I’ve been in country for nearly 10 months now, and it has flown by. I would be lying if I said life wasn’t difficult and frustrating (gee haven’t heard that before in any of my posts, have you?), and I have learned so much about myself. Sounds really cliché doesn’t it, but it’s completely true.
I entered in the Peace Corps as a Small Business Volunteer (official name, Community Economic Development Volunteer aka CED). I had this mindset that I would drastically improve life in my community, both though living standards and through knowledge transfer. But, and I cannot say it better than a book I read before coming to this country, Living Poor by Moritz Thomsen,
it seemed like only yesterday we arrived secretly convinced we were going to change everything and solve all problems. Well, this country is pretty much the same. The volunteers end up having this raw and vulnerable look in their eyes.
The poverty I have seen in this country is heartbreaking. And the will to want to help change their way of life is overwhelming. But, even if the people acknowledge their poverty and the need to change, actually getting them to do so is difficult. They admit they need to change, but have such an easy going lifestyle that, well to be honest, don’t actually change one bit.
My work at site is mainly IT work. Website development, keyboarding classes, and basic computer operating classes. I work with a very talented painter who I have commissioned to do some amazing work for other fikambananas (organizations) and he is the ‘unofficial’ Peace Corps painter. You give him a picture, he can and will paint it. However, no matter how much I explain to him the importance of giving receipts either with quotes or saying the client has paid, he refuses to do it unless specifically requested. He doesn’t want to build a boutique on the side of the road, which I have recommended many times, but then is disappointed with lack of customers because no one knows of his work or that he works out of his house.
Apart from that, I am malalaka (free). My village is fairly large, but no matter how much pestering and annoying I do, no one jumps to ask me for help. I get the daily, “give me money” or “you’re here because you have money”. So I have taken more of a supporting/administrative roll as a volunteer. You need a logo created for your fikambanana to be produced and placed on labels, you got it. I help with program development (like International Volunteer Day, which was today, and a blog will be posted soon regarding the festivities), Panel discussions (what is Peace Corps and what is our goal), a step-in leader for English Club and other planned events or preperations when a volunteer is otherwise engaged and needs help.
I joked just today with another PCV that I’m more of a Public Relations Volunteer. Most of the Malagasy Fianar community and region know me as ‘the Peace Corps Volunteer’. I have gone to so many meetings with Lehibes (important people) these past few months that I get yelled at on Market Days, “Hey Peace Corps!” rather than “Look, Vazaha!” I’ve become really knowledgeable of Peace Corps Policy and Rules and volunteers tend to text me when they have questions. [side note: this is ironic due to the fact that I took an unauthorized vacation this past month, to a place with no phone network, a security check took place and I couldn’t be reached, and I got caught. And that is something I’ll always be apologetic for because I knew it was wrong before I went, and did it anyways. I’m truly am sorry PC staff that may be reading this right now. It was stupid and irresponsible.]
So as of today, I have decided my name is Christina ‘Mpanampy’ Marie Nielsen aka Christina ‘the Helper’ Marie Nielsen. Pretty fitting I think, pretty fitting.