Fixing a Hole
August 8, 2014, 2:45 PM

Hey buddies,

Yeah yeah, I know. I neglected this blog. Whoops. I promise it’s because of some very valid reasons, if that helps at all? I’m going to do things a bit differently this time since it’s been so long…instead of my usual fomba of word vomiting all over a 70-page blog post, I’m going to break my life up into smaller posts that seem a lot less daunting for me to write. Hope that’s cool.

So when we last talked, I told y’all about how my first trimester of my last year of teaching was going swimmingly. Since then, crazy amounts of change happened at site. The root cause…my weird love-hate relationship with my cursed bicycle. I’ve probably mentioned before how much I love riding my bike and how much my bike just hates letting me ride it. I’ve had this idea in my head ever since I moved to Andapa about how much fun (fun?!) it would be to bike all the way to Sambava in a day. It’s 104 kilometers on a super steep but paved road through some gorgeous mountains. This road was my Peace Corps goal. I had to bike it. It became an obsession. Finally, I convinced another PCV in my region to bike it with me, because I’m not crazy enough to tackle this road solo. Besides, absolutely 0% of my Malagasy friends would let me go alone. So we chose a random Saturday and set out. It was definitely one of the most physically challenging things I’ve ever done…but we finished! It was such a unique experience, getting to see the beautiful countryside and meeting really friendly people (who thought we were out of our minds for biking that road) along the way. I was so happy to finally conquer that road. But after the adrenaline of the ride wore off, the real fun began. Cue a story about an injury…

During one part of the trip, I was crossing a metal bridge in the rain, my tires lost traction, and I wiped out hard. I didn’t think much of it. But then, about a week later, I started experiencing some pretty intense tailbone pain. After a few conversations with the Peace Corps doctors, turns out the trauma of my fall plus me finishing that grueling bike ride did some pretty serious damage to my tailbone. Typical Ari move. So I got flown to Tana for some doctor visits, and there I was told that I needed to have surgery (of all of the things!) to fix whatever I messed up. There’s nothing quite as scary as having surgery in a developing country…but I am, in fact, extremely lucky. The Peace Corps doctors were so great with me and put me in an exceptional hospital here in Madagascar. I spent only one night and two days in the hospital, and I had a few PCV friends and staff come pay me a visit. I felt properly taken care of and everyone was very professional. The only downside (including the amount of pain I experienced) was that this whole stupid tailbone surgery business really disrupted my groove at site. I was in a serious rhythm in my teaching/work in Andapa, and I had to stay in Tana for a while until I was healed. I understand that maintaining my health is priority number one for being an effective PCV, but it was a bummer that I was stuck spinning my wheels in Tana while my students in Andapa waited anxiously for my return. When I did get home to site, though, I was so touched by how my Malagasy support system in Andapa mobilized so quickly to help me out. My teacher friends at my schools helped me with my classes while I was gone, while my other Malagasy friends went to the hospital with me every day and helped me do some basic errands that I still wasn’t strong enough to do on my own yet. It was comforting to be surrounded by my family at site during such a strange and painful time.

The surgery and healing process took about two months from start to finish, and while I’m happy to report that I’m basically back to normal, the whole business really put some things into perspective for me. First of all, I was so thankful to have the support of Peace Corps behind me, providing me with access to medical services most Malagasy people don’t have the opportunity to use. If a fellow Andapa resident had an accident and injury like mine, I have absolutely no idea what could have been done. Surgery is astronomically expensive, especially to have it in a clean, sterile, and safe facility in Tana. Plus, I’m lucky enough to have a good medical facility (staffed with some of the nicest people I’ve met in SAVA) directly situated in Andapa that helped me with daily post-op checkups, but other villages are nowhere near as fortunate to have access to that kind of medical care, even in the far outskirts of Andapa. Countryside residents also don’t have the kind of money needed to pay for multiple doctors visits and sterile medical supplies (you’re expected to buy your own med supplies here, and that stuff ain’t cheap). Bottom line, the whole debacle was a stark illustration of how far Madagascar has yet to go in regards to its infrastructure. I see such promise in this country for greatness, but subpar infrastructure, like insufficient health systems, hinders individuals from actualizing their own individual potential. I see people in my town constantly missing work because of upset stomachs (bad water), malaria (no bed nets/mosquito education), toothaches (no access to quality dentists), or other easily preventable health problems. While I’m grateful and thankful to be healed now, it took me a while mentally to fathom the implications of what I experienced for my Malagasy family and friends.

Ever since my accident, I have been extremely wary of my bike. I’m convinced it has bad juju or something. A prime example: One day, a few weeks after my surgery, I was biking home from the hospital in Andapa from a post-op checkup (I have to bike to get there; it’s too far. A weird catch-22 type of situation for someone with a bike-related injury). I made it as far as the CISCO where I live, only to have my bike get hit and half-mangled by a passing bus whose driver wasn’t paying attention. Luckily, my catlike reflexes kicked in for once in my life and I managed to dive off in time to avoid getting hurt, right into a market stall. Oranges everywhere. It was yet another attempt by my bike to do me in. Enough is enough, bike. Cut it out.

Bottom line, in spite of all this bike-related drama, nowadays I am very happy and healthy, so no need to worry. I might still have a lingering fear of long bike rides, but hopefully that will pass with time.

I’m going to cut myself off here, but I’ll write again soon with more life updates. Much love.

Amanaraka koa,


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