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

Saturday, February 25, 2012

11 months, 25 days in country....(but who's counting?)

Akory aby!  I realize my last blog entry was rather short and overall unsatisfying and uninformative.  I apologize.  I wont give you my usual excuse that so much happens every day over here, summing up an entire month in one blog entry when I have access to the internet is just too overwhelming…blahblah.  While this is true, and while all I want to do when I have internet is get caught up on U.S. news (and maybe facebook..), I am ready to update you on the last 6 months of my life here in Madland.  I have had two visitors—Mom and Kelsey!—experienced two cyclones, visited both the east coast (Manakara) and west coast (Toliara, Ifaty) of Mada, and explored two new national parks; Isalo and Ranomafana (which were both awesome…but I have to say, neither compare to my park, Andringitra:)  I have also become a full-fledged rice/bean/vegetable farmer, much to the amusement and pride of my village. 

As I mentioned in my last entry, I was given a small rice field by a friend in my village, and also convinced a friend of mine from a neighboring village to let me use the SRI technique on 6 tiers of his rice field.  The transplanting/hands on training session was a success!  My rice babies (as I now fondly call my small rice plants…my village friends really like it, especially since I am almost 31, with no ‘real’ children of my own, which is just ridiculous to them) quadrupled in size in just 2 weeks.  I will return to my village tomorrow, after being away for almost two more weeks….so they should be gigantic now (or dead, which would be horrible, but that’s what I get for taking a friend on vacation and neglecting them).  My villagers were really enthusiastic during the training, and some of them even borrowed my tools to do a few tiers of SRI themselves on their fields while I was gone.  It’s crazy though, I put so much time and energy into teaching people about SRI, reading over books about the technique with them, and now that the transplanting has happened and the word is out, I should feel relieved…but…what if my fields die?? What if I don’t produce a significantly higher yield than the traditional method?  No one will believe a word I say about rice from here on..and that would be devastating.  All I can do is weed my fields, manage my water properly, keep those darn pigs from trampling my rice babies, and hope for the best.
My mini ricefield!

This is what rice looks like while it's still in the husk...

Helping my friend transplant her ricefield, traditional style.  I am about 1/100 times as fast as the Gasy ladies.  They pretty much started transplanting in the womb.

In the hopes of encouraging people in my village to grow more of a variety of vegetables in the little gardens they have, I planted 6 garden beds of my own.  I am growing a wide variety of vegetables, and experimenting with some seeds from the USA, trying to see what will grow and if, for example, a highly nutritious vegetable like broccoli will grow in this climate.  So far, about half of the veggies I seeded for are doing very well, and half are either growing realllly slowly, or not at all.  Every day while I’m out in my garden people will ask what I’m growing, and if I have any seeds to spare.  It’s safe to say the 2 main reasons people in my village do not have gardens all year round, and have such limited variety of veggies is a lack of water during the dry season (which lasts at least 6 months) and a lack of seeds (due to lack of willingness to buy them, or a lack of knowledge of seed saving techniques).  I think my next goal is going to be to tackle these two issues…oh yeah, and the issue that there just isn’t as much emphasis placed on the importance of eating a ‘balanced’ diet.  The people in my village think that as long as they eat tons of rice and some kind of beans, they don’t even need to eat vegetables all year round..
In terms of my English teaching, well, it’s been verry sporadic lately.  Everyone is busy farming, all of the time.  I teach guides more on an individual basis now when they have time, and I have stopped teaching the kids in the classroom lately as well.  Once transplanting season is over, I plan on teaching on a somewhat regular basis again (it is close to impossible to have a set schedule in my village…); especially starting in June when the kids start their equivalent of America’s ‘summer vacation’ (it is actually winter here), and the rice harvest comes to an end.  I have requested the help of an Education volunteer in country in hopes that if I can get another volunteer, one whose actual job is that of teaching English, to come live in my village during ‘summer vacation’ they can help me teach the guides, and in turn leave time for me to work on other projects as well.  Teaching is exhausting, and I’m not an expert.  I honestly don’t even know the names of all of the tenses in English…I just know what sounds right, and what doesn’t.  I need a little help figuring out a structure for my classes from someone who knows how to teach English properly.

Some of the activities the (many) inexhaustible children in my village have really grown fond of are:

-sitting outside my door staring at me (oh, wait, that’s everyone’s favorite activity)
-coloring (they usually draw the same 4 things, I’m trying to get them to experiment with their imaginations…but flowers, umbrellas, cows, and houses are the top 4 most drawn items)
-looking at photo albums I brought from the states (they now know the names of everyone in my extended family, all of the dogs/pets in the pictures, and love showing new kids my albums and telling them the story behind each picture, it’s actually pretty funny)
-looking at the special editions of Time/National Geographic with pictures of the most beautiful/amazing places on earth….the pictures really blow their minds
-helping me water my gardens (I’m also a big fan of this one)
-asking where their presents are when I get back from a trip…it is customary here to bring vondalanas (sort of like souvenirs)  for people when you go on a trip (and in my case, whenever I leave my village, even if it’s just to go for a hike).  The kids are starting to remind me of delinquent kids in America on Halloween…I will give them their respective vondalanas (usually candy), then they’ll leave, maybe take off their shirt and rub some dirt on their faces, then return to my door pretending they are a different little kid, demanding their candy.   This is always amusing at first, but as you can imagine, gets exhausting.  Crazy kids.  I ruined them when I gave them Reeses peanut butter cups my Mom brought from the states.  Do you remember the first time you tasted that deliciousness?  I am salivating just thinking about them.  I would most definitely rub dirt all over my face for another Reeses.  Sadly, they are lany (gone).

