Saturday, January 30, 2010

Two Months To Go

Hard to believe it's almost here...going to treat the mosquito net tomorrow or set up the new tent to make sure I don't need to return it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

News Travel Slowly

As you know if you've been following along, I have been trying to keep up what is going on in Madagascar. The news coming out of the country are very delayed and I can often only find one or two stories. At a time when the political climate is in turmoil I am even more eager for news. What I have been able to find out this week is that the proposed March elections (which were suggested by Andry Rajoelina who took office by force last March) will not take place. There was a summit among delegates from the Southern African Development Community and they are calling for a return to constitutional order instead. Hmm, not sure how this will all play out.

I watched a video on Madagascar the other night and while the focus was on the eco-system I was a little surprised when they showed footage of the capital city. I expected it to be busy, crowded, noisy, etc. but it looked like a remote village with primitive roads, leaning shacks and lots of animal transportation. Sometimes it's interesting how civilized, industrialized and organized things are in places where you think they might not be. You could forget how far you are from home because you have access to the same things you might have there (supplies, transportation, internet cafes, etc.). Madagascar is definitely not looking like one of those countries where you would forget where you were.

In trip prep news, I had a negative TB test this week, got my prescription for antibiotics and sent in more money to Azafady for my deposit and my third form of trip insurance.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New Things

I went to my first Ashtanga yoga class last night. It was a very different experience from the yoga I have practiced before. There was chanting and singing and harmonium playing. There were advanced students in the back of the room doing all kinds of intense poses I had never seen before while the rest of us tried our best to follow along. With a new instructor and a classroom full of strangers, I started thinking about new experiences in general. I love them and I would like to think of myself as the kind of person who would try most things at least once (with the exception of sky diving and bungee jumping maybe).

It's interesting to observe myself in these situations as I turn into a more reserved version of myself. I enjoy choosing what to do next or where to travel. However, if I am trying new things by force and not by choice I am highly resistant, my attitude is either bad or I just panic in general. Like today, trying to switch our e-mail providers at work and feeling like I had no idea what I was doing. This was something new to me but became stressful. Maybe this is just insight for me to have a better attitude about all things new, chosen or not.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tentsational


I know it's not a word but here is my new tent! I ordered it from Overstock.com today. It was a great deal, got free shipping, has enough room for three (or just me and my stuff) and weighs 6.5 pounds! (And of course the 10 points per $ on my mypoints.com account don't hurt either.) I am excited to get it and practice putting it up so I look like a pro when I get to the campsite!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Closer


My visa came today! I also got my TB booster and my Rx for antibiotics, along with a Z pack for my sinus infection. Making progress!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2 in 1


I have been feeling crappy on and off for the past two weeks so I finally scheduled a doctor's appointment for tomorrow morning. I usually just like to let nature take its course but the idea of maybe getting rid of this sinus infection (maybe that's what I've got) faster and getting the TB test and antibiotics for my trip all in one visit was too good to pass up for one co-pay. I am also considering buying a lighter tent to help with the recent weight restrictions I discovered. I think it may be possible that although I could pay more for additional luggage it may be delayed for some reason and I'd rather keep everything down to the one bag if possible. Or I guess if any of you out there reading has a 2-3 person tent that weighs less than 6 pounds and want to lend it to me that would work too. The one pictured is on sale and weighs in at 6lbs, 1 oz.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Thanks!

I got a letter this week in the mail asking for support for one of our friend's 7 year old daughter to go to China with her mom on a missions trip in July. Reading it and considering our contribution was one of those exciting experiences that transported me back to July 1993 when my Aunt Linda and Uncle Gary sent me on a journey to Thailand for my 14th birthday present. They were living there for work and I flew alone to visit them for three weeks. 

To this day I can honestly say this was the most significant gift I have ever received (besides life of course Mom and Dad and the gift of grace but you get the idea). No other single experience has had as much impact on my life, career and passions than this trip. It's been almost 17 years, yikes, but I remember so many things about the wonders of traveling abroad for the first time, seeing how people on the other side of the world from me lived and the realization that we are not all that different from each other. 

I have thought about saying it often so I will just do it here because I know my uncle is following: thank you L & G for one of the greatest gifts ever, it still means so much to me. I am going to pay it forward and help another little person discover what a wonderful world we live in!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bad and Good News

I always think giving people a choice of which news they'd like first is funny. I guess I usually go with bad news first and then the good to soften whatever blow the bad news gave. I wonder what that says about me? Anyways, I have just done a little more trip work. (I have been in Seattle and Portland for work this week so I have neglected to do anything until now.)

So, the bad news is that I called Air Madagascar to finally figure out what their luggage table meant, it was very confusing. I put off my first call to them to book my ticket and again put off this call because I am not sure I will understand the representative well enough. Well, I understood alright but couldn't believe my ears and made her repeat herself three times just to make sure - and the limit is...one 20kg checked bag and one 7kg carry on. AHHHHHHHHHHHH! This comes to a grand total of 59lbs if you are wondering. She asked about who I was flying into the country on (Air France) and said "too bad you're not flying United then you could have two 30kg bags". =( So, I guess there is a magic formula for excess baggage fees where you pay 1.5% of your total ticket price per excess kg, which for me works out to $8.37/kg.

