Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Blog Title That's Both Conclusive and Uplifting

Hey party people... it's my last day in Madagascar.

Everyone is asking me what it feels like and and how I'm doing. They should know better. I don't actually have emotions, so there's not much to discuss.

Let's just say that since Jan 12th I've been on 23 different taxi brousses and been to 13 different cities. The Grand Farewell Tour has been a magical journey of epic proportions (highlights include my bag falling off the top of the brousse at full speed on one of the busiest roads in the country, gouging my foot open on a dirty stick at the taxi brousse station before a 9 hour brousse ride and bleeding all over, the taxi brousse industry on the East coast striking yesterday which stranded me in Mahanoro and crushed my plans to go to the rainforest... wait, those aren't the highlights... and if we're going to talk about highlights, let's do it for the entire shabang anyways...)

So here it is, Peace Corps Madagascar, my Greatest Hits (in no particular order):
Teaching the girls club in Anjozorobe Irish step dancing
Christmas Day 2008 with my stagemates in the Emerald Sea
Returning to Madagascar for reinstatement (We have to go back to the island!!)
Realizing that I can speak Malagasy after a half hour conversation with my friend about my feelings about Islam
Watching Lost in my University of Antsiranana English classes to foster cultural and linguistic discussions
Close of Service conference with my Rainstatement stagemates at Mantasoa
Lovely days at the Ankify beach with fellow PCVs and Malagasy friends

It's been everything I could have ever hoped it would be! Even with unsuspected issues like, oh, you know, being evacuated, having three different sites, etc, I am so lucky to have been able to live in Madagascar.

Stay tuned for adventures from Peace Corps Morocco
(Don't freak out, I'm just visiting)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Comprehensive Video Slideshow!

Peace Corps Madagascar! Yes!

COS: A Journey Into Middle Earth- I must cast the ring into the fires of Mordor to make it end... PART 2!

Ok, now things that I WILL miss about living in Madagascar as a Peace Corps volunteer...

1.) This country is so beautiful, I can't even stand it. I don't think it's physically possible to fit more kinds of beautiful landscapes into one country: white sand beaches with crystal clear water, mountains, waterfalls, rain forests, spiny deserts, tsingys, baobabs, rice paddy excitement, etc. While a lot of the land is now scorched to uselessness, there is still a huge portion of the country that is breath taking.


Emerald Sea

Red Tsingy

2.) Tropical fruit. I mean, we have tropical fruit in America... but here it's not sent over oceans and continents to get to us at our constant beck and call and out of season. Here it is as it is supposed to be. You're not supposed to have mangoes all year. You're supposed to have them when they're in season, and you're supposed to get them yourself by throwing rocks up into the mango tree. That's how nature intended it... PINEAPPLES.

3.) Voanjobory.

Enough said.

4.) My wonderful students, both at Lycee Mixte Ambanja and in the English Department at the University of Antsiranana. They are the future leaders of this wonderful place, and I truly enjoyed my time attempting to expand their minds and amuse them. Not to mention the wonderful staff in the English Department and the principal at the Lycee Ambanja.

5.) The pace of life. Growing up in America, I'm used to working nonstop, always trying to make money (even if for things I don't actually need), taking as many classes as possible, working as many hours as possible, spending as many hours a day as possible striving forward. Is that really good? I don't think so. The pace of life here is more easy going... sometimes it's a little TOO easy going, but there's never a reason to stress out - if you can't do it today, you can do it tomorrow, and that's ok. Life should be fun sometimes; we should take more time to smell the proverbial roses (though I'd rather take more time to smell PINEAPPLES). (I wish I had a picture of someone laying in a hammock for this...)

6.) My wonderful friends, both fellow PCVs and Malagasy. They've made my life here amazing, fun, and interesting. They've listened to me complain and helped me when in need. I've become friends with many different kinds of people (especially Americans) that I never would have thought I could have been friends with before Peace Corps. Though I suppose I won't "miss" my friends, as we will remain friends, right? Right?! I mean, half of my friends from Peace Corps I haven't seen since evacuation... let's work on some reunion tours. I love you guys!

