"Be the change you want to see in the world." - Gandhi

Monday, January 25, 2010

I'm Back!!!!

I’ve arrived! Tonga soa, or welcome! I’m back on the island and back to living the country lifestyle. Getting my rice on and working again. It’s good to be back, that’s for sure. It feels as if I didn’t leave, things haven’t changed much since we’ve been gone it seems. There’s still rice growing and lots of smiling and curious faces. Day to day life seems to be consistent to what it was before, I’m eager to get back into the rhythm of it all. Waking up early every morning to the roosters crowing and babies crying, yes, it’s all here. None of that has changed or will, no matter what the political situation is, no, here in the countryside they follow the planting seasons and listen to the beat of that drum. Right now it’s beating pretty hard as its planting season and people are trying to plant everything before the rains come, and hopefully they do come. We could use some rain. It’s rice and corn planting season here in the north now. I’ve already acquired a rice and corn field, as well as having my own garden. They are eager to learn new farming techniques, as well as English. That one is always a given, though. The only thing that has changed would be my location; I’m up in the north now, Diego region. That being said, I’m about 50 kilometers away, or a mere 2 hour drive. It’s nice being so close to a big city; I can go there to get my fixes: internet, electricity, running water, food besides rice, and basically all the essentials that you would take for granted at home. They have it all in Diego, there’s the beach, more white people than any other city I’ve been to here, touristy hotels, and large markets full of anything you can think of.

I’m back to working the land and long days in the office. It’s hard to discriminate work between play here. Work is your life. It consumes you; it’s as consistent as the sun rising every morning. People live by the sun here, when it rises so do you, when it sets it’s time to go back home and cook the rice for dinner. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a family welcome me in for dinner every night; it’s been a true blessing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wait. What? You’re going back? Girl, you crazy.

In the words of Napoleon Dynamite, “heck yes.” A group of about 10 of us, plus some others doing Peace Corps Response will be heading back to the wonderful, mysterious, beautiful, and somewhat still politically unstable island of Madagascar. Things are safe there, so no worries about that, and frankly have been since we left for the most part. Hind sight is 20/20, I guess. Going back will be interesting to say the least. I’m just really lucky to have such a great group of people to share this experience with and to grow with while I’m there. Truly amazing people, love you guys.

With this new experience comes new challenges, duh. I’m excited about this, though. Learning a new dialect of Malagasy, living in the north, not the southeast, starting all over in a new village, but along with this comes a new banking town that has a swim-up bar. What, what?! Hey, not bad, right? I know, maybe that sounds too much like a vacation to you? In all honestly, I might be there a few times while I’m there at the most, as you have to pay to swim there, and “tsy misy vola fa misy volo”, as I used to tell people, or “I have no money, but I have hair”. Come on, you know that’s funny. Laugh. Live a little. But seriously, should be a good time and I’m looking forward to exploring a new part of the island and getting back to work! I’m still doing environmental work and should be working with rice still and farming. Exciting! I know, I know. Be jealous. Better yet, come visit and see for yourself!

Although, I was so bummed about leaving before and coming home, it’s been a good time being back and I’m so glad I got to see most of you!! Totally thankful for that! I will have to say that I’ve been waiting to go back ever since I got home. Guilty. I’m beyond stoked on getting this opportunity to return to the place I love with the people I have come to adore and the work that completely inspires me. I think the Red Hot Chili Peppers summed it up best, “Take me to the place I love, take me all the way!”

Cheers to a fresh start!

