Saturday, April 24, 2010

Site Visit & Spelling Bee fun!!

It was the first week of my final trimester as a public school teacher in Madagascar. A lovely feeling. Attendance during the first week of the term has been predictably terrible. I've had attendance rates as low as 33%... It's another one of those mysteries of life here. Often the teachers don't start teaching until the 2nd week of the term. Are so many students truant because they anticipate the teachers to be amiss, or are the teachers AWOL because attendance is sometimes 33%?... mystery status: unsolved.
Some of my more curious students took advantage of the time away from school to find hilariously random English to ask me about. For example: “Tumble dry on low,” “hand wash,” “air dry,” (presumably all found on clothing labels) “know your roots,” “lag behind,” “the odds are low,” “my love is slipping away,” and some interesting vocabulary words: abandon, admonish, arisen (I didn't realize until just now that those are all A words, and the inquires were made by all different students). I love this stuff... explaining “tumble dry on low” to someone who has never seen a washing machine or dryer is somewhat daunting; although “hand wash” and “air dry” are quite easy to explain as there are no other options available.
Speaking of my students and randomness, here's a little ditty: I am currently addicted to having clothes (particularly dresses) tailored. My friend's neighbor is a tailor, and I've been a consistent and loyal customer. I just draw up a little sketch, give her fabric, and she makes it exactly like I want it and exactly measured to fit me. It's amazing and quite cheap. So I'm at her house trying on a recently finished dress and twirling in the mirror to express my delight, and one of my students walks in the room- awkward! Apparently my tailor is his mom. Someone could have mentioned that at some earlier point... haha. I must remember not to childishly twirl in new dresses at her house.
This week was more exciting than your average week because I finally got a site visit! (This is when someone from Peace Corps comes to your site and sees how everything is, helps you with anything, and takes you out to eat... everything is fine, and I don't need help with anything, so really I was just excited to go out to eat and speak English.) The head of the education sector came on Wednesday, and he had some work to do developing new sites in the area. I accompanied him to a proposed health site that's 45k away from Ambanja. Wow, let's get serious here for a moment, if that was my site, and I was being dropped off there for two years, upon seeing it for the first time I would cry at least a solitary tear of joy. It was the kind of place that should have flowery gates and with butterflies released upon passing through while someone throws flower petals before you as you walk to the serene sounds of a trio of harps. The name of the town translates to “on the long beach” which was no exaggeration... white sand, palm trees, clear blue water, mountainous islands in the distance, this is the stuff dreams are made on. Not only that, but the village itself was a good size, and everyone we met was incredibly nice, and no one stared at me. We ate lunch at the beach-side hotel. There's something so eternally satisfying about eating a fish that you pick off a boat as it comes ashore to deliver its spoils from a morning at sea. The fish was grilled whole with citrus marinade. Usually everyone fries fish here, but I requested grilled. It's funny how much it still looks alive when it's grilled as opposed to when it's fried. The eyes were still whole and glossy. I'm fully sufficient in eating whole fish now. The entire time we were there, there was a group of kids playing soccer in the surf of the low tide as happy as could be. The air smelled of salt brought in from the cool breeze off the water. It's a Peace Corps Volunteers dream.
Once we returned to Ambanja (I still love the place, but was feeling a bit raw about it after cheating on it with this other magical village), we had steak, french fries and ice cream for dinner. I bet that dumb beachy site doesn't have ice cream... points for Ambanja.

Plans are coming together for the Spelling Bee that I'm planning at the high school. I know, I know, Dorothy throwing a Spelling Bee, hahaha, etc. Anyways, I wanted to give my advanced students an opportunity to have fun and compete for Englishy prizes in a way that could be appealing for spectators, thus the idea for a Spelling Bee presented itself. I know what you're thinking if you're an RPCV... first, a Spelling Bee? That's going to be a horrible mess and crash and burn in the most horrible way that you can't even foresee, and second, that's not sustainable at all & what's the point? Ok, I give you that the first is certainly a concern, but allow me to persuade you on the second... I agree, it's not particularly sustainable, but it allows the students to do something active with their English skills and will hopefully generate interest in English. In between rounds there will be musical performances (I'm pushing for some skits, but everyone just wants to sing. So, if they want to sing, I say let them sing). There will be PCV and Malagasy judges, I will MC and announce, any student at the high school will be given an opportunity to participate, and everyone is welcome to watch. I hope to get some parents in the audience. My principal has been more than supportive and wants teachers to be able to compete too! I'm still thinking that one over. The biggest departure from a traditional Spelling Bee is that the students will write the word instead of spelling it out loud (their accents will interfere too much and it is their 3rd language after all) and I will implement a time limit for their response. The prizes will be dictionaries, English grammar workbooks, school supplies, and for the top 3 winners, a pizza party with me, haha! Anyways, the point of me explaining all of this is to get some fresh input (particularly from RPCVs). What do you think of this idea? Any ideas of how to make it better? I welcome any input on the matter.

