Thursday, September 23, 2010

The time has come, the walrus said...

It's Thursday morning, and I am alone in the Tana Meva. Well, not actually alone. One other girl from my group is here and two girls from other stages are in town on business, but I have no idea where they all are and it's super quiet right now. It's a stark contrast to the madness that the Meva usually is, with everyone trying to take care of a million things in a short amount of time. Very nice and relaxing though. The reason I'm still here while everyone is off installing is that my site is so close to Tana that the language teacher helping me and the 2 girls with sites near mine is able to take us individually to help us get moved in. So, he's getting one (Nicole) moved in this morning, and then will be back later this afternoon to take me and Julie up to Ankazobe. Once there, I'll move all my stuff in and we'll spend the night there, and then tomorrow we'll head to Maevatanana to move Julie in. I'm going as well because I still need to set up my bank account there. By the way, Maevatanana is the hottest place in Madagascar, so this should be an interesting trip! It's weird that only 5 hours away from my relatively cool (temperature-wise) site is the hottest place in the country. I may or may not keep it as my banking town depending on how well I can tolerate the heat.

Speaking of the heat, it is definitely getting warmer here. Winter is on the way out and summer's coming in. In Tana it's been in the low 80's with sunny skies for the last month or so. It's like we hit September and the rain just vanished. Supposedly the weather will be really nice in October and November, but come December the rainy season starts and we're in for weeks and weeks of pretty heavy rain. At least I'm in the plateau region and the rain will eventually stop; I've heard that in the east the rainy season lasts much longer. It's strange to be somewhere where the seasons progress in what (to me) seems the opposite direction. I feel like I'm subconsciously expecting the leaves to start turning orange and cooler fall temperatures to arrive, but such won't be the case. It's definitely something that makes me feel farther from home, and I really miss being in Knoxville for the fall. Walking around World's Fair Park at dusk on a fall night is something I'd trade all of my rice for.

So, I've got just a few hours till I head to Ankazobe now, and I've got sort of mixed emotions. I mean, I've got to start actually being a volunteer sooner or later, but leaving the safety net of training is kind of scary. I feel pretty prepared for the isolation though, and I am well armed with many movies, TV shows, music, and books to help keep me occupied when I'm by myself. One of the days we spent at the training center in Mantasoa was dedicated to a giant media swap where flashdrives and external hard-drives were passed around for people to download any entertainment they might want onto their computers. I've got about 50 movies on my computer now, and not quite 3 GB of available memory left! It's an interesting mix of stupid comedies (Pineapple Express, Role Models, Superbad), Disney (Enchanted, Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland), re-watchable guilty pleasures (Devil Wears Prada, 10 Things I Hate About You, Love Actually), standard favorites (all Wes Anderson movies, some Audrey Hepburn, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and lots in between. I feel like movies I wouldn't even consider watching in the States are now totally fair game, because hey, it's the jungle and any media is golden. So yes, I may have even gotten Twilight. Quit judging me!!

Other than embarrassing media entertainment, I do actually have quite a long list of things I'd like to accomplish while I'm here. This isn't necessarily my professional goal list, just a list of things that will keep me occupied and (hopefully) relatively sane. Here's a brief sampling of it:

1)Run the Tana marathon
2)Read Einstein's Theory of Relativity (Yes, I brought this with me. Yes, I am a weirdo.)
3)Start a garden
4)Learn to identify constellations in the Southern hemisphere
5)Get better at ukulele and write songs
7)Learn to make crazy friendship bracelets (I know this is kind of weird, but a bunch of us girls were talking about it and will probably make them for Christmas. Any instructions or thread would be much appreciated!!)
9)Cook my way through the (good) recipes in Mampalicious (the Peace Corps Madagascar cookbook all trainees are given)
10)Learn French (after I've mastered Malagasy, of course)

So, those are just some of the things on my list, but I think they'll be enough to keep me occupied for two years. I'm pretty excited about actually having enough time on my hands to do some of these that I've wanted to do for a while. I know I'll probably be kind of swamped the first few weeks because everyone will want to meet me and find out what I'm doing here, but hopefully that will all die down quickly.

Well, the time for me to leave is rapidly approaching, and I still need to consolidate all of my stuff at the Meva. I better get going, but I'll be thinking of you all over the next few months! I'm guessing I'll have a lot of time to think, so if you're tired, it's because you've been running through my head (HAHA JOKES). Miss you all, don't forget that I have a new address for all of the letters to go to that I know you're going to send! Till next time (and I don't know when I'll have access to the internet again, so this is very vague), take care, and I'll try my best to do the same.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Offical PCV, that's me!

Hooray, my first post as an OFFICIAL Peace Corps Volunteer! It's crazy to think that the process I started last July when I first sent in my application has finally reached fruition well over a year later. I'm so excited to finally be able to start working and counting down those two years. We drove to Tana early this morning and got sworn in at the Country Director's house. It was a nice, short ceremony with a couple of speeches and us saying the oath. Then we got snacks and drinks which were way more important to me. After that we were supposed to get our money and go shopping but apparently peoples' settling in money didn't make it to their bank accounts (I don't even have a bank account yet), people aren't sure when they actually leave to go to their sites, and no one knows how they're going to get around town to do their site shopping today. So, I came to the Meva to be on the internet instead!

