Here, There, And Everywhere
November 28, 2013, 3:24 PM

Hey again It’s me Arianna Pattek.

So now that you’re all brought up to speed on the chaos of April, I should probably fill you in on the rest of my life here, little by little. So much has happened here in Madagascar since April! Let me start by saying that I am LOVING life at site. I love Andapa. For real. It’s been a journey filled with highs and lows for sure, and I can’t believe sometimes how comfortable I feel here. Just wanted to get that out.

Ok, so let’s start with grandes vacances, aka “big vacation” or winter break (USA’s summer break, but here it’s actually cold!). I kicked off vacation in June by taking 13 of my amazing English Club students to Marojejy National Park. Marojejy is a gorgeous national park around 50km from Andapa, and it’s one of the main reasons tourists come to SAVA. It is also the home of the Silky Sifaka lemur, which can only be found in Marojejy. ONLY here, out of the whole world. It is one of the top 25 most critically endangered primates in the world. Crazy, right? I worked together with the Duke Lemur Center to bring 13 high school students to the park for a 3-day, 2-night environmental education field trip. It was incredible. These students know how important Marojejy is to their region, but they rarely get the opportunity to go there because of prohibitive costs and other factors. For my trip, each student only had to contribute the equivalent of around $1 USD. We spent our time hiking (not an easy trek!), looking at the wildlife, learning about environmental conservation in English (!!!) from our guide, and practicing vocabulary and speaking. Fun anecdote – there are leeches everywhere in Marojejy and they really freaked me out. My students really enjoyed my reactions every time I discovered a leech creeping somewhere on my body. They enjoyed this so much that they would leave leeches on their feet (granted, my students did the trek in flip-flops) to feed, become giant, then gross me out and show me. Good fun all around. Anyway, I made each student a 30-page workbook that had information and activities in both Malagasy and English to facilitate the learning process. While it was exhausting looking after 13 teenagers for 3 days making sure they didn’t fall over a cliff or get a leech in their eye, it was such a rewarding program. The best part: since the trip was “English only,” I was able to notice a real change in my students’ comfort level with English. Great success.

The week after Marojejy, after I picked off all of the leeches, I spent a few days in the deep countryside – Maroambihy – visiting the extended family of my best Malagasy friend at site, Agnes. I’m not sure if I’ve talked about Agnes on my blog before, but I am so lucky to have a friend like her here. She rules. She’s 25 years old and her family has become like my second family. They’re so cute and motivated and generally awesome. Agnes’ dad is the president of the Lutheran Church here (so sometimes I’m suckered into going, but whatevs) and also of the market association, which is a really cool mechanism to make sure each seller has representation in what goes on at the market. She spent three years working in Lebanon (it’s pretty common for girls in my region to work abroad in the Middle East for a few years to make some money for their families), so she understands weird western cultural things more so than other Gasy friends of mine. Some days I’ll hang out with her at the market and help sell clothes, since they tend to make more money when I’m there (haha), or we’ll cook (she’s an amazing cook and can cook Lebanese food!!), or just lounge around, watching films, playing basketball, etc. I’m so lucky to have found her here. AND her mom just got some kind of oven situation at their house, so I plan on cooking up a storm in the upcoming weeks. Yes. Anyway, I wanted to meet some more of her family, so we took a trip to Maroambihy to stay with them for a few days. No water, no power, just lots and lots of kids and playtime. We hiked around the forest and ate avocadoes straight from the trees. We bathed in the river alongside women from the village. I got my hair braided and it really effing hurt. I love getting the opportunity to see more villages in my region, so it was an enriching experience.

June was busy, not just for Maroambihy and Marojejy, but it was also my 23rd birthday, which happens to coincide with Malagasy Independence Day! I’m telling you, it’s fate that I live in this country. People here always flip out when I tell them my birthday is the same day as Independence. I agree. Madagascar already had a party planned for me! In the morning, Andapa’s commune planned a giant parade of all the big associations here, mostly schools and students. I met up with the teachers of my CEG in the morning (wearing our matching blue polo shirts), indulged in some 8am birthday-morning beverages with them, then went to the parade with my students. All of the teachers and students practiced the goose-stepping parade walk for weeks, but of course I’m tsy mahay, so I just went with it. As we paraded by the mayor’s table, the announcer over the speaker said something along the lines of, “and here is our vazaha (foreigner) English teacher – look how happy and smiling she is! She is almost Malagasy!” I’ll take the “almost” comment, thank you very much. When the parade finished, I met up with Agnes and some other friends of mine at my friend Fostin’s house, where they cooked a giant meal for my birthday and threw me a great birthday party. All in all, a mellow but memorable 23rd birthday.

The day after my birthday, I headed to Tana to participate in my first National VAC (Volunteer Advisory Committee) meeting because I am the VAC Representative for the SAVA Region. Peace Corps splits PCVs into groups by region, leaving eight regions of volunteers. Each region elects a representative to serve as the VAC Rep for a term of one year. As VAC Reps, we organize regional meetings every three months and participate in a national meeting in Tana every four months with PC staff and the other VAC Reps. I love it – it’s a really cool way to get more involved in PC and give PC direct feedback on how things are going in our region, plus the other NatVAC Reps (sorry, so many acronyms, I know) are awesome. It’s great to meet a cross-section of PCVs I’d never normally interact with otherwise since SAVA is so isolated! Our first meeting was long, but informative and delicious (PC gives us some great snacks haha).

