Sunday, May 27, 2012

Lost and Found

This week I made an incredibly difficult decision. After two weeks of not sleeping and being overwhelmed with anxiety because of rats and other ridiculous creatures living in my house, harassment every time I went into town and a few other frustrations, I have decided to return to the U.S.

I spent a year of my life preparing for this commitment but realized I was not up for the challenge of living at my site for two years. I feel guilty for having to make this decision but my body was taking the toil of non-stop anxiety and I realized I could not be an effective volunteer in my current mental state. Many other volunteers live with rats and various infestations, as well as harassment, but it was difficult for me to overcome these obstacles. It’s hard trying to explain concepts surrounding mental health, such as anxiety and depression, through cultural barriers.

On the upside to all of this mess I’ve created, I feel like I finally know what I need to pursue for the first time in my life. I realize how important my family and friends are to me, how necessary it is for me to have some form of familiarity in my life and how my life shouldn’t have to be defined by massive achievements but rather the small ones. I’ve learned more about my personal strengths and weaknesses through this. The way that knowledge will benefit future decisions I make is priceless. I only wish I could have learned these things without disappointing so many people.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people here and I have the utmost respect for my fellow PCVs. I wish them the best of luck with their endeavors here in Mada! 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Batter Up!

I thought I’d devote a short entry to another one of my many roommates – the endemic Madagascar hissing cockroaches! I have never enjoyed squishing bugs to eliminate their presence in my home, specifically the very juicy ones. So why would I start here with their very massive relatives? Since my typical approach to pest control is irrelevant here (a steady stream of hair spray to drown the unwanted guest), I’ve turned to my broom. All it takes is one accurate steady swing and an open door and they are quickly on their way. One doesn’t have to worry about them taking flight as long as you get ‘em out on the first swing, which so far I’ve managed to do (thank God). Also, this way they go on their merry way back in the wild. I must note - not all take this approach. One of my friends next door quickly smashes giant cockroaches barefoot without hesitation. The only advice I have to pass on regarding this method is to go heel first (as one Peace Corps volunteer informed me). Otherwise, it could squish between your toes.  I hope to never EVER have to resort to squishing! I’ve included a photo to give you an idea of how big they are (larger than a lighter). I’m going to be a pest control specialist upon return to the U.S.!

Akoho...the gory details

In an effort to stop editing my Peace Corps experience for this blog, I’m going to attempt to include more of the good, bad, pretty and the not so pretty; therefore, enjoy the next couple of true life stories.

Disclaimer: If you have a queasy stomach, skip this entry.

Each evening I sit and visit with my neighbors (the 15+ people who live next door that I’m not entirely sure how they are all related) while they prepare dinner for us to eat. When I say “visit” I mean mostly me listening and watching while attempting to understand the conversation. Most days there’s something amusing to observe between all of the many children and livestock. Late one afternoon this week I took my usual stroll next door and went to see what one of the girls was preparing in the large pot of boiling water. I leaned over the pot to see her pulling the skin off of chicken feet and cleaning it’s freshly severed head. I then watched her chop off each of its toenails (manicures do exist here!), cut open the stomach and dump out its contents, which the dog gladly consumed, and then begin to butcher the remaining pieces further. Her little brother (or who I assume is her little brother) would hold one end of a chunk of meat while she held the other end and sliced down the middle. The funniest part of this whole scene was watching the brother twirl the intestines around a stick and then later proceed to feed the detached beak to the dog. To paint the picture a little better for those back in the states – these really are still children – probably around the ages of 8 and 12. It’s interesting to watch all of the ways in which children participate so avidly in household activities compared to the U.S. One would never hand a machete to a child back home but here it’s common place.

While I know this entry might gross many people out and make others think I’m a bit twisted for enjoying watching this event, it’s probably just a sign that I’m beginning to adjust more to life in Mada!

Sorry I don’t have pictures to include with this entry, but it's probably best I spare you of those. 

