The ramblings of a Peace Corps trainee in Madagascar....

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Final Countdown.....

4 Days! Holy crap is right.  I am officially beginning my life as a Peace Corps Trainee in 4 days.  These last few months have really flown by…it’s hard to believe I’m REALLY going this time.  After my training group bound for Guinea was cancelled, I felt like the Peace Corps was this mythical organization that enjoyed making innocent U.S. citizens fill out paperwork and wait for long periods of time while the PC toyed with their futures. Flaunting invitations to exotic countries only to snatch them away weeks before the departure date.  Now that I am 4 days away from meeting my fellow trainees/trainers, having heard nothing but encouraging words and paperwork advice from my PC country desk, my faith in the organization has been restored.  So….what happens in 4 days, you ask?  This Sunday my 40 fellow PC trainees and I congregate in Philadelphia for a brief orientation (introductions, expectations, travel safety, etc. ), followed by a morning of shots.  I am very excited for the shots.  I hear the doctor pinches a bit of fat on your belly and sticks a 5-inch needle into it for yellow fever.   I may be just a tad more excited for the malaria prophylaxis though.   Vivid nightmares?  Daytime hallucinations?  Sign me up.  The PC better not snatch away my dreams of vivid nightmares and daytime hallucinations (is it possible to have dreams of nightmares?).  After a day of orientation/shots (Monday), we take a nap, check out of the hotel at 2am on Tuesday, drive to JFK airport, and get on a flight to Johannesburg.  After this 15hr flight to South Africa we catch a puddle jumper  to Madagascar!  Ah!!!

In preparation for these upcoming events I decided to take a trip to the Bronx Zoo with some very special people.  Believe it or not, this particular zoo is currently host to a Madagascar exhibit.  The exhibit is titled, “Madagascar!”.  Now I feel like I can’t possibly write the word Madagascar(!) without an exclamation point following it.  The lemurs were pretty freaking awesome.  By staring at the sifakas for a few hours I trained myself to control my urges  to touch every lemur I see.  I told myself that just because they are so cute and cuddly, eating leaves off of the same branches, playfully leaping onto each other’s perches and canoodling, does not mean that they all love me, and want to sit on my shoulder picking bugs off of my scalp.   I felt I made some serious progress, and am fully prepared to see lemurs in the wild. 

 The cockroaches were ok….but I was a little disappointed when I did not hear a single one hiss. 

The collared and ring tails shared an exhibit simulating the spiny forest...

Lastly, here is some information about sending packages/letters to me (if any of you are so inclined):   Sending packages.  Family members and Volunteers like to send and receive care packages through the mail.  Please be advised that packages can take at a minimum 1-2 months, but sometimes as long as 4-6 months.  Unfortunately, sending packages can be a frustrating experience for all involved due to the high incidence of theft and heavy customs taxes.  You may want to try sending inexpensive items through the mail, though there is no guarantee that these items will arrive.  We do not recommend sending costly items through the mail.  It is recommended that packages be sent in padded envelopes if possible, as boxes tend to be taxed more heavily.  Even though many Volunteers choose to get local post office boxes, you may always use the following address to send letters and/or packages to your family member:

                                               Elizabeth Toomey , PCV
                                                Bureau du Corps de la Paix
                                                B.P. 12091
                                                Poste Zoom Ankorondrano
                                                Antananarivo 101
(Keep in mind that I will only be at this location until the beginning of May, and that it will take a considerable amount of time for mail to reach meI'll update my address once I find out where I'll eventually be placed for my service.)

Even with the departure date breathing down my neck, the fact that I’m actually leaving is still so surreal to me.  The packing anxiety has become a reality, but the fact that next week I’ll be on the other side of the planet blows my mind.  I wish I could take you all with me!  I will do my best to keep you all posted with this blog.  Feel free to comment or email me:   if you want to get a hold of me.  During my first week of pre-service training I will most likely purchase some type of cell phone, and will post the # once I am in possession of it (texting is relatively cheap).  I may be able to squeeze one more post in before I leave the country, but if not, I'll be in contact as soon as I can!  

