Sunday, September 14, 2008

First few weeks "at site"

It's been 3 weeks since I moved to my site. That went by pretty fast. Much faster than training. That's reassuring.

I'm in Tana (hence the ability to update my blog). I got here last sunday (that's right, one of my three weeks that i've lived in my site i spent away from my site...). The first two weeks at site were fine, but... incredibly boring. It's very strange to find yourself alone in a country where you don't really speak the language and have absolutely nothing to do. I slept a lot. I read a lot of books. I enjoyed cooking myself meals. I went to the post office a few times. When I woke up in the morning, i thought to myself, "ok... another day to fill... what to do?" With the exception of my rain forest bike adventure, I didn't really do all that much (that's a good story, but i won't ruin it... it might appear in your mailbox). When we moved to our sites, we had 4 weeks before school started. Now it's only one week away, so maybe i won't end up going crazy before then... maybe not...

When the Peace Corps called and invited me to a workshop at Lake Mantasoa (It's about 2 hours from the capital, think summer camp), I obviously accepted. I didn't care what it was for or who would be there. That meant that i got to go to the capital (use the internet, eat vazah food) and then spend 4 days at mantasoa (what's so great about that? the food. they cook 3 meals a day and it is amazing), and then head back to the capital for a day or two. This meant almost a week of socialization with other PCVs. I was the only one from my group there, and it was fun meeting different people. At the workshop there were 4 people from each sector (Health, environment, small enterprise development and education). It was nice getting to meet people from other sectors and hear what they do. The workshop was all about reporting our work to washington. It was horrible; it's painfully clear that i am working for an agency of the federal government. They want our 'results' reported in a numerical value (for example, i have to fill out an excel spreadsheet counting how many students 'enhanced their english skills through interaction using the communicative approach'... how exactly do we count that?). It's all a load of BS if you ask me (and my boss spent most of the workshop complaining about how stupid it was. He's awesome). If washington wants us to fill out BS forms with BS questions, I hope they know that we're going to give them BS right back. We also spent a good amount of time editing the 'action plan' for the education sector (rewording goals, objects, indicators of success and tools to count those indicators of success... woo hoo!). It was not fun, but the food and socialization was absolutely worth it. (Also i was able to charge all of my electronics because i still don't have electricity). The last night we drank lots of THB.

The next day the education volunteers (and our bosses) went to a ceremony to celebrate the education reform plan at the presidential palace. No one informed me of this before I left my site, and I did not bring appropriate clothes for attending an event at a presidential palace. But as a PCV, you get used to being inappropriately dressed a lot of the time (sometimes over or under). The ministry of education is starting a new curriculum in 20 schools this year; they are also altering the school calendar, and the structure of the grades. Right now primary school is five years and they are expanding it to seven. Primary school is all that's required by law, so this would (hopefully) keep kids in school for longer. In attendance at the ceremony were Malagasy teachers, students of the teacher college, aid groups (like USAID and PC), government officials, students, and Mark (The PrEsIdEnT, i can't even think about trying to spell his name). (wow, sorry about the strange passive construction of that sentence). We were in the second row. We were so close to the stage that I could have thrown something at the president during his speech. He's tiny. The best part of the ceremony was the dancers and choirs that preformed. The dancers were amazing. They did a mix of modern and traditional Malagasy dances. After the hundreds of kabarys (speeches) were done, there was a buffet style lunch. This was interesting mostly because the malagasy culture does not recognize lines. There were about 2000 people there trying to get food from buffets without lines. I'm not a huge fan of lines, don't get me wrong, but they do work a lot better than clumps where everyone is pushing to get to the front at the same time. But if you try to get in "line" and wait your turn, you will never get anything, so you have to get right up there and push too. I wish i could accurately convey what happens with that many people trying to get food with no line. But it was nothing compared to what happened when they brought out the boxes of ice cream cones (people were chasing the guys carrying the boxes). It was an interesting experience, and that's the closest i've ever been to a president! (he's so tiny!)

Then I decided to stick around in Tana for another day so that I could go to a taping of Teen Talk. Teen Talk is a talk show for teenagers (... hence the name) that's all in English. It's broadcast all over Madagascar and seems to be pretty popular. I've never seen it since I still have not seen Malagasy TV at all. It is directed by the PCV who I replaced. She extended for a 3rd year and moved to Tana to work at the ministry of education and work for Teen Talk. They taped two shows, one about peer pressure and one about chinese culture. The kids in the cast had amazing English and they obviously enjoyed doing the show. There's quite a bit of audience participation, and the kids in the audience spoke great English, too. For the show about Chinese culture they had 4 athletes from Madagascar who went to the olympics. Two played table tennis, one did judo, and the other was a 'thrower'. They talked about their trip to China. I will be going to Teen Talk on a regular basis since I live so close to Tana. I enjoyed it.
On the way back to the Peace Corps house I was sitting next to a man on the 'bus' who kept asking me about my religion. (they always ask "are you protestant or catholic?" it's funny). I should have just said I was catholic, but said neither, which started an awkward conversation that ended with him demanding me to go to protestant church. When you tell people you don't go to church they always say "why?"... what a loaded question.
Then we spent the evening watching The Office. It's fun to watch American things with people who have been out of the country for a year or more.

I got up at 5am to use the internet before there was a line (does that explain the poor quality of writing in this post?). I'm going to charge my dvd player and my phone before heading back to site this afternoon. There is a teacher meeting tomorrow, for which I am both excited and nervous. School starts on the 22nd. I'm excited to have a schedule and something specific to do!

Ok... thanks for reading... please send me mail. Speaking of mail, a big thank you to Robin and Jane for the AMAZING package!!!

here are some fun links:
this is the website for the only beer in madagascar... it's in french, but still fun
this is the 'group blog' for my stage (education '08, holla!)
This is a youtube video from one of the biggest pop stars in Madagascar. Pop music here is painful. Watch at your own risk.