THIS BIRD HAS FLOWN


Ask Me Why
August 8, 2014, 2:47 PM
Filed under: PEACE CORPS MADAGASCAR

Hey world,

 

I hope all is well on the other side of the pond! I had one of those incredibly vivid dreams last night where I was eating fake sesame chicken at Harmony and I woke up 96% convinced it was the real deal. Major bummer once I came to my senses. Bottom line, I miss y’all! Anyway, my last update was about my weird tailbone drama…I’m happy to report I’m still in good health! I’ve since sent my old, bad-juju bicycle to Tana so I will gladly never have to deal with it again, since I’m inheriting another PCV’s bike. But enough about bikes, more about life…

 

So, I have a surprise. I’m not going to be coming home to the USA this month like I originally planned way back in 2012. I think most of you have heard by now, but this year I made the huge decision to…wait for it…extend my service here in Madagascar for a third year. Yeah. That happened. You probably think I’m a nutjob, but I am just not ready to leave this amazing place. There’s so much left to learn, so much work left to do, and now, amidst all of the interesting political/aid developments (example: the US just restored aid flows back to Madagascar), it’s such a unique time to be living here. So how did this happen? Around my mid-service conference, when people typically start testing the waters for life after Peace Corps, I began to realize I wasn’t done with Madagascar… not yet anyway. But it took a long time for me to admit this to myself, because I felt I had to go back home and go to grad school, start a career, etc. Once I finally let myself accept the idea that I wanted to stay, I promised myself I would only extend if I found a third year opportunity truly worthwhile for my time. I wanted to still be involved in the field of education, but I thought it would be best to take my skills I gained through two years of teaching and apply them in a different way, perhaps on the project development side of things. As much as I love the SAVA region, I also wanted to move to another part of Madagascar, to learn a new Malagasy dialect, see a new place, and experience a different culture. So I started poking around in the hopes of finding the perfect opportunity.

 

That’s where the NGO Pact Madagascar comes in. I heard about Pact through a fellow PCV who spent her third year working in their Fort Dauphin (the deep south of Mada) office. She had nothing but positive things to say about her work, and as soon as I learned details about her job and life in Ft. Dauphin, I knew it would be a great fit for me. It hit all of my criteria for extending: new place (Fort Dauphin is a gorgeous city in the deep south of Mada), new dialect and culture (they speak the dialect Antanosy, and the culture here, because it’s so isolated, is so unique), great job opportunity (while I’m still a PCV, with my new position at Pact I’m essentially an NGO employee), and fantastic mission of the NGO (Pact works in the realm of capacity and educational development, helping students through scholarships and leadership/civic education programs). I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like this.

 

By accepting a third year position with Pact, my timeline for things at my old site (OLD SITE can you believe that??) in Andapa sped up dramatically. The PCV I was replacing was leaving Fort Dauphin at the beginning of August, and Pact wanted us to overlap for two weeks so she could train me in my position, meaning I needed to head down south mid-July. I was planning on leaving Andapa in September, so that was quite a shock to both my friends at site and me. So now here I am. I’ve been in Ft. Dauphin since July 19th, and I’ve loved every second of it. This city is beautiful and has a great vibe. I’ve traveled pretty extensively throughout Madagascar and this is my favorite of the larger cities that I’ve been too. It doesn’t feel scary, huge, and dirty like Tana. There’s a great group of expats here and the Malagasy people I’ve met have been really friendly. Beautiful beaches and mountains surround it. I feel so lucky. My living accommodations here are a HUGE step up from my tiny little box of a house in Andapa. I have a gorgeous apartment with amazing amenities and great neighbors (aka COME VISIT!!!!). I love my place. And my work with Pact promises to be very rewarding.