All right folks, that's all for this week.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Easter Break (un)Excitement

I've been reading a lot this Easter break. More specifically, I've read 5 books in the last 11 days. Even more specifically, I've read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country, Carl Hiaasen's Native Toungue, David Sedaris's Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and Richard Russo's Straight Man. Certainly not the most esteemed reading credentials, but all thoroughly entertaining, and it is spring break after all. I've been reading so much that I've begun to narrate my activities to myself in the styles of the authors I've been reading. Allow me to illustrate: “Having completed yet another chapter, Dorothy places her book down gently to preserve her place and stands up for the first time in several hours. She has no specific task in mind, but needs an alternate activity to reading, at least for a small sliver of the hour. She wanders the few steps over to her book shelves and looks for an item that is out of place that needs to be wrangled up. Is there a loose band-aid that needs to be corralled into the medical kit? Is there a soiled dish that needs sanitized? Any small task that can be completed and ceremoniously added to the list of things accomplished today? Alas, she surrenders her whim of productivity, replaces herself on the corner of the bed, and continues living someone else life, a life that does so closely resemble a zoo animal's.”
My house is very, very clean.
I'm also making solid progress on my 3rd paint-by-number, a non challenging dolphin/beach/coral reef composition. According to the box, it's for ages 8-88. I'm giving it to a friend when it's complete, but no one is getting my fairy & unicorn masterpiece.
All last week my friends were abuzz with a big party on Saturday. There was to be a popular DJ performing at the discotheque, which was all anyone was wont to talk about. I agreed to accompany my friends, not because I wanted to, but because I had nothing better to do, and it might be an interesting time; I'd at least get a story out of it. Of course, going to a Malagasy discotheque on a Saturday night in my town (where I would be sure to run into my teenage students) is on the short list of things I'd rather do than lose my big toe nail in a surgical procedure in a 3rd world country (like Brittany), but I deluded myself into thinking I would actually go. My friends said they'd be over to my house around 8:30 and we'd go around 9. 9 o'clock, wow, that's late; I am always definitely in bed, if not asleep, by 9. By noon I was decidedly determined to go for the purposes of socialization, but the voice in the back of my head was all “yeah right, you aren't going, I don't know who you think you're kidding.” When they came over (at more like 9:30) they weren't even ready and wanted to use my shower. I went with the good ol' trusty “I have a stomach ache” which is more often true than not anyway. They didn't give me a hard time about it either. The next morning I inquired about the condition of the discotheque (that's roughly how it would translate from Malagasy), and they informed me that they also didn't go. I asked why, to which they responded “misy problem” (there was a problem)... They have a pretty good grasp of how much Malagasy I am capable of comprehending, and when a subject lies beyond this realm, they are apt to sum it up with a sentence like “misy problem” and we leave it at that. They're awesome.
Many schools celebrate sports week during the second week of Easter break. I don't know what it means to celebrate sports week, but the festivities are in large part taking place right next to my house. As far as I can discern based on my almost constant uncomfortably close proximity to the proceedings, celebrating sports week is comprised mostly of teenage boys yelling and laughing in very irritating manners. It is further evidence to my conviction that all teenagers are the same all over the world. While I can't exactly make out everything that they are saying, it's clear that it's mostly insults, and laughter in response to insults. I also pick up a lot of singing of the most popular songs of Madagascar at the moment. These are two of the most common things you'll find coming out of American teenagers mouths, too, though at least in America the most popular songs are just as horrible but mercifully change more often. I've been back in Madagascar for 5 months, and the “new hits” in November are still the “new hits” of April. These teenage boys have made my week a little less pleasant than it might have been. They begin around 5am, which is not particularly early here, but I've woken up every morning this week to one of the two aforementioned teen subjects before the sun is up. Why are they so loud and annoying at the same time? Can't they be silently annoying and loudly unannoying? I could go on...
I've spent most of my late afternoon/early evenings hanging out on my friends' porch. It's definitely cooling down now, and the evening temperature is ideal for porch sitting. It's orange season, and they sell oranges from their porch. So we sit there making comments about passersby, they feed me endless stocks of oranges (which are green, by the way), and occasionally sell an orange to a neighbor. It's a relaxing time.
Let's do some mail shout-outs, shall we? First, package props go out to Nina, Matt and my mom (who has a supernatural ability to find exactly what I need sitting around the house going unused). Letter props to Shannon, Andrew, Mom, Rachael, and my RIS stage! Thanks for sending out those magazines so fast Jane! And most importantly,Lost props to Jen!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reunited (and it feels so good)

Last week, all the of volunteers who reinstated (returned after evacuation), got together for a Cross-Sector HIV/AIDS training... a fancy IST... in Diego. It was the first time I'd seen any of my orginal stagemates since November before we were installed at our new sites! That was way too long! I saw most of them more than that in America. Well, of course, good times ensued.

One of the days was spent at Brittany's site, Anketrakabe, doing HIV/AIDS education. Her community organized most of it because they are amazing! The elementrary school students sang orginal songs, as did the women's microcredit borrowers group. I've had the good fourtune to spend time with these women on a few occasions, including the Saturday before. They were attending a New Years party (that's right, a new years party, deal with it) in Diego and Brittany, Corie, and I were invited/crashed it. There was a lot of food and a lot of dancing, and a lot of heat, which eventually drove us away from the good times. Anyways, the wonderful people of Anketrakabe were outgoing and receptive to our presentation, participated in games, and readily answered questions. A Peace Corps funding program provided paint to paint the wall of the elementary school like the Malagasy flag. It was a lovely day of singing, dancing, education, and a little nationalism for good measure.

We also spent an afternoon at Amber Mountain National Park, which was lovely, though we were all exhausted and some of us had been there before. We didn't get to spy on much wildlife, but did see some fine cascading water and a tiny neon praying mantis.

It was amazing to spend time with all of my stagemates (both my education 08 and reinstatement stagemates). We cooked dinner at the Peace Corps house a few nights... it's amazing what kind of meals PCVs will come up with as a group and how wildly excited we get about it... strange versions of the things you miss from home made the best you can with what you have. We had "breakfast for dinner" the first night, and it was so good, we did it again. Another night we had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. There were also rice crispy treats. Good work guys.

I'm trying to upload photos here and on facebook, but it's not cooperating... check back for more photos soon! (I hope!) ok, after one hour, i got one up... sigh.