Meditate on this

For those who know me fairly well, you know my affection for meditation. In the midst of my current state, meditation has been a wonderful centering point and relaxation method to keep me focused on the present moment and less overwhelmed by this massive transition that’s currently underway - just my mat, an open door, mosquito coils (mock incense – ha!) and a gorgeous view. I’ve begun to devote time each morning to sitting and reflecting. This piece of serenity has helped to get my day started in a more positive direction. I’m incredibly thankful for the retreat that my little cottage provides from the bustle of the main part of town. Other sources of sanity include dance parties of one, coloring the Alice in Wonderland coloring book I brought from the U.S. for kids (but I think I’m going to keep it for myself, lol) and strumming my uke.

"Alice found herself tumbling down a rabbit hole!",
appropriately hung beside Mada on the world map.
View from my meditation mat
It’s not that this culture is terribly difficult to live in – life is in some ways the same – but it’s adjusting to the feeling of being a foreigner in my own life. I feel like I’m under a magnifying glass every time I’m in public and every move I make is being critiqued, even when it’s much like my Malagasy counterparts.  

One of the things I miss the most is being able to go grocery shopping – American style. To be able to browse aisles leisurely, not have to barter because I’m a vazaha and not be harassed. It’s so silly that grocery shopping should be the thing to miss most but I love to cook. Currently, I dread having to go buy even eggs. It will become the norm before long (I hope anyway) and perhaps in two years I’ll miss the crazy markets here. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

I am finally at my site where I will spend the next two years serving as a volunteer. Life is still pretty bizarre but I’m getting more used to all of the strange differences.

My house is exactly what I imagined when I first envisioned serving in the Peace Corps – a quaint little wooden house with no electricity or running water. It’s surrounded by trees (mostly coconut) and plants, which is surprising since most of Ambovombe is covered with sand and isn’t very lush. Each day I hike through the cactus-lined road filled with sand to get to the main road. I feel privileged to have a little oasis in the middle of such a dry climate. I also have wonderful neighbors who have been really helpful and great company for me.

Someone sent a memo to all of the critters (for lack of a better term) that I was an animal whisperer. I have at least one, if not more, rats (or mice – not sure at this point) living in my roof whom I’ve threatened several times if they decide to make themselves shown. I’m quickly making friends with the neighbor’s cat who can hopefully help me with the uninvited company. I also have a contract with the many spiders who hang out that they are welcome to stay only on the basis that they come out only at night to feast on the other unwanted company and go back home before I get up in the morning. The second morning here I went out to my kabone and after popping a squat realized there was a small snake staring back at me while I peed. And lastly, on a much less threatening note, there are lots of cute green lizards that hang out around my roof.

A few good things…

·         I drank coconut water with the girls next door the other day and realized how all of the little moments will make this experience worthwhile. It can be daunting to think about the big picture as a whole and it’s much easier to try and focus on the enjoyable small moments.

·         Another good moment – I had donuts my first morning here! While they were Malagasy style instead of American, they had glaze, which rocked my world.

·         Other good food finds include a bread similar to Hawaiian bread in the states – oober yummy, homemade peanut butter (1 kilo for the equivalent of $3 USD) and delicious homemade yogurt.

  • A few days before I arrived here the goat next door gave birth and we have an adorable baby goat running around.
·         Yesterday I saw geese bathing in a cuvette, which is a giant plastic tub we use to wash clothes. It seems so simple but it was funny to watch at the time.

·         I’ve had the opportunity to make several contacts thus far for work, which is an encouraging start after only being a site for a few days. My job description is still quite vague but essentially I am working with an association that assists artisans in the area and also serves as an information resource for locals with a cyber cafĂ© and small library filled with tech specific books.

That’s all for now! I’ll post pictures of my house once I finish getting settled in. I have, however, already hung my hammock! J


Enjoy some pics from the road on the way to Ambovombe from Ft. Dauphin.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Complete PST...Check!

It's been several weeks since my last post due once again to a lack of internet. I've processed so many emotions and circumstances since then; it's really hard to determine where to begin writing. It feels so strange at only a few months in to be so disconnected from what is happening in the rest of the world and overwhelming to even try to catch up at this point. And also scary to imagine what it will feel like after two years of that disconnect.