7.) The fantastic Peace Corps Madagascar medical team. Dr. A, Tahina, Dr. Chad, Tina, and other interns. While I was never gravely ill and hardly ever had to contact the doctors for assistance, every time I have interacted with the medical team it has been stress-free and productive. They are always organized and knowledgeable. They have provided the best medical care I will ever likely receive.

... and about a thousand other things...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

COS: A Journey Into Middle Earth- I must cast the ring into the fires of Mordor to make it end...

Things I won't miss about Madagascar:

First and foremost, Wawa. I Hate, absolutely HATE Wawa. I'll tell ya what, Wawa doesn't make Zaho Ngoma for leaving Madagascar. If you hate yourself or feel the need to punish yourself for some unspeakable deed, I suggest watching this. (Dear future Madagascar PCVs - If you are reading this blog to learn more about Peace Corps Madagascar before you leave, please don't let this music video inspire you to call Washington and call the whole thing off... It's terrible, I know, but what doesn't kill us only makes us stronger.)

Secondly, I won't miss everyone trying to rip me off, charge me more for things, get me to buy things, etc, because I'm white. Sometimes when I try to bargain for a taxi fare, or food that I feel I'm being overcharged, they say "But you're white, white people have money" and it's just... it... I don't like it. I'm speaking Malagasy, a regional dialect, even; I'm not a normal foreign visitor. I work here and make a very small amount of money. Granted, I still make more than most Malagasy people, but I live here, I speak the language, and I know how much things should cost. For example, the taxi brousse from Diego to Ambanja is 12,000ariary. They always try to charge me 14,000. I know that it's 12,000. I tell them that I know that it's really only 12 and that they're charging me more just because I'm not Malagasy. It makes me sad. It's only 2000ariary more, but why? I lived in Ambanja and Diego- I know how much it costs! It just makes me feel like some people (taxi brousse drivers, taxi drivers, shop keepers)see $$$$ when they look at me, and not a human being. That makes me sound more sensitive than I am, but I don't know how else to put it.

Thirdly, bugs. That's right, even after all this time, bugs still make the list. I can honestly say that I'm not in the slightest bit scared of rats or mice. Spiders, no problem, unless they're significantly big/brightly colored. Ants, whatever, I mean, I was never scared of ants, but they did annoy me; now I don't care about them. But roaches and centipedes... yeah... I can handle them better than I used to. They don't make me scream. I have full motor control over my limbs in their presence. But seriously, knowing that when I'm laying in bed in America, there are no roaches or centipedes about to crawl on me, it makes me not so sad to leave. I mean, not to be a wimp, but this is what we're talking about...
Seriously, why are these people putting these things on their hands? The only reasonable thing to do with them is to destroy them!
Good riddance.

Lastly, the combination of being hot, sweaty and itchy. I know that "hot and sweaty" seem repetitive, but I don't think so, not anymore. I was just sweaty here in Tana, the capital, but I wasn't really hot. On the coast it's like you're soaking wet with sweat- and what is sweat supposed to do? Cool you off... but it doesn't seem like it works on the coast. Here in Tana it does the trick. And itchy with heat rash, bug bites, etc... And it's sunny (and hot) so you have on sunscreen, itch cream for your bug bites, and bug spray to prevent more. At any given time there is a cocktail of ingrediants coating your skin. Here in Tana, I don't have anything on, and I feel more human.

So, those are the 4 things I won't miss about Madagascar- though they seem to be pretty specific to the coast.

Stay tuned for the more positive and uplifting, Things I WILL Miss.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When You Don't Have Anything Good To Say...

Go to icanhascheezeburger.com to lower your blood pressure.
cute puppy pictures - Cyoot Puppeh ob teh Day: R u lookin @ meh?
see more dog and puppy pictures

Monday, January 10, 2011

Suitcases, Dogs, and Condoms, Oh My!

