Friday, July 22, 2011

One year in...

A year ago today I took my first steps on the red, dusty soil of Madagascar. It's been a long, hard, and fun year, so I figured a little reflection was in order. In some ways I can't believe...I don't know- that it's been a whole year? That it's only been a year? That I'm still here? All of the above I suppose. On the car ride through Tana from the airport last year, I remember thinking to myself “There's no way I can live here for the next two years.” Everything seemed so chaotic- Why were there so many stray dogs? What's with all the meat hanging in shops with flies on it? Why aren't these children wearing clothes or shoes? Basically all part of the scene I should have been expecting upon entering a developing country, but when actually confronted with it after several days of sleepless travel my reaction was one less of excitement and hope and more so one of “no thank you, please put me back on that plane.”

Today, I walked through my town's market. I stopped to play with my friends, children who often wander around without shoes. I dodged the flea-bitten, matted-hair dogs the linger around the market where they wait patiently for a small scrap of rancid meat to fall from the butcher's shop counter. I spotted some good looking mandarin oranges and had a conversation in Malagasy with the seller about when and where they were picked, how much they were, and how many I wanted. I bought some envelopes from a small shop so I could mail the letters I wrote to family and friends last night by candlelight when the electricity went out several hours earlier than usual, then took them to the post office so that they could start the long journey to America. Now, none of this seems out of place. A year ago though, it would have seemed daunting. I guess with enough time you can get used to anything. With enough effort, you can like anything.

I'm very tamana tsara (well-settled) in my town, although to be honest, I still feel much more at home in Tana. Talking to the street-kids and prostitutes feels so much more productive than talking to the people in my town who are already pretty well-off and mahay (knowledgeable) about health. I still go to the clinic in my town several days a week, but I've switched the focus of my future projects to be more youth centered. Right now I'm waiting to hear back about my funding proposal for a photography project which would let me and a few of my fellow PCVs teach our girls clubs about photography, let them take pictures, and put together exhibits for their communities. There is such a lack of visual art in Madagascar, and increasingly so when you get outside of the bigger cities. It's really a shame, so I'm hoping that with a little bit of funding I'll be able to change this in a few communities around the country.

Other than my community work, I've been pretty busy. I went to the Training of Trainers in Mantasoa a couple weeks ago where, along with four other health volunteers and several education volunteers, I learned about how to be a trainer for the new stage of trainees that just arrived in country last week. We are all taking different weeks to teach them about skills they might use over the next two years as volunteers, and also just to answer questions about being a PCV in Madagascar in general. For my week I'm teaching sessions on building cookstoves, doing cooking demonstrations for mothers of young children, gardening, planting moringa trees, and fruit drying. I'm also doing a session on what it means to be a vazaha in Madagascar which should be interesting, because I still haven't quite figured that one out myself.

When I was last in Tana a few other volunteers and I went to the airport to greet the new trainees as they arrived. I felt really nervous for them because I was remembering how I felt at that time a year ago, and I saw the familiar look of anxiety, exhaustion, and excitement on many of their faces. They have no idea what they're getting into! I only now, after one year, feel like I have the foggiest grasp on what I got myself into, but at least at this point I still feel like it was a good decision and I'm looking forward to continuing to figure it out over the next year. Till next time, take care.