Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Final Exhibit

People always say that Peace Corps is like a roller coaster- really high highs, really low lows. This last month has proven that to be true for me more than any other point in my service, and included probably my highest point in country.

As you may recall, I started a project at my site with girls from my Girls Club and the English Club. The goal of the project was to teach photography, and through that, critical thinking. It was also to inspire confidence in the girls, to show them they are capable of being strong women and taking ownership of their lives. Lofty goals, sure. But we recently put on an exhibit of their work in my town, and I feel sure in saying that every single one of those goals was met.

The exhibit was held in one of the big school rooms. Due to some fortunate timing and good planning, it started right after a school-wide parent meeting, so between the invitations, flyers, and an announcement at the meeting we got well over five-hundred people to attend. Each girl had a section of the room to display one large picture and four smaller ones. Throughout most of the exhibit they stood by their pictures and explained them to the people who came to look at them. Seeing their smiles and pride as they explained why they took certain pictures to total strangers really made me feel like they had accomplished everything we set out to at the onset of the project. By the way, there are pictures of the exhibit to come, once I can find a camera cord. I took a few and then handed my camera over to the girls to take pictures, because after all, they're the photographers now!

On a personal note though, one of the best parts of the exhibit for me was seeing the reactions of the people from my town. I greeted and said goodbye to everyone who came through, and seeing the joy they got out of looking at the pictures was unbelievably rewarding. Almost everyone who left said the same thing: “Mahafinaritra!” and “Misaotra betsaka,” meaning beautiful, and thank you. The certain high point though was when one older gentleman came in. I recognized him immediately from my favorite photo, a carpenter bent over his work. He was wearing exactly the same thing as he was in the photo, right down to the old fedora. I pointed to the picture of him and said, “It's you, isn't it?” to which he broke out into a smile and said “Yes, that's me.” When I saw him leaving I asked if he enjoyed the exhibit, and was surprised to see little tears sparkling in his eyes. He too said the pictures were beautiful, and thanked me, because he had never seen himself in a photograph. If anything has made my service feel worth it, that moment did.

The last few months have been difficult. I've been robbed several times now, every week prompts more warnings about riots, and the entire school system is on strike. It's disheartening to feel like you're giving everything to a country that doesn't care about you, or even its own people. And yet to know that for a couple months there was a small group of girls in my town who were being inspired by art and got to share that beauty with their friends, family, and community members, I can still say that my time here was worth it. Is still worth it! I have eighty-five days left as of today, and I know that I'm going to try to enjoy each one of them to the fullest.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Well, this cyclone season has been really annoying. First the east coast got nailed by Giovanna, and then Irina came down the north and west coasts. The good thing about living in the highlands is that we never suffer the brunt of the storm, but we do get the weeks of lingering rain no matter where a cyclone has hit. Since the two cyclones hit so close together, we've had several weeks of almost non-stop rain, which means my town is basically just a mud pit. I haven't been able to go running, people are staying inside so the clinic has been pretty dead, and all of the food in the market has been rotting. The last one is probably the biggest problem. I've still been able to find some veg with only a few bad spots that can be cut around, but you can forget about fruit. The bananas are just piles of black mush, and the apples are so bruised and rotted out you can barely tell what they are. But, I've got my little stock pile of rice and can still buy ramen from the stores, so I'm doing alright. A couple friends and I are planning a vacation to the east coast in a couple weeks, so we'll probably check out the damage there when we go. Hopefully no new cyclones crop up during that time though. We'll be hitting Tamatave and Foulpointe, which I haven't been to, and then popping over to St. Marie, which is probably one of the most beautiful places on earth. I'm so excited to be going back there. Dreams of the perfect beaches are what's keeping me going at this point. Oh, and lobster of course.

Even though clinic work has been slow, my photography project has been amazing work. We've had a few meetings at this point, and I've been absolutely thrilled with the way the girls have embraced the assignments. They've really seemed to understand the point of the assignments which so far have been “home” and “fun.” They've produced some really great pictures of their families, daily work, and friends. At each meeting we go through all the pics that they took the week prior, and then I tell them which were my favorites and why. Then, they have to select which of their pics was their favorite that week and then write a short paragraph describing the picture and why they think it's good. One example from the first week was from a girl named Safidy whose picture was of her mother sifting rice:
“I like this photo because it is of my mother. She does the house work and helps her children with their studies. She works very hard so that her children may study.”
I'm excited for this week's assignment, which is “community” because it will get them out and about in the town interacting with other people. They won't be able to be shy if they want to get good pictures of people, which is what I always tell them- “You must be brave for art!” Which they always giggle at, but I hope they keep it in mind this week. I've posted some of my favorite photos in an album on facebook if you want to take a look at their work.