In addition to NatVAC in July, I participated in – wait for it, here comes another acronym – ToT, aka Training of Trainers, at the Peace Corps Training Center (PCTC). I was selected to be a PCV Trainer for the new stage of Education Volunteers coming to Madagascar in July, which was very exciting for me! So I, along with the nine or so other PCV Trainers, went to the PCTC for around a week to discuss programming and training. I was training with some of my best friends in Peace Corps, so it was loads of fun. AND it coincided with July 4th – you guys know how I feel about America’s birthday – so it was wonderful to be around other Americans on my favorite holiday. ToT made me realize just how far I’d come in my journey as a PCV. I was expected to answer new PCV questions and actually know what I’m talking about regarding teaching. It was daunting. But that’s when it hit me – I think I actually DO know what I’m talking about. I worked my ass off last year learning the ropes of teaching in this challenging educational climate and culture, and I know how to manage incredibly large, multilevel classes. And I couldn’t wait to share my knowledge with the newbies. I wanted to help make their transition to this country as smooth as possible. It was nice to actually feel mahay (the Gasy word for knowledgeable) for once! And it made me acknowledge this long and winding road that is Peace Corps service. Time is going way too fast. After NatVAC and ToT, I headed back to site for a few weeks to do some library work. I’ve posted before about our awesome book deliveries so I spent some serious time getting the cataloguing system up and running and labeling books. The shelves are almost feno (full), and it looks like a place that could actually BE a library. Finally!

Also, drumroll please…my parents came to visit at the end of July! I was so proud of them for actually making the long trek to this beautiful country. Mada isn’t necessarily the easiest place to visit, but they were such good sports about it and I was so excited to share my life here with them. Again, look on Facebook, I put up a giant album filled with photos from our trip! It was an adventure. First, I met them in South Africa to head to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe together. It was such a weird feeling leaving the island. As soon as the plane took off, I was so sad and missed Madagascar already – how does that even happen? I’d only be gone for four days! When I got to South Africa, it was just major culture shock everywhere. Lights, fast internet, hot water, no rice, ENGLISH …the airport is like a bazillion times bigger than the one I’m used to in Sambava (aka just a room with a desk and a fan and a departure door, no joke). It was overwhelming. But Zimbabwe was incredible – we got to see amazing wildlife, I fulfilled my lifelong dream of riding an elephant, I flew in a helicopter above Victoria Falls, and I saw my first 100 trillion dollar bill. Zimbabwe is fascinating and definitely a place I want to visit again.

After my parents and I returned to Madagascar, we traveled everywhere. Seriously. We first went north to see Diego and Ankarana National Park, which was beautiful. Lots of lemurs and my first sighting of the tsingy – an amazing and unique razor-sharp limestone rock formation. You’ve gotta google it or look at my photos. After Ankarana, we spent a few days in Nosy Be, an island off the northwest coast of Madagascar. From Nosy Be, we could travel to the smaller islands around it by speedboat for snorkeling and amazing beaches. Some of the most beautiful beaches ever and amazing seafood! We passed back through Tana to head to the west coast of Madagascar to see the baobabs and the western tsingy. I’ve wanted to see the Tsingy de Bemaraha since before coming to Madagascar. It’s only accessible part of the year when it’s not raining, because there is literally NO road to get there, and the rains flood the actual tsingy. We had to travel for 12 hours in a 4×4 to get to the tsingy itself, leaving from Morondava (the town where the amazingly beautiful baobabs live). The drive is no joke. I thought my parents were going to lose it because at some points, we had to cross rivers on these crazy makeshift ferries, so our driver just drove the car right on there and it floated away. Terrifying but amazing. The tsingy was the coolest thing I’ve done in this country so far. We spent two days climbing around on the rocks, hooked up with harnesses and safety wires. Breathtaking views. On the way back to Morondava, we stopped at the Avenue of the Baobabs to see the famous Madagascar baobabs at sunset. It’s literally impossible to take a bad picture there, though some tourists are super serious about it. I met one guy who was camped there all day with like twelve different tripods. Really dude? Relax. Those trees are over 900 years old and are effing gigantic. They’ve also started a baobab nursery at the end of the Avenue and it’s adorable. Baby baobab trees are just like little sticks – apparently they grow tall before they grow fat, so I guess those trees will resemble a baobab in maybe 200 years. See ya then.

Our last leg of the journey was visiting SAVA and Andapa. I could NOT wait, especially because I told everyone in Andapa that my family was coming and people were so excited. My parents got the royal treatment. Many of my friends had us over for meals, took us around Andapa, organized parties, kept us company, etc. The only downside is that Andapa could not keep it together weather-wise and it was cold/rainy/muddy the whole time. But at least my parents got a real taste of the Andapa lifestyle? I do live in the Seattle of Mada. It was the most bizarre thing ever having my parents meet my friends and seeing my house here, like the colliding of two very different worlds. But it’s awesome for them to understand the things that I’ve tried so hard to explain via blog or telephone. A bit of a relief actually. That’s why the rest of you should definitely come visit! Haha. But really, DO IT.

Even with all of that, my grandes vacanes was only half over, if you can believe it. I’ll finish the rest in my next post because my fingers are exhausted and I’ve got an appointment at the bazary selling some clothes with Agnes.

Amanaraka koa, friends!
Arianna Pattek

PS – thanks a million to those of you who sent me packages and letters during the vacation – they’ve been such a treat! You know who you are and I love you for it ☺


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