I've now officially completed Pre-Service Training, which was definitely intense. It was hard for reasons I expected and many I did not. The language kicked my butt but mainly because I switched dialects midway through training and essentially started from scratch. I'll be living in the Androy region, which speaks the Antandroy dialect deemed one of the most difficult to understand by Peace Corps Volunteers, as well as locals. I was also the only one in my stage learning this particular dialect, which in turn gave me no one to really practice with; however, my language skills will increase greatly once I get to site and hear it on a daily basis.

I'm currently underway in the installation process staying in Fort Dauphin. Today we shopped for a few items we'll be taking to site, such as mattresses and random household items. Tomorrow we are installing another person from my stage in St. Luce and then we'll be going to Ambovombe on Wednesday.

I am already cognoscente of the many ways my perceptions of the world in which we live are going to change. I daydream at times about a variety of things I miss from the U.S. and how amazing it will be in two years to have those things again - mostly in response to the culture shock I am now beginning to recognize that I'm experiencing. I was in denial that I was experiencing it at all until fairly recently - perhaps because the word "shock" always seems so dramatic that it didn't feel entirely appropriate for this emotional state.

This experience has thus far helped me to gain immense insight about who I am as an individual and a better idea of how I fit into this great jigsaw puzzle that is our world. I am most grateful at this point for the contentment I have gained for my life back in the U.S. Up to this point I've been a change junkie always transforming various details of my life in a search for greater happiness. I'm beginning to realize how the little things that I took for granted have a greater impact upon my life than any drastic change I could ever wish to make.

There are many stories that I could share from the past couple of months but I'll have to determine how to begin. Instead I'll end here for now and share a few more pictures.


Pic 1: Artisan wood carving we saw on our tech trip
Pic 2: Malaria mural I helped paint in Mantasoa
Pic 3: Landscape in Fort Dauphin


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Where should I begin? It’s been 5 weeks and this is my first post. Many apologies! I haven't had internet access until this point and probably won't again for several weeks. Thus far, I've primarily seen semi-rural and rural sites within Madagascar and in response to those, here are a few cultural adjustments that might interest friends and family…
  • Using the kabone! Or as it was formally called – the toilet. What is a “kabone” you may ask? It’s an outside wooden stall with a hole and two bricks for your feet. Use your imagination to put the rest together. Let’s just say aiming skills are very important.
  • Taking bucket baths! It’s amazing how little water you actually need to get cleaned up.
  •  I have officially seen a chicken butchered! I'm hoping to get my chance to do the deed during the Trainees' Peace Corps Olympics that I've been told is happening at some point during our training. 
  • I got the pleasure (ha!) of fetching water from a well on a daily basis during home-stay. The ladies here are ripped and can do this in no time. My guns felt the burn the first several days.
  •  I've eaten rice at least twice a day during Pre-service Training. This is definitely the rice capital of the world! I was surprised at how good most of the food is here. I expected more difficulty transitioning my diet but it’s been fairly smooth. In the highlands fruits and vegetables are fairly common to come by and the pineapples, mangos and bananas are fantastic! However, I do not share the Malagasy’s affection for fried foods- oil overload for me.
Where will I be living and what will I be doing?

I received my site placement March 26 and will be living in Ambovombe, Madagascar for the next two years working for Franco-Malagasy Association doing IT work, as well as small business advising for associations of artisans in the area. 

Other Random Thoughts…

Within the first week or so, it no longer felt strange to be living here and my body had fully adjusted to the increase in carbohydrates and time change. It’s taken a little longer to get used to the lack of guilty pleasures, such as favorite foods, drinks, places, people and shows (my external hard drive committed suicide week two but perhaps it’s for the better – now I’m forced to break my media addiction - and my home for the next two years doesn't have electricity anyway). Pre-service training has been for the most part what I expected. The most difficult task has definitely been learning the language. Some days we have language class for almost four hours in the mornings. I started a new dialect this week for the region I'll be moving to, which meant a lot of what I had previously learned went out the window and I started from scratch. There have been highs and lows – days where I felt confident in my ability to do this and days where I had to put my headphones on and find my inner zen (Thank God for music!)....and on my last random note - I have some hot farmer tan lines…rawr!

Enjoy a few pictures from Mantasoa, Madagascar where training is taking place.