Saturday, April 20, 2013

Derby Days: Saying Veloma


Well, the time has come to say goodbye to some of our dear friends who have serves their two years and are moving on to other things.  Jackie and Cha Cha, two volunteers who are very close to me, planned one last weekend for us in Antsirabe, a town where a lot of us from the highlands spend time.  It was also Jackie’s birthday, March 23, so we planned a little celebration for that as well.  Cha Cha and Jackie are incredibly talented at creating theme parties (they were the ones who brought us “frippe prom”).

So our party theme was “derby days.”  We decided to dress up as if we were going to the Kentucky Derby and go to a place called PMU, where you can bet on horse races happening in France while watching them on TV.  So people had gloves, big hats, the whole nine yards.  We even looked up how to make mint juleps and some people were smoking cigars.  All in all, we are very good at theme parties.  Then, as an added bonus for Jackie’s birthday, we rented a horse to take her from our hotel to PMU as a surprise.  She was absolutely thrilled, which was so great to see.

It was really nice weekend, and really great to spend time all together for one last time.  Close of service requires a week of exams and other activities, so it is spread out over a month.  Each volunteer is assigned a week, so they leave throughout the month.  So this really was our last time all together, since everyone is leaving at a different time.

I was very happy to get to know all of these people who are now leaving, and so proud of them.  Looking forward to see where they go next.  It will be very hard to let all of them go, but I know they will be happy moving forward with their lives.  And their families will be happy to have them back!


15 Minutes of Fame


One of my new years resolutions was to spend a few days out in the field really learning about silk production.  So at the beginning of March, I trekked out to a town called Morarano, 7 km south of the main road about 10 km west of my town.  This is a very small town where the actual weavers in my cooperative live.  I went there back in July with the Madagascar Cooperative Foundation to film about the silk process and we were the first white people who had ever been there.  So I was definitely still a spectacle upon my return.

I spent the afternoon talking to my main weaver, Radany, and his family about the silk process.  I watched them weave the scarves and hand roll the cocoons into thread.  Then, Radany told me I could help him dye the purple and green thread to be used in the scarves my mom will sell in Ann Arbor when she comes here in July.  Cool!  First, we started boiling water.  Then, we add a certain green leaf (for the green dye) and part of a banana tree that makes sap.  Radany told me the sap from the tree helps seal in the color.  Then we added yellow and blue chemical packets to make the deep green color.  They do some natural dying but the really vibrant colors come from packaged dyes they purchase in Tana.  They wanted to take a lot of pictures of me helping them, which was pretty adorable.  They also are not great with a camera so it took a lot of editing to get them decent.  Check them out on my facebook page!

So we finished up the dying and left the cocoons and thread to dry, and went outside to wash the scarves that were already finished being woven so they would be clean and soft and ready for sale.  There was a serious photo shoot with that as well, which the whole town seemed to be involved in.  It was definitely their entertainment for the day.  Then we had dinner and called it a night.  A rather interesting and sleepless night though.  I was sharing their one bed with their eldest daughter (they have 6 kids) while everyone else slept on the floor.  The mattress was made out of grass and plastic, which sent my allergies into an absolute frenzy.  They also left a battery powered light on all night that was right in my face and I was freeeeezing.  So all in all not the best night, but a very productive learning experience.

The next day was a national holiday in Madagascar—International Women’s Day.  There was a big celebration in the town where some of my silk cultivators live, so myself and a large number of the women and girls from Morarano took off early in the morning to try and catch a large truck on the main road 7 km away.  We got to the road but the truck was late, so I spent an hour telling probably 100 young girls about American culture and English, after not having slept the night before.  Really great experience but my brain was so exhausted!

When the truck finally arrived, we piled probably 100 young women and girls into the back of this Mercedes semi to drive the 5 km to the event.  Hilarity ensued.  We were all falling over each other trying to stand up or sit down or something, and everyone was jovial and singing very loudly.  It was really funny.

We finally arrived at the event and I was again an incredible source of entertainment.  Some high school girls immediately rushed over to talk to me, and a large group assembled to see my responses.  You can tell they were kind of the “cool” girls who wanted me as a status symbol more than a friend.  They also asked me to play soccer with them later after all of the different girls groups presented their dances.  I agreed, not knowing that meant playing in front of the entire commune with jerseys and everything.  Very official.  So we watched the dances for a little while, with everyone I knew telling me to join each group (as if I knew the choreography, I am not magical!) and then the moment arrived for the soccer game.  Everytime I touched the ball the entire audience laughed.  My dad said it was probably like watching grandma play soccer, just so out of the ordinary.  At one point the ball hit a spike over the goal and popped, so while we were waiting for someone to find a new one, I took that opportunity to let them know I had to go home and get some sleep.

But now I am famous in the rural commune of Miarinarivo II, everyone knows who I am.


BAMM: Blog About Malaria Month


Hello!  So April is Malaria Awareness Month, so I am here to tell you about malaria in Madagascar (and to earn some points for the highlands region, you are going down sud est!)

First some background and basic facts from the Malaria 101 packet provided by our highlands region malaria coordinator, Miss Kim Connor.