That's about all that's going on in this soggy country for now. Till next time.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Well, it's been brought to my attention again that I've been a horrible blogger. And seeing as my last entry was...almost half a year ago (!?) I can't really argue. But I will anyways, because as anyone who knows me is aware, I'm always up for a good argument.

Somewhere around being in country for a year, the feeling of “living in Africa” sort of ceased. The weird things became less weird, the scary things less scary, and the novel things downright tedious. The feeling of waking up everyday slightly nervous about what strange, madcap things might happen lessened, and eventually I settled into what could more or less be called a routine. I know that when I wake up now I'll immediately go outside to fetch water, come in and make coffee (and oatmeal if I have it), eat breakfast, and chat online for a little bit. Then I'll get ready for work and go to the CSB to do prenatal consultations, vaccines, or malaria tests depending on the day. At lunch I head over to the middle school to run while the kids are at home for lunch, and afterwards, I'll follow suit. I can usually set my lunch to cooking while I heat a little water to take a shower, and then I come back and eat. Afternoons are a little less structured, but typically involve some combination of reading, studying for the MCAT, watching a movie, or hanging out with my site mate, Travis. After that it's dinner time, so another round of cooking, or maybe going to the hotely for soup, then cleaning, and then it's practically time to go to bed, most often to the sounds of mice and lizards scurrying around my house.

To summarize, “living in Africa” became simply “living,” and most of it seemed too mundane to really even mention to people back home. At least, that's what I thought until I went home last month.

As Peace Corps volunteers, we build up what America is like in our heads, because for many of us, it's been several months (or even years) since we've been there. Obviously I hadn't forgotten America in the year and a half since I had left home, but I was overconfident in my thinking that reverse culture shock wouldn't be a problem. On the one hand, when my plane landed in Paris I was ready to get on the next return flight to Madagascar because holy crap, there are a million cars, and buildings, and roads, and it's FREEZING. On the other, by the time my tired and delirious feet hit Chicago and had my first bite of deep-dish pizza, I was ready to stow my suitcases for good and never look back.

America was all kinds of wonderful- spending time with family and friends, eating food I'd been craving for so long, going places and not having everyone pointing at me, and actually, having places to go in general was simply amazing. But there were constant reminders to me of how I've changed since leaving, and how different my life in Madagascar really is. Though I can't honestly say I missed Madagascar while I was home, there was a part of me that was happy to be back to my simple life for a while more.

Being in America was a reality check, and I don't think I would have been ready to stay there for good when I was home for the holidays. People have jobs and bills and schedules, and while I do miss a faster pace of life, it's kind of nice to only worry about buying rice (or usually ramen in my case) and rat hunting in a day. But, it was a wake up call. My stage of PCVs has less than 7 months left here, and then it's back to “real life”. It's created kind of a weird dichotomy of feeling like I need to be planning for when I'm home but at the same time, trying to really make the most of my time here. The usual challenge of “being present” I suppose.

In any case, my trip home was a reminder that the weird things ARE still weird here, or cool, or different, or whatever your interpretation of them is if you live in America. And I remember reading blogs before I left and thinking how interesting everything about Peace Corps seemed, and being excited about having that life. So, I'll try to keep that in mind over the next several months and do a better job of blogging. Because hey, rat hunting might seem normal to me, but there is really nothing normal about 3 grown-ass adults chasing rats around a room with broom sticks and wiffle-ball bats (combined, we have a .5 “batting” average).

What's next for me and the blog? My photography project with girls from the Girls Club is scheduled to start next week, so I'll be updating about that as much as I can, hopefully with pictures! And also, if you've seen the news (CNN, Al Jazeera), you know that Madagascar is in a bit of a tenuous state, politically speaking. One of the exiled presidents has been trying to come back to country, which is being met with opposition from the current regime. So, everyone here has been closely monitoring that situation and waiting to see how it plays out, myself included.

Other than that, not much big news on the island! Till next update, take care.