Friday, January 23, 2009

It's a small world after all

Everyday I sit at my kitchen table/desk whether I happen to be eating, reading, or working. Every now and again I can’t help but to glimpse up at the map of the world that dominates the wall above my table. The world looks so large and I long to explore all of it. It’s funny though, because while I’m sitting and staring at the mast size of the world I can’t help but to think how small my ‘world’ is here. Everyone’s house in my village is a stones throw away. (I’m not kidding; I could literally throw a rock from my house to anyone’s house) Everyday I try to talk around and visit with people just to see what the latest news and gossip is and remind them the white Malagasy is still here and so on. I say try because sometimes I’m busy working on things, working in the fields, or sometimes I don’t make it past my neighbors house and other times there’s a downpour, so in that case I definitely don’t make it past my neighbors house. Its all part of the PC experience of living and working in a small village. On any given day I can see all my friends and ‘family’ here, doesn’t get any better than that, right? I couldn’t do that back at home that’s for sure. Here there is a real sense of community. Does that come from the culture? Maybe, or maybe it comes from the fact that like the eco-system everything is connected in one way or another to each other therefore creating one whole. Is that what my village is then, one whole singly connected to every other person that lives in it? If so, how do I fit into this whole? Is there a place for a white girl from South Carolina? Is this part of my PC experience to see where I fit and where I don’t? As I approach being in this country for a year (9 months at site) I think the answer to these questions is a resounding and enthusiastic yes! (Following in suit with Barack’s “Yes We Can”). Since being here I’ve found that while I can’t change the color of my skin or seem to get a good grasp on this language, that no matter what my faults (I don’t eat rice 3 times a day sometimes, oops) that the people in my village welcome me knowing all of this with open arms. (Literally, we give hugs here. Be jealous) While I might stick out a little (I’m taller and bigger than almost all of them. Oh, did I mention I’m white?) if we were all linked hand in hand to form a circle it would create a strong binding connectedness thus creating a collective unit of one.
In that circle would be included newborns, farmers, lots of children, few elderly, lots of smiling faces with missing teeth, people who have never left my village, cow herders, some with physical disabilities, some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met, and lastly one white girl from America that will never forget any of the faces in that circle. Sometimes I don’t feel I even belong in that circle or their small world. I definitely don’t work and couldn’t probably work as hard as they do. I feel sometimes that they have already done so much more for me then I could ever do for them. Sometimes I wonder if I should even be invited into their circle at all.
Since I’ve been here that circle has always included a special place for me, I’ve just had to learn how to find my way into it. I’ve realized this experience and my life here is much bigger than I could have imagined when I signed up for “The hardest job you’ll learn to love”. It’s been a job bigger than doing huge projects that don’t have any likelihood to be sustainable. I’m finding that it’s much more than that. It comes in small doses sometimes too, a smile here and a smile there. Mostly I define my experience here by that slight glimmer in someone’s eye when they see me or we start talking about something. It’s a look of hope that comes from their soul. It seems to speak louder to me than anything they could ever express to me verbally. When I see that, that’s when I know I belong here. That’s when I know that while we are all one people, that all it takes is one to create that look of longing, the look of longing for what’s to come and being excited about the future and all the possibilities that it can bring. That’s when I find my spot in the circle. That’s when I find my role in my newly found small world.

Sorry fans...

I know I haven’t written a blog in a while, so sorry to all my loyal fans out there. It hasn’t been because I haven’t been up to anything. No, that’s certainly not true. It does seem however that my life here has become normal and routine. Things that I would have written about previously (eating babies?) might seem of little significance to me now because life here just seems ordinary. Things aren’t so new and unfamiliar anymore. I’m not saying that being here has lost its sparkle and has become dull, just that a rooster crowing at 4:30 A.M. has been a thing I’ve gotten used to for example. (It’s true I wake up every morning at 4:30 A.M. even when they don’t crow. They do a few minutes later though, no worries) it seems that I’ve forgotten how things were when I was back at home.

Back at home in the land of electricity and all its wonders of refrigeration and air conditioning. I’ve learned to live without or to use things more sparingly here. In bigger towns I can get my dose of these things (still not air conditioning usually). I’ve forgotten that things come all nice and packaged up and can be bought in huge grocery stores and aren’t sold by the kilo in open markets that line up and down streets blocking off car traffic so you can only travel by foot. I’ve forgotten that most things back at home don’t take that long to do or that you can drive anywhere you want to get whatever it is that you think you need at that specific moment in time. That just seems ludicrous now. Just to think that you can even upload pictures whenever you want and even be able to watch videos on the internet seems like such a foreign concept to me now. I’m a huge You Tube fan, but while I’m here I won’t get to see any of those videos on there or place any on there of my own. I’ve forgotten that fast food exists (more of a positive than negative, I guess). I can’t remember what foods are on a traditional American menu say at Chili’s or Applebee’s, and needless to say have definitely forgotten all the kinds of ethnic food that are available. No, all food has been replaced by one; rice. I really don’t know where this country would be without it. That being said I’ve also lost a taste in beer it would seem. No longer do I get to sample beer from all over the states and the world for that matter with my dad on pint nights. No, that’s all been replaced too with the lone beer they have here, Three Horses Beer (THB). I don’t say these things because I feel I’ve lost anything by being here. No, that’s definitely not the case to say the least. I say these things because this is my life now and will be for my next year and some odd months that I have left here. I say this as a reflection of how different my life has been this year from those in the past. Will I enjoy my year left here even if that means eating rice everyday? In the words of Napoleon Dynamite, “heck yes”! I mean I’m only here for two years, so may as well eat it up, right?

