Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"WELCOME TO MADAGASCAR!" "Mada-who-ah?" "No, not who-ah, ascar!"

This is another blog post entered by Becca's Mom, due to Becca's lack of internet access. (She wasn't able to get the access she mentions.) For those of you who received an e-mail from her last week, there will be some repetition. This was dated October 20,2007.

We've been in Mad-land for 3 weeks now - which is hard to believe on every level. In some ways it feels like 3 years, in others, 3 days - either way, I'm alive, well and very happy. If you were planning on relying on my blog for updates - Sorry - I think snail mail will probably be more efficient. We're training in a tiny town about 2 and 1/2 hours outside Tana, with no electricity or running water, so obviously, no internet access. I'm only able to post now because we're on our way to one of our national parks for our field trip - our first night outside our training site since arriving. We're finally going to see some lemurs - until now it's mainly been cows and chickens. I wish I could post photos - our training village is beautiful - but I think that I will have to wait until we go to Tana for swearing in (early December).

To give you an idea of what training is like, the village is mainly green and brown rice paddies as far as the eye can see, surrounded by hills with houses dotted on them. The roads and paths around and across the paddies are dirt, and we're at least as likely to encounter omby (cow) as a person when we walk anywhere. Chickens roam more or less freely around the village, as do ducks and a few birds we think must be a cross between the two. Everyday I wake up at 6 ( which is late - most locals and trainees are up by 4:30 or 5) and take a bucket bath. I have breakfast with my host "mom" - who is 24 - and 20 month old sister, who has learned to say my name and likes nothing better than to repeat "Becca...Becca...Becca.." for 5 minutes straight at all hours of the day and night. Breakfast is either mini-pancakes (PC gave our families cooking lessons), a piece of baguette with butter, or mofo ball (mofo means bread-think an oversized, unglazed, donut hole). I go to class from 8 to 12ish - either language, health/tech, or come combination of the above. We break for snack at 10, which is the best part of the day. It's provided by PC and is always something sort of American - pizza (made with swiss cheese), jelly sandwiches, brownies.

At noon, we go home for lunch with our families, which is almost always some sort of rice with steamed veges and sometimes some scrambled egg mixed in for protein. My "dad" - who is 27 - is a teacher at the local primary school and usually isn't home in time for lunch. We have more classes from 2 to 5 , and then we all hurry home to get in before dark so that we escape rabid dogs and, I'm not kidding, this is in countless PC manuals, witches. It gets dark by about 6:30, and I mean pitch black. No electricity means no street lights, which means total darkness. We eat dinner - which is similar to lunch, around 7:30. After that, I usually read for a bit, and am in bed by about 9 pm. We''re really living it up, Gasy style.

Every Thursday we get the treat of eating lunch at the PC office instead of with our families. We all look forward to it so much that we don't even mind that Thursday is also the day th PCMO (Peace Corps medical officer) comes out to give us vaccines. The food is always amazing - both in quality and in quantity - it's the one time a week most of us get meat and there's always enough for generous seconds. That's not to say that the food our families serve isn't good -it is - there's just only so much rice you can eat. Every Saturday afternoon is manasa lamba (clothes washing) time, since it's fady (taboo) in our village to work in the fields then. Most of the trainees wash our clothes in the same little muddy stream at the edge of the paddies and chat about whether our clothes are getting cleaner or dirtier. (The usual consensus is dirtier, but what can you do?) I think we've all been to church with our families at least one Sunday and for most of us, that was more than enough. The week I went with my mom, we walked a little less than an hour to get to the church, where she had bible study for an hour before the service started. For that hour, I was the only white person in the church, and the attention the trainees usually share, was all focused on me. Literally every person in the church just stared at me for an hour straight. When the service finally began, a couple more trainees came with their families and we all endured 2 and 1/2 hours of Malagasy praying that we couldn't understand. In the end, the whole church venture took about 5 hours. Last Sunday, we all stayed home and cooked lunch. I was much happier.