 

Right now, everyone in the office is focused on Pact’s RISE Scholarship program. Pact gives out scholarships to students of merit and students of need, working in nine communes around Ft. Dauphin. For scholarship distributions, I’ve been going out into the field around three times a week distributing and collecting applications. The deadline is at the end of this month and then we work on selection. Going out to the countryside so far has been an amazing experience. Pact works in some very remote places (on some pretty awful roads), so it’s very interesting for me to get to see how people down here in the south live. Plus the scenery is gorgeous. Each region of Madagascar has its own hardships, but the south is both isolated and suffering from environmental pressures (it’s basically a desert, so not much food and water available). Going out into the countryside has proven to me just how valuable this scholarship program is for these families. Most of these children go to local public schools, and it’s amazing how difficult it can be for some families to scrape together around 15,000 ariary per year (maybe $8 USD) to send their young children to school. I’ve met single moms who make around 20,000 ariary in any given month ($10 USD) or farmer families who bring in 45,000 ariary in a good month ($20ish USD). It’s heartbreaking, but I’m really enjoying talking with people and seeing the direct impact that Pact’s scholarship program is having on these families. People will walk for upwards of 35 kilometers in the hot sun to reach one of our distribution/drop-off points. The commitment to education in the countryside here is inspiring.

 

When the chaos of scholarships dies down a bit, I will also be responsible for the leadership/civic education program that Pact has in a variety of schools in these intervention zones. We work with Malagasy trainers who go into local middle schools and teach students how to be their own activists. They learn about governments, world leaders, and leadership skills, all topics they don’t even come close to touching in the national curriculum. The idea is to empower these students to be their own agents of change in the future. I love the concept and I’m excited to be a part of the program’s second year. I have a lot of liberty in the office to take the program in whatever direction I see appropriate, which is a daunting task but also a great opportunity. I like the people I work with (I’m the only foreigner in the office), and it’s great for both personal and professional development. While I am still a Peace Corps Volunteer, I am considered to be an integral part of the Pact team, like another NGO employee. Overall, it feels like I have taken a giant step forward by moving here. Plus I also have a social life here in Ft. Dauphin! It’s a big difference from my Andapa life, where I was home at 5pm and asleep by 8pm every day, including weekends. There’s a really great crew of people down here, and I can tell this is going to be a great year. Even better if y’all came to visit! My day-to-day life is much different as well. On the days I’m not in the field, I work in the Pact office from 8am – 12pm, then we have lunch break, then back in the office from 2pm – 5pm Monday to Friday. It’s a huge change of pace from how my work schedule was in Andapa, and it took some getting used to. But it’s great to feel productive and have things to do everyday, so I love it!

 

So that’s where I’m at for the start of my third year here in Fort Dauphin. I’ve been waking up each morning with a smile on my face because I’m super confident in my decision to stay here! A note real quick about mail and packages – my address has changed, obviously. Here is my new one:

 

Arianna Pattek

c/o Pact Madagascar

BP 249

Fort Dauphin 614

Madagascar

 

Send mail! I love hearing from y’all. And, last plug… come visit! Alright, gotta head back to the office…working life, am I right?

 

Catch ya later.

 

Amanaraka koa,

Arianna

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Fixing a Hole
August 8, 2014, 2:45 PM
Filed under: PEACE CORPS MADAGASCAR

Hey buddies,

Yeah yeah, I know. I neglected this blog. Whoops. I promise it’s because of some very valid reasons, if that helps at all? I’m going to do things a bit differently this time since it’s been so long…instead of my usual fomba of word vomiting all over a 70-page blog post, I’m going to break my life up into smaller posts that seem a lot less daunting for me to write. Hope that’s cool.

So when we last talked, I told y’all about how my first trimester of my last year of teaching was going swimmingly. Since then, crazy amounts of change happened at site. The root cause…my weird love-hate relationship with my cursed bicycle. I’ve probably mentioned before how much I love riding my bike and how much my bike just hates letting me ride it. I’ve had this idea in my head ever since I moved to Andapa about how much fun (fun?!) it would be to bike all the way to Sambava in a day. It’s 104 kilometers on a super steep but paved road through some gorgeous mountains. This road was my Peace Corps goal. I had to bike it. It became an obsession. Finally, I convinced another PCV in my region to bike it with me, because I’m not crazy enough to tackle this road solo. Besides, absolutely 0% of my Malagasy friends would let me go alone. So we chose a random Saturday and set out. It was definitely one of the most physically challenging things I’ve ever done…but we finished! It was such a unique experience, getting to see the beautiful countryside and meeting really friendly people (who thought we were out of our minds for biking that road) along the way. I was so happy to finally conquer that road. But after the adrenaline of the ride wore off, the real fun began. Cue a story about an injury…

