OH MY SHARKS, THAT WAS A LONG TIME AWAY FROM THE INTERNET! Don't worry, I haven't been cannibalized or attacked by rabid lemurs, just cut off from effective communication for the last month which is nearly as bad. Turns out most people in my town don't know what the internet is, much less have any need for it, so Tana is probably my closest connection point. For the next couple months posts will probably be sporadic if existent at all, but I'm hoping to have a more reliable internet source around December. We'll see though, I don't want to get my hopes up too high.
Remember what I said about the futility of making plans in Peace Corps? Well, this has once again proven to be true. For the last month I was planning on going to a volunteer meeting in Antsirabe with all the other PCVs in my region. All the arrangements were made, hotels reserved, proper people notified, and then two days before I was planning to leave I get a text. It's my program director saying “Hi Health volunteers, sorry if I already told you could go to the meeting, the latest news is that you can't. My bad.” 2 DAYS BEFORE I WAS LEAVING! And I had asked permission to go a month ago.
Ugh, Peace Corps! So instead of going to the meeting and seeing my friends, I'll just be staying in Tana because I need to see the doctors about my thumbnails that are falling off. Anyway, carrying on from this bit of downer news...
So what the heck have I been doing now that I'm at site? Good question, glad you asked! The answer is, most importantly, surviving. Getting used to an entirely new town, people, and job has been difficult, so for now the name of the game has been “Just Get By”. This is harder than you might think, and of our initial stage of 42 volunteers, 3 have already Early Terminated. It's really a bummer, because they were all great people and will definitely be missed. While I don't currently foresee myself ET-ing, it really is a rollercoaster here- some days you can feel on top of the world. Maybe it was just that you had a nice little chat with the man you buy bananas from or that you made some kick-ass English muffins (they were delicious), or maybe you even felt like you accomplished something bigger, like talking to a thousand school kids about hand-washing (more on this later). Then other days, it can feel like everything is falling to pieces around you, either because of the incessant harassment for being a foreigner/woman/person in general, getting food poisoning from eating street food (that one probably served me right), or just plain old feeling homesick. The low days suck, but there's some comfort in the knowledge that the next high day can't be far away. Unless there's some sort of freak accident and the roller coaster breaks and you go shooting off the tracks...wait, this metaphor is getting out of control. Moving on!
So, aside from adjusting to life in this town, I have actually started working. Usually I work in the mornings at the CSB (clinic) and then stop when everyone leaves for the lunch break. So far I've just been giving little talks to the people waiting to see the doctor, either about nutrition or hygiene, and am generally just met with blank stares. I can't really blame them, if I were sick and waiting to see a doctor, the last thing I'd want to listen to is me. Oh well. There's no Highlights or Redbook in this waiting room (actually, there's no waiting room either), so I'm the best entertainment they'll get. Other than that, I weigh a lot of babies. And pregnant women, I weigh a lot of them too. So I'm pretty awesome at working the scales and recording measurements in the metric system. *Side note- if even Madagascar can be on the metric system, why isn't the United States? I mean, come on!* Every Thursday is vaccine day at the CSB, so parents from all over the region bring their babies in for their free vaccines. So far I've only given out the oral polio vaccine, but my doctor is really jazzed about teaching me how to do injections, so that's next on the agenda. (UPDATE: I've started giving injections! My doctor was kind of just like, “Alright, your turn!” this Thursday, so, despite my shaking hands and impending nausea, I gave my first injection. And then about 50 more. It freaks me out because the needles seem so long and the babies legs are so teeny-tiny, but apparently that's fine. I kind of like it actually, because it's a very tangible way to improve the future health of the community). I can also take blood pressure and count pills, so I do about the half of the prenatal consultations.
The first independent project I did was on National Hand Washing Day. I made a “Hand Wash Station” which is a big water bottle on a string with holes in the cap so that kids can just tilt it over and wash their hands by themselves and a bar of soap. I had talked to the director of the EPP (elementary school) and she was really excited about it, so I came back the following week to set it up. I hadn't really known what to expect in terms of how many kids would be around, but it turned out to be a frightening amount. I mentioned to the director that there were a lot of kids at the school, and she said “Yes, a thousand!” So I talked to the thousand students about proper hand washing technique and why it's important, and then a few pairs of volunteers demonstrated how it's done. All in all, a pretty good success I think!
