What Goes On
October 21, 2012, 11:21 AM

Aaaaaand I did it again. I’ve procrastinated yet another blog post. I’m not too pleased about this bad habit I’m developing, so I’ll make a conscious effort to post more. There are times during the day when weird or amazing things happen to me, and I think, “Wow, this is blog GOLD,” but when I sit down to write, I freeze. So many things that go on in my life here are the epitome of a you-had-to-be-there moment, and anytime I try to describe anything, I feel like I’m not doing it justice. But I’m trying!

So. I left off last time right at the beginning of my transition to my site: Andapa. Well, I’ve officially passed my one-month anniversary with Andapa and man, I’ve got a lot to say. Days here are long, but looking back now, I cannot believe how fast time has gone since I’ve moved here. Where to begin??

Andapa is a remote town in the northeast of Madagascar, located in the SAVA region. Google it. It’s gorgeous. SAVA stands for Sambava, Antalaha, Vohemar, and Andapa – the four biggest towns in the region. Peace Corps designates this region as a “fly site,” meaning that it is incredibly difficult to get here without taking an airplane. So, for installation (when new PCVs are set up at their sites), I flew up to SAVA, to Sambava’s airport specifically, from Tana with another new PCV, Harris, who’s moving to Vohemar. When we landed in Sambava, I felt like I landed back in Florida. Sambava is on the coast and there are palm trees everywhere. I could taste the ocean salt in the air. I had not realized how much I missed the ocean! Harris and I (along with our installer, Franka, my amazing Malagasy Peace Corps language teacher) were met at the airport by a bunch of SAVA volunteers who traveled to Sambava to welcome us. It was incredibly nice to see so many friendly faces. It was immediately apparent to me that SAVA has a close-knit group of PCVs up here and I am excited to be a part of it. My first day in Sambava was a blur; I was so exhausted and dealing with sensory overload, so even now, I’m not quite sure what I did. I know eating good food and meeting new people was part of the deal (Sambava has delicacies like pizza and ice cream, who knew?). The next day, Harris and I did our shopping for installation. Since Sambava is a bigger town than Vohemar and Andapa, we had to buy larger household items that we needed there (especially nice because we had a Peace Corps van at our disposal for a short time too!). I really lucked out because I’m replacing another Education PCV named Hilary, and she told me that she left me a majority of the things I would need, so I didn’t have to buy that much stuff. I stocked up on some food staples and got a new mattress and called it a day. When we were finished, Harris and I spent time getting to know some more SAVA PCVs.

We drove three hours from Sambava to Vohemar to install Harris first. It was cool to get to see another part of SAVA and check out where Harris would be living and teaching. I accompanied him to all of his courtesy visits, which are basically meetings with all of the important town officials when a new PCV installs. Vohemar is really interesting and beautiful, situated right on the coast again, but so. hot. Man. That was a rude awakening for sure. Franka and I helped Harris get his house together and made sure he was comfortable, and then we left him to get settled in the next day. I traveled back to Sambava solo that time around, ready to crash the night in Sambava before traveling to my new home the next morning. Needless to say, sleeping that night was rough for me! I missed my stagemates and friends, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect about the coming days.

When I got in the van to drive the three hours from Sambava to Andapa, I was so excited/nervous/anxious/whoknows. The drive was breathtaking. Andapa is called the bucket or the basin because it’s in this gorgeous valley surrounded by these amazing mountains. The area is part of Madagascar’s rice basket, so there are all these lush green rice fields around. The air always smells like vanilla because this is the area where the famous Madagascar vanilla is grown. Yum. I specifically remember cresting this one hill on the road and finally getting a glimpse of Andapa in the valley below, and my stomach flipped over. Beautiful. I could not believe that I was so lucky, getting the chance to live in this remote and breathtaking part of the country for the next two years. I still cannot believe it, even a month into living here.

