Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Vaovao

Despite my longstanding claims that I'm not really a “kid-person,” I've realized that as far as my work goes in Ankazobe, I actually enjoy working with them. Not so much in the context of the CSB, because there I'm seen as the bad guy, the one who gives them shots and pricks their fingers, so they're not usually too happy to see me. It doesn't do much for altering the image of big, bad vazaha, but hopefully it doesn't tarnish their opinions forever. When I'm not freaking out babies however, I've been working with a group of high school kids on creating a World Map at the lycee and have started a girls club at the middle school.

The World Map project can seem pretty daunting at first, but we broke it into small, manageable tasks. First, there's making a numbered grid system. Ours is about 10x8 feet. Then, we drew all of the countries on the grid by copying them from a world map that was sectioned and blown up. Next step, which is where we are now, is painting. This is probably the most fun part, because they can really see it taking shape. We probably have a few more sessions of painting, then we'll label all the countries and be done! It's been a great project to get student involvement on, although the recent bad weather from the cyclone has made meeting a little difficult. Since Ankazobe is in the central highlands we didn't get hit too badly, but we had tons of rain and wind, and it got really cold. Even so, Esther (my site partner) and I showed up to every meeting because invariably two or three students would still be there, ready to work. I feel like one of the things I complain about most here is that people are apathetic and unwilling to work for what they want changed, so if even one kid decides to make the effort to make things better, you better believe it'll take more than crappy weather for me to let them down. So, we'll have a few more painting sessions, and then maybe a little party to celebrate its completion. It's pretty cool to think that for years to come, students will be able to use the giant map that we're making now. At least, I hope they use it- I get pretty tired of explaining that the USA and Australia aren't the same country, and that Jamaica isn't in Africa.

The other project that just recently started (yesterday, in fact), is the Girls Club at the middle school. One thing before I explain about the club -- grades here don't work the same way as in the US. It's really common for kids to be held back, and thus the ages for the middle school are somewhere between about 8 and 16. It can make it a little hard to find common ground for things to talk about, especially when dealing with health topics, but we're working through it. Yesterday was our first meeting, and it was mostly just to do introductions. I'm working with a few other English teachers on this, and the students already knew them, but I was just someone they've seen around town. So I introduced myself and let them ask me questions, which were mostly about things I liked. What's my favorite sport (soccer, but only to watch, I'm not good at playing), color (red and pink), fruit (all of them, but I guess lychee and pineapple if I had to choose). The hardest one they asked was who my favorite singer was, because they haven't heard of anyone I like (this includes people as famous as The Beatles and Elvis), so I said Michael Jackson, because most people do know who he is, and I like him alright.

Then, the tables were turned and I asked them to introduce themselves one by one and tell me who their favorite singer was. You would think I had asked them to recite the preamble to the Constitution or something, because they freaked the heck out. It took a while for them to settle themselves down enough to get started, but eventually, through lots of whispers and giggling, we made it through all sixty or so girls. Apparently Westlife is still huge here, along with Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, and...Justin Beiber. I guess teenage girls are all pretty much the same when it comes down to it. No matter where they live, they're suckers for an auto-tuned voice and a ridiculously over-managed hairstyle. I think the whole introduction scenario really exemplified an important part of Malagasy culture though. They don't value individualism, or having opinions even. In school, the kids stand and sit and answer at the same time. There is no discussion. They copy things straight from the board. If you want to give a Malagasy kid a heart attack, just take away his copy book and ask him a question. I see this as a major flaw to their education system, because all they do is memorize! If they're tested on anything requiring critical thinking, it's an utter disaster. Hopefully we'll get to a little bit of that outside the box thinking in Girls Club.

March 8th is International Women's Day (funny I never heard about that in the US...), so our first assignment for Girls Club is for each girl to write a little essay OR draw a picture of what they want to do when they grow up. Again, this prompted about a thousand questions (how many sentences, does it have to be in English, should it be colored, etc), and I told them there were no rules. It could be however long or short or Gasy or English or decorated or plain as they wanted, as long as it showed what they wanted to do with their lives. For our next meeting, we're going to have small groups and discuss what they come up with. Should be interesting! I'm wondering if the club will stay as large as the first meeting was or if it will shrink as the months go on. To be honest, I wouldn't mind if it were a little smaller, because I want to do some arts and crafts and that can get tricky with big groups, but I'm really excited with the initial enthusiasm they've shown! We're planning some fun stuff to- gardening, cooking, crafts, dancing...hopefully they like it.

Also new in my Peace Corps life is that I was voted to be the new VAC (volunteer action committee) representative for the greater Tana region. There are six VAC meetings a year, three regional and three national. My job as rep will be to organize the regional meetings and then act as the go between for Peace Corps staff and the people in my region at the national meetings. I'm pretty excited about it, because not only will it give me something else to do with my free time, it'll hopefully aid in my own understanding of why Peace Corps sometimes does the things it does. Plus, my friend Amber Sheets is the new rep for the Fianarantsoa region, so we'll get to see each other more often and hopefully put all the talking we do into action that will benefit both PC and the volunteers we're representing.

That's the newest from my work life. As far as personal life goes, it's mostly the same- lots and lots of reading, some experimental cooking (I can now make a badass spicy peanut sauce), and early morning walking in the hills. Turns out walking five or six miles in the morning is a great way to start the day! Other than that, life goes on as usual. I suppose I might even say that things have improved here, and that I'm liking it more as time goes on. Additionally, the new stage just arrived in country today, so my stage is finally no longer the baby stage! Tonga soa, new March stage! Having people here that are newer than me actually solidifies my feelings that I've been here a long time, because, hey, I've been here long enough that I'm not new anymore!

So that's that. I hope everyone is still super at wherever their homes are, and that you're enjoying the early hints of spring that must be in the air. Till next time, take care.


  1. You, the big bad vazaha? I never thought of how you would appear that way to scared little kids at the clinic. Hopefully your gentleness and smile counteract the "bad" or should we be sending little stickers?? ;-)

    The projects that you're starting really sound like you ... way to get that girl power/independence rolling! You'll be leaving a piece of your American creativity with Malagasy people for their future.


  2. i smell a site exchange where you come help me fix my world map/create a new one at my lycee..

  3. This is one of the disadvantage of the Malagasy educational system: "teacher-students"relationship is like "judge-defendant" one. So, kids are taught pretty early at home that their parents are the boss, so they have to listen and obey whatever the parents say, same in school. If you had lunch/dinner with a traditional Malagasy family, kids always don't start eating before their parents do. Therefore, they don't have "self-esteem" and are afraid of expressing their opinions.
    However, kids in private schools behave differently. They even abuse the teacher because they know that the teacher does not have much authority over them, like to punish them if they don't do their homeworks, don't listen to the teacher and are noisy in class,...
    Overall,as the proverb said " Every cloud has a silver lining"