Above is a picture of questions from a final exam I gave today in my American Studies course. My plan was to print the exam out in the department office. However, the power was cut when I got to campus to do the printing. Tapaka ny jiro, as they say here. I often joke with people that after manahoana (hello) and misaotra (thanks), people likely learn tapaka ny jiro next, because, well, the power is always cut. When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and taught English at Lycee Ambatofinandrahana, I would write my exams on the board, because we had no electricity in our village except for 30 minutes or so in the late afternoon. When I first encountered the problem of no electricity as a Fulbright Scholar, I did as a friend said to me the other day: go with what you know. I have been doing the last few quizzes like this (sometimes just writing the questions as above and then reading off the possible answers), because the power has been frequently out due to a lack of electricity, which is due to a lack of rain as some portion of the electricity is hydroelectric powered.
Going back to writing the exams on the board was a good reminder to me about flexibility. I think that one lesson I learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer that has certainly carried over to my Fulbright is that you have to be flexible to get things done in Madagascar. If the bush taxi doesn't leave for another four hours, then tsy maninona (no problem). Or if there is no electricity today, tsy maninona, let's find a way to get it done. So you have to go to six places to do something that would require one stop in the states, tsy maninona, let's do it and be done with it. I remain in awe of the gap between the attitudes toward tolerating inconveniences and hardships that exists between Malagasy and Americans. Malagasy people often seem willing to accept their condition and try to find a way around the problem or just live with the problem, while Americans are mostly the opposite--often unwilling to accept their condition and seemingly always ready to complain. I think that the right attitude is probably somewhere in the middle of these two. Malagasy people seem to be too tolerant of hardships at times (but, of course, what can be done?) while Americans seem to be severely hardship-phobic in many cases. There are things in life that must be endured and there are things to which people must say, "This is not right and should not be endured." And, of course, it is not always easy to know how to sort the events and phenomena that cross our paths into these two categories.
I know for certain that my time in the Peace Corps helped me to deal with the bumps in the road in life, and I know for certain that I learned valuable lessons from my Malagasy friends about perseverance and flexibility. Seeing people work together to achieve something without giving up hope when they routinely face difficulties before them teaches you some things. For all of us, it's true that you never know quite how things will turn out, so it's good to keep working at it, remain positive and hope for the best. If you are with some other people who feel that in their hearts, then you are in good company. And if you fail, at least you fail with good friends. If you succeed, then all the better.
For what it is worth, after I had written half of the exam on the board, the power came back on and I was able to print my exams out in the department office. This reminded me of something that my wife, Emily, and I often said when we were volunteers. Things just seem to work out here. Perhaps it is the event-related conception of time that gives more slack and flexibility in the day's schedule thereby allowing for more ability to accommodate things. I am not sure. We were often amazed by how things just seem to come together in Madagascar in ways that they never would in the states. I think that a large portion of that has to do with the flexibility built into the day. And I think some portion of that has to do with the attitude that for me is expressed by tsy maninona. The attitude that says it doesn't matter, let's hang in there, let's get it done some way or other. Even if it's tough, here we are together, so let's do it.