And Your Bird Can Sing
November 28, 2013, 3:25 PM


Hi Arianna Pattek here: the last post in my mega update about my life. I hope things in whatever corner of the world you’re at are amazing! So I left off in my last post talking about my parents visit, which was incredible. You know, people here in Andapa still ask me questions like, “have your parents arrived back in America yet?” and I blow their minds when I say, yes, in fact, after only a day and a half, they were snuggled back at home breathing American air.

So I went back to Tana in August for two reasons – to take my parents to the airport and see them off, and to train the new PCVs. As I said before, I was selected to be a PCV Trainer, and I was training during “Practicum,” a period of three weeks when the new PCVs do actual teaching in a Malagasy school with Malagasy students. As trainers, we observe and offer feedback, and also conduct sessions on technical aspects of our job, like lesson planning, classroom management, etc. Practicum is a great time to be a trainer, because all seven trainers live at the PCTC for three and a half weeks with the new volunteers. And I love the PCTC. The food and snacks are amazing, there is a beautiful lake with canoes, I hang out with my friends, train the new volunteers, learn new things from observations, spend quality time with PC staff, etc. What’s not to love? Oh wait, except Mantasoa is the coldest place ever. My body has adjusted to living in such a hot place that as soon as it got a bit cold I didn’t know how to handle myself. And being in Mantasoa for the Gasy winter is not an easy feat. Molly, one of my best PCV friends and fellow trainer, invented “cocooning” in bed – pretty self-explanatory, burrowing into bed when the outside world is simply too cold to exist in. Being a trainer is great, having the opportunity to drop some knowledge on the new volunteers and act as a resource for them, but also it’s a bit bizarre. It’s like going through Pre-Service Training again but having none of the stress. Very strange déjà vu. Some highlights from Practicum to share – I gave my first haircut of my life to Molly, my very trusting friend. Turned out a little shorter than expected (I cut a few thumbs – our measuring stick – more of hair than she wanted), so she was left with a hip 1920s or 1960s bob. Oops. She returned the favor by giving me my first haircut in Madagascar, long overdue. The trainers also participated in the trainees’ talent show and repped “our stage” appropriately. And we failed miserably at a dodgeball tournament in which I think I broke a few of my own bones, or at least caused some serious internal damage. Overall, Practicum was loads of fun. Hanging out with the new volunteers was a nice change of pace, and their fresh energy and enthusiasm for their work was invigorating. It really got me motivated to be a better teacher this time around for my second year. When Practicum finished, I had a few days to kill in Tana before I headed back to SAVA for a little bit. Molly and Gabby, another one of my best PCV friends, were both hanging around Tana as well, so we decided to treat ourselves a bit (Treat Yo-self 2013, if you will) as a reward for surviving the Mantasoa winter. We dubbed ourselves the “Ladies Who Lunch,” LWL, because everything in PC needs an acronym. And we treated ourselves. And it was glorious.

After a brief goodbye to my LWL companions, I headed back to SAVA to check on the library before heading back yet again to the PCTC in Mantasoa for my Mid Service Conference (MSC). MSC takes place after our first year of service. PC brings in my entire training group to have technical, cultural, and language sessions for five days. Overall, it’s a great reunion to see how everyone’s doing – many of my stagemates I haven’t seen since our IST in December 2012. We all couldn’t believe how fast time has flown. Have I really been here for over a year?! What the hell? MSC was nuts. Just bananas. Lovely to see everyone again and, similar to Practicum, motivating for this upcoming school year. I can’t believe I just have one more official PC conference left before I am finished – my Close-of-Service (COS) Conference in May. Slow down, time, seriously. The end of MSC marked the end of my ridiculous whirlwind of a grandes vacances. I missed Andapa and was so anxious to get back home. Naturally, my house was a dirty mess and I had to reintroduce my face out and about around town to make sure people still knew who I was. But it felt so good to be back, and that’s always a comforting feeling.