My Gasy family is very patient and supportive and I still love all the trainees. I'm proud to say that all 19 of us who arrived in DC on September 23rd are still here - the PC staff is wonderful - they're all exceptionally supportive and kind. They clearly care a lot about us and about PC, and are willing to do anything they can to improve our experience. I've been so impressed with how well planned training has been - it's made the transition so much easier. Every time we're fading a bit, they've planned something to pick us up, like this field trip, which is coming on the heels of our first language assessment. We also have current health PCV's coming to train us, all of whom have been amazing. That's especially exciting, because once we swear in, they'll be the people we work with.
Speaking of swearing in, I now know where I'll be for the next 2 years! I can't post the name of the actual town - you'll have to write to me for that- but I can say that it's a district town (so fairly large) toward the northwest of the island. It's not on the coast, but it is in a region where a dialect ( not standard Malagasy) is spoken, which I've started learning/speaking - much to the amusement of my family, who, like everyone else on the plateau, speaks official. I'll have my own house in a compound, which I'm told is quite big, and has electricity for at least a few hours a day, as well as running (cold/untreated) water. I'll also have cell phone service, which I'll hopefully get up during my site visit in November. I'll most likely be stopping in Tana on my way to/from site visit, so, hopefully, I'll be able to post more then. For now, I know that it's hot and dry all year and that there will, hopefully, be an opportunity for me to set up new programs. The APCD and program assistant were very excited that I've had some experience with sex ed., since family planning is a priority here. I'm really looking forward to getting to site and seeing what is needed, or would be helpful.

There are so many stories from training - I don't even know where to begin. Through taxi-brousse rides and and seemingly endless tech. sessions - we've grown so much closer and stronger. One of us had his back washed by his host father his first night here, at least one of us has fallen in a rice paddy, and several into the manasa lamba stream. We've learned what "a word I can't read" and "Californie" mean and that adding "mamp" to anything means "makes_____". We've read Mampalicious, the PC Mad cookbook, cover to cover, even though we won't be able to cook from it for 2 months, because reading about American food is as close as we can get to it right now. We've come to appreciate our pos and solios and bonded over collective food cravings (Cheese is first on my list.). Having such an amazing group for support has made the adjustment to the rural setting, new language, and lack of modern amenities, infinitely easier. For anyone who's actually read this whole post, I'll wrap up before I lose you completely. (Send me news from home - snail mail has been pretty quick - only about 2 weeks - and I promise ot write back.) To sum up: I'm happy, healthy and in Madagascar. I hope you are at least 2 out of 3. Lovelove.

Wish List (send in padded envelopes)

Crystal light and /or Gatorade Powder
Orbit gum
Peanut butter M&M's
Nature's Valley Granola Bars (Maple sugar, Oats and Honey, cinnamon)
Books (send me a copy of your favorite)
Purell (hand sanitizer)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Letter Home Part II

September 30
I just got back from spending the morning with Ben and Laza. We learned a lot and then went down to the town (Ambataloana) again. On our way back, we met up with a bunch of other trainees and their families who were coming back from church. Apparently, the pastor had them stand up and said something about them - I think the only words they caught wre "misaotra" (thanks) and Jeso (you can guess that one), Oh, and Corps de la Paix....

Dad-I don't think you have to worry much about worms while I'm here. We filter our water first throough cloth ( so no Guinea worm) then throough a metal filter (which catches other parasites and some bacteria) and then bleach it to kill off anything that might have survived - apparently e. coli is the biggee. It's also far too cold to run around barefoot or swim in the lake - although we're told it's "lavi-davitra" - a little closer than lavitra, which is far. Hopefully, we'll get to visit it - maybe next weekend - but not swim, as it's prohibited and schisto is not fun.

The list of things that are prohibited during training is quite long, but very logical. No fresh water swimming, no going out at night (because of witches), no biking without a helmet, no driving, no boating without a life jacket, no marijuana, no alcohol. The only one that will change when we become PCVs instead of PCTs, is that we'll be allowed to drink in moderation. There's so much to do to try to get used to a new place, that all of the prohibited things hardly matter.

The food in Malutsitady, by the way, is fantastic. We're out in the country and they grow tons of fruit and vegetables themselves. Today I went out to the garden (zardaina) with my Mom and Aina and picked peas. She showed me where they grow lettuce, carrots , potatoes, and many other things I didn't quite pick up on. I'm learning tons, though.And all the host families have received a detailed cooking/food prep lesson from the PCMO. My family has really taken it to heart - they bleach all their water, even though I have a separate drinking supply.They soak and/or boil everything, and are careful to wash their hands and dishes.It sounds like everyone is not so lucky, so I'm glad to have such a great family. It's only been 2 days, but we're already having (broken) conversation. Miezaka aho (I'm progressing). They're improving their English, and I'm improving my Malagasy, and I think we're all enjoying it.They keep asking questions about the USA and my Malagasy isn't good enough yet to make the distinction between Boston and USA clear, so my explanation that we have beef , but no cows, confused my host mother immensely. Laza taught me urban vs. rural, but it's still hard. We'll get there. I'm really looking forward to speaking Malagasy well enough to really tell them about home. ....

