I Feel Fine
March 13, 2013, 12:04 PM

Hey world!

Happy March, everyone! Before I even dive into anything Peace Corps and Madagascar related…HOYA SAXA! Man, that feels good to get off my chest. Apparently, since I’ve been out of the country, Georgetown basketball has decided to really get it together and start taking names. Awesome, but I’m still so bummed I couldn’t be back in the Verizon Center to watch the Hoyas take the Big East title. Either way – this Hoya Saxa goes out to all my college friends. Miss you guys and I hope you celebrated in style (please say Mr. Smiths, you know who you are, please please please…)

Anyway, so back to the real reason you read my blog. Life in Madagascar. February and March have been fun and busy months for me – lots of work in Andapa and much more work/exploration out in the countryside. This week I’ve just finished up my second full trimester of teaching. I’m really happy to have hit this milestone, and my students seem to be about where I want them to be (for the most part). While teaching is definitely getting easier with every class session, I still find myself having difficulties sometimes trying to navigate school bureaucracy here. Getting the correct information about dates for exams or the official start of the summer break can be a bit confusing. I get frustrated sometimes, but I attribute a lot of it to a) my language level and b) my recent acquaintance with the school culture. I’m still learning how things work, and wrapping up this trimester, it was very apparent to me that I’m still quite new at this. Luckily, I work with great teachers who have been beyond helpful in explaining information. Quite a steep learning curve, though.

My extracurricular clubs are growing in size since my last post, and these are quickly becoming highlights of my week. I absolutely love working with my nighttime adult class, which has now grown to around 30 adults. They are very mazoto (Malagasy word for committed/diligent) because they genuinely want to be there, so it makes teaching a breeze. Plus, I teach with Derio (my counterpart) or my Malagasy teacher/park guide friend Thorien, and both of them are great to work with. An anecdote I thought you’d enjoy…so recently Andapa’s been having problems with electricity. It’ll get cut for random hours during the day or night without warning, which can be frustrating when my night class is dependent on the light to see the blackboard. So last night, the power was cut and it was impossible to see the blackboard once the sun set, so I decided to play some comprehension games outside for as long as we could see each other and then call it a night. One of the adults I teach told me, sit tight I’ll be back, I’m going to go fix this, and he disappeared for a bit. He came back after a few minutes with a crazy contraption – like a car battery with jumper cables, a power strip, and two lightbulbs with wires, that he fiddled around with in the classroom…and lo and behold, light! Definitely an interesting experience, but the fact that these adults wanted to learn so badly that they rigged this car battery to hear what I had to say was just so beautiful in every sense of the word.

My other adult class is turning into just a conversation club with some very knowledgeable adults. I enjoy getting to spend an hour and a half talking with these new friends, because while they are practicing their English, I get to ask questions about Madagascar and hear their points of view. Last week, we had an illuminating discussion about their opinions on Malagasy development. We touched on everything from the International Criminal Court to the cost of living in Washington, DC. An absolutely fascinating discussion. I loved every second of it.

As I said, I’ve been doing a lot of exploring in the countryside around Andapa recently. My teacher/park guide friend Thorien who helps me with my adult class invited me to travel to the countryside, a town called Ambodiangezoka (around 25km away), to visit his family and see where he come from. He met me at my house at 5am, and we set off on the 25km bike ride. The ride was gorgeous but at times pretty tough since the dirt roads were a mess from recent rains. But once we got there, I met all of his family and took a tour of the community. Everyone was so friendly and I received many voandalanas (Gasy word for gifts from a trip), like beans, bananas, and lunch. The ride back was quite an adventure. Thorien took a “shortcut” to try to shave off like 3km from the total ride, but with the recent rains, the road was terrible. In fact, at some points, there just was no road. There were a few stretches where we’d be biking, and then the road would disappear into a mini-ocean. We’d carry our bikes over our heads and wade through water (waist deep on me because I’m so short, awesome) for a while until we found the road again. Ended up taking way longer than the original road would have been, but it was great exercise and a really fun time. Sometimes, ya just gotta let Madagascar happen.