Now that you’re all brought up to speed, I’ll give you a quick update about more recent life happenings. The school year started again in the middle of October and I have the same schedule as last year – 2 sections of 6eme at the middle school/CEG and 3 sections of 1ere at the high school/lycee. I am doing things in my classroom very differently this time around and I love how things are working out. My classes are still gigantic, but I have my sea legs and know how things work now. Being a second year PCV and second year teacher is revelation, I swear. Everything, and I mean everything, makes a 100 times more sense than last year. It’s unreal. I must sound mad, but I LOVE it. So yes, school is great. I still have my frustrations, though. For example, even though I think I am teaching my lessons way better and clearer than last year, I gave my first tests and the marks were still not very good. The study-at-home thing is not really popular here so that was a bit disheartening, something that my students will have to work on. My middle schoolers hit my objectives for each lesson, but when asked to produce their own content on exams without the aid of their notebooks, they are lost. And my high schoolers made the same mistakes of things they learned 6 years ago. Le sigh.

In addition to my primary teaching assignment, I have numerous secondary projects in the works. I have my weekly lycee English club with over 45 members attending regularly. Last week we just finished watching Beauty and the Beast. If you want a clue as to how my life is like here in Mada, watch that musical scene with Belle in her village at the beginning – “Bonjour! Good day! That girl is so strange!” – and it’ll give you a very good example. I also just restarted my adult class through the library again with another Malagasy teacher friend, Thorien. This time around, we split it into two sections: one advanced and one beginner. The adults are so motivated. There must be something in the water in Andapa that makes people want to learn English so badly. A PC staff member once told me on a visit here that Andapa is strange; it’s the only Malagasy town he’s every visited where Malagasy people speak English to each other on the street. And it’s true – I’ve seen it! Crazy. I still do occasional teaching demonstrations out in the countryside too. Hm, what else… I’m in the planning stages for a SAVA-wide teacher summit next year and also a girls empowerment camp (hosted with the other SAVA PCVs), which will both be great I hope. And! I just hosted the Andapa Public Library official inauguration on November 8th. We invited all the local important people to the library to officially open it, now that we have books and a beautiful laptop donated from America. I had to give the opening speech in both Malagasy and English, which was definitely a bit nerve-wracking, especially when Thorien tells me the night before that my speech will be recorded for national TV and radio distribution! Ok sure. No pressure. I’ve since seen myself on the local news and it’s a bizarre phenomenon. A tiny Malagasy kid stopped me in the street a few days ago to say, “Oh vazaha, I saw you on TV yesterday!” I just laughed. How weird! The party was a huge success and we’ve had such a great turnout at the library every day since. Loads of new members. Victory.

In other news, November marked my second NatVAC meeting in Tana as well. As always, it’s very cool for me to be able to represent the interests of my region at the meeting. And hanging out with the other reps isn’t so bad either! It was a nice change of pace from life at site. Just a quick weekend away and back to life here. Next week for Thanksgiving, I’ll be in Sambava with the SAVA PCVs and some Gasy friends (Agnes and Thorien included), cooking amazing food but missing my grandma’s sweet potatoes as usual. Someone please find a way to send me some?

My brain is mush from all this writing, so I’ll close with this. I know I’ve been MIA in the blogosphere, but life as a second year PCV is incredible. I love the people I work with, the people who I consider my family here in Andapa, my town, this country…I could gush all day. There are some days that are difficult still, but I am comforted by my overwhelming sense of ease most of the time. Plus, I can see real changes because of my presence, especially in my students. And that’s the whole reason I’m here after all – to help the teachers and students of Andapa. It’s comforting to be able to walk down the street and have people actually associate my presence here with education and the work of Peace Corps. I am “The English Teacher”. Also, the library, in my opinion, has created a change in the educational culture and community of Andapa. It’s given Andapa-ians a place to go to meet like-minded individuals, discuss pedagogy, and access resources. Perhaps most exciting is the sustainability of it all – there are now classes and meetings at the library that I no longer have to organize. People are taking the initiative to make the library into whatever Andapa needs, and it isn’t dependent on me. Students use the library to meet up with each other to practice. Park guides have taken the initiative to organize a class for themselves every day at the library with Thorien. I’ve observed teachers trying out new techniques that they’ve learned in the library in their classrooms and I’ve heard students using new, difficult vocabulary that we’ve practiced together. It’s great. And to top it all off, mango and lychee season just began. What more could a PCV ask for?

Keep the updates from America coming, please. I love hearing about your lives!
Missing you all betsaka.

Amanaraka koa,
Arianna Pattek


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