Monday, November 29, 2010

Just a city girl living a country life...

It's that time again to go back to my site. I always feel a little melancholy when I have to leave Tana, because I feel so much more at home here in a big city. Actually the time to go home was yesterday, but when Esther and I went to the taxi-brousse station, it was inexplicably empty. We arrived over an hour early, and the ticket booth was already closed, which is really weird since we've taken the brousse to Ankazobe on a Sunday before. Of course, I'll never complain about extra time in Tana! I was able to chat with a few more people from home, and even video-Skype'd with my Aunt Barb, Uncle Rick and cousins! It blows my mind that even from 10,000 miles away we could talk and see each other. Oh technology, how I love thee.

As usual, I picked up a few goodies while I was here in the form of the two newest This American Life podcasts (Ira Glass, you make me swoon), a couple Glee episodes, packets of soup mix, and grapefruit juice. When you have little, it's the little things you really come to appreciate. Being able to actually talk with friends and family is so much more meaningful when they aren't always a quick phone call away, just as tomato soup seems to taste better when it's not readily available. Every day here is a challenge to perspective, which, though frustrating and difficult, is overall one of the most beneficial parts of doing something like Peace Corps.

Well, I best be off to gather up my things and try again to catch a brousse home, but I'll be back in just 12 days! As always, take care and I'll do my best to as well.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bonjour, vazahas! Since I'm blogging, it's safe to assume that I'm in Tana again (or will be by the time this is posted). The health program directors want us to fill out an online survey about what we want to learn during our In-Service Training in December, and since Tana is the only place within a six hour radius from my site that has internet, I simply had to come in for the weekend! I'll admit, it's a bit of a precarious time to be in Tana. Perhaps you've seen Madagascar in the news recently- there's been a bit of a “to-do” for the past week and half due to the vote on a constitutional referendum. I won't go too much into it, partly because we don't even know that much about it, and partly because I don't know who reads this blog, but I'll just briefly summarize what was published in the news. Essentially, a small group of the military went rogue and staged a coup, which turned out to be mostly a bluff. Even so, the government moved in on them with force, brief gunfire was exchanged, and supposedly it's resolved now. There were no casualties reported, but it was certainly a reminder that this country lacks political stability. I'll be honest, it can be unnerving to live in a country that has been abandoned by the U.S. Ambassador and that is run by a government most other countries don't recognize, especially when we get texts mentioning explosions and car-burnings, but outside of the capitol, life proceeds as normal.
In any case, I'm glad that we're allowed to travel again and I could spend a bit of time away from Ankazobe. I do feel that I'm finally becoming a bit more tamana (well-settled) at my site though, which I realized after I went to Maevatanana for a day. From the moment I got out of the taxi-brousse there, all I wanted was to be back in my small, quiet, cool(er) town. It really made me appreciate my site more, which I'm grateful for, though I really have no desire to ever go back. Just a reminder, Maevatanana is the hottest place in Madagascar, and also my banking town. We get 3 short-term leave days a month (also called banking days), which are supposed to be our days to get out of our sites, see friends, and basically just take a break from the stresses of being a volunteer, but I'd almost rather relinquish them than go back there! It does have frozen yogurt though, so don't hold me to that. Anyway, it helped me see my town in a new light, one that is appreciative of the cleanliness and relative quiet.
Things are pretty much the same at my site. I'm still working on learning Malagasy, and I think (I hope) that I'm improving every day. It depends on the day though- some days I can have great conversations with everyone I meet, and on others, I feel like I can't understand a thing. I guess if I took the average of all those days though, I'm still better than when I first got to site, so that's something. I try to just work at the CSB on Wednesday through Friday, because Mondays and Tuesdays are really slow and there's nothing to do. Also, Monday is market day and I try to do most of my shopping then (more on this later). So Wednesdays and Fridays I still help with the prenatal consultations, which is where I tell the group of preggos that they shouldn't be smoking or boozing, then take their weight and blood pressure. Thursdays are vaccine days, and I mostly just weigh babies and then give polio vaccines. It's very routine, which can be a good thing because I always know what to expect, but on the other hand I don't know how much good it's actually doing. I like vaccine day because I feel like that's a very tangible way to improve the future health of a community, but it's already very well established in my town and I'm not sure how much my being there benefits them. Anyway, my plan is to continue with this routine, keep working on my language skills, and then in January, start my own secondary projects.
I'm actually pretty excited about my secondary projects, because we have more freedom in deciding what we want to do. In a surprising twist, I think I'm actually going to focus on working with the youth here. I say surprising because I've previously had no interest in really being around kids, but I think it will be much more effective to work with them than to try to change the way adults do things here. People are very set in their ways for no other reason that that's the way they've always been done.
*This is a bit of an aside, but I'm reminded of a conversation I had with my friend/education PCV/co-commiserator Amber Sheets. We were talking about what we miss about America (as we so often do), and I said that what I missed most isn't the fact that you can take a seat while you use the restroom (although I may have put it in other terms). Somewhere in history someone got tired of pooping in a hole and must have thought to himself, “There's got to be a better way!” and it's this spirit of innovation that I miss most about America. I love that there's a continual search for efficiency and the best way of doing something (even if it's largely driven by capitalism). Here, it's such a traditional society that people don't question the way they do things, it's just how it's always been.* Anyway, returning to the topic of working with kids: change the way they think, change the way things are done in the future. After talking with various members and leaders of the community about what they think are the biggest problems here, the most common answers were “hmm, no problems really” and “people are poor”. Neither one of these are really great for me, because if there are no problems, I have no work, and as for people being poor...that's not really something I can help. I did get one concrete answer from my doctor though, and that's that there is a lot of malnutrition here (although, she said it's because they're poor). SO! What I'm thinking about doing for one of my projects is starting a gardening club at the secondary school, so that kids will know how to grow their own nutritious food, and at the same time, teach them what exactly a nutritious diet is.