….after living in Morarano for 10months I am apparently still really interesting to everybody.  The total amount of ‘alone’ time (privacy) I experience between sunrise/sunset is probably 30 minutes.  I am not kidding.  I’ve heard lots of volunteers complain about being bored at their sites…but no one in my village would ever let me get bored.  Sometimes I feel my sanity hanging by a very thin thread…but at least I’m never bored (this is what I tell myself in order to keep that last thread intact).

During the first cyclone.  Those mango trees are normally on the banks of the river...

My friend Mino and I checking out the destruction.

Vahiny! (guests)

One month after my Mom flew out of Madagascar (jan. 1st), Kelsey arrived!  It was awesome.  I had a personal assistant to help me weed my bean/rice fields/gardens…a reason to kill some chickens and buy some toaka (moonshine)…and someone I could speak as quickly and quietly as I want to and know they not only understand every word I say, but exactly where I'm coming from.  ahh.  The things we take for granted.  However, the most important role of my new assistant, you'll never guess…to entertain the hundreds of village children!  It was amazing.  I actually took a nap one day while Kelsey entertained the children on my veranda with some books and her camera.  I think the people in my village see me in a different light now…they realize I am actually fluent in a language after watching Kelsey and I speak our English gibberish…and after a few days when Kelsey starting using Malagasy greetings and phrases…they realized that I am actually not that bad at speaking Malagasy after all (not that Kelsey was bad...but I think they realized I am no longer a beginner).  I have come a long way in my first 10months at site.  On March 1st I will have been in country for one year!  It’s crazy.  Some days I feel like I’ve been here one month, some days I feel like I’ve been here foreeeeeever.  Anyway, back to Kelsey’s visit.  She worked with me in my village for almost 2 weeks, and is now well versed in all of the steps in the rice farming, preparation, cooking, and eating.  All very useful skills in the U.S.  (I know, it might come as a shock to some of you that rice doesn’t actually grow in plastic bags at the grocery store.)  After this, much to the dismay of my village, we ventured north to the big city of Fianarantsoa (my banking town) to figure out where to go during the last leg of her journey.  A cyclone was slowly making it’s way toward eastern Madland, and it was difficult to plan our trip without knowing exactly when it would hit, or where exactly it’s path would be.  So…we waited out the storm in Fianar (windy, rainy, no cell service, no big deal where we were. Over in 30hrs), and decided to take a train to Manakara (east coast) from Fianar once the storm subsided, and it was confirmed that the tracks were passable.  So…the ride was supposed to take around 10hrs.  It took us 16hrs…8 of which were really awesome!  8 of which were very hot, and in which we were a little hung over (from the festivities during the first 8), and had run out of water.  It was a good experience, but most likely a once in a lifetime for me.  It was interesting though, the train is divided into a first class car and a second class car.  There isn't a huge difference in price, but the first class has slightly  nicer seats, and they don't try to cram 100 humans into one car.  All of the white people were riding first class, along with a few groups of Malagasy people.  Kelsey and I were the only English speakers..and since we didn't speak French, we ended up just hanging out with the Malagasy people on the train, answering questions about America, teaching a little English, drinking a little beer.  All in a days work as a PCV.  The other Vazahas (white foreigner) on the train spent the ride throwing bread and candy at the Malagasy children who would approach the train at all of the stops (sometimes selling food items, sometimes begging, sometimes just looking and yelling "VAZAHA!")...similar to the way you throw bread at ducks when you are feeding them at the pond (which seems like such a ridiculous act after living in this country).   I felt offended by their actions; especially at the way they would laugh after the kids scrambled for the bread outside of the train in the rain.  Real funny.  Sometimes I am appalled at the way foreigners treat Malagasy people while on vacation here.  I wont get into it any more though....I feel myself ranting, and I am starting to bore myself.  Here are some more random pics of Kelsey's visit and our trek into Andringitra!  Mazatoa!

Kelsey spying on a golden bamboo lemur in Ranomafana.  The poor guy was just trying to enjoy his breakfast.

Kelsey's last night in Tana...we may have had a few glasses of wine at dinner.
My favorite place in Madagascar.  The peak of I'marivolanitra (pic Boby) at sunrise.

Kelsey's first day in Tana!  Beers with her first Malagasy lesson.