Friday, August 6, 2010

You Might be in Peace Corps Madagascar if...

1)There's a chicken in your shower
2)You're “lucky” to only have fleas
3)Your po (bathroom bucket in your room) is your best friend
4)You've eaten more rice in the past 2 weeks than you have in your entire life
5)You realize that any weight you lost getting here you'll soon gain back thanks to Bolos, Kracky, and Mofo-gasy

Okay, it's been a crazy, crazy two weeks in Africa. Actually, it's been two and half weeks since I left USA, but 3 of those days were spent traveling so they don't really count. A lot has happened, and I'll do my best to recount the most important bits.

Staging to Training:

The trip to Washington D.C. didn't really go smoothly. My flight to Atlanta was delayed leaving, and then again getting there, so I only had 10 minutes to make my connecting flight to D.C. So, I sprinted through the entire airport, in heels, and made it just as they called final boarding call. Peace Corps magic I think. Got to D.C. and met Amber at the airport, and we shared a cab to the hotel. Once we were there we went through registration and handed in all 10 of our forms or however many there were and met in a conference room for staging. Staging lasted about 7 hours and was kind of just a rehashing of a lot of stuff we already knew, but we worked in groups to get to know each other. After all that, a bunch of us went out to get dinner and drinks, but it turns out Georgetown is really expensive so we ended up buying beer and taking it back to the hotel.

Next morning, we took a couple buses to the airport, and killed time by walking around and getting food. My last official meal in America was a Chipotle burrito, which was huge and awesome. Once we boarded the plane we were actually delayed on the tarmac for almost 3 hours, and everyone was pretty squirrelly. I don't think the flight attendants appreciated it, because they were pretty stand offish the rest of the flight to Dakar. It took us a little over an hour to refuel in Dakar, and then we started the second leg of the flight to Johannesburg, which was another 8 hours. I didn't sleep at all on the first flight, and maybe got 2 hours of sleep during the second, which made me pretty cranky and uncomfortable.

Once we finally got to the Johannesburg airport, it took forever to find out where the hotel Peace Corps wanted us to stay at was. They told us not to leave the airport under any circumstance and that the hotel was in the terminal. Umm, nope. The hotel they said we were booked at was across the freeway. Someone tried calling the emergency number PC gave us, which of course, they didn't answer or return the voicemail they left. Not exactly confidence inspiring. But we finally made it here after a lot of confusion, and I think everyone was pretty much just exhausted.

The flight to Madagascar took about 3 hours. Seeing the coast of Madagascar for the first time gave me butterflies. It seems like we saw about 4 different types of scenery as we flew over the island, from deserts to beaches, and red clay hills to rolling green ones. As we got closer to the runway, the slums of Tana started to come into focus, with lots of colorful buildings. Once we landed there was a Peace Corps dude named Colby to help us get through passport control and customs, which really helped things go fast. Luckily, ALL of our luggage made it to the country, which was a huge relief for everyone. We loaded up all the bags onto a few Peace Corps vans, and then piled in. I sat in the middle of a front seat next to the driver. Road laws seem to be merely a suggestion here, and there's a lot of fast lane changing and narrowly avoiding bikers and motorcycles. It was surreal to drive past all of these extremely dilapidated buildings, people carrying rickshaws without wearing shoes, children in the streets and stray dogs everywhere. There were also loads of little food stands selling meat, live chickens, fruits and vegetables, and pastry type things.

We got to the Peace Corps transit house in about half an hour, and it's really pretty impressive. It's a walled compound, with two really large houses. There are rooms with bunk beds, and it sleeps about 25 I guess. There are also 2 guards on duty at all times, and an emergency response team that can be here in 5 minutes with full riot gear if the need arises. All of the doors have combination locks, so it really seems pretty secure. Once we were unloaded form the vans we had stuff to take care of right away: vaccinations, luggage sorting, putting stuff in the safe, and getting money. We spent one night in Tana before heading out the next day to Mantasoa to meet our host families for the first time.


After a nausea-inducing ride to Mantasoa (which, by the way, is effing freezing and hasn't stopped raining since we got here), we got to the local primary school (EPP) where our host families were waiting for us. We all gathered according to assignment, health in one room and education in the other, and they basically just handed us out to our families. It was exciting and kind of nerve-wracking, but really fun to see how excited the families were to get their volunteers. Here's the scoop on my family:
Mom (Chantal) is 23, Dad (Jocelyn) is 28
They have 2 little boys, Tsiory (4) and Fenitra (2)
Jocelyn works on a farm sometimes, and is some sort of church leader I think? Chantal takes care of the house
The house: we live on the second story of a building, the first floor is unoccupied except for some occasional chickens
3 rooms: their room/living room/dining room, my room, kitchen (see Picasa for pics)

Host family life is pretty rough, I'm not going lie. It's weird having to adjust to not having any time to myself, and I can't say I like it. I'm a pretty solitary person in general, but that doesn't really fly at homestay. There are some things I like about it though, like preparing dinner with my “mom” or playing music with “dad” (I played uke, and he played an old keyboard). It would be nice to have time to read or study in my room, but I guess that'll have to wait till I'm at my site. Another thing I'm not used to is having younger siblings. Tsiory is a total bad-ass, and is by far my favorite kid in Madagascar. He has a penchant for wearing skirts, which is totes adorable. He also loves to draw and copy words that I write for him. Fenitra is another story. He is a CRIER! All the time too, for any reason. It's a bit much, and my blood pressure does not appreciate it. Also, the last time I got a full night's sleep was in Johannesburg. Thanks, little dude.