All that being said one thing that has recently happened is that kids aren’t so afraid of me (still not all) but they aren’t so shy anymore and don’t always run when they see me. Therefore I’ll break them up into categories to help explain:

Screamers- There are still kids that when they see me start crying and screaming really loud. Ex: One time I was walking into the local store to get some things and the one kid was in there and was fine until he saw me. When he did see me he froze, he literally couldn’t move because he was so overcome with fear and was loudly screaming and crying.

Criers- There are a few kids that just cry when they see me. From them I don’t usually get quite the reaction as the screamers nor does it happen as quickly with them. Ex: They see me then they look around at others as if asking what to do and based on the reaction they feel they receive they usually start to cry.

Runners- Probably my favorite group. These are the kids that will yell my name every single time they see me from a distance. When and if I get close to them however or sometimes even start to walk in their direction they run away. Sometimes this also involves crying. Ex: Kids come up to my gate and just stand there staring into my house or at me and they will stand there until I either acknowledge them or act like I’m heading towards them. If I do get up they run away as fast as possible, it’s a fun game I suppose.

Newbies- Newbies used to be runners or criers but I haven’t had any screamers become one yet. Newbies have just gotten used to me and have found out that I’m not as scary as they thought (and how awesome I am) and that they can come over and color or look at books. These kids have just found a recent mild obsession with me and want to come over or for me to take pictures of them doing any thing they can think of.

Oldies- The kids have been with me since the start. Since day one they weren’t afraid and have been coming over to my house since I first moved in. They get me more or less how I work and that while I can’t play every day that I do like for them to come over every once in a while. These kids for the most part don’t ask for as much as the other kids and are on the whole seem to be better mannered. These kids are also more affectionate with me and hold my hand when we walk around and aren’t shy when talking to me.

Site update:

Working on some health projects lately of introducing teeth brushing and proper hand washing (using soap). I've included a picture of the kids with their wooden toothbrushes we made. Other than that working to teach them about nutrition and eating a balanced meal. Working with this I've introduced Moringa which is a tree that provides lots of protein, calcium, potassium, and vitamins. Also working on a proposal to bring kids from my village to a national park along with some other volunteers. What else? Just harvested my popcorn and last of my tomatoes. My rice is also still growing and should be harvested in the next month is my guess. If you heard about the cyclone that hit here just wanted to say everything is fine as for where I am we did experience some high winds and rain but everyone is fine, so no worries.

Hope you all had a great New Years and yay for Barack!! Keep in touch!

Monday, November 3, 2008

3 Hugs and updates

Here is a picture of Ryan and I after finishing the seedbed for the vary or what we call rice.

I’m reading a book now called Two Ears of Corn and its called that because its based on agricultural development work and growing two ears of corn where none existed before. This relates to me getting 3 hugs in my village where none existed before either. This happened to me the last time I came back to my village a few weeks ago and was a lovely surprise. Some of my lady friends at site were waiting for me by the road to help me carry my stuff in which was so nice since I had a lot and couldn’t have done it by myself. My mom at site and her best friend have been giving me hugs since I told them it was American culture to do so when someone comes back home and this time I got 3, one from my neighbor this time who followed suite with my other friends. This is the part of my experience here that I really enjoy, getting to share my culture with them and vice versa. They have really adopted me into their village and way of life, but in a way where I can still be myself.

