As Kelly Clarkson so perfectly puts it, “what doesn’t kill you make you stronger.” Madagascar is a country full of issues. A small percentage of Malagasy people control everything. A transitional President who is fighting every step of the way to keep up his position and his always growing “slush fund”. Development is in a standstill, or sometimes, backwards slide.
If you really want to experience a country so set apart from the rest of the world, I recommend spending a month or two in Madagascar. Not just because it is a giant island separated from any other country by hundreds of miles of water and little to no communication with the outside that you get to live a completely different lifestyle. But because you can experience corruption, sexual harassment, racism, in conjunction with openheartedness, adventure, and a life changing experience.
I want to both stay in Madagascar and live here after my Peace Corps service is up and run away screaming in joy that I’m getting off of this island; that’s how unique this country is. I truly have grown to love this red muddy island, but miss the simple luxuries of America and it’s culture as well.
As I have said many times before, Madagascar really has impacted me. I have done things in this country that I would never have considered in the States. I have killed and plucked chickens, eaten almost everything imaginable, and finally gained the confidence to stand up to bullies, both within Peace Corps and as Host Country Nationals.
It really does go to say, once you served in Peace Corps, you will never be the same. The things I’ve seen will forever flabbergast me. The people I have encountered will forever be an influence on who I am and where I’m going. Finally, the amount of growth I have experienced will always remind me what I accomplished, or didn’t in some cases, and how I got here.
One of my old friends back home reached out to me recently to talk to me about Peace Corps. She accepted a position in the Masters Program and wanted to hear from a current volunteer what she thought. I may have not said it in these exact words, but I told her, “Peace Corps will be the best and worst two years of your life.” I have shared that thought with some of my friends in country, and there has been a consensus. Even if you do have a sitemate, have regular internet, or spend a majority of your living allowance on telephone credit, you become isolated. I have seen so many extroverts, myself included, turn into introverts and prefer the loneliness of their house. The sexual harassment is very overwhelming and depressing, and no matter what you do, it digs at you. Nothing makes you feel good about yourself than a man following you down the street tsking and saying some very inappropriate things that will not be repeated. The biggest thing, however, is the realization that your two years of service, will in the long run, probably not amount to much, so you wonder why you gave up everything in the first place.
But then, there is the hope that maybe something you did teach to a member of the community will improve their life. Maybe those kids that you taught to invest their money into bank accounts, will do so and save more money to improve their living conditions. Maybe the children you have time and time again explained the importance of washing their hands and coughing into their elbow will prevent them from getting sick, or spreading a sickness that could unfortunately result in deaths. Or maybe, you leave the country knowing your community has a less racist view on foreigners than when you arrived. During your service, you are forced to work with and get to know other volunteers, people you would not have known in the States, and although unfortunately true, people you would probably not have been friends with. Although I can say there are a few people I will not keep in touch with, Peace Corps really does become your family. No one understands what you have been through better than another volunteer. Those stupid frustrations that make you excessively angry is something you will always share with your PC family. You will forever have inside jokes that no one outside of the country will understand. And you will always have a support system no matter how many miles separate you.
I also told my friend the following: “if given the ability to turn back the clock and either apply or withdraw my application for Peace Corps, I will still apply.” As John Garner once said “life is the art if drawing without an eraser.” It’s not about redos, it’s about taking what you have experienced and growing from it. Pre-Peace Corps Christina and Post-Christina are two different people, and I must say, I like Post-Christina so much better.