 Mandrapihaona! (see you later!)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I’m open to blogging….but still frown upon tweeting.

So…as most of you now know I am shipping out to the lovely island of Madagascar as a Peace Corps trainee at the end of the month.  I will be considered a 'trainee' for the first 2ish months, and upon demonstration of language/technical competency and commitment will be sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer in early May.   If all goes well, I will be in Madagascar for 27 months! What most of you may not realize is how long it has taken for me to actually get here, and what you may have to look forward to if you decide to apply to the PC yourself.  Let me fill you in on the last 1.5 years of my life via this timeline….

Timeline:  Application>Nomination>Invitation....
Oct. 2009:  Filled out ridiculously long Peace Corps application (think grad school application x 2, or job application x 5)
Nov. 2009:  Met with my PC recruiter at Dreamer’s coffee shop in downtown Reno (sadly, no longer there, but at least the Starbucks went out of business as well) for a 2 hour interview.
Dec. 2009:  Nominated for an agroforestry position in Africa
Jan-April 2010:  Filled out legal paperwork, got fingerprinted, completed dental and medical screening (with some procrastination mixed in).  Mailed all paperwork in….and waited….and waited.
June 2010:  Oh, crap.  Apparently I took the wrong Hepatitis test…I needed the surface antigen test!  Who knew?  Apparently not my nurse practitioner.  So…upon getting this call in the middle of Glacier National Park, I make my way to the urban center of Kalispell, MT to find a clinic.
July-Sept 2010:  Hello?  Was that the right Hep test?
Sept. 2010:  After a fantastic backpacking trip in Zion, I make my way back to a signal and find a message from my placement officer.  She asks me a few questions, and informs me my invitation is in the mail.  A week later I receive an invitation to serve in Guinea, West Africa!! F-yeah!  Wait a second….where is that?
Oct. 2010:  Move back in with my parents in CT to spend time with the family before leaving.
Nov. 2010:  My original departure date of 12/2/10 is postponed until 1/12/11 due to political instability in the country following Guinea's first democratic presidential elections.
Dec. 2010:  Training group for Guinea CANCELLED.  Hmmm….A few days later my placement officer gives me the choice of going to Morocco or Madagascar as a Peace Corps environment trainee….and I chose Madagascar! It was a tough call….I decided I liked giant hissing cockroaches more than camels. (..and I guess the lemurs are pretty cute..) 

  These last few months have given me just enough time to get a job (at a climbing gym, which has been awesome), make some good friends in the area, spend some time with old friends, and experience the craziest winter on record in New England.  I will miss all of you very much, and I promise to bring a hissing cockroach back for each and every one of you.  Enough about me….Let me tell you a little about MADAGASCAR!  Not just a cartoon, but potentially the only piece of land predicted to survive the apocalyptic events of 2012 (or so I’ve heard).  

Things Wikipedia (among other credible sources) has taught me about Madagascar....

-It is the 4th largest island in the world, and is often referred to as the "8th continent"
-It is roughly twice the size of Arizona, or 227, 800 sq. miles
-Malagasy is the official language ( with 19 or so dialects, one of which I will have to learn), and French is spoken in the larger cities.
-Madagascar is roughly 200 miles from continental Africa, and is bordered by the Mozambique Channel to the west, and the Indian Ocean to the east.
-Due to it's 170 million year period of isolation, 90% of the flora and fauna are endemic to the island, and have evolved specifically to survive within Madagascar's unique ecosystems.  The island is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world, and is showcase to the wonders of evolution.  

 Here are some links that go more in depth about the wildlife, history, culture, and travel opportunities...

Some interesting photo spreads...

Before I conclude my very first blog post, I would like to reiterate the fact that if you are indeed interested, I would be more than willing to bring you back your very own, cuddly, hissing cockroach.  Here is a helpful guide in caring for your pet H.C....

....and here is an interesting article by Fox News about the joy of sending and receiving H.C.s as Valentine's gifts.  Apparently, "Nothing says forever like a cockroach".