I moved out of my house today in preparation to Close of Service (COS). Me and my mountain of crap are now at the Peace Corps Diego house. On Wednesday, me and only some of my crap are going to Ambanja (and then Nosy Be- google image search that if you want to be jealous) for my going away party. That's right, GOING AWAY. Because I'm friggin out of here. I don't mean to sound like I want to leave. I don't want to go home and be unemployed in a country where politicians put targets over other politicians districts and then people shoot the targeted politician. Yeah. I love it here in Diego (and in Madagascar for that matter), but it does seem like it's time to move on (maybe it's just the heat). Leaving my house is sad. It's probably the one and only time I will be living somewhere with a waterfront view and 8 or more friendly dogs that I have no responsibility for but that I can play with a talk to. Bye guys.
Speaking of the dogs (they aren't *mine*, they just live in my yard; I don't feed them much, and when I do, it's usually just my favorite one), they sometimes follow me when I leave... at least for a little while, and then they go back. But one night, a few days ago, they were feeling a little adventurous, or bored, or desperate... and 8 of them followed me all the way out of my neighborhood. When we got to a main road, I told them to go back as I didn't want to compromise their safety just for the entertainment of all of the Malagasy people who were laughing at the white girl with a parade of dogs behind her. Two of them carried on their pursuit. I got to downtown (like 2.5 miles from home) and went into shop to browse. The two dogs waited in the doorway (much to the shopkeepers dismay). When I left, they followed me. I was meeting up with 14 British/Scottish/Welsh/Irish people at an outdoor pizza place. The dogs sat with me the whole time, and I had to explain to everyone that they followed me from home. (For the record, I didn't feed them anything; I didn't want to encourage them to follow me to town all the time). I took a taxi home (without them, obviously) and they were both sitting wagging their tails on my porch when I opened the door in the morning. Man, those are some happy goodtime having dogs.

See how much fun we have?
This last week I worked with a health NGO called Population Services International (PSI)(http://www.psi.org/ )(http://www.psi.org/madagascar ). They have the most logical and effective program on the ground of any NGO working in Madagascar that I know of. Their mission is to increase family planning and decrease the spread of STIs through education and outreach, and having products (birth control, condoms) widely available at realistically affordable prices. I (along with 2 other PCVs who have never taught before, so I offered my assistance / I stole the class from them) did a few English classes with the PSI staff (they're all Malagasy). The staff includes doctors and professionals in their fields (read: they are fancy). Their motivation, curiosity and desire to learn is palpable (are you reading that, Evan?). It was fun teaching a lesson on the fly, and they had fun too. We did again later in the week.
On Saturday, I went with two health PCVs to observe a PSI peer-educator session. What they do is recruit prostitutes (Diego is a popular place for sexual tourism, and prostitution is everywhere anyways, even without that added dimension) and work with them to educate them on health issues affecting prostitutes (avoiding unwanted pregnancy, spread of STIs, you know) and then they educate the other prostitutes. They get beverages and snacks for coming to sessions (win). I've observed them working before (peer educating, not...), and it's always very interesting. This time we went to an information session in someones backyard. The woman asked the other women questions like "how long after you are infected with HIV will it take to show in a positive test" and "how can you become infected" etc, etc, and they would argue about the answer and come to a conclusion and she would give them the real answer. They use a very good education technique which requires the participants to debate and discuss, question what they know, see what they think they know that is wrong, and correct it. They had the women do condom demonstrations. They talked about where you can get them, how much they cost. They talked about getting tested for STIs, where you can do it, how much it costs, and gave them waivers for discounts at the doctors. The women seemed very interested in all of the information and participated in all aspects of the session. Since PSI recruits peer leaders, the information seems genuine. And if they think that their peers are using condoms and getting tested, they'll be more likely to jump on board. Go PSI, woo!
So there's that... Now I have to go through all of my stuff and organize and reorganize until I give up because it's all unorganizable.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Kingslover, Irving, and Steinbeck, Oh My!

As is well known, Peace Corps Volunteers have a lot of time to read. I didn't keep good track of my pre-evacuation reading (though I can assure you, it was more than will be represented here as I was much less stimulated at my first site), but I've kept track of every book I read since returning to Madagascar in November 2009.