I believe that there was something amiss in the time-space continuum these past 10 weeks, because training seemed so much longer than two and half months. Quite honestly, training and home stay have been the hardest things I've ever done in my life and I've never felt more mentally or emotionally drained. There was almost never any time to decompress, because when I came home at the end of a long day of classes there was still so much work to be done at home with getting dinner ready and trying to communicate in Malagasy while dealing with my screaming host siblings. I wish people had been more frank about how difficult training is so that I didn't think I was the only one who was having a hard time with it. In theory, it's a good way to learn the language and culture, but it's also really annoying. Most of us haven't lived with our real families for several years, so being forced back into that is tough. My host mom was only about six month older than I was, so her telling me I had a curfew of 5:30 was pretty silly. Luckily, she's also super sweet, and so was my sister Tsiory. Yeah, I said sister, which may confuse you because in a previous post I may have mentioned my brother Tsiory. Apparently I am a big dumb American and can't tell the difference between little Malagasy girls and boys, despite the fact that my "brother" was always wearing skirts and dresses. Oh my god, I am so embarrassing sometimes.

The last week or so of training was full of final presentations and language exams. We did group technical presentations at the local schools, and my group did ours on STD/HIV prevention for the older kids and nutrition for the younger kids. I would say that overall, they went pretty well. The older kids were great- they listened, participated, and asked questions. The younger kids just screamed, so they might not be my preferred audience in the future. Our final tech presentations were individual, and I actually did mine on malnutrition versus a balanced diet again. Since I had done a similar one for the kids I felt pretty comfortable with the technical vocab and I'm getting more used to talking in front of groups. I felt good about how it went, and the health program director told me that I “am already awesome,” so that was a bit of relief. The final language exam also went well. It was basically just a 20 minute conversation with one of the teachers, and then they all analyzed the recording. I really wasn't that worried about it, and passed it fine. There's still a lot I don't understand about Malagasy grammatically, but I'm building my vocabulary and hoping the rest will come with time.

So what's next? I'm actually not real sure about that myself. Over the next week all the volunteers will be getting installed at their respective sites. I'm with two other girls who are sort of in my area, and I'm the last to get installed. I'm kind of glad about that though, because I got dropped off first for site visit, and this way I'll get to see some more of Madagascar. One of the sites is Maevatanana, which is technically my banking town, and also the hottest place in Madagascar. Should be interesting! We'll have one of the language teachers with us as well, hopefully to help us get settled in a bit and make sure we have what we need to survive. I'll probably do most of my shopping in Tana because it's my closest city, and I know I'll be able to find everything there. We get 650,000 Ariary for our “settling-in allowance” which is a bit more than $300. For me, this has to cover all my furniture (bed, desk, chair, shelves), kitchen stuff (gas stove, pots, pans, dishes, utensils), and other incidentals (food, power strip, laundry detergent, etc.). I'm guessing it probably won't be enough, so I'm just going to buy what's super necessary for the first month. Some volunteers are taking over old volunteers sites so they already have a lot of the furniture they'll need, but considering the bed at my site is an old hospital one, I'm going to spend the extra money to replace it. I'm really not trying to catch leprosy while I'm here.

Other than getting my living space in order, I really have to idea what I'm supposed to be doing. Peace Corps has been pretty vague about what exactly is expected of us, and I suspect it's because they don't actually know either. Health is a little bit of a different assignment than Education, because it's pretty clear what their project is- they teach English and have a class schedule. For us it's a bit less clearly defined. I'm just going to wait and see what it's like at my CSB and see what they would like me to do. It might be doing presentations about different health topics to groups of people, doing one-on-one consultations, or stuff like weighing babies and recording information. Who knows!I'm excited to start feeling like I have a purpose here though. We're supposed to take it kind of easy for the first three months though and focus on getting better at learning the language, meeting people in our town, and just getting a general feel for what the main problems are that we'll work on.

As ready as I am to get out on my own and have my own space, I'm really going to miss my friends here. We've all grown really close over the past several weeks, and have been a great support network for each other. Being able to easily communicate with other people is a luxury I'm really going to miss. I feel like I can convey a general idea in Malagasy, but I like being able to express exactly what I mean and have people understand what I'm talking about. Hopefully I'll eventually be able to do this in Malagasy as well. Still, it's going to be really sad to not see these people every day! The good-byes tomorrow will be tough, because we won't see each other till IST (in-service training) which is over 3 months away.

That's the word from here for now. Only 730 more days as a volunteer to go! I'm sure it'll fly by, right? I sure hope so. Don't worry, I still really miss you all and haven't quite forgotten what you look like yet (jokes, jokes). Keep on keepin' on, and I'll try to do the same here from this not-quite-African land.