Once we arrived, Franka and I drove straight to my house so I could drop off my bags and new installation purchases. I’ll describe my house in a little bit, promise. That first day, I met my two sitemates, Nick and Kim. They are amazing and I am so lucky to have them here. Nick is a third-year extension environment volunteer living in Andapa, so he knows the answers to all of my random questions, and Kim is a new environment volunteer living 5K away by bike in a town called Matsobe. She has been here for around 6 months and remembers what it’s like to feel new, so that’s helpful also. They have been SO helpful during my transition to site. I had all of my courtesy visits then too, meeting the police, mayors, school officials, etc. It was a bit overwhelming, especially since my Malagasy isn’t the best yet (improving though every day!), but having Franka there was comforting.

The next day, Franka came by my house to make sure that everything was in order. And then the moment came when she had to leave. And the Peace Corps van drove away. And I was officially on my own, starting my new adventure. Not going to lie, I was a bit terrified to be alone in my house that first day. I had no idea what to do with myself. So, naturally, my inner OCD came to life and I started cleaning like a madman. My house is tiny, but it’s a treat. It’s one small room, but it’s big enough to fit a double bed, a small table and chair (like a desk situation), and another table that serves as my kitchen. I have a closet where I keep my clothes in some baskets, and a small indoor bathroom with running water, a sink, a flush toilet, and a showerhead. The showers are cold, but I thank my stars every day for a western-style toilet and running water. I also have electricity, which was an unexpected surprise! The previous PCV, Hilary, rented a small refrigerator from a friend in town, and I’m continuing that arrangement, so I also have a fridge. What?! Definitely not what I was expecting when I envisioned my Peace Corps house. Bottom line, the house is small, but it’s big enough for me to fit my yoga mat on the floor, so I cannot complain. I live on the CISCO government compound – the CISCO is responsible for all of the education-related functions here, managing schools, teachers, etc. So it’s fitting that the Education PCV lives here too. Offices surround me, so it’s busy here during the day but quiet (ish) at night, which is lovely. Everyone at the CISCO has been so nice and welcoming to me. Marguerite, the woman who works in the office next to my house and speaks decent English, has quickly become my Andapa mom, helping me with random tasks and answering whatever questions I have. Also, right outside of the CISCO is this great outdoor market that sells fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, rice, etc every day. I buy most of my food there and have made friends with a lot of the vendors, since they see me every day.

The first few days at site were a bit overwhelming, but I made an effort to get out of my house as much as possible. I went on long walks to learn my way around, introducing myself to people along the way. I’ve also quickly discovered that I have no idea how to cook for myself, which is such a tragedy because I’m surrounded by all this fresh produce, but no creativity to put something together. If you know of some easy meatless recipes that don’t call for any really intense ingredients (aka things I can find here), please send them my way! I’m still a vegetarian here (eating eggs and dairy products though), which has been fine actually. But cooking is a whole other battle (aka send me foods! Check out my wishlist page haha, shameless plug). I’m slowly learning though and it’s been getting easier, but I know it’s something to work on. I met my first Malagasy friend my first few days here during one of my long walks. Her name is Zita and she’s a teacher in the countryside. She knew that I was struggling with cooking, so in addition to hanging out and showing me around, we sometimes have cooking lessons, which has been helpful and loads of fun.

I journaled a bunch during my first few weeks at site, writing down even the most mundane things, so I wont bore you with the tiny details (unless you want them. In that case, email me and I’m happy to share what I did on Tuesday, October 1st, at 9:30am). Transitioning to site was full of very high highs and low lows. Everything was new and unfamiliar, but everyone was nice and helpful to me. I think the part that I struggled with the most was not having a real routine. I had three weeks to wait before I started teaching, meaning I had to fill the time somehow. I like having schedules and routines so that I can function properly, so that was a tough adjustment. In the end, I resorted to making myself little projects each day to pass the time (for example: Tuesday. Go make a friend. Buy bananas. Clean my toilet. Sweep. Cook beans. Wash clothes. Go make another friend. Go for a walk. Read Game of Thrones. Eat leftover beans. Sleep.). Each day, I felt myself getting more confident in my language and in learning my way around here. However, I’m glad the Peace Corps forewarned me that the first few weeks at site were the toughest. It was no joke, a real mental test of coping with a dramatically new situation, but I’m proud that I’ve come this far. Every day is a new day with new challenges, but also new rewards. I live for the moments here when something finally makes sense, I have a full convo in Gasy, or I help someone with an English related question…it gives me some sense of forward progress. Also, I’ve since learned to deal with my free time here. While waiting for school to start, I’ve spent time hiking, doing yoga, making friends, being outside, wandering, daydreaming, reading, planning, making a million lists, etc. Now that I’m a month in, I can actually say that I feel very comfortable here at site. I’m getting my routines down and people actually know who I am and what I’m about. It’s interesting…when I walk down the road now, I have such a different feeling in the pit of my stomach than when I did that same walk a month ago. I’m really looking forward to what the next two years here brings.

