Friday, February 26, 2010

This is a blog about questions people ask me about america

I thought this week I might try to interest you in some questions I get about America. In general, what Malagasy people know about America, they learned from a movie, so you can imagine why they would have a lot of questions. I have a friend whose house I hang around a lot, and there are always other people there visiting her and hanging out. It's seems to be the neighborhood chill spot. This is where I often encounter conversations of the “How is America different from Madagascar?” nature. I tell people that I can't answer that question- that they can ask specific questions, because otherwise I'd have no idea where to begin. Invariably they want to know about the climate, the environment, and the food. These questions are hard to answer too, and the “How is American different from Madagascar?” conversation always begins with me explaining how big America is and the fact that there's basically everything you can think of in America (mountains, beaches, rivers, lakes, deserts, paradise, frozen tundra, etc) and that it's always hot somewhere and always cold somewhere. Basically the main idea is that you can't make general statements about America besides that you can't make general statements about America.

My friend was asking me about the weather in Dayton. I came into the house drenched in sweat and fanning myself (my normal state of being) and threw myself onto the couch muttering about the heat. He asked me if it was hot like this in Dayton right now, and I told him that not only is it not hot like this in Dayton right now, but that there was a foot of snow on the ground. He was flabbergasted, and exclaimed with concern “But what about the vegetables?! Do they die?!” Thus I explained that they've been dead for months and that we import or food from all over creation to where nothing is ever “out of season.” What a crazy concept, if you really think about it.

One of my classes has a tendency to get me off topic by always asking me “America” questions whenever there's inspiration on the board. I don't mind this; I'm sure they learn more from these 'off-subject distractions' than from the actual lesson. This was a tactic I often employed in French class- anytime you can get the conversation moving away from grammar and towards culture, it's a bonus. Anyways, I had the sentences “Do you have some milk?” “No, I don't have any milk.” on the board, so they wanted to know if I like milk. This line of questioning went from me explaining that I like milk in America, but that I don't drink milk here, all the way to the fact that I've never milked a cow (which they found hilarious) and that there aren't cows walking through the streets of Dayton. I explained to them the different grades of milk and how you can buy it from the store cold and already pasteurized, and that I don't drink milk here because the idea of drinking warm whole milk is altogether nauseating to me. They think I'm so weird!

I was relaxing in the teachers lounge between classes (yes, we have a teachers lounge! if only it had a vending machine!) and the geography teacher had an intensely interesting line of questioning for me. I usually get interesting questions in the teachers lounge. He wanted to know about the geography of the United States, which I explained has everything he could think of. He asked me to explain the “culture of consumption” in the US (yeah, this conversation was in French, I definitely don't have the vocabulary to handle that in Malagasy), so I explained that Americans throw away broken things and buy a replacement instead of getting it fixed. He was fascinated by this. Here nothing goes to waste- I even saw a guy taking apart the metal bars of broken umbrellas to make jewelry- amazing. He also wanted to know about Native Americans. I get questions about Native Americans more than I would have ever thought, and they always inspire a complicated conversation. He asked about their culture and history- something which is altogether impossible to summarize in any language. I try though. I wish “the trail of tears” was in my French dictionary.

There's this other guy who comes by once a week for English lessons. He always asks the strangest questions and never believes my answers, which is really frustrating. He asked me if I went to Ohio University, which I found odd; what does this guy know about Athens? It turns out that he was under the impression that there are 50 universities in America, one for each state (Alabama University – Wyoming University). I explained that there are state universities but also lots and lots of other universities, and he absolutely refused to believe me. Then he wanted to know how many football players there are in America- and was frustrated that I didn't know. I'm like NFL players? I have no clue whatsoever.

Invariably, people want to know how much money Americans make. This is a tough question. Some people live on $8000/year, some people make a million dollars in one day! The salaries are as diverse as the geography! So they want to know how much a teacher makes, which is still impossible to answer because it depends on the state, the district, years of experience, etc etc etc. When I throw a ballpark salary at them (and I don't even know!) they are astounded by how much money that is. And then rolls in the explanation of how while $8000 is a hell of a lot of ariary, it ain't gonna afford you any kind of lifestyle in America. Explaining America is a tough job, and all of my answers are completely different than the answers another American would give. That's what America is all about, I guess.

It's incredibly hot, by the way. The sun rays shoot down from the sky and stab my flesh as I make my way to and from school twice a day. It's like I'm living a sunny sauna.

