Thursday, June 19, 2014

Things I Will Miss, and Things I Definitely Will Not

June 18, 2014

In honor of having exactly one month remaining, (and the fact that I just had my first real good-bye with a Malagasy friend) I thought I would talk about the things I have loved here and will miss, and of course the ridiculous things that I definitely hope never to have to encounter again.

Things I Will Miss:
·      The people.  I have met so many interesting people, and I know I will stay in contact with some, but others will be more difficult to stay connected with, and I will miss them everyday.  This includes the Malagasy, as well as the multitude of multinationals that became part of my “Team Vazaha.”  I also love how accepted and welcomed I feel in some of the families I know, like I am a part of them.
·      The mountains.  As anyone who has ever traveled with me can tell you, I am a sucker for mountains.  Probably because Michigan doesn’t have any.  Looking forward to attempting to climb the Ozarks when I move to Arkansas in January :) .
·      “My” dogs and cats.  Gray (cat), White (cat), Pixie (dog), Mino (tiny kitten), Bleu (dog), Boba (dog), Melky (dog), Rex (dog), and Marlo (dog).  I think that is all of them.  As I write this, Gray is curled up in my lap, and Pixie is sleeping with his enormous head on the doorstep (purebred German Shepard).  While none of them technically belong to me, since I vowed after the guinea pigs that I was not allowed to own pets, (I get too attached anyway) I adopted several animals that my friends own.  And I am going to miss them terribly. 
·      Random wandering cows and chickens.  I know it sounds weird, but there is something always amusing about having to pause a soccer game because a cow is lazily munching his way across it.  Or the chickens who look like raptors (seriously, these things are weird) scurrying across the road avoiding the foot and vehicle traffic.  I also love ducks, I think they are just the funniest, and will be looking for them in America.
·      Near complete lack of schedule.  Agriculture and health volunteers have project and personal goals, but unlike the education volunteers, we don’t really follow a set schedule.  If I want to nap between 12 and 2, I can.  If rain makes it impossible to work, that’s just how it goes.  I will definitely miss having complete control over my schedule.
·      Thunderstorms.  They are so good here.  Power cuts aside, sitting on your porch, watching as the lightning dances across the sky and the deafening thunder rolls in is such a wonderful experience.
·      The ocean.  Need I say more?  While I do not live very close to it, every single trip I have been on in this country (which is actually quite a few) has involved a trip to the Indian Ocean or the Mozambique Channel, and I will never be able to get enough.
·      Fresh seafood. Now, this really only applies to when I go to the ocean, but I have had $12 lobster and prawns the size of my head.  Also, the north makes everything coconut and saffron rice, and it is the absolute best.
·      FRUIT!  Did you know I thought I didn’t like pineapple? That was because I had never had it fresh.  The tropical fruit in this country is to die for.  Mango, pocanelle, mandarin, avocado, pineapple, 100 kinds of bananas, and LITCHI!! I will miss litchi most of all.  If you have never tried fresh litchi, you need to make that happen.  I am looking forward to apples and strawberries in the states though.
·      Cheap cost of living.  I can buy 2.2 pounds of tomatoes for about a dollar.  My rent is one of the most expensive in Peace Corps, and it is about $60 per month.  I don’t make a lot of money here, but things don’t cost a whole lot either.  Not looking forward to the cost of living in the states.
·      Biking.  I own the nicest bike I ever will, courtesy of Peace Corps.  It has been quite fun biking through the countryside of the Itasy region.  I am looking forward to testing my bike at home to see if it still works, and to try for a little more flat ground and excellently paved roads.
·      Being multi-lingual.  While this isn’t going to go away completely, I know my Malagasy skills will diminish with lack of use.  I have been improving my French, but it still has a long way to go.  I will really miss being able to talk to people in Malagasy, and making fun of other “vazaha” in Malagasy when they don’t understand.  People were always so surprised by my Malagasy level, and I liked that.
·      Flora and fauna.  Swimming in waterfalls, feeding lemurs of all sizes, crossing paths with a chameleon or tenerec. The flora and fauna of Madagascar is so unique, and I am definitely going to miss it.  Not the spiders though, or the cockroaches.  I have been lucky and haven’t had any rats.
·      Frip. Ahhh second-hand clothing markets.  It was no secret that thrift stores were my favorite places to shop in the states, but here it is really all people do.  I love paying no more than $4 for every piece of clothing I own.  It also makes for excellent costume and theme parties.
·      Meva free box.  Even better than buying second-hand clothing? Getting the clothing and such the other volunteers leave behind, for free.  Reminds me of rummaging through my friend Kiri’s closet in high school and ridding her of anything she hadn’t worn in the last year.

