People always say that Peace Corps is like a roller coaster- really high highs, really low lows. This last month has proven that to be true for me more than any other point in my service, and included probably my highest point in country.
As you may recall, I started a project at my site with girls from my Girls Club and the English Club. The goal of the project was to teach photography, and through that, critical thinking. It was also to inspire confidence in the girls, to show them they are capable of being strong women and taking ownership of their lives. Lofty goals, sure. But we recently put on an exhibit of their work in my town, and I feel sure in saying that every single one of those goals was met.
The exhibit was held in one of the big school rooms. Due to some fortunate timing and good planning, it started right after a school-wide parent meeting, so between the invitations, flyers, and an announcement at the meeting we got well over five-hundred people to attend. Each girl had a section of the room to display one large picture and four smaller ones. Throughout most of the exhibit they stood by their pictures and explained them to the people who came to look at them. Seeing their smiles and pride as they explained why they took certain pictures to total strangers really made me feel like they had accomplished everything we set out to at the onset of the project. By the way, there are pictures of the exhibit to come, once I can find a camera cord. I took a few and then handed my camera over to the girls to take pictures, because after all, they're the photographers now!
On a personal note though, one of the best parts of the exhibit for me was seeing the reactions of the people from my town. I greeted and said goodbye to everyone who came through, and seeing the joy they got out of looking at the pictures was unbelievably rewarding. Almost everyone who left said the same thing: “Mahafinaritra!” and “Misaotra betsaka,” meaning beautiful, and thank you. The certain high point though was when one older gentleman came in. I recognized him immediately from my favorite photo, a carpenter bent over his work. He was wearing exactly the same thing as he was in the photo, right down to the old fedora. I pointed to the picture of him and said, “It's you, isn't it?” to which he broke out into a smile and said “Yes, that's me.” When I saw him leaving I asked if he enjoyed the exhibit, and was surprised to see little tears sparkling in his eyes. He too said the pictures were beautiful, and thanked me, because he had never seen himself in a photograph. If anything has made my service feel worth it, that moment did.
The last few months have been difficult. I've been robbed several times now, every week prompts more warnings about riots, and the entire school system is on strike. It's disheartening to feel like you're giving everything to a country that doesn't care about you, or even its own people. And yet to know that for a couple months there was a small group of girls in my town who were being inspired by art and got to share that beauty with their friends, family, and community members, I can still say that my time here was worth it. Is still worth it! I have eighty-five days left as of today, and I know that I'm going to try to enjoy each one of them to the fullest.