Tactile Blog

Obligatory catch-up post

A lot has happened in the last month, but what hasn't transpired is a regular blog post. So, to treat this ailment, I'll administer this post, post-haste.

Coronavirus in Madagascar

Government announcements started on roughly the , the first two confirmed cases affecting recent international travellers to Tana (Antananarivo).

A few days later, the government shut down public gatherings at places like schools, churches, and later the national buses.

The government has tread lightly around locking down the markets. Malagasy rely on the markets for their sustenance and subsistence. To ban market activity would be a death sentence for most Malagasy.

Here in Mahanoro, we're quite remote and isolated from Tana - it takes 10 hours on the bus to get here. Regardless, we decided as a group to create our own isolated bubble, and sanction individuals from leaving the school and integrating with the local population. Only 3 out of the ~25 of us are allowed to head into town for the markets, with some rudimentary protections such as gloves, washing hands, not handling money, etc. Since our students are boarders and are dependent on the school for food, welfare, and accommodation, we couldn't just shut down. We live together already, so we proceeded as a family unit.

The remoteness of lockdown has impacted our students and local staff the most. Family is extraordinarily important to Malagasy people, to the point that if your family is sick, you should be with your sick family rather. With the travel ban, and Coronavirus being an ever-present threat, we thought it would be safer for everyone involved, including the student's families, that everyone stays put. So we presented our reasoning to the students, and they had to make the difficult decision of heading home by whatever means, or staying put and being separated from their homes, their families, their community. The decision was not easily made and we had our fair share of emotionally trying-times at the school.

As a nomad of sorts, I'm in a troubling position. South Africa hasn't asked me to return. And New Zealand doesn't regard me as a citizen yet. I just happened to be without a host country, away on a year-long contract to a large-but-remote Island in the Indian Ocean. Citizenship questions aside, it would be silly of me to run the gauntlet through Tana to get to either South Africa or New Zealand. And the best (or most effective) use of my time is spent on Onja and its 19 students.

So I returned to my role of web development lecturer.
I remember conducting the CSS lesson after the series of discussions and announcements, and feeling like a total fraud. Here I was, trying to put on my bravest face, trying the business as usual stance, and dying inside. Some of my students were seated, but they weren't present. Their faces scrunched up by troubling thoughts, fears, misgivings. I wanted to find a way to fix things, but any intervention could be troublesome. Maybe there would be relief in burying one's head in a lesson.

Time heals all wounds, right? Over the next few days – once the students came to terms with that difficult decision of staying at the school – the mood lifted. We soldiered on, finding comradeship in our shared mission. Laughter, and focus returned.

Easter incoming

This Easter break marks the first time all the students will be at the school for the entire holiday. It also marks the completion of our first semester, which has gone amazingly well. [A little on that later.]

To holiday-while-isolated, we've started pooling ideas for a number of activities that folks can opt-in for. Think…

I'm especially looking forward to learning some Malagasy boardgames, catching up on sleep, and introducing everyone to multiplayer strategy games.

Three months

It's been a smidgen over 3 months now since we started introducting the students to the technologies and processes and concepts that we as web developers use every day.

They've gained passing knowledge and wealthy experience in:

We've built our own simple blogs, styled up Grid-based Wordpress themes together, and learned how to debug them all using DevTools.

All the while, Mitantsoa and Sam have been drilling the students with pronounciation exercises, and furthering their English.

It's been fascinating learning how to interface with each indivudal student. Facets of their personalities and psychologies call for different individual approaches. Each student has their unique strengths and weaknesses, but we have an amazing group that is generally positive, loves sharing the load, and quietly gets on with the task at hand.

I'm thankful to be here.

Next up…

First, a well-deserved break. Then we'll come back to our established routine, but things will be slightly different. We'll be building on all the foundational skills we've been learning. Learning the abstractions, and using technology more to increase our effectiveness as burgeoning web developers.