Time for mail shout outs! Major package shout outs to Francis, Peggy and Matt! Thanks a million. Letter shout outs to my stage mates Derek, Fraser, Beth, Lorna! Thanks! I will reply to every letter I get!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Apple Excitement

Now that I have retrieved my computer from Diego, you will be sure to find more frequent, longer, and more elegantly worded blogs because I can type them on my computer for free and then upload them at the cyber cafe. Now I won't have to pay 100ariary a minute to feverishly type a hasty blog on the French keyboards. Look out world!

This week has been interesting... I have been administering my oral quizzes in all of my classes. The quiz has four questions: 1) What is your name? 2) What do you like to do? 3) What do you hate to do? 4) I write a number (perhaps 5611) and they have to read it out loud. I told them all of the questions in advance, did demonstration quizzes with some brave students, wrote model correct answers on the board and all that jazz. They should all be able to get #1 (right? please?) and #4 is a matter of really knowing the numbers because you don't know what you're going to get, so it's the only one that genuinely assesses their English skills. #2 & #3 you can simply memorize two sentences, and you're golden; and I said (possibly a hundred times) that 2 & 3 must have a gerund (we've been working on gerunds for 2 weeks). Still I got a lot of “I hate is banana” or “I like is music” (sigh). But thankfully some of them pulled out some gems like: “I hate washing all of my family's dishes everyday.” “I like studying English as a pupil in Miss Dorothy's class.” “I hate smoking cigarettes because they are unhealthy.” “I hate talking in class, but many people like it.” I wished I had created some sort of bonus point system! Of course most students said something along the lines of “I like playing basketball” and “I hate swimming.” Still correct, just not as flashy as the previous examples. I really do have a lot of smart students. I have been grading them too easily for their level, but some of them step up and beyond every time. Some are bored and tired of reviewing things they've known for four years now. But I'm trying to appeal to everyone. Next week, however, is for the advanced students. I'm doing a lesson called “talking like a young American” and I'm going to teach them vocabulary like “dude” “hey guys” “what's going on?” “whatever” “gonna” “y'all” “I don’t care”... most of the students will have no idea what's going on, but this will be a lesson for the kids who have been bored with the American teacher so far.

English club has been fun, as anticipated. They're really all just in it for the music. I do a different song every week, and then some sort of game or activity which confounds them (no matter how smart they are or how much English they know, you can't teach creativity in an hour). I've been thinking about doing a really challenging song, challenging for them and me. For example, how about Kayne West “Jesus Walks”... there's a lot of cultural stuff there that has to be explained and a lot of slang and colloquial vocabulary (and lines like “I need Jesus the way that Kathy Lee needed Regis”), but I think it might be possible. Another challenge would be Erikah Badu “Bag Lady”... I'll try these and update you- I'm also open for other suggestions. (A related aside- When I first began my search for a difficult but possible song, I was listening to my music with this in mind. I decided that the most ridiculously difficult -and completely inappropriate- musician would be Eminem. Ha. The next time you listen to Eminem -for most of you that's probably never- try and think about how you would try to explain any of it to English as foreign language learners in the 3rd world – wow.)

Ok, enough teachery stuff, no one cares about that crap anyway, right. I know what you want to hear about...

So I've got this skin fungus... I had it last time too; it's no crisis situation. It just leaves little white dots on your skin (think negative freckles) that stay even after the fungus is dead. The thing of it is, the white dots are NOT lighter than my natural skin color, so I can only see them where I'm “tan” i.e. my arms and shoulders. So I anti fungal creme the bastards, no problem, and then I have these negative freckles to complement my standard freckles and only when I'm tan which is never in America... but I could have it all over my back and would never know until I tanned my back, which is not likely. It's kinda funny, but also kinda gross. Most of the people here have it, and much worse than me. I think it comes from the water (perhaps it's actually better to not shower daily?).

Also, speaking of showers. I've got these little leeches that occasionally invade the floor of my shower. It's unpleasant. I wear flip flops in the shower regardless (it's not like what you picture when you imagine 'shower'). Sweeping them down the drain doesn't work; they just slither back up. I pour bleach on them (sur'eau suckas!) and that kills them... but new ones take their place after a week or so of imagined victory. I am open to suggestions on dealing with this problem.

To end on a more pleasant note: It's apple season! I'm going to feast on apples everyday until they're gone! The apples grow in the highlands, and I wasn't expecting them to make it up here to the North. I was pleasantly surprised to see them, and even found myself an “apple lady.” I'll be “keeping the doctor away” for a few weeks. Apples!

Birthday Excitement

13 February 2010

I’m writing to you now from the wonderful city of Diego. We made Gatorade, and mine is chilling in the freezer (yes!). I arrived to Diego Thursday night and proceeded to make delicious processed soup and watch trashy tv on dvd at the Peace Corps house. Yesterday was a lot of shopping and eating. Life is good.