Other stuff that I have going on is our tree project, building the church, planting my rice, farming stuff, teaching about compost, and showing them new techniques on farming. (I’ll put pictures up of all of these so you can see what I’m talking about). For our tree project I’m doing it through the Peace Corps Partnership Program so you can contribute to our efforts of raising almost $300 dollars to start it off. We’ve started building the beds for the seeds already and have planted some Eucalyptus and Moringa seeds. Moringa is a great tree that will also be used for food and nutritional purposes since when you eat it, it contains calcium, protein, Vitamins A & C, and potassium which are all lacking from their diets. They are really excited about this prospect of gaining better health for themselves and by using these trees they can be cut back and will still re-grow. These trees are an excellent way to have healthy food options in our village.

Another update news bit is that one of my fellow stage mates Ryan stayed at my site the last week with me working on projects with me which was exciting! My village loved having two volunteers there it helped me get a lot of things done as well! We companion planted popcorn with beans in one bed and carrots with eggplants in another. We did demonstrations for this using a method called double digging which loosens up the soil and provides more air to get to the roots so the plants can grow better in essence. We also did a composting demonstration with them that was very interactive and they basically built the whole pile themselves so that was fun and they enjoyed it. One of my friends in the village also gave me some vanilla clippings, so we transplanted six plants in my yard. I should have some vanilla in five to seven years they told me! haha I’m not sure if I can get any before that, but I do hope so! Ryan and I also planted the rice seeds in their seedbed before we left, so they will be ready to transplant in my rice field when I get back! I’ll need to do some preparation for my bed, but other than that it should be ready to go!

We just started a women’s group as well, so we’ve been having meetings trying to determine the structure and goals of the group which has been a challenge since they’ve never sat down to do these things before. They are really bright and hard working women and already have some great ideas, but we are just working on the basics of why they want to start a women’s group? What they want to accomplish with it and finding out what their motivations and goals are. I know it’s going to take some time with them, but I think they are capable of doing these things and as long as I can keep them focused that we’ll get it done eventually so that they can start with a strong foundation of what they want to accomplish so they can continue to work on this themselves without my help one day. That’s my goal for the group at least. The main challenge is getting them to thing long-term and seeing projects that can build off of other projects that will be sustainable and won’t require too many inputs but they can see results from. Right now the main project they want to work on is raising ducks, which I think is a great idea and we’ll be applying for money soon for this. For now we are just going over the basics so that we can take our time with this project so that it can be a great success for them. Patience is key here, things just don’t change over night!

Things are good here and I’m getting busy working on stuff, so it’s been exciting this time of year. I’m looking forward to the election and getting to watch some of the news coverage hopefully! Hope you guys get out and vote, I sent in my absentee ballot a few weeks ago! If you don’t hear from me before Thanksgiving then have a good one and hope to hear from you! If you think about it then write me something, I’ll be glad to hear from you!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Eating babies?

I’m not exactly sure who it was that started the rumor that ‘vazaha’ (white people) eat babies, but some people do believe that here for whatever reason. I wish I was lying about this but I'm not. Have they seen this happen? In any case I had heard this and its true that babies do cry when they see white people if they aren’t used to them especially in the countryside and unfortunately still in my village. I’ve heard this is because the doctors who gave them their shots were white so they relate us to getting a shot. Sounds fair enough and I can understand that reasoning, no kid likes to get shots and even as you get older they still aren’t fun. For the record I think I’ve gotten around 20 shots since I’ve been here and none of them were fun. Anyhow, I had heard of this ‘baby eating’ theory before but thought that was more of a myth and that people didn’t actually believe it. I had never actually been accused of eating them before, that was until a few weeks ago. I was buying vegetables on the side of the road and trying to talking to people in Malagasy. They love it when white people can speak Malagasy and while I’m no expert I was able to communicate with them and explain that I was in the Peace Corps and lived in the countryside and showed them a picture of me in my village that I carry with me for times like this when people don’t believe me that I don’t have a lot of money and actually live like they do. It sounds far fetched to them and I understand that, so hence the picture. They love pictures here so when I pulled it out I had an even bigger crowd and they all had to hold it and look at it. I then started joking that I’m the ‘white Malagasy’ and I’m not a ‘vazaha’. They loved this and agreed that yes I was indeed Malagasy. That was all of them except one woman holding a small child. She still called me a vazaha and encouraged her child to do the same, so I thought if I talked to her that might change her mind. I thought wrong. Instead she told me that I would eat her baby. Really? I couldn’t believe it, so I showed her the vegetables that I had bought and said “Why would I eat your baby when I have food?” This still didn’t work and she told me I would eat her baby and that I should by her baby some cookies. I could tell that I wasn’t going to win this, so I left. I was in a bigger city when this happened and was heading back to my village the next day and who did I see the next morning at the taxi station? Yes, the women and her baby sitting by the taxi that I always take. Of course I was then called vazaha again and asked to buy them food again. She didn’t however tell me that I was going to eat her baby, so maybe our conversation the day before changed her mind?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Welcome to the Good Life!

