Eight Days A Week
November 16, 2012, 10:50 AM

Hey friends,

Today marks my official two-month anniversary with Andapa and it’s been quite the ride so far! It’s weird for me to think about how time passes during my service. Each day feels incredibly long, but when I look back on the weeks and months, they just fly by. I can’t believe I have been living here for two months already, and that I have been in Madagascar since July.

Since my last post, I’ve been pretty busy getting into a routine at site. I have started to teach full time, and even though I only teach three days a week, it’s exhausting but rewarding. Teaching my marathon six-hour stretch at the lycee every Tuesday is going well. The students are really open to learning, but they are all at such a variety of levels (and there are a lot of them – over 60 students per lycee section) that it presents a bit of a challenge when I try to teach anything too complex, like difficult grammar. I’ve had to step up my discipline a bit recently too, because they can be chatty (as all high schoolers can be). Most recently in class, we have been working on writing our own dialogues with new grammatical structures and vocabulary, and then presenting them to the class for corrections. It took a while for students to both understand the idea of generating new content on their own and then for them to get excited about the idea of presentations, but since we’ve started, they are taking real ownership in it. This coming Tuesday, we’ll finish up the presentations and review, because in two weeks, I have to give my first exam! I cannot believe it’s time for testing already. For tests here, teachers write the exam on the blackboard, their students copy it down in their copybooks, and then they answer the questions and turn in the pages. I’m looking forward to the experience of giving my first test; I just hope my students study and behave themselves!

I’ve also started teaching at the CEG (middle school), which has been quite the experience. I showed up on my first day, received my roster, and laughed, because my roster was like a bazillion pages long. I thought they gave me the roll for all of the 6eme classes, not just my section. But, as it turns out, jokes on me…I have a million students in each section. Just kidding, not a million, but anywhere from 105 students to over 120 students per class on any given day. I walked in on my first day to all of these faces sharing up at me and was smacked in the face with the enormity of the task ahead of me. In 6eme, I am their first formal exposure to the English language, and I really don’t want to mess that up. 6eme is a foundational year for the rest of their interaction with English. Huge responsibility! I had a lot of ideas about how I wanted to run my classroom and activities I wanted to do, but I’ve had to do a lot of reworking and rethinking in light of the sheer number of students in my classes. It can be frustrating at times when it comes to discipline, because they can be chatty (and what 11-year old wants to sit still for two hours straight?), but I think that’ll just come with time. My 6eme lessons are a lot of fun for me to teach also – lots of miming, dancing, singing, and making a fool out of myself. Here’s an example: I’ve never been one to feel comfortable singing in front of people, but a few weeks ago I was teaching them the alphabet song, and I wanted to model it for them before they went to town. So, I threw all caution to the wind and belted it out for all 120 students plus all of the other stragglers who were hanging out in the courtyard. When I was finished, my students were just as surprised as I was, and gave me a standing ovation. What?! Cutest thing ever. At the end of every lesson now, they line up to give me high fives as they walk out the door. It makes it tough to bike home after class, because 120 hard little high fives in a row really makes my hands sore, but it’s so cute that I can’t help it.

While teaching 6eme is fun, it’s also prompted me to do some serious contemplation on the value of education in different societies and the lengths individuals go to get educated. The sizes of my classes are so large that all of my students can’t fit in the classroom – some go outside to look in through the open window, using the windowsill as a desk, or stand in the back along the wall. It is difficult for me to watch sometimes, because in classes this large, students will inevitably fall behind and that frustrates me. I know I’m not able to individually tutor every student in my class who is having a difficult time, but I try to reach out to the ones I know are struggling as much as I can. It’s tough because there are so many children who want the gift of a solid education, but resources are scarce, hence my overcrowded classroom. If you have any thoughts, post in the comments section – I’d love to hear what you have to say! There is a silver lining though – I talked to the CEG Director about my class sizes and they are hopefully opening an overflow site in the countryside and breaking up 6eme into more sections of smaller students. Our conversation was enlightening: I was concerned that in such a large class at such a young age, many students wouldn’t learn anything, and he agreed. I’m still not sure when or if the splitting/moving will happen, so we’ll see. In two weeks, I’ll be giving my 6eme students their first exam as well, so that should be an interesting indicator of how the first month went.

I’m giving my exams early because I have to go to Antananarivo (Tana), the capital, early in December for In-Service Training (IST) with the Peace Corps. IST is a training conference for the newest class of PCVs. We are brought back to Tana after 3 months at site to attend more training workshops and reunite with our training class. I am beyond excited to see everyone in my stage again! I’m flying in a bit early to meet with the US Embassy in Tana about library project ideas, and then IST officially starts on the 12th and ends on the 21st. Afterwards, I’ll be taking a vacation for the Christmas holidays. Cannot wait – December will be such a fun month!! Just lots to do before I get there haha.

Ok so beyond teaching, there’s been serious progress with the library over the past month. All of the repairs on the structure are finished, which is great. A librarian from the countryside came to help me and the Andapa librarian organize the books and set up a labeling system. His visit was beyond helpful, and since then, Marguerite and I have been hard at work labeling books and getting them onto the shelves in their sections. I hope to have it opened before I go to Tana, but it’s still not clear if it’ll be ready by then. If not, I’ll hit the ground running in January so we can have it open and usable at the beginning of the new year. Once we’re open for a bit, I’ll decide what the next steps should be. The Andapa librarian and I have loads of ideas – library-to-library partnerships, getting chalkboards installed, painting the outside, hosting various clubs, getting more books/technology/etc – but before we move on any of these, I want to see how the community responds to the library once it opens. A soft-opening of sorts, I guess. I am just so happy and fortunate that I get to work on a cool project like this!

At the beginning of November, I attended my first VAC (Volunteer Action Council) meeting for the SAVA region. Basically, PC splits up PCVs into regions and they meet every three months to discuss what’s going on site. Then, our VAC representative takes what we say to a National VAC meeting in Tana and communicates our ideas/problems/concerns to PC. Ours was in Andapa this year and it was a lot of fun and very informative. The SAVA PCVs are a great group of people. We had a productive meeting and then cooked an absolutely amazing meal (homemade humus, pitas, baked mac and cheese, carrot salad, cake…who knew food like that was possible here? I sure didn’t). I also spent a day in Sambava to get some shopping done last weekend and got to indulge in ice cream (gasp). It was nice to get out of site for a day. Sambava is much bigger than Andapa, but the hustle and bustle of the city made me really appreciate how quite and calm my site is. I think I’ll be reuniting with the SAVA PCVs again for Thanksgiving next week, which will be nice. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, so I know I’ll be sad I’m not at home for it this year. It’ll be fun to forge a new tradition of Thanksgiving Gasy style though!

And last (and least, ugh), this week was the first time I’ve gotten sick since I’ve been here. I wasn’t able to go to school to teach at all this week, which made me sad, but I would have been a joke of a teacher since I couldn’t stand up for more than two minutes without falling over. It wasn’t serious (I just needed lots of fluids and rest), and I’m finally feeling like my human status is back above a 50%. While being sick sucked, the support of my community was incredible. Teachers at both schools came to check on me every day, as did my Andapa mom Marguerite and many of my students (and stagemates via text, thanks friends!). It really warmed my heart.

So that’s all I got for now! Again, oops, this is all over the place, but I guess y’all should just get used to that? Ha. Keep your emails/skype calls/packages coming! They make my life.