Speaking of life being good… My 25th birthday was AmAzInG. My Malagasy friends had a party for me. They are so good to me and help me with everything and are always there if I need anything. They made me pizza and mashed potatoes for dinner. I was hesitant about the pizza when they said they were going to make it. Usually when Malagasy people make “vazaha” food it always ends up being a weird version that only makes you crave the real thing more. (But they make Malagasy food great, so you’d just rather have that!) The pizza actually was amazing. They are always friends with the volunteers and somewhere along the way someone taught them how to make a darn good pizza. The mashed potatoes were my influence though, haha.
The next day, the day of my birthday (insert fanfare here), a few fellow vazaha and I made the short trip to Ankify, the beach 20k away from Ambanja. It is from Ankify that you can travel to Nosy Be, one of the top tourist destinations in Madagascar (look up Nosy Be on google images if you want to know why). I think that Ankify is more than sufficient, though… I mean, how much more beautiful can Nosy Be be? Ankify’s beach is a white sand, palm tree wonderland. I know I’ve written about it before, but its tropical paradisiness (spell check says that’s not a word- add to dictionary- it is now) can’t be overstated. We saw a fisherman dock his canoe on the beach in front of the hotel/restaurant and sell them a huge grouper fish. They asked us if was wanted fish for lunch, and we said yes, and we ate it. That’s as fresh as it gets. We spent hours in the water and lounging on the beach, feasting from a 42oz bag of m&ms (thanks Amy’s mom!!) and listening to Bob Marley (it’s his birthday too). This was the first year I spent any time on my birthday outside doing anything besides shivering in the chill of the wind or making my way through snow and ice. For everyone who was at consolidation last year for my birthday, while that was… fun… this was a much more ideal “Madagascar” birthday. I couldn’t have lucked out more on the weather, and we even got to watch the sunset over the Mozambique Channel as a rainbow arched across the sky in the distance.

Things are going well at site. This week is “School Days” (a celebration for all the schools and students that usually involves yard work, soccer games, dance performances, parties, and apparently parades.) I was told to be at the elementary school on Wednesday morning, but with no more specific instructions as to where exactly to go and why my attendance was requested. Sure I could have inquired more deeply, but you learn to go with the flow here; everything always works out, and sometimes knowing what’s going on before hand makes it worse. I got to the Elementary school and saw that all of the students from all of the schools in Ambanja were there (there are about 20 schools). I had no idea where to go and knew that my wandering around would be very conspicuous (being the only vazaha around). Luckily I spotted one of my students and found our group with him. There were lots of banners around with different school and club names, and I was beginning to have the sneaking suspicion that I was about to be in a parade. When I got to my school’s group, the students clapped with excitement that I was to lead there section of the parade (news to me). We (all of the students and most of the teachers from every school in the city) paraded around town, drumming and chanting. After the parade there were some musical performances (my school has a choir and they are excellent, the best, actually, if I may say so). It was a strange morning, and I was not expecting any of it (to demonstrate an oft used Peace Corp Volunteer phrase: “I never have any idea what’s going on!”).

I’m loving Ambanja, but excited to head back to the highlands for “In Service Training” in March and be “cold” for a week. (Grammar check is insisting that “I’m loving” be changed from present progressive tense to present tense. How interesting. A particularly intelligent and motivated student asked about this rule -how you can’t use “to like” “to dream” “to hope” etc in the present progressive because they aren’t temporary emotions. Oops, I just lost most of my readers. I however, think that’s rubbish… I’m loving Ambanja, right now! That’s doesn’t mean I will be loving it next week with the emotional roller coaster of Peace Corps life). (Come of to think of it - wow, I’m really going off on a tangent - the McDonalds catch phrase “I’m loving it” is present progressive, and if McDonalds uses it, it’s can’t be wrong, take that, grammar check!) The people in Ambanja have been very nice and welcoming. I have some good friends that I can socialize with. My best friend there is a 23 year old woman who is single and doesn’t have kids- that doesn’t happen often here. It’s so nice to spend time with someone my age and gender. There are some really nice teachers who are interested in practicing English with me. I have a lot of great students who are advanced enough to have a decent conversation and love asking me hilarious questions (i.e. “what is ‘country’?” -I translated it to French- “hmmm… what does it mean ‘she’s gone country’?” ha hahaha). I could write pages and pages just on questions from this one girl… and probably will at some point.

Next week I’m giving an oral exam… the resulting blog should be interesting!

Thanks for all the birthday wishes! Quarter Century! I’m loving it!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

a random picture.

I had big plans to put up lots of pictures today and write something insightful and interesting, but the internet is maddening today. There's one picture... it took 20 minutes to load. I give up, it's barely even typing....

happy lost watching tonight!