Saturday, December 13, 2008

November 2008

Alright, so here is a small account of my life in the Peace corps so far. I am in the the middle of pre-service training currently in a small town an hour outside the capital Antananarivo. Madagascar is an incredibly diverse country, but right now I am living in a mostly merina area. In 'Tana', it is easy to see the diversity - people who look more Asian or more African. I live with a wonderful Malagasy family during this 10 week pre-service training. I'll head to my site in December.

I'm kinda like an alien that has landed in this country - At 5' 8" I am a head taller than everyone. I walk or stoop around around my house ducking under beams and squeezing through doorways. I am having to learn all the basics of being a human - how to go to the bathroom, how to cleanse myself, how to drink water, how to communicate (in Malagasy, that is). My body cannot thrive in this foreign land without ingesting a collection of pills and injecting various shots every week...for the HIB, HEP A, HEP B, typhoid, malaria, rabies, meningitis, yellow fever, dysentery, fleas.

So here is a typical day of pre-service training (quite structured and busy in fact, which will probably not be the case once I start at my official site).

I get up a around 5 a.m. and empty my 'po' in the kabone. Translation - when it is dark, I am not allowed to use our outside latrine because I have to be weary of the mpamosavy (witches who walk around naked with their hair in front of their faces 'Ring' style. These witches are crazy but crafty - they slather themselves in oil so that they can't be caught). There are rabid dogs around so I shouldn't be out after dark anyway. I use a bucket or 'po' to go to the bathroom which I empty in the morning into the pit latrine. I'll try to censor this a bit, or be less graphic - the pit latrine is abut 3 feet high. It is difficult enough 'aiming' in my pit latrine, let alone fitting inside it. So around 5:30 a.m. I might go for a run way above the rice fields that curve their way through the low valleys. At 6ish, my Neniko (Malagasy mom) has prepared some hot water for me so I can take a bucket shower outside. We have breakfast together, fried bread, honey, peanut butter (home made), bananas, and coffee. Then I clean the floor of my room, scrub it first with half a coconut shell and then sweep it up. I'm at school at 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. (with a 2 hour break to have lunch with Neniko. Our classes consist of language, technical and cross-cultural training. I'm already immune to many of things I found funny in the beginning. There are roosters and chicken that we constantly have to shoe out of our 'classroom.' The kids in the village often spend the bulk of their day watching us. We 'vazaha' or foreigners are apparently a constant source of amusement. Everyone knows odd details about us. This woman, who I had never seen before, stopped me in the street the other day and asked me if my foot had healed. I had a bug bite that I had scratched and it had become a bit infected. It was nothing though, and this random woman knew about it. Sometimes, a trainee will come to school and tell me that her host family told her that my stomach is doing better…basically, a family in a neighboring village knows about my bowel movements. After school, I usually hang out with some of the trainees, maybe Ill grab my soccer ball (the nicest one in the village) and play with some of the local kids, or Ill fetch water with my host family. At around 7 p.m, we dine again - rice, more rice, always rice and a vegetarian side dish.

Most everyone here is Catholic or Protestant. Clearly, from my witch example, the traditional beliefs are still held. Ancestral worship is ubiquitous. Exhumations take place annually. It seems like everyday I learn a new cultural taboo or 'fady'. My family is still incredibly accommodating - they are serving vegetarian food for my sake. They want to respect my 'fomba' or customs. I told them my fomba are not so resilient, but they will not hear of it.
Continuing, at around 8 p.m., I am in bed -if I am not too tired I'll do a bit of language or technical self study with my headlamp. My bed, draped with green mosquito nets on all sides, retains its romantic value - not yet trumped by the sheer obstacle it presents in having to re-tuck and re-fasten every time I get up during the night to use my 'po'!

During the weekends at the training site, I handwash my clothes in the rice paddies qnd maybe go to church for the cultural experience followed by watching a local soccer match. I've been fishing (including gutting and cooking the fish while simultaneously shoeing away the ravenous cats that are in fact need of more nourishment than white rice can afford them), farming/picking beans, climbing trees to fetch plums, and hiking.

Whenever I travel I am blown away by the kindness and hospitality I encounter in others who are practically strangers. Here, it is no different. The Malagasy I interact with on a daily basis are concerned, patient, and good humored. I may clearly be in a kind of honeymoon phase - but I am really happy to be a part of this right now. Everyone I am involved with (the Malagasy, PC, the trainees) have good intentions without naivety. I know the tougher times are ahead (such as when I get homesick or when I have to integrate into a community completely alone) but it is at that time that I need to just refer back to what drove me to do this in the first place.


stephendrucker said...

A great kick-off for your adventure. Don't apologise for the po details - Viennese/Germanic readers lap up that sort of stuff!!
It's all really interesting and so wonderfully descriptive we've just had a typhoid injection and a course of malaria pills.
We look forward to the next instalment.
Meanwhile we wish you a very happy birthday, holidays and a special 2009. While you're sipping birthday cocktails of rice wine we'll be down the road in Namibia.
Lots of love from Stephen and Jilliexxxxxxxxxx

Angela said...

I am a returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Mali, W. Africa so I know what you are going through! I'm writing because I have a friend that just graduated from chiropractic school and he's moving to Madagascar to be the first chiropractor to service the country. He's going to be placed in the north...Diego? I know that when I was a Peace Corps volunteer there was a volunteer house in the city, etc where people would meet up. I know he would appreciate having contacts in the country that speak English and have a similar mission. If you would be at all interested in being in contact with him or know other volunteers that will be near him, that would be amazing. His website for his nonprofit is if you'd like to see more on what he's doing. Otherwise, if you could email me at and let me know if you could be a resource, I'd really appreciate it!