Love, Becca

A Letter Home Part I

Becca's plans to post interesting stories on her blog have been somewhat hindered by her lack of internet access. She recently sent a letter home and asked if I could post it for her. Mail from her training site in Madagasca (very slow) is not much more efficient than email (nonexistent). This letter was written during her first 2 days with her host family and is dated September 29 and September 30. Becca's letter is very long and detailed. My typing skills are not a good match. I will attempt to include excerpts from her letter which I hope will provide a good picture. Laurie Greene

September 29
Manihoana (hello) from Madagascar!...I hope you guys are doing well. I'm honestly fantastic. Today was my first full day in Malutsitady, our training village. We got in last night and went to our homestays. My host) "parents" are amazing. I say "parents" because my mother is only 24 and my father is 27, but they still have me call them neny and dada, (Mom and Dad). They have a 20 month old daughter, Aina, whmight just be the happiest baby I've ever seen. Her Malagasy is only slightly better than mine, so we're learning together. My "father" is a teacher and my "mother" sells yogurt and helps out at a health clinic once a week. They have a little English and French - not enough for conversations, but enough so that we spent last night pointing at things and saying their names in Malagasy, then French, then English. My "parents" would point at something and have me repeat its Malagasy name , then have Aina say it, then we'd say it together in French and I'd say it on English, then they'd repeat. It was good that this process was so long, since we couldn't have carried on a real conversation if we wanted to. This is a really interesting experience for me - I've never had to learn by immersion before. Every other time I've gone to another country, I'e already spoken the language. This is rough, but I'm doing okay.

Today my parents were at a wedding when I was supposed to come home for lunch, so I ate with Laza, my father's brother. It turns out he has a decent bit of both English and French, so we actually managed to converse over lunch and he taught me a ton. I think he's going to be an invaluable resource. Tomorrow, when my "parents" go to church, Laza is going to the house of Ben, one of the other trainees, to watch Ben's host siblings while his host Mom goes to a wedding. I'm going to go as well, so Ben, Laza, and I can hang out and teach/learn various languages. I'm really looking forward to it. In the afternoon, a bunch of trainees (Mpiotana) are meeting up to gp explore - today we explored the market, which is on the main road - about 20 minutes away. Everywhere we go we say "Manihoana" to whoever we pass _ unfortunately, if they ask us anything more complicated than our names or "what's up?", we have no way to respond. Still, they appreciate that we're trying. Mainly, they laugh at us, especially Maggie and Justin, who are 6' and 6'4", respectively.

Our village has neither electricity nor running water, which hasn't been too hard to cope with so far. I took my first bucket bath today - not too bad. My mother warmed the water for me on the stove. I'm writing this by candlelight, since it has been dark since about 5 p.m. The darkness here is like nothing I've ever experienced. Because there is no electricity, there are no streetlights or anything.By 6:30 pm, it is pitch dark. We wake up around 6 am to shower, eat breakfast, and go to class at 8, but as Jayne (another trainee) pointed out today, there are a lot of hours between 7pm (when we finish dinner and go to our rooms) and 6 am. Last night I was in bed by 8 and asleep (after reading a bit) by 9, so waking up to the roosters at 5:45 was no big deal. We aren't allowed to leave our houses after dark because of dogs (alikia) and- I'm not kidding - witches (mpamosavy). Our safety coordinator threw that out today, and I must say, I can't wait to hear more about the witches. One of the administrative people suggested I ask my family for stories - I pointed out that I would not understand them. Maybe in a few weeks. The many hours between 7 pm and 6 am provide plenty of time for journal writing and reading, not to mention the homework that we'll start receiving Monday.

...going back to arrival...In Tana, we spent the night at Mera, ther PC transit house where PCTs and PCVs spend the night when they have to go into Tana. We got rabies shots and dinner and then questioned the PCVs who'd come to train us before bed.

