants aside and aiding a community that really needs it. That being said, I am very eager to overcome the winter season in the highland and experience all the beauty and wisdom Sahambavy, Madagascar has to offer.
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