Madagascar. You dazzle me.
This country is my home now. It’s a different culture and lifestyle than I’m used to. Completely different. The last threeish weeks have been a rollercoaster with highs and lows, much more highs than lows though. :).
Culture shock doesn’t even begin to describe what I went through my first few days in country. I was in a honeymoon stage for the first two days, when all the volunteers stayed at the Training Center, a 15 minute walk from Mantasoa, the village of our homestays. But as language and culture classes commenced it was a huge slap in the face. ‘Are you ready?’ this country asked me. I said yes, but even six months could prepare me for the massive change in lifestyle. I would be lying if I said the first two nights in my homestay were not the two hardest days of my life. At multiple points in those first 48 hours, I thought about quitting; maybe I wasn’t meant to do this. But I knew I was and I found strength in my stagemates and a quote an ex boss gave me one week before departure.
“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
16 days in country, I can’t believe that I was ready to call it quits after all I had been through during the application process. I absolutely love this country, its people, and its moramora (slow) pace.
A lot has happened since I left Orange County on the 26th of January. I spent 2 nights in DC for Staging, the entire leap day in a plane bound for South Africa, a night in JoBurg itself (where up until this point I enjoyed the lovely company of a stomach virus) and have been in country since March 1st.
Below are small snippets from my journal over the past two weeks in country, some funny, some serious. Enjoy!
I have spent 24 hours in a plane (17 hrs flying, 8 hrs time change). The joy to get off of a plane and breath fresh air is indescribable. However, the South Africa passport agent told me I had horrible English (unintellectual American slang as he put it) and he didn’t understand why he had to accomodate me by speaking English when it should be the other way around. So not a great start when you’re already sick. Leaving the next day though was the complete opposite. The passport agent was actually really disappointed we were leaving already. When we landed in Madagascar, it was the greatest feeling. I had made it. A few current volunteers greeted us at the airport with large signs and cheers, it was really cute. Mantasoa, the village where the PCTC (Peace Corps Training Center) is located is a 3 hr drive from Tana so we got to see a lot of the countryside. There is something to be said about caravaning with 6 cars, all with PC logos. It’s a huge flag calling “vazahas in these cars, yes vazahas.”
One of my volunteers has dubbed me Taylor Swift and that’s all she calls me now. And this was even before I told then I liked Taylor!
Dr. A scared the crap out of us today about water and making sure it’s safe. Sur’Eau is my favorite little bottle now. Everything will be filtered and chlorinated before it touches me.
Today was one of the hardest days of my life. It’s the day we moved out of PCTC and into our host family’s homes. I had only 3 hrs of language classes. I can say Manahoana. Christina no anarako. Avy any California aho. Hello. My name is Christina. I am from California. That’s it. It doesn’t do it justice to say I might have had a panic attack. I was all of forcing myself to run out of this house asking for the neighborhood kids to help me find vazaha Emily, Eric, or Amy. But I read the quote Jerrod gave me and I found the strength I needed to stay.
Success! I taught my host family how to play Go Fish or ‘Manana’ (to have). The name is just too hard to translate. We may have played it for 4 hours, but it was great to master something small with my lack of language skills.
I bought my first item from the tsena (store) today, toilet paper. 700 ariary, aka a little less than 50 cents. My host family doesn’t really believe in toilet paper, but uses newspaper. I like toilet paper, a lot. So I bought toilet paper. Best investment ever.
Creepy moment, an early teenager hit on me on the way home. Eric and I were walking back home from the Commune after class, and we had met this guy on the way who was teaching us Malagasy and we were teaching him English. Eric turned down his pathway, I had maybe 2 blocks to go. Immediately the teen looks to me and says “I just can’t get over how beautiful you are.” Awkward! Eric got an earful after lunch, and let’s just say that’s not happening again.
French fries, beef jerky, and pineapple for breakfast, score! (that’s all that really needs to be said for that day)
(and then the complete opposite) Homemade hashbrowns for dinner, yay! … And fish heads, ew.
Words cannot even express the excitement of having an actual toilet to use. Thursdays are PCTC days where we get shots galore and listen to frightening medical sessions. But a toilet makes it worthwhile. Beats squatting over a hole in the ground (tmi?)
And word to the wise, if you don’t know if someone is a village elder or not, treat then like one. I didn’t know a village elder was in our house and I offended him by not giving the village elder greeting. So when in doubt, just Manahoana tompko it.
COLD coca cola! COLD!! A group of volunteers and I walked to Anjosoro (the village the Environment volunteers are living in) and Hotel L’Ermitage is on the way. It’s probably 3 miles each way, but we wanted to explore. Well worth it. First thing cold since in country.
I woke up this morning on a manhunt for laundry soap. Specific laundry soap. My littlest sister, Prisca, walked with me part of the way. She was headed to school. In the process though, I heard giggling and looked behind me to find a straight line of 12-16 kids following me. I was the mother goose, with her little ducklings following behind.