I have officially been at site for one month…and I’m still alive! Let me tell you a little about my site, Morarano. It’s a smalllll village, near a national park (which I haven’t had a chance to explore yet), pretty far from electricity and civilization. It consists of mostly farmers (rice, cassava, tons of fruit trees-banana, mango, papaya, guava), there are tons of children everywhere, and it’s nestled in between the mountains and this awesome river. The people are starting to get used to having me there; I’ve been working out in the rice fields with them and making myself visible in hopes that once I am less of a mystery to them, they will be less curious about me (and give me some freaking space). If you have ever wanted to feel like a celebrity, I suggest moving to Madagascar. I feel like I’m straight out of the section of US Weekly “They are just like us…”…that’s right, I have to fetch my water too. I hike to the market, eat food, wash my clothes, and get my hair did (braided), just like you. Sometimes, if I’m having an especially difficult day language wise, or if I’ve made plans to work with a member of my community and they neglect to show up for the meeting (a frequent occurrence), this Malagasy fascination with the vazaha drives me absolutely insane. I love my community, for the most part, but they do not understand the concept of personal space. It’s interesting though, despite being surrounded by people most of the time, due to the fact that my language skills are still minimal (and cultural differences..), there are days that I feel lonelier than I ever imagined possible. My cell service at site is pretty bad, and the two places I do have service are in very public places. If I’m having a shitty day, and start crying on the phone if I am actually able to contact someone, everyone can see. Yeah, great. When I’m having an especially rough day, and I can’t get a hold of anyone…let’s just say anyone who reads my journal entries from those days would be seriously worried about me. I don’t mean to sound so negative; I think it’s just the nature of Peace Corps. Some days are amazing and I feel like there is no where else I’d rather be…and some days I can’t think about the fact that I will be living here for two years because right now that amount of time is much too daunting.
Enough about the negatives. My site is beautiful. I feel like people are looking out for me, and there are a few families that have semi-adopted me and feed me every chance they get. They have taught me a lot about the harvesting/processing of rice, which is the livelihood of the Malagasy people. They eat, sleep, and breathe rice, “vary”. The processing of the rice is incredibly labor intensive, and the women do most of the work. They do not do the actual cutting of the rice, because apparently they are afraid of the blade, but they’ll go ahead and carry 20lbs of rice on their heads for great distances with no complaint. The gender roles here, and what is considered “hard” work, are interesting.
My “job” for the first month has been to integrate into my community, gain their trust, improve my language skills, and try to figure out which direction I want to go in. Everyone wants to learn English. It wasn’t on the top of my list of things that I think need attention in the community, but I’ve decided that I need to start teaching an English class once a week because there is such a demand. I want to focus on introducing SRI, a rice farming technique that was developed in Madagascar, which is slightly more labor intensive, but produces significantly higher yields. There is one person in my village who uses this technique on some of his fields, and he has agreed to let me use one plot of his land in order to do a community SRI demo and encourage others to use this method (assuming my demo field produces a high yield…no pressure there). However, I wont be able to start this until the next growing season, which isn’t until October. In the meantime, I have been working on acquiring another small plot of land in order to start a personal garden and experiment with different crop varieties. My community, and the surrounding villages, are seriously lacking in vegetable variety. They don’t understand that they need to eat a “balanced” diet in order to be healthy. They eat tons of rice and cassava, and minimal vegetables and meat. The climate in my area is very dry, however, there is ample water because a river runs through the area. Sadly, it seems like most people don’t grow more vegetables because watering their gardens would be too inconvenient, and they don’t fully understand the importance of eating vegetables. They have so many natural resources here-they just need to be educated on how to utilize these resources in a responsible manner.
Alright, sorry if I’ve bored you with my ramblings! I hope everyone back in the states is doing well, I miss you all! I'll be back in town next weekend (June 17th/18th), so hopefully I'll be able to post again then.