November - 0
I didn't read any books in November. Oops. I was busy with the reinstatement conference, site installation, etc. I can't believe I didn't even read anything on the plane. Maybe I did, and I just didn't write it down.
December - 7
Twilight - Stephine Meyer
New Moon - Stephine Meyer
Eclipse - Stephine Meyer
Breaking Dawn - Stephine Meyer
The Lost Continent - Bill Bryson
Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex
Pigs in Heaven - Barbra Kingslover
January - 12
The Bean Trees - Barbra Kingslover
This Is Not Civilization - Robert Rosenberg
Into the Wild - John Kracaur
The Bottom Billion - Collier
The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
July's People - Nadine Gordimer
Bitter Fruit - Achamat Dangor
Giving Up America - Pearl Abraham
High Tide in Tuscon - Barbra Kingslover
Harry Potter 1 - J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter 2 - J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter 5 - J.K. Rowling
February - 7
A Farewell To Arms - Hemingway
Twilight - Stephine Meyer
Hard Times - Charles Dickens
Piratittude - Pirate Guys
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue - John
A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
The Stranger - Albert Camus
March - 6
The Electric Kool-Aide Acid Test - Tom Wolfe
Bridget Jones' Diary - Helen Fielding
Beloved - Toni Morrison
Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather
Last Chance to See - Douglas Adams
Harry Potter 6 - J.K. Rowling
April - 9
Harry Potter 7 - J.K. Rowling
In a Sunburned Country - Bill Bryson
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim - David Sedaris
Native Tongue - Carl Hiaasen
What Uncle Sam Really Wants - Noam Chomsky
A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh
The Winter of Our Discontent - John Steinbeck
On the Road - Jack Keroauc
The Bonesetter's Daughter - Amy Tan
May - 8
Perloo the Bold - Avi
A Million Little Pieces - James Frey
Hotel New Hampshire - John Irving
The Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards
Tender is the Night - F Scott Fitzgerald
Sick Puppy - Carl Hiaasen
A Rose Without a Thorn - Jean Plaidy
Suite Francaise - Irene Nemirovsky
June - 7
The Constant Princess - Philippa Greggory
A Hope in the Unseen - Ron Suskind
All Creatures Great and Small - James Herroit
A History of the World in 10.5 Chapters - Julian Barnes
A Chronicle of a Death Foretold - Garcia Marquez
The Bridge Over the River Kwai - Pierre Boulle
East of Eden - John Steinbeck
July - 4
The Red Pony - John Steinbeck
Outliers - Malcom Gladwell
Coyote Blue - Christopher Moore
Getting Stoned with Savages - Maarten Troost
August - 2
The Bitch - Jackie Collins
Dark Star Safari - Paul Theroux
September - 1
The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner - Stephine Meyer
October - 3
Appointment in Samarra - John O'hara
The Islamist - Ed Husain
Darkness at Noon - Arthur Koestler
November - 5
Animal Dreams - Barbra Kingslover
The World According to Garp - John Irving
Island of the Sequined Love Nun - Christopher Moore
The Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
The No1 Ladies Detective Agency - Alexander Macall Smith
December - 5
The Beauty Myth - Naomi Wolf
The Other Boleyn Girl - Phillipa Greggory
Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes
The Sixth Wife - Suzannah Dunn
Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
January - 1 (so far)
As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner

Let us analyze the data.
You'll notice a sharp decrease in quantity of books after June. I moved to Diego on July 3rd. There is a connection there. The antapex of reading was September. I was in Tana for the first half of the month training the new volunteers and spending a lot of time with my PCV friends. When I returned to Diego I was busy, busy, busy, teaching, and then I returned to Tana at the end of the month for COS conference. It is still strange that I only read one book (at a novella by Stephine Meyer at that) the whole month. I read more books than that in America as a full time student with multiple jobs.
While the number of books goes up and down from month to month, I'd say the density of the reading evens it out. Take January, the most readingest month indeed at 12 books; however, 3 of them are Harry Potter and some very short. Compare it to March with only a total of 6 books, but some of them quite dense and lengthy.
Of course, living is a big town like Diego, busy teaching at the university, living with Kinsey, and hanging out with other PCVs whenever they come through, I read a lot less than when I was in Ambanja.

