May 12, 2012
This is going to be one of those situations where I leave out important details because my brain is working overtime to try and process everything that is happening and everything that I need to do. So I am going to take this step by step and see if I can cover most everything that has happened in the last week. If I miss anything please ask!
So we left the transit house Monday morning to go to Itasy, my region. From Monday thru Wednesday, we ran around trying to meet as many authority figures and important people as possible. This includes the mayors, chef du fokontany (fokontanys are smaller communities within a commune (sorry for the “ys” but there is no plural in Malagasy!)), chef du district, chef du region (who actually was busy), gendarmes, and police. Not to mention all of our bosses and counterparts with PROSPERER, the French NGO the “Itasy Trois” (the nickname I gave the three of us CED volunteers who live in Itasy) work with. For the most part everyone seemed very nice and helpful, some more than others. The PROSPERER people are very nice and excited to work with us. It will be nice to have that structure and their resources going forward. So after spending every minute together for the last two months, I watched the last of my Peace Corps ties drive away forever…or at least for a couple of weeks probably haha. It was a very weird feeling to be by myself and to decide what I was going to do and when. As my mother knows, I function best when I have schedules and deadlines. However, the free time and space has been really nice. I am glad, again, that my placement involves some structure, unlike some other sites.
My New House
It’s beautiful. Largely due to Minnie, the former volunteer, who did a great job decorating it. Then I bought everything from her haha. In some ways that will make it harder to feel like my own, but most of me is just happy that I don’t come home to an empty space everyday for the first few months. I am also glad it isn’t any bigger. Eric’s house is stunning, better than anything people our age could afford in the states, and brand new. But it is going to take him so long and so much money for it to finally feel furnished. Then he is never going to want to leave! Haha, stay tuned to facebook for pictures of the houses of the Itasy Trois. I have started putting stuff up on the walls, which is somewhat difficult since it is concrete, but duct tape works some and Minnie left me some nails in the wall. I am thinking about maybe painting a mural, but I am not sure yet because I would probably have to paint over it when I left and the walls are peach, not white. So I will have to see if I can find this color first haha.
Favorite part about the house (inside that is, because you can’t beat a mountain view J) the BED!! Surprise haha. Minnie if you are reading this, you are a goddess. Binh (The former volunteer in Arivonimamo where Eric is now) and Minnie had beds custom made together with canopy posts for the mosquito net. Minnie also left me a bunch of pillows, plus I brought my own, and a DOWN COMFORTER that she found fripping (second hand shopping). So much like my bed at home now J. This portion should probably go under the “spoiled rotten” section of this post, because that bed is truly wonderful. The only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is the sun that filters in perfectly through the window just opposite it, just enough to wake me up slowly. So perfect, I love it. I put my lambahoany (sarong like wrap with proverb) from my host family over it so the light goes all pink when it comes through. My house gets great natural light, especially in the “living room.” Really the house is all one room, but it is sectioned nicely.
My New Town
Is huge, which is slightly overwhelming. I went and walked in the rice fields today just to hear myself think haha. It is the regional capital, so there is a lot going on here. I think the estimates I posted earlier were wrong concerning the population, as the Mayor said it was only 18,000, and I was told 40,000 haha. I guess I will see over the next few months. I am excited to get to know the smaller fokontanys included in my commune. PROSPERER held a beneficiary meeting for me on Wednesday, and several silk weavers from Amboalefoka and a schoolteacher from Manajary (each about 6 km away from me) came to the meeting. They seem very excited that I am here and are very ready to work. I am hoping I can get to know the smaller communities well so I can have that kind of place where people know me.
I think it will be hard for people to get to know me here in Miarinarivo, and I will probably get “vazaha” (foreigner) yelled at me by children until the end of my stay. I am hoping that if I just keep walking around enough people will start to recognize me. We don’t get that many tourists here because there aren’t attractions, but there are other international volunteers. Which brings me to how wonderful they are. My first night here Minnie called me and told me she was giving my number to David Pierre, and French volunteer in Miarinarivo with whom she left a bunch of electronic documents for me. He and his roommates, Emeric, and Julia, all work with the Itasy regional office here. They invited me over for dinner. They speak wonderful English, have two cats and a hilariously huge dog named Pixie, and Emeric is a great cook. We had pasta, French wine, French cheese (which is a serious treat, as cheese here is not good, if any), and a French sausage that is apparently a popular delicacy. It was all phenomenal. Again, I am a spoiled rotten volunteer, which I will go into shortly. Unfortunately, David is going home to France for a bit next week, so I won’t be seeing him for awhile, and Emeric lives part time in Tana. Also, Julia is out of town and probably leaving for good in June. The good news is, both the guys are supposed to stay at least another year. It will be nice to have them as a buffer if I need to feel “vazaha,” or speak English haha. Also, if I do end up taking French lessons then I can go speak French with them! Which I am fast thinking is a good idea, since I am working for a French NGO and all formal documentation is in French in this country, even though most people speak only a little, if at all. Eric and I might do that together, but not for a while. We need to be good at ‘gasy first.