After I work in the mornings and have taken my lunch break/nap, I go hang out in the pharmacy. I think I mentioned the pharmacist, Hanta, in an earlier post, and she's one of my friends here. She tries to help me with Malagasy, and she's actually a pretty good teacher because she's patient and gives a lot of examples. It's still kind of slow-going though, and I'm still skeptical that I'll ever get this language. I know enough to manage, but I'd like to feel as though I wasn't always just barely keeping my head above water. Anyway, Hanta has two younger daughters who are 20 and 16, so they've also become my friends. I've gone over to their house a couple times to eat and play games, and their family has basically adopted me as their white, strangely tall, incomprehensible daughter. It's fun though, and we all laugh a lot at our attempts to communicate. I hang out with my other Malagasy friends a little too, but they all have young children and don't have a lot of time for fun. One of the best things about my site is that I have a site-mate, Esther, who is an education volunteer. She's already been here a year, so she's a huge help with all things Madagascar and Peace Corps related. Plus, she's totally awesome! It's great to have someone here who can actually understand me and who I can understand without having to second guess every single word. So that's fantastic. It's great to have someone to cook with, have lunch with, or even just brave market day with, and it makes this whole isolation from the rest of the world thing seem much more bearable. Since I brought up cooking, I have to also mention that we made a killer Mexican fiesta lunch with homemade tortillas and salsa and then the next week we went Italian and made marinara meatballs and garlic bread. It was probably some of the best food I've had since being in Madagascar. When I'm cooking by myself though, I'm pretty lazy. Banana pancakes and ramen constitute most of my meals, but fortunately I've found the best ramen ever here. Like most ramen, it comes with a seasoning packet, but what sets it apart is that it also comes with sesame oil, spicy chili sauce, sweet soy sauce, and french-fried onions. It really is so good. Mix that up with veggies and a scrambled egg and you're in serious business.
So, I work in the mornings, but that still leaves me with a ton of free time, and cooking ramen only takes up a very small portion of it so I have to find other ways to occupy myself. A pretty big chunk of this time goes to reading. I'm trying not to blow through my entire stash of reading material before we even have IST, but it's been hard with all this available book time. I've also watched quite a few movies, and more seasons of How I Met Your Mother than I should probably admit. There's really just not a whole lot to do in my town. I asked my friends what their hobbies were, and their responses (sitting, sleeping, watching TV) were pretty disappointing. I like going on walks, but it's a careful balance between “how much do I want to go for a walk” and “how much harassment can I tolerate today without completely losing my mind”. It can go either way depending on the day. I just don't know how to explain to people that I'm really not that interesting. No matter how many times you yell “Vazaha!” at me, I still don't do any cool tricks. No matter how many vile instructions you give me, I will never, EVER, even come close to following them. Generally the harassment comes from men, and they're typically drunk. Since people get drunk at 7 on a Tuesday morning, it's a pretty frequent occurrence. It's probably my least favorite part about living here, but hopefully it will go away soon (says that very tiny little optimist part of my brain).
There's not a whole lot else to mention about life right now, it's pretty slow going. Although, it's encouraging to think that I've already spent over a month at site and it went by...well, slowly, actually, but the point is, I've already been here over month! Less than 23 to go! If I can just do the first month 23 more times, I can do it! Pep talk! Encouragement! Exclamation points! I think once I'm able to leave my site to go do work elsewhere time will go a little faster too. Even having this weekend in Tana (and formerly Antsirabe) to look forward to was like a little pinhole of light in the darkness. I think even three weeks before we were supposed to go Esther and I started planning our trip to the big Tana superstore and to get ice cream while we were there. Like I've said before, it's the little things that keep you going here. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other. Sure, somedays you might step in a giant pothole, but then the next you just step out of it. That's the plan for now anyway!
Surely I don't need to reassure you all that I still miss you, but just in case- I still do! I think of everyone from home all the freaking time (consequence of having so much free time), and wonder what you're all up to. Drop me a letter so I can stop wondering, won't you? Mail seems to get to my site relatively quickly (about 2 weeks usually, although sometimes up to a month), however it takes much longer for it to get from me to you I think. Unfortunately, the mail service people here can't be trusted, and I've had many letters come to me opened and re-taped shut, and have even had things stolen out of envelopes. The padded envelopes and boxes seem to arrive unrifled through, but regular letters seem to prove too tempting for the sticky fingers in the post office.
Apologies again for the horrific delays in postings, damn the lack of technology in developing countries! Until next time (whenever that might be), do take care, and I'll try my very best to as well.