So what are the best books I read?
If I Had to pick a few, I'd go with:
The Electric Kool-Aide Acid Test - Tom Wolfe (So good)
A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh (Amazing, not what you'd expect when you start)
Suite Francaise - Irene Nemirovsky (beautiful)
East of Eden - John Steinbeck (One of my favorite books that I've ever read)
Getting Stoned with Savages - Maarten Troost (Funny, interesting, good read)
Dark Star Safari - Paul Theroux (Good read)
Animal Dreams - Barbra Kingslover (Typical Kingslover - very good)
A Million Little Pieces - James Frey (He's a liar, but it's good)

I really enjoyed all of the John Irving books that I read. I would not, however, suggest reading more than two Irving books in a single year. Dude is crazy.

So what books are not so great?
The Sixth Wife - Suzannah Dunn (seriously? give me a break)
On the Road - Jack Keroauc (oh poor rich beatnik, why don't you wire some money from your family so you can keep loafing around and doing nothing)
Bridget Jones' Diary - Helen Feilding (awful crap, I only managed to finish the rubbish because I was sick a fever at the time)

I didn't finish two books because I... couldn't
What Maisie Knew - Henry James (zzzz....)
White Man's Burden - ? (same old crap... zzz...)

I should have waited and done this in a few weeks since I will read a few more before I COS on the 24th (woo!), but I have a lot to do, and it's going to keep piling up, so I wanted to get this blog done (while my house packs itself?) I still have to read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce, When the Emperor Was Divine - Julie Otsuka, and No Exit and Other Plays - John-Paul Sartre. I need to find something good but not too dense, but not too light as that I can read it in a few hours to get me through all of the time I will be spending in airports in the nearing future.

So, I hope that my list will inspire you to turn off the TV and pick up a good book. And inspire me to remember that reading is better than TV when I get back to America.

Thanks to everyone who sent me books (Francis, Mom, Shannon)!

P.S. There was some debate here in the Peace Corps house over my use of the word "antapex." I asked a couple of other PCVs what the opposite of apex is, and no one knew, so I looked it up. They said that I shouldn't use this word because no one knows what it is, but it is the correct word, so I'm sticking with it.

P.P.S. Yes, I read Twilight twice. Shut up.

P.P.P.S. Blogger spellcheck said that "antapex" isn't a word.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The conversation I have every time I take a taxi in Diego

Here in Diego I take taxis quite frequently. Whenever I head home from downtown after dark, I take a taxi home, and also when I don't want to arrive to my destination all sweaty. So that's a lot. But this is the conversation that I have basically everytime I take a taxi (please note that a taxi will have as many passengers as possible across town. They are always letting someone off or picking someone up, so in the course of one ride you can be riding with 5 or so different people):

Me: I need to go to the university.
Driver: Ok. Let's go.
Me: *crack some corny circumstansial joke (usually weather or pace of taxi business related)*
Other passenger: Wow, you can speak Malagasy well.
Me: Oh yes, I have lived here for a long time.
Other passenger: Really? How long?
Me: Two years.
Other passenger: Yes, that's a long time. Where are you from?
Me: I am from the United States.
Driver: Everyone from the United States is good at speaking Malagasy, and they learn it very quickly.
Me: Yes, Americans study hard.
Other passenger: French people don't speak Malagasy.
Me: I know, French people don't speak Malagasy.
Driver: French people are lazy. Americans are hardworking.
Other passenger: I like Americans. I don't like French people.
Me: Hahaha.
Other passenger: When will you go home to America.
Me: Very soon.
Other passenger: Why? Madagascar is good. You should stay.
Me: I can't, my mom and boyfriend miss me.
Driver / Other passenger: hahhahaha.
Driver / Other passenger: Will you marry me?
Me: No.

Pretty much everyday.

Happy New Years!