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
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)