In the morning, we got HepA/B shots and did several interviews. I did medical first and was issued an intensive medical kit, including cipro, mefliquine,a blood smear kit, a couple weeks worth of malaria medication, syringe, a thermometer, bandages, etc, etc.Then I had my technical interview, which was intersting. It was intended to help determine my site - which will be announced next Friday (Oct. 5). The technical coordinators were very excited to hear that I had experience with sexual/reproductive health and asked if I could give talks on conception. Apparently the MOH is actually the Ministry of Health and Family Planning and they are making contraception a huge priority. ( Abortion is illegal, but happens all the time.) It sounds like the nutrition thing may have been a very broad guideline - if I had to guess, I'll be doing much more with family planning, which is fine by me. It also sounds like I should have plenty of opportunities to do a secondary project with malaria if I want to.I also had an epiphany that I'd love to come up with some project having to do with local fairy,folk tales, if I can come up with something interesting to do. My last interview was with the country director, Bill Bull, who basically spent the whole time telling me that nothing is ever shared between PC in the US and PC Madagascar, except medical info. He clearly recognized the absurdity of it, but that's how it is. It also became obvioous that this is in no way a French speaking program, no matter what my placement officer may have said, which is also fine. i'm doing my beat to pick up Malagasy, and have faith that by the time I get to my site, I'll have enough to function.

Monday, September 24, 2007

"Oh, I love the People! It's fun people fun time!"

We've just completed staging, which is slightly insane. We fly out tomorrow (Tuesday) around 5:30 pm. Of course we leave our hotel (which is only about 40 minutes from the airport) at 11 am, so that should make for some fun airport time (hint: call me to chat if you want to hear my beautiful voice one last time). We land in Johannesburg Wednesday night and spend the night there, and then fly from Jo-burg to Madagascar Thursday. Because we get in so late Thursday, they've decided to put us up at a hotel in Tana (Antananarivo) for the night rather than moving us to PC Headquarters which are about 2.5 hours away. On Friday we'll make the trek to pc headquarters and then to our host families.

Staging has been great--there are only 19 people in my group now (we started with 22 but have lost a few along the way. Hopefully everyone else is here to stay!) and every one of them is amazing. Evan was singing the praises of his group, so I was very glad to find out that mine definitely lives up to the hype. I couldn't pick better people to spend the next 10 weeks (and 2 years) with. We're off to a pub tonight to enjoy our last real American meal for awhile and we also begin our malaria prophylaxis tonight, and I've been told to expect some interesting dreams. I'll let you know how that goes. There's not a ton to report yet-training was mainly logistical, but I promise I'll update whenever I have internet and good stories. There isn't any internet access at training because apparently past PCVs used it inappropriately...oh well. So send me letters! And, as they keep reminding us, peace corps will tell you if anything goes drastically wrong, so no news is good news. Veloma! (Bye! And I'm pretty sure this one's right...)

ps if you haven't figured out where the title of this post comes from yet, shame on you.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"I wished I could go to the wild!" "The wild? Woah."

Instead of trying to send lots of emails when I may only have internet access every few weeks, I've decided that I'm going to try the blog thing out...bear with me, since I have no idea what I'm doing.

So, I'm going to Madagascar. It occurred to me today that I leave in less than a month, which is somewhere between terrifying and really exciting...closer to exciting. Up until a few weeks ago everything I knew about Madagascar came from the movie (by the way if you haven't seen it, you really should. If only so that you understand the title of this post) and since I'm guessing the entire island isn't populated by animated lemurs, I've been learning as much as I can as fast as I can. The culture of Madagascar is a blend of African and Asian known as Malagasy, which is also the name of the language spoken there (in addition to French). Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, and since it's been separated from mainland Africa for 165 million years it is home to a huge number of plants and animals that are found no where else in the world (between 75 and 80 percent of its flora and fauna are endemic) including the lemur. It is also, however, one of the poorest countries in the world. Only about 50% of Malagasy children 12-23 months old are fully immunized and almost one in two children under three years old is malnourished. That's where I come in.

I'll be working as a community health educator mainly in a rural health clinic run either by the Ministry of Health or a local NGO. At this point I have no idea where exactly I'll be living or what exactly I'll be doing. When I get to Madagascar I'll have about 10 weeks of training in the capital before I get sent off to a village for my 24 months of service. I will be living alone, most likely in my own house, that could be anything from a mud hut with a thatched roof to a cement house with a tin roof. I will probably not have running water or electricity, but I could have either or both...I'll let you know when I'm actually there. Those are the basics. Once I start this crazy adventure I'm sure I'll have more details and hopefully some good stories and photos for you all. Until then, here's the PC Madagascar site and here's the Madagascar Wikipedia entry (yes I know how unreliable it is, but it can be useful). Mandrapihaona!! (supposedly that's "see you" in Malagasy. If it turns out to mean mango, sorry.)