Speaking of diets, I hope everyone's Thanksgiving was wonderful. Mine was lackluster, but it just seemed like any other day really. It was probably 90 degrees too, so it doesn't really feel like it should even be the holidays. When I went to the grocery store in Tana yesterday they had a big Christmas tree display set up, and it just felt out of place. In a country with such outstanding poverty, the gaudiness of holiday decorations seemed overly tacky. Granted, I've always loved this season in America, but here it just smacks of commercialized colonialism. It's also just easier to pretend that it's not Christmas, because then I don't think about everything I'm missing back home. At least I'll be spending it with friends. Our plan is to take the train down to Manakara, which is a beach town in the Southeast and spend our Christmas getting drunk and tan. Holiday spirits indeed.

Well, it's been a quick little visit in Tana, but sufficient enough to get a few things from the grocery store to take back to site, indulge in a little soymilk and cereal, and clear my inbox for the month. Once I get back to site I've got to do some lesson planning- I'm teaching 5eme classes at the secondary school (the French equivalent of about 7th grade) about HIV/AIDS/STDS/safe sex this week. Hopefully it won't be anything too shocking. And then I just have another week and a half till I'm back here! Our group's In-Service Training is the second week of December, and I'm so looking forward to seeing everyone again. And being able to stay at the Training Center in Mantasoa where people will cook for us, that's going to be awesome. Can't wait!

Until next time (hopefully soon), have a chai latte and bundle up in a cozy sweater for me!

Monday, November 1, 2010

So long, Tana

Well, I'm getting ready to leave Tana in a couple hours so I figured I'd post something quick since it'll be a while before I'm back here. I can't exactly say I'm looking forward to going back to my site. There's just something so...comfortable about Tana. Sure, it's hot, crowded, and so polluted that each breath is probably the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes, but being able to take a shower, sleep in a clean bed, and bask in absolute quiet are three simple pleasures that make life exponentially better. Plus, there's Internet. Lovely, glorious Internet. I really took advantage of that fact and downloaded two new This American Life podcasts, three episodes of Glee, a few books from Barnes & Noble, and a lecture series about zombies. I'm well stocked for the seemingly infinite downtime back at site!

These creature-comforts are great, but I think what I like most about Tana is that it's a huge city and quite ethnically diverse, so I'm therefore afforded a large amount of anonymity. I'm not the vazaha, I'm one of thousands and no one cares. This must seem like a strange sentiment, but being ignored is a terrific feeling. In Tana, there are Malagasy (of course), Indians, Chinese, French, and a whole mess of other ethnicities mixed in, and people are used to foreigners being here. It's hard to go from feeling relatively normal here back to my site, where I'm gawked at, yelled at, and spit on. I guess that's the life here though and I have to take the road less traveled back to Ankazobe.

As much as I like Tana though, it's not that different from any other big city in the world, and I joined Peace Corps to experience something completely different. I know that I need to work harder on integrating into my community at site and develop a thicker skin against the harassment. All of this takes time though, and I'm just so impatient! I want to be working and doing projects, but I still haven't figured out what the problems of my community are. The CSB is well run, there are health posters everywhere, people come to the clinic when they're sick or to get their children vaccinated...why am I here again? I feel like my site is pretty free of any glaring problems, so it's going to take a lot of work to figure out how I can actually be of service. I have to keep reminding myself that I have two years (scratch that, 23 months) to get stuff done, and that right now I'm just supposed to be focusing on learning the language and getting settled in to my community. Baby steps...

So, though it's been a fabulous weekend away, the time has come to return to my little home in the highlands. Tomorrow is a new day, and I'm going to really try to completely throw myself into this experience. Haters gonna hate no matter where you are in the world, but I can try my damnedest to not let them ruin my day. Here's to trying anyway!

Till next time, take care.