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!