I’ve been continuing my capacity-building work with Malagasy English teachers in Andapa and the country as well. I recently traveled to Marokaboy, a small village around 15km away, where my Malagasy friend Nico teaches English. He invited me to teach a few sections of his students while he and other teachers observed (similar to my model teaching session in Bealampona). It was a lot of fun and, according to Nico, very informative. I stayed for lunch at his house and then biked back in the afternoon before the afternoon rains began. In addition to Marokaboy, the CEG in Andapa where I teach recently hosted a three-day teacher summit for all CEG teachers in Andapa and the countryside. We were split up by subject (Physics, English, Malagasy, French, etc) and talked teaching pedagogy for three straight days. Talk about a great opportunity build capacity with English teachers! There were around 50 English teachers there, many from places so far that it takes around three days to reach Andapa by foot (the village isn’t accessible by car). I facilitated sessions about teaching English, on topics like using music in the classroom, creating an interactive classroom environment, incorporating Total Physical Response into a lesson, and designing lesson plans for all types of learners. The feedback I got from all of the teachers was overwhelmingly positive. Many of them expressed interest on holding summits like this more often than just once per year, an idea that I’ve since begun tossing around in my brain. I’ll keep you posted on that one!

While I have been working a fair amount, I’ve also carved out some time for some Andapa exploring/playtime too. I went with my friend Fredon and finally visited the cascade (waterfall) that I’ve heard so much about. I’ve been dying to go since I moved here, but it just never worked out. But now, with the rainy season, the cascade is huge, so it was the perfect time to go. It’s a bit of a hike, but absolutely gorgeous. If I can ever post photos, I’ll be sure to share one. I also went on a search with my sitemate Kim for Andapa’s rumored baobab tree. It took us a few tries, but we eventually found it. It is noticeably a baobab, but it doesn’t look anything like the ones in Morondava (the ones you think of when you think of Madagascar), mainly because this one is only like thirty years old. Someone was nice enough to spraypaint “BAOBAB” on the tree itself though, so you really can’t miss it. A cool factoid about Andapa – who knew a baobab lived here?

A few weekends ago, I traveled to Antalaha to visit my PCV friend John and learn about his solar drying project. He has this really cool project where he captures the sun’s energy to dry mangoes and bananas. And they are SO delicious. I think I ate like fifty bananas a day at his place (sorry for depleting your stores, John!). A really fascinating project though, and I also got to visit the beach (long overdue!). Only downside…while taking a dip in the ocean, I got stung by a sea urchin in my right hand. Now, I’ve eaten urchin before (thanks to Ray!) but never had the pleasure of a stinger in my hand…those suckers pack a serious punch. It was so deep that I wasn’t able to dig the stingers out myself, so upon returning home, I went to the Adventist Hospital in Andapa to try to have them removed. Luckily, now I’m urchin free, but my thumb is still numb from the venom, which is a weird feeling. Overall, pretty painful but I’m fine, just a ridiculous thing to have happen to me (I’m honestly not surprised though, I mean, it is me after all). Now I wish I had the chance to eat that particular urchin as my own form of payback. Next time…

Other news on the home front, I’ve recently started to go for runs with my counterpart Derio. When he first asked me, I sincerely thought he was joking. “Ok, meet you at 4 tomorrow?” “You mean in the afternoon? Sure.” “No, morning.” “Oh, um, yes. Right.” We’ve been running at 4am on the paved road that stretches between Andapa and Sambava and it’s a killer. The first 4 kilometers are pretty much just straight mountain, which is why I thought he was nutters for suggesting a run on that road. It’s gotten easier, but it doesn’t make the 4am wakeup any more pleasant! However, running in the complete darkness has such a calming effect. I just zone out (and try not to fall back asleep) and let Andapa happen to my legs. It’s a pretty neat form of meditation almost…but I feel like I’m not quite doing it justice in my description. These runs are just overwhelming darkness and quiet; the only sounds from nature and my feet (and my occasional wheeze), the only thing I can see are the stars above my head. Soul refreshing. Not to mention on the way back down, I am rewarded for my hard work with a spectacular view of the sunrise over the Andapa basin.

That’s all I got for now! I’m leaving this weekend for Easter break to visit some friends outside of SAVA, so I’ll update you all about that with another post when I can.

Much love!