So as I mentioned, spoiled rotten. Nice bed, already have furniture and cooking supplies ect (the perks of replacing a volunteer. In this respect I am not alone, about half of our stage are replacements in the CED sector), other international actors here that speak English if I get in a bind or just want to relax in semi-luxury (unfortunately, they do not speak fluent Malagasy, so direct translation is out of the question). I also have running water and a toilet. Not hot water, so showers definitely wake me up haha. If it gets cold enough we will see if I heat up water or if I continue to be lazy haha. I also have a rice cooker that I bought from Minnie, which has been super helpful since I haven’t managed to buy a gas can because I need to go to the bank first. I also have electricity, but I try hard to use it sparingly, both for environmental reasons, and the fact that my landlord pays for my electricity. My yard is fenced, I have a solid concrete building—no cyclone is taking this baby down (don’t worry, it is worst at the coasts, I am as central as it gets), my office has WI-FI (this makes me beyond spoiled, you have nooo idea), and PROSPERER pays for a “flotte” phone for all of its employees, so we talk to each other for free. I am also really close to two other volunteers from my stage, which is highly unusual. Many other volunteers live close to other volunteers but generally from other sectors, even some in the same town. So, moral of this section is I am very thankful for all that I have, and I know PROSPERER expects a lot of results when they shell out this kind of money, and I intend to deliver. Also, shout out to my environment homies in the boonies living the real ‘gasy life. I have so much respect for you, and as hard as it may be, you are going to have so many stories about it that I look forward to hearing at IST.
The Next Steps
You have just become a Peace Corps Voluteer, what are you going to do next?! Answer: figure it out one day at a time, haha. So far, I have mostly just walked around. I have gone in a couple stores, bought some food at the market, and just talked to people. Mostly people say “bonjour” on the main streets and children yell “vazaha.” They also quote me in the French numbers, which I find very annoying because I don’t know if they are quoting me in Ariary or Malagasy Francs (the old currency, divide by 5 to get Ariary). Also, I am better at ‘gasy numbers currently, it hurts my brain to try and switch back to left to right from right to left (yeah, this language is hard! Haha). I have learned that people are friendlier off the main streets, and really want to engage in conversations. Also children giggle when I answer them in ‘gasy instead of French. Freaks them out haha. I have started reading all the information Minnie left me, but it is hard to wrap my head around at the moment. Today, I walked down my road away from town and met the pastor of the small Assembly of God church, his wife, and six kids. After a lovely conversation with them, I decided I am going to go to church there tomorrow, rather than try and brave one of the larger churches in town. Baby steps haha. In about an hour I am going to try and see if my landlady is home, because she was in Antsirabe when I arrived. They were wonderful to Minnie, so I am hoping we can be good friends, and I can use them to introduce me to key people in town. Monday, I have my first meeting at PROSPERER, and I am hoping we can set up a schedule for the next few weeks and I can get some questions answered, if I know how to form them. I am also hoping they will show me how to get to the other fokontanys and accompany me so I can get to know them.
For now, I am just listening to the radio (best purchase ever, by the way. I crank it for like a minute and it goes all day). I pretty much listen to it all day to A. have people talking Malagasy at me and B. to drown out all the thumping caused by the family above me haha. Seriously, Munces—I think they did a cultural exchange and have the partner bowling alley from Ave G. I can pick up two stations, one better than the other. I’ve stuck to the one because I like it and it’s hard to change because it is a manual dial. There’s Malagasy music, American music (I got excited for Justin Bieber today, not gonna lie), news, talk, and commercials haha.
Alright, all for now. More to come I am sure. Hopefully I will be able to slow my brain down a little bit and just look around and ENJOY THIS BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY!!
Short addendum to my thoughts on my radio—I am now assuming it was running on a full charge, because it died and I cranked it for a minute and it ran for about 5 or so. Still an awesome purchase, but not quite as baller as I thought. I will probably make it sit in the window during the day, as it also has a solar panel.