Here's what a sample day in the life of a PCT (Peace Corps Trainee, which would be me) looks like:

5:30- Wake up because the roosters are going off outside your house
6:00- Get up, walk down muddy hill to get water from river. Try not to slip down hill and/or spill bucket all over yourself
6:15- Occasionally (once a week in my case), heat water to take shower outside (40 degrees, btw)
6:30- Sit with “mom” while she cooks breakfast
7:00- Eat breakfast, usually rice, sometimes with a tiny bit of egg, or some baguette. Drink Kafe-gasy, coffee with sweetened condensed milk and enough sugar to send me into diabetic shock
7:30- Walk to school, stop for Mofo-gasy (fried bried) on the way
8-12- Language training. This is super intense since we don't have much time to learn A LOT. We're not separated by dialect, and it's about 3-4 people per teacher. My dialect is Merina, which is actually Standard Malagasy. This is awesome, because it's the dialect my host family speaks.
12-2- Go home for lunch. Rice, either with beans or a vegetable.
2-5- Back to school for technical sessions. For us health volunteers that means lectures on childhood nutrition, vaccinations, malaria, how to counsel, etc. These are usually pretty interesting, and I'm really enjoying the medical aspects. Health is definitely the right assignment for me.
5- Avoid going home by talking with other PCTs after class, but inevitably head home to start cooking dinner
6:15- Dinner. Rice (always), with a loaka (side-dish) or two. My family has been pretty good about serving good vegetables and protein, and only tried to serve me duck head once. Not a bad record. So far my favorite loaka are eggs with peppers, and toto-voanjo, which is peanuts crushed into a paste. My least favorite is spaghetti. Spaghetti on rice is about as good as it sounds. My Malagasy diet is basically “no carb left behind”. After dinner I hang out with my family and try to make conversation in between my brother's crying.
7:15- Excuse myself to my room to either study, write letters, journal, or read.

And repeat, every day (except Sunday) for 10 weeks.

So yeah, training is tough, and I'm not a huge fan. I know I'm not alone in feeling that way though, and other PCVs have told me it's one of the hardest parts of Peace Corps. I'm just trying to get through it, learn as much as I can, and get to my site.

My permanent site, by the way, is in Akajobe (Ahn-ka-zoo-bay). It's in the dead middle of the country, about 95 km north of Tana. It's in the mountain/highlands region, which is sort of what I'm in now. I was kind of bummed about my placement because I wanted to get out of this cold, rainy weather, but I did tell them I would be flexible. Apparently some people were really picky in their site interviews and said they only wanted to be on a beach, or only in the North, or in the West, but I feel like that's not what Peace Corps is about. You go where you're needed, not where you want to vacation. My site has some good perks though, for instance:

I have my own little house, which has a kitchen and an INDOOR shower area. This is so important for a cold region
IT HAS ELECTRICITY (this may mean a single lightbulb, but still. That's a convenience I definitely did not think I'd have)
There's an education PCV already at my site (Esther Lee, what's up? Ima be your new neighbor)
The roads to Tana are good, so travel will be easier

So, even though it's not as excited if I were going to the desert or the coast, I think it'll be a good site. Hopefully I'll have to opportunity to travel lots though :) Oh! My “mom” also told me there are lemurs there, which would be cool.

This Saturday is Rambo Sheets's birthday and we're going to do it up big, 'Gasy style. This may or may not include rum and Coca-Cola, an adventure into oven-less baking that Bobette and I are planning to take, and whatever presents can be scrounged up from the epiceries here.

WOW, that's a lot of text. Access to internet won't happen much, at least for training, so there may not be any posts for a while. We're in Tana today to open bank accounts, get the yellow fever vaccine (which is my 6th vaccine so far), and do some shopping, which is how this got posted. Training is definitely trying to kick my ass, but I'm not letting it just yet. It's really, really hard, mostly emotionally but also physically having to deal with this terrible weather and mud. I'm doing okay though, and I'm trying to be strong. Still, any good vibes you can send me would be much appreciated! I miss all of you terribly, and I hope you're all super-duper and busy doing the things that make you awesome. Don't forget, I can get mail here (hint-hint)! Until I can write again from the most freezing part of Africa, take care.


  1. It is so great to read an update! I'm glad you made it there safely, sounds like it has already been a new and challenging experience. I hope you are taking lots of pictures :) We all miss you so much!!!

  2. positive vibes? um...
    sesame street!
    dance parties!
    also sending you lots of mental hugs, it may take a while to get there, but i'm imagining the transit time is only about half an hour to that part of the world, so it shouldn't be too big of a lag. glad you're (at least making your best effort at) having fun, dear. i think you're a total badass.

  3. also FakeASmile is andy's blog account, in case you didn't know that. andy being me.

  4. I loved reading your blog and getting to know more about what your daily life is like. It's really hard to imagine!!

    You're amazing to tackle this adventure. Be sure to laugh along the way :-)

    Love you!!

  5. _____8888888888____________________

  6. Hi, Brianna, you don't know me, but I am a friend of your Mom's at FedEx. I am so impressed with your guts and your ability to accept your circumstances for the good of your mission there. I must agree that your are definitely a badass! : ) I was so privileged to witness your Mom receiving her first phone call from you from Madagascar. Her joy & relief to hear your voice was raw & simply beautiful. I wish you the best in the months to come and I am keeping you in my thoughts & prayers. Denise Spencer