As for my actual job…it’s been an ordeal trying to hammer out my school schedule, but I made serious productive strides last week. I finally found out that I will teach Mondays and Wednesdays at the middle school, 2 sections of the equivalent of 5/6th grade English, so 6 hours a week there. Then, I teach on Tuesdays at the high school to 11th graders, for 6 hrs all on Tuesday, 3 different sections. Thursdays/Fridays off! Which is awesome! Gives me a lot of time to work on other things…like the library. The previous PCV, Hilary, right before she left Madagascar, started Andapa’s first public library. But the library is still not up and running/open. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done and I’ve inherited the project, which is awesome. I see it as a great window of opportunity to do something wonderful. There’s a real need for a project like this here and I’m stoked to take it on. I’m focusing on getting repairs made to the structure to make it more secure, then I plan on painting signs on the outside of it…and then I have a bazillion ideas about getting more books for the library. I want to partner the library here with some libraries at home and possibly do a sister-library type thing. If any of you are interested, or if you have any ideas for library-related projects, email me! I want to make this library into not just a room of books, but something really special and productive. So I’m really jazzed about it!

Last Tuesday, I had my first day teaching at the lycee (high school). Tuesdays will be long days for me, since my 3 sections are back-to-back, from 6am-8am, 8am-10am, then 10am-12pm. Nuts. But I thought my first lessons with my students went pretty well! Also, hilarious story for you all, during my second section of the day, I was taking role and the first name of the student on my roster is Hitler. Not kidding. What? Another funny teaching story: I’m too short for the blackboards, so I’m constantly up on my toes stretching, willing my right arm to get longer, and the next morning my arm was so sore. My students got a big kick out of how short I was, though. I think I’m going to have two different sized shoulders by the end of Peace Corps from writing on the blackboard! It’s an acquired skill.

I’ll start teaching at the middle school this coming Wednesday I hope. This week, I also am finally starting some of the repairs needed on the library, so I can get it up and running as soon as possible. I know I will have an English club at the lycee once a week too, but I would really like to have the students come to the library to do it, so we can use the resources there. But to do that, I need it open. Soon! All in all, though, I’m really excited that things are finally starting to come together and I have projects that I’m jazzed about.

Another funny occurrence, I think last week I was invited to join a Malagasy band? Not entirely sure. But I’ve been hanging out with a fellow middle school English teacher who’s quickly becoming my good friend, and we jam around on the guitar a lot. I guess word got out around here that I play. An acquaintance came by last week and dropped off a guitar for me to play around with. He’s going to Tana on business, but when he gets back, he said, we are going to go play with his friend in a band. Awesome, but unnerving…it’s been a while since I was decent at this so I hope they’re not expecting fireworks or genius. I’ll keep you all posted on how that goes!

Alright alright, so once again this is long and rambly. Maybe if I get my act together and post more frequently, each of these posts wont turn into a novel. Important!! I’ve updated my wish list and contact info, so please please check that out! And, if you have specific questions for me, or if you’re just bored, send me emails!

I’m off to go finish hanging up my laundry and I’m headed to an outdoor concert in Andapa later today with a few friends, which should be fun! I miss you all!