Helter Skelter
September 26, 2012, 9:33 PM

Hello hello!

I am so sorry for the incredibly long blog hiatus. The last few months have been beyond nuts and I haven’t had enough reliable internet access to be able to post this until now. Before I dive right in, thanks to those of you who have been writing/calling/emailing/texting me. You have no idea how wonderful it is to hear from you all! Please please please keep doing what you’re doing and thank you times a million!

Where to begin?! I guess I should start by saying hi, I’m alive and well, healthy, and loving life here so far. Toughest job you’ll ever love, right? So much has gone down since I left the USA on July 10th that it makes writing this blog post a little intimidating. In fact, I’ve been putting it off for a bit (sorry) because there are just mountains of stuff I feel like I need to cover. Here goes, and forgive me if it’s rambly…

Since I left the US on July 10th, I have been in Pre-Service Training (PST, be prepared for a bazillion acronyms) here in Madagascar. PST is an intensive 9-week training program designed to provide Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) with an arsenal of skills that will ensure our effectiveness as Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs). I flew over here with 24 other PCTs in my “stage,” or training class. We are all TEFL Education Volunteers. When my flight landed in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo (aka “Tana”), I was all over the place. Definition of a hot mess. John Reddy, the Peace Corps (PC, I warned you about these acronyms) Country Director, greeted us at the airport and helped load us into vans. From there, we had a three-hour drive to the town of Montasoa, the PC training headquarters. Anticipating the landing in Tana, I had no idea what I would feel; when I was finally in that van, I was filled with relief that the toughest part – leaving – was over, anxiety about what was to come, and overwhelming curiosity about my new home. We made it to the Peace Corps Training Center (PCTC) in Montasoa by nightfall. We were greeted by all of the PCTC staff with a beautiful song, but I was so delirious by that point that I don’t remember much else, except for sleeping horizontally for the first time in a few days.

For first few weeks of PST, I lived with a host family. I had an absolutely amazing experience. My Neny (host mom) and Dada (host dad) are farmers, and they have three older kids: Tahiana (20 year old host sister), Nambina (18 year old host brother), and Noumena (22 year old host brother), all students. Tahiana speaks the most English, so she was so helpful during those first awkward days when my Malagasy vocabulary was limited to around 15 words. The house was great too: there was a well right outside the front door, a decent kabone (pit latrine) in the yard, mostly spider-free outdoor ladosy (outside room for bucket showers), and electricity. The two bedrooms were on the second floor and the kitchen/eating area was downstairs when you first walked in. Small but cozy. If my internet cooperates in the near future, I’ll attempt to post some photos. They adopted me as their own and made me feel so welcome. Now that I’m not living with them, I miss their company (and their cooking!).

While in homestay, our daily schedule consisted of around four hours of Malagasy class each morning. We had classes in groups of 2-4 PCTs, which was great and made learning this difficult language a lot easier. After Malagasy class, we’d return to our host families to have lunch and then reconvene back at the Montasoa commune (a central building for meetings and events) for afternoon sessions. These varied, anything from cross-cultural info to technical training (basically anything pertaining to teaching), etc. Each Thursday, we’d travel back to the PCTC to spend the day there for medical sessions. We’d get lots of shots and important medical and health info. I enjoyed these sessions though, as maintaining my health is critical to my success as a PCV here. The homestay PST schedule was definitely grueling, but I learned so much those first few weeks. And, on top of all that, it was a great opportunity to get to know my stagemates, and I made some amazing friends here thus far.

In addition to cramming our heads full of information, the first few weeks of PST are also devoted to site selection. We received information about each of the possible sites for placement. We had to rank our top five and write an essay outlining our reasons for our selections. It was a pretty intimidating and stressful process. Once our essays were turned in, we had individual interviews with the head of the Education Program (the position is called the APCD but I forget what that stands for, oops). Then, PC spends a few days matching us to sites. The site announcement day was full of anxiety…we were brought back to the PCTC from our host families and had this makeshift scavenger hunt to find our names on this big map of Madagascar painted outside on the basketball court. Everyone was running around like crazy trying to find their spots. I found mine pretty quickly and was ecstatic: I got placed in Andapa, my first-ranked choice. I’ll talk more about Andapa in a bit, since I’m here right now, but overall, that was quite the day.

Once site selection was over, it was time for us to move back to the PCTC and say a temporary goodbye to our host families. It was really bittersweet; I was so sad to leave them but excited for the next chapter of PST. The PCTC is around a 2-mile walk to their house though, so it’s easy to swing by for a visit. The rest of PST consisted of Practicum, a few weeks of constant practice teaching in real Malagasy schools with real Malagasy students. Quite stressful but I learned quite a bit about my teaching styles and best practices. It was nerve-wracking being constantly observed and evaluated, but the feedback was constructive. We also still had language classes during this time, but we switched from learning Standard Malagasy into classes grouped by dialect according to our site placements. In Andapa, the dialect is Tsimihety, which has a pretty heavy French influence. Looks like I’ll be picking up a lot of French while I’m here, fine by me!

Before we could swear in officially as PCVs, we had to pass an oral language exam. The exam’s basically just a conversation to see if we can explain ourselves once we get to site. Our target level to pass is intermediate mid; I got intermediate high and was quite relieved. After the exam was over, it was smooth sailing and lots of celebrating with my stagemates until the swearing in ceremony just a few days ago. The ceremony was great: we each gave our host families a certificate of appreciation on behalf of PC and there were a bazillion speeches. My PCTC roommate, Gabby, gave a speech on behalf of the new volunteers (in Malagasy!) and rocked it. She’s super mahay (a Malagasy catch-all word meaning knowledgeable, expert, etc). The next day felt like the end of summer camp with everyone packed up and leaving in various vans to begin their new adventures. It was incredibly sad! I was fully prepared upon arrival to get to site, but after being with my stagemates 24/7 for the past 9 weeks, it was really rough to leave them all. But I was so anxious to get to site and see what my life here would be like. Roses and thorns.

Whew. Ok. I sincerely apologize that this post is so scatterbrained and all over the place. There’s just so much to cover about PST and I feel as though I left out a million important things. I think I’ll cut myself off here and write another post soon about Andapa and my life here thus far. A fresh start, a new page dedicated to the more important things: site. I’ve been here since last Thursday and every day things start to make a little more sense. Overall, while there have been some really stressful and trying times during PST and transition to site, I am really glad that I am here and I know that this is where I should be right now, if that makes any sense. I have met some incredible people in Madagascar, both Malagasy and PCVs, and I already know that I’m a completely different person than that sweaty, crazy mess of a human that boarded the flight from Miami to Philly a few months ago. That being said, I miss you guys! As I said above, even the smallest bit of communication from friends/family back home makes a world of difference here. Also, I have a new mailing address for letters/packages:

Arianna Pattek, PCV
Bureau CISCO
Andapa 205

I’ll update the wishlist of things to send me soon, but anything spices/food related would be much appreciated at the moment. But please write! Or email! Or smoke signal, I don’t care! I hope all is well back in America and you are all rocking whatever it is that you are up to. I’ll be in touch soon!