THIS BIRD HAS FLOWN


Because
November 28, 2013, 3:22 PM
Filed under: PEACE CORPS MADAGASCAR

Hey there, world.

So. It’s been a silly amount of time since I’ve posted in this blog. At first, I didn’t write because I couldn’t (get to that in a sec), and then, as time passed, I just got crazy busy over here in Madagascar and haven’t had a second or the internet to do so. I know many of you ask how life is going over here, so I owe you a big post or three about what’s been going on. I’m going to try to split these updates into a few organized posts so it’s not just a bunch of overwhelming Ari-style ramblings.

First things first, though, I need to address the elephant in the blog-room…that whole neo-Nazi incident. I should start by saying that I am okay. I was just rattled and disturbed, but bottom line is that I’m safe and sound. So here’s what happened. Back in April, I woke up one morning before biking out to teach in the countryside only to discover around 40 emails in my Georgetown account from unknown individuals, all following an anti-Semitic, hateful, and threatening theme. I had no idea where they were coming from or what prompted them, but as I was late, I had no time to investigate. When I returned home from teaching that afternoon, I checked my email again, only to discover that the number of emails had increased to something around 75ish without sign of slowing down, and the tone was becoming more disturbing and threatening (aka garbage like “I hope you die” and “I know where you live” blah blah blah). Naturally, I was freaked out, and I felt a bit helpless because I didn’t have the internet access at site to properly deal with it. I contacted some Georgetown professors and administrators that I still keep in touch with and they got the ball rolling on the administrative side to see where the emails were coming from. In the meantime, a good Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) friend suggested I contact the Country Director (CD) of Peace Corps directly, since I had no idea how I should handle the situation. The CD was very helpful and she suggested that I shut down my blog and Facebook for the time being (since I was getting comments/messages on both pages too) and see how Georgetown could help me. When I woke up the next day, the threatening emails continued to flow in. I noticed one from a moderator on Reddit, who was kind enough to tell me that I was all over a “Men’s Rights” (wtf?) Sub-Reddit dedicated to bashing and harassing me. After doing some investigating on my own, I discovered that I was the subject of numerous message board threads on various Men’s Rights and neo-Nazi websites (one, ironically enough, I used as a source for my thesis – ha), complete with my photos, personal information about my life here in Madagascar and back in America, and threats against my family and me. It was incredibly unsettling. Because of the nature of the threats, Georgetown began working with the FBI. With the new, alarming information (like the fact that my photos and death threats were posted all over the internet, along with my family’s home address and phone number), the CD decided to bring me to Tana so I help out the FBI and use the internet to deal with what was going on. It was a very stressful period, because the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the US Embassy and Peace Corps had to reevaluate my security situation at site to determine if I would even be allowed to return. After around a week and a half of uncertainty about my future here, I was given the green light to go back to site. Cue the sigh of relief.

I wish I could say that since I’ve returned back to Andapa everything’s gone back to normal. Unfortunately, internet crimes like this have an incredible staying power. If you Google me at all right now, you’ll see what I mean. However, I will say that I am so thankful that everyone mobilized so quickly to help me out when I had no idea how to deal with what was happening. Peace Corps took me seriously and got me access to resources, while my friends at Georgetown and my family worked tirelessly on my behalf to stop the threats. And my PCV friends were so supportive. My deepest gratitude for all of your help during that time! Whether you were talking to the FBI for me or sending me an email to ask how I was doing, everything helped. Thank you times a million.

So what exactly happened? Why was I the target of some crazies? Well, here’s what I could gather. Somewhere in the interwebs, there was an anonymous blog that talked about alarming admissions practices at Georgetown (obviously untrue) that put white males at a disadvantage. This blog angered “Men’s Rights” and “White Rights” supporters, who then launched a campaign to find out the identity of the blogger. The blogger mentioned defending her dissertation in 2012, so these people assumed, without any evidence, that this woman went to Georgetown. After accessing the Georgetown library thesis database and cross-referencing it with the date of the blog’s dissertation post, they stumbled upon my thesis, which just happened to be published during the same month. A really unfortunate coincidence, and some seriously bad luck on my part. After reading my thesis (which, ironically enough, talks in detail about the neo-Nazi movement and is openly harsh and critical about their methodologies), these people were even angrier, and now were armed with an identity to attack: mine. And that’s where it all began.

For the record, I should state the following: I am not the author of the “Feminist Conservative” Blog. I have never worked for Admissions at Georgetown University. I have never written a dissertation at Georgetown – I graduated magna cum laude from the undergraduate School of Foreign Service after writing an undergraduate Justice and Peace Studies thesis. And that’s that.

I don’t like feeling as though I have to defend myself against people who did not use any actual evidence to draw their conclusions, but since this is the internet and the information is out there, I feel obligated. It still blows my mind that this kind of thing goes on AND that it could seriously affect my life all the way over here in Madagascar. But for now, I’m trying to focus on the present and enjoying every moment of being a PCV. I hope this write-up of what happened answers your lingering questions, but feel free to contact me if you are confused. It was surprisingly difficult for me to sum up that crazy two-week period into a single blog post, and I might have sacrificed clarity for concision. So, don’t be afraid to holler, I don’t mind talking about it.

Let’s change the subject, shall we?

Right before all that shit went down, I just finished an amazing Easter 2013 vacation. Some close PCV friends and I decided to travel to Ile Sainte Marie and Ile Aux Nattes, a small set of islands off of the east coast of Madagascar. Before reading any further, please either a) google these places or b) stalk my photos on Facebook that I posted a while back so you can have a mental image of how amazingly beautiful this place is. To get there, I met up with my friends in Tana, and then we took a bus to a boat (travel time: maybe 2 days total). We spent a little over a week on the main island of Sainte Marie. We spent our days lounging around on the beaches and exploring the island. One day we traveled north out of the main town to visit a waterfall and natural pool, which was beautiful. We also visited the oldest church in Madagascar and the famous “pirate cemetery,” which to me seemed a bit hoax-y but was still kind of cool. After exploring Sainte Marie, we took a dugout canoe to Ile Aux Nattes, the tiny island to the south of Sainte Marie. That place is pure paradise. There are no roads on Ile Aux Nattes, just footpaths and bungalows. It’s the most peaceful place I’ve been in…well, as long as I can remember. I loved how isolated and quiet it was. Apparently, during whale season, you can see whales breeding and playing around right from the doorway of your bungalow. We weren’t so lucky since it wasn’t season, but I could sit on the porch of my bungalow and watch the tide come in. What the what? How is that real life? We spent our time there enjoying each other’s company, eating amazing food, and playing around on the beach. The island is so small that you can actually walk around the whole circumference in around two hours. On that hike, we saw lemurs and some amazing views of the beach. Ugh, I miss it. I was back in Andapa for maybe around a week before the whole neo-Nazi craziness kicked in. At least I had vacation memories to comfort me in the wake of stress! Great people, great food, great place = great vacation.

That’s enough rambling for one post. I’ll write again soon with updates from my whirlwind of a grandes vacances (aka summer vacation, but here it’s winter!).

Much love to you all, and again…thanks for your support back in April. Means the world.

Amanaraka koa,
Arianna

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