“How it’s transmitted: The pesky little female Anopheles mosquito, which primarily bite at night (dusk till dawn). 
Symptoms of malaria: high fever that is cyclical (returning every 48 hours or so), nausea and sometimes vomiting, sweating, chills, fatigue, headache, dizziness, sore joints/muscles, weakness
What to do if symptoms arise: Go immediately to the local doctor! Do not pass go, do not collect $200! They will administer a malaria rapid diagnostic test (RDT) and treat you if you do have malaria.
Prevention methods: Sleeping under mosquito nets (the best are insecticide treated), wearing long sleeves/pants in the evening, going to the doctor as soon as you get a fever, eliminating standing water around the house, closing all doors/windows from dusk till dawn, planting tomatoes and citronella around the house (natural mosquito repellents), taking malaria prophylaxis pills, and using repellant.”

Malaria rates in Madagascar are incredibly high, particularly on the east coast where the heat and humidity are very high.  Peace Corps is working on disseminating information about proper prevention and treatment techniques to reduce transmission and death rates.  In addition, we are teaching people about how malaria impacts no only their lives but their communities as well.  The following is information provided by Kim as well detailing how she calculated the cost of malaria in communities in Madagascar.  As an economic development volunteer, I will be trying this approach to encourage people to take proper precautions.

Recently, my counterpart and I conducted LLIN care and maintenance consultations using Networks-created informational cards. We noticed community members were most engaged while discussing the money that could be saved by reducing the incidence of malaria (i.e., by sleeping under a properly maintained mosquito net). For this reason, I decided to calculate the amount of money spent by my community on malaria consultations and medication in 2011. I met with my the head nurse at my health post and to discuss and document the cost of consultations and routine medication prescribed for simple and severe malaria (including paracetamol), and to break the costs down by age range to closely match the age ranges recorded in the health registry.

I found out that my community spent 3,039,100 MGA on malaria consultations and medication in 2011. This number did not impress the leaders of my village as I had hoped. To visually represent this figure, I decided to present it in a culturally significant manner: using rice sacks. Specifically, one sack of rice in my regional capital costs 15,000 MGA. Calculating for transportation to my village, the amount my community spent on malaria consultations and medication in 2011 equaled 196 sacks of rice. This was an impressive figure considering that one sack of rice feeds approximately one family for one month.
Recently, I set on a journey to buy 196 rice sacks (filled with grass, I don’t have that kind of money) to visually display to my community how much they spend on malaria, which will hopefully motivate them to proactively fight malaria.”

I hope this enlightens you a little bit about the problem here in Madagascar.  Thanks for listening while we STOMP OUT MALARIA!


One Year


Well, this is a bit late, but I just wanted to publicly acknowledge the achievement of my fellow volunteers.  My stagemates and I arrived in Madagascar on March 1, 2012.  This was the 51st anniversary of Peace Corps.  After spending a week with a few other volunteers learning how to be trainers, we arrived back in Tana ready to celebrate.  There were quite a few of us from my stage in town, which was really nice.  We went out to dinner and then my friend Aymeric, a French guy who lives some of the time in my town, was DJing at a club.  So we all went out dancing and had a really great time.

Congrats to the FYFG stage!  May the next year be as good as the last J  I know this next year is going to go by so fast, but I am so happy to be here and so proud of my friends and fellow volunteers for all of their hard work.

See you all in a year!

Friday, April 5, 2013

TOT: Training of Trainers in Mantasoa


As I previously mentioned, I have been chosen as one of the trainers for the new group of volunteers, yay!  I am what is called an “anchor trainer,” so I will be spending two weeks at the training center instead of one.  I was very pleased to be scheduled for later in training when the trainees have returned to living full time at the training center instead of with their host families.  It will allow me to get to know them really well. 

Before we start training the new volunteers, we are required to attend a weeklong training at the center with all of the Malagasy and American support staff.  It was a great opportunity to meet the new language trainers, who are usually university students so there is a pretty high turnover rate.  Of the people who trained me, only 3 remain of about 15.  They all seem pretty cool, and my friend Mariana and I had some fun doing zumba with them, man can they dance!  We had to work out to keep eating all of the good food they make at the center.  While we certainly were getting plenty during our initial training, every time you return to the center after the first two months they make better food J  It was reeeealllly good during the training design and evaluation workshop, with morning AND afternoon snack that was often some kind of baked good, and an endless supply of coffee, tea, hot cocoa, and popcorn.  We get really excited about food here haha.

So, because it is an entirely new training that we created just a month prior, we had a bit of a time trying to organize the skills of the trainers from two different sectors.  I think there were eight of us, and only two were from the previous CED sector, including myself.  Well, there are only a few sessions pertaining to business, and they were thankfully scheduled during my weeks. However, that meant the other CED trainer, who was scheduled for the first two weeks, was stuck teaching improved rice techniques.  Yikes!  So we played Sudoku with the trainers and switched the weeks around so that everyone was training to their strengths.

Then we had to get to work planning all of our sessions.  I expected us to be given an outline and to have to kind of follow that, but we really are designing everything from scratch, so that gave us a lot of freedom, but also meant we had a lot of work to do in not a lot of time.  We had to turn in lesson plans at the end of the week for something that was two months away!  So there was much less social time during this workshop, but we were very productive and successful, and I am very excited to implement these trainings, even thought I have to teach finance (yuck!).

I will be returning to the training center from April 22 to May 4 to train, but before that Emma will be hosting a few of the volunteers for what is called “demystification,” where trainees learn about how a volunteer conducts their day to day lives.  The AG trainees will still be doing a tech trip like I did last year, but health volunteers will be splitting up to spend some time with current volunteers.  So that is next week, and I plan to head out to Ampefy to help her out for a couple days before I have to attend the national VAC meeting on the 10th.  So I get to meet a few of the newbies before I train them.

All for now!