This is sort of evened out by my good news, which is that the Malarone prophylaxis is covered by my insurance but it's a higher level and will count as two months since I need 40 days worth and will cost me twice my maximum co-pay of $50, so $100 total. However, this saves me enough to bring a second 25lb bag! It's always one step forward one step back.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Namoroka


Brian came across this cool link for the newest version of Firefox. Check it out: http://www.mozilla.org/about/parks/. In trip news, the embassy called me back again today since they hadn't heard from me, there is hope for this process yet. I got a money order today for the visa and hope to mail it tomorrow.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Bad

So, I got a call from the Embassy today and they said everything looked good except they don't take personal checks. Whoops; I now need to get a cashier's check and mail that in. They said they would return my check when they return my passport and visa. This wouldn't be so bad but I am in Seattle on two sites visits so my chance of making it to a bank are slim and my current hotel has no free envelopes to steal either. I get back home on Thursday evening. Oh well, hopefully they will hang on to everything while they wait for the cash and they won't change their minds and be closed again. =)

Friday, January 8, 2010

It's Off

So, my visa application packet is officially off. I made a mistake on the FedEx label and left out a zero on the ZIP code for the embassy so I had to let them know and they said they added a zero, I didn't think to ask where they added it and I didn't want to be a complete pain and call again. I hope to get a return package from the embassy in the next couple of weeks!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Politique

Things have been a bit crazy with the political scene in Madagascar lately. The four main political groups have been in disagreement for some time and things have not returned to normal. International mediators have called for an election that restores democracy and power for the people. Their current leader seized power through a coup, is supported by the military and is resistant to the unity form of government that has been presented by others. You can read more here.

To top it all off I just read this morning that a cyclone is "probably" going to hit Madagascar on January 14th. Due to the current political climate, many foreign donors are wary to contribute aid. This is especially devastating to this country of extreme poverty as 5 cyclones have already struck over the past two years. I realize as I try to make sense of who is in power, what is going on and the work they face to come out of this political crisis that I know so little about world politics and events. There is so much to follow and so many things going on in the world that it sometimes seems overwhelming to keep up with any of it. I think it's important to start somewhere. Peace.

Monday, January 4, 2010

HA!

So, fifth call to embassy went through to the visa people. The woman told me what to send, the same items I had ready which is good, but she said to send a check for $120 for the visa. What? I asked why the guy last week said it was free and she said, "Oh he did not know what he was talking about." I heard back from Azafady today and they said that they do not advise bringing a transfusion kit (but it said to on page five of their survival guide) so I guess I'm off the hook for that. I am beginning to think the twilight zone feeling I get with this stuff sometimes is normal for this trip. The people from Azafady said that local people will do your laundry for a small fee, as long as they don't wash out my bug spray treatment that works for me!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Chemical Fun

I meant to mention this in my last post but here is the human-safe pesticides I mentioned time before last. I learned about this product at the clinic where I got my shots. The outer bottles are a spray that you apply to the inside and outside of your clothing prior to travel. They said you could skip socks and underwear. Each bottle covers four outfits and the bottle in the middle is a soak so I can treat the mosquito net properly. Very cool considering it would be hard to ensure even coverage of a net by just hand spraying. 

I figured I should wait until closer to my trip for the clothing as I don't know what I will bring for sure but I will probably do the net sometime this month, let it dry thoroughly and repack in the tiny bag. The clothing spray lasts up to 6 machine washings which is great - although I am pretty sure my laundry may be washed by hand - still waiting to hear back on that e-mail to Azafady. 

Finished reading the Lonely Planet guide today and learned that there are 3 distinct dialects of Malagasy and that in the coastal areas (where I will be) the classic dialect (which is in the dictionary I have and is the only one easily researched) is shunned.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Learning

So, I am getting back to putting in the pictures, I don't know if they help but I figure if no one wants to read they'll at least have something to see. I meant to take a photo of the bruises from my shots but I forgot and they are almost gone now. The side effects from the typhoid virus pills are finally gone too which is a nice change. I got my prescription for Cipro the other day ($4 for 20 pills) and got quotes on the malaria pills ($310 - which is more than the immunization clinic said they would be). My CVS pharmacist suggested I call my insurance provider to see if they would cover it, doubtful but worth a shot.

I have been reading up on Malagasy culture and traditions in one of the books I got for Christmas. Today I learned that my high school French should be adequate to get by in the city, which is great, but I will only be in the city for two out of 31 days and will still need to figure out Malagasy. I also learned that I should expect rice three meals a day and to avoid "toaka gasy" unless feeling brave - it is described as illegal and dangerous home-brewed rum, served in plastic buckets. Hmm, thanks for the warning!

Still haven't heard anything from the Hotel Sakamanga where I am trying to book a room for the last night before I fly home. I think it would be nice to take a hot shower and sleep in a bed before I fly the 36 hours or so home. If you want you can cross your fingers that my fifth call to the embassy will be a charm on Monday and I will get somewhere with the visa app.