Isle St. Marie, Madagascar

Akory Aby! Hey, how are ya? Things are going wonderfully here and I love it! We had our training that went really well and I got a lot of different ideas and information from it. Our stage continues to amaze me as to how well we were able to pick up where we left off 3 months ago. It was so great to see everyone! I learned a lot about rice again, trees, environmental education, NGO’s, grant writing, and many others. It was a great couple of days of long sessions and long discussions. We did have a night where we all showed pictures from our sites which were so great to see how everyone else’s villages are and how different all of our placements are. I want to visit everyone’s sites! It’s crazy how different the landscape and weather conditions are on this island and how a lot of us are going to have a totally different experience than our other volunteers, I think that’s what makes this island so unique and special. Madagascar has really grown on me these past months and it’s been amazing as my pictures will show as well.

Isle St. Marie

Welcome to Paradise! Isle St. Marie is a gorgeous smaller island off the northeastern part of the main island of Madagascar. To get there we traveled up to Tamatave on our taxi-brousse which was amazing since we didn’t have to be crammed into on with babies and other Malagasy people getting sick the whole way. We got to actually be comfortable in one for once and it seemed really luxurious. We had an Ipod hookup as well so we got to control the music as well so it was pretty sweet. On the way Sasha hooked us up with some M & M’s that her mom had sent and snacks! Thanks Sasha’s mom you’re awesome! Candy is a real treat here since it’s expensive to buy, so I only buy one Twix a month haha. Anyhow we got to Tamatave and spent the night there and got up really early the next day to depart to this small port place 4 hours away so we could catch a boat to Isle St. Marie. We made it to the port in good time, but not in time to get the ‘fast boat’ to the island so we settled for the ‘Malagasy slow boat’. When we finally pulled away from the port after sitting on the boat for an hour or so we were all excited and little did we know it would be a pretty rough ride. We had lifejackets and stuff so it wasn’t really a safety issue at all on this boat it was just slow and the waters were kinda rough out there. It was a gorgeous ride though and we saw a few whales on the way which was the coolest thing ever! They’re gorgeous! We made it to St. Marie in like 3 hours and it was so worth it, it was great weather when we arrived and a tropical paradise! It was what I had expected my whole Madagascar experience to be, so I was glad I got to see that side of Madagascar. We stayed in these huts the first night right on the beach and it couldn’t have been a better trip. Everything seemed to fall into place and our hotels, food, drinks everything was amazing! I had fresh lobster, shrimp, and fish everyday and other great food. The people were great there and loved that we all spoke Malagasy. It was a great time with a great group of people and I hope to go back there soon! We walked a lot, went to the pirate cemetery, meet great people, went to the small island of I’lle au Natte, ate amazing food, hung out, saw whales, and most of all got to relax! It couldn’t have been more awesome and I’m looking forward to some more vacations in the future!

After vacation we returned back to Tana (the capital) for a day and then I headed back to Fianar. I’ve got some work and meetings to do here and will probably be leaving tomorrow to head back to site. I can’t wait to see my village and share all my trips with them and pictures since I’ve been gone!! I really miss them. We have our tree nursery training in a few days so I hope it goes over well and I’ll be planting my rice soon!! I thing I’m going to start being busy at site when I get back so I’m really looking forward to that!!

I should be back on internet in a month or so? Not sure yet but I’ll update then as well. Thanks for reading and let me know what’s going on with you! Any football or political news would be great as well! Take care!


Brittany is solely responsible for the content of this blog; the views herein expressed are hers alone and are not necessarily those of the Peace Corps or of the United States Government.