Things I Will Definitely Not:
·      Verbal harassment.  Quite possibly my least favorite thing about being here.  Being an (extremely) white woman, I am easily noticed, and the Malagasy are all about pointing out the obvious.  It is completely acceptable for people to run around shouting “vazaha, vazaha!” whenever I am near (white person, foreigner).  They also often greet me in that manner, saying “bonjour vazaha,” assuming I am French.  The kids I can forgive, if I haven’t corrected them before.  One of the most rewarding things is to have a kid greet me in Malagasy with my proper name.  However, the men are the absolute worst.  Bonjour Cherie, I love you, je t’aime, are you married, come home with me, all in the sleaziest of voices.  That is usually where it ends, but there has been the occasional inappropriate grab, and I am looking forward to a culture where that is no longer acceptable.
·      Taxi-brousses and other transportation. Not that it isn’t fun to try and squeeze 30 people in a van that has a capacity of 16 and then try and climb hills while the engine groans and warms the floor beneath your feet…Not to mention the fact that the taxis in Tana are all from about 1965.
·      The roads.  Don’t get me wrong, my main road is fantastic and I love it.  But, stray about 10 feet and you’ve got a complete mess on your hands, and it takes YEARS to get anywhere.  This country is roughly 1,000 miles long.  It would take you over 3 days to get from North to South.
·      Crime.  The pick-pocket and robbery situations have gotten out of hand in Tana.  I have been lucky, thankfully, and only been robbed once.  (Don’t worry, nothing that couldn’t be replaced, and I wasn’t hurt.)  I am looking forward to being back in a place where I feel safer after dark.  My town is no problem, but everything closes at 7, haha.
·      “Sauce.” Anything “sauce” on a menu is just oil and MSG.  No wonder I gained 10 pounds the first year. (Don’t worry, I have since figured out balance in my life).
·      Odd foods.  Fish heads for cow brains for breakfast? No thank you.  Jiggly pieces of fat? None for me.  At least I have been spared some of the foods I have heard other volunteers eat: locusts, cockroach-esque bugs, sea turtle eggs, bat, tenerec, bull testicle…
·      Mountains of rice.  This place doesn’t mess around.  Seriously, the most rice per capita in the entire world.  And when you are eating with friends, they decide when you have had enough.  Did I mention the 10 pounds?
·      Being a “pet.”  It is inevitable, when you are as white as I am, people like to have you as a friend just so they can show you off to people.  This is not all of my relationships, certainly, but there are definitely some that feel this way.
·      Begging.  Again, when you are white, people assume you have money, and bombard you with begging.  The most annoying is when you think someone is your friend and then they ask you if they can have your stuff, or tell you that you should give them a “New Years” present.
·      Power cuts.  While I do love the quiet ambiance of a town lit by candlelight and that is incapable of blasting thumping music at deafening decibels, when your computer battery doesn’t work it is quite annoying when the power goes out almost every day of rainy season.
·      Water cuts.  The worst.  All I want to do is shower, but when it doesn’t rain from May-October, I have to save that water for drinking.  Luckily it is cold so I don’t smell (much).
·      Mountain burning.  Every year they blacken my beautiful mountains so the cows can have new growth to eat, leading to a complete lack of trees, soil erosion, and a general destabilizing of the environment.  I don’t see it changing, and the lack of awareness and forward thinking is definitely something I am not going to miss.
·      Risk of tropical diseases.  Whatever happened to the common cold? Let’s go back to that.  I have been lucky, only dysentery…twice.  Other volunteers have suffered from things like malaria, giardia, worms, dengue fever, and scarlet fever.  Feeling healthy and lucky!

And as a bonus…

Things I Am Looking Forward To in America:
·      Things open past 7:30.
·      Barbeques.
·      Pools.
·      Snow.
·      FOOTBALL!!
·      Sandwiches.
·      Salads.
·      Bars.
·      Pizza.
·      Movie theaters
·      Bowling alleys.
·      Game nights.
·      Decent cars.
·      Awesome roads.
·      Apples.
·      Seasons.
·      Hi-speed Internet.
·      Unlimited texting.
·      Cheese.
·      Strawberries.
·      Unlimited hot water.
·      Concerts of people I actually know.
·      Not the constant center of attention.

See you soon America!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Saying Goodbye to the FYFG Stage, and Moving Forward

June 4, 2014

Sorry it has been so long since my last post.  Things are winding down here, and therefore I have been pretty busy try to wrap everything up.  I have about a month and a half remaining, but let me catch you up on what happened in the last couple of months.

So going back to April.  My contract was supposed to end in April, but as you know, I decided to stay 3 months longer.  My stagemates, however, mostly went home, which was pretty difficult for me.  When you spend two years with a group of 25 people as your support system, it is hard to let them go.  I am so proud of all they accomplished, and happy that they are back with their families, and moving forward with their lives.  Several of them, like me, will be going to get their masters degrees.  I can’t wait to meet up with all of them in America and see what all they are up to.

But, never fear, the new volunteers are here! A whole new crop of agriculture and health volunteers arrived for training in Mantasoa at the end of February, and Eric, Emma, and my replacements arrived in Itasy at the end of April.  While I very much miss Eric and Emma, it is nice to have new volunteers around.  It is funny spending time with volunteers so early in their service, because it makes you realize how much you have learned.  They are full of questions that I didn’t even know I knew the answer to.  They are also wowed by my language skills, since I have been here so much longer than them, haha.

As for work, I am spending most of my time planning and implementing my 7 sports tournaments in association with my moringa nutrition project.  So far 4 down and 3 to go, whoohoo!  The rest of my time is spent doing follow-up work and some meetings with all of the people that I have worked with.  It has been a little hard to think that I am leaving these people so soon.  It is also hard to take the backseat in projects and with work groups.  I leave so soon, and I need to make sure that my little birdies know how to fly without me.  It is great to see them do well on their own, but there are some decisions that I would make differently, and I am learning to let those things go.

Well that is all I have for now.  I so much look forward to coming home and seeing all of you soon!