During one part of the trip, I was crossing a metal bridge in the rain, my tires lost traction, and I wiped out hard. I didn’t think much of it. But then, about a week later, I started experiencing some pretty intense tailbone pain. After a few conversations with the Peace Corps doctors, turns out the trauma of my fall plus me finishing that grueling bike ride did some pretty serious damage to my tailbone. Typical Ari move. So I got flown to Tana for some doctor visits, and there I was told that I needed to have surgery (of all of the things!) to fix whatever I messed up. There’s nothing quite as scary as having surgery in a developing country…but I am, in fact, extremely lucky. The Peace Corps doctors were so great with me and put me in an exceptional hospital here in Madagascar. I spent only one night and two days in the hospital, and I had a few PCV friends and staff come pay me a visit. I felt properly taken care of and everyone was very professional. The only downside (including the amount of pain I experienced) was that this whole stupid tailbone surgery business really disrupted my groove at site. I was in a serious rhythm in my teaching/work in Andapa, and I had to stay in Tana for a while until I was healed. I understand that maintaining my health is priority number one for being an effective PCV, but it was a bummer that I was stuck spinning my wheels in Tana while my students in Andapa waited anxiously for my return. When I did get home to site, though, I was so touched by how my Malagasy support system in Andapa mobilized so quickly to help me out. My teacher friends at my schools helped me with my classes while I was gone, while my other Malagasy friends went to the hospital with me every day and helped me do some basic errands that I still wasn’t strong enough to do on my own yet. It was comforting to be surrounded by my family at site during such a strange and painful time.

The surgery and healing process took about two months from start to finish, and while I’m happy to report that I’m basically back to normal, the whole business really put some things into perspective for me. First of all, I was so thankful to have the support of Peace Corps behind me, providing me with access to medical services most Malagasy people don’t have the opportunity to use. If a fellow Andapa resident had an accident and injury like mine, I have absolutely no idea what could have been done. Surgery is astronomically expensive, especially to have it in a clean, sterile, and safe facility in Tana. Plus, I’m lucky enough to have a good medical facility (staffed with some of the nicest people I’ve met in SAVA) directly situated in Andapa that helped me with daily post-op checkups, but other villages are nowhere near as fortunate to have access to that kind of medical care, even in the far outskirts of Andapa. Countryside residents also don’t have the kind of money needed to pay for multiple doctors visits and sterile medical supplies (you’re expected to buy your own med supplies here, and that stuff ain’t cheap). Bottom line, the whole debacle was a stark illustration of how far Madagascar has yet to go in regards to its infrastructure. I see such promise in this country for greatness, but subpar infrastructure, like insufficient health systems, hinders individuals from actualizing their own individual potential. I see people in my town constantly missing work because of upset stomachs (bad water), malaria (no bed nets/mosquito education), toothaches (no access to quality dentists), or other easily preventable health problems. While I’m grateful and thankful to be healed now, it took me a while mentally to fathom the implications of what I experienced for my Malagasy family and friends.

Ever since my accident, I have been extremely wary of my bike. I’m convinced it has bad juju or something. A prime example: One day, a few weeks after my surgery, I was biking home from the hospital in Andapa from a post-op checkup (I have to bike to get there; it’s too far. A weird catch-22 type of situation for someone with a bike-related injury). I made it as far as the CISCO where I live, only to have my bike get hit and half-mangled by a passing bus whose driver wasn’t paying attention. Luckily, my catlike reflexes kicked in for once in my life and I managed to dive off in time to avoid getting hurt, right into a market stall. Oranges everywhere. It was yet another attempt by my bike to do me in. Enough is enough, bike. Cut it out.

Bottom line, in spite of all this bike-related drama, nowadays I am very happy and healthy, so no need to worry. I might still have a lingering fear of long bike rides, but hopefully that will pass with time.

I’m going to cut myself off here, but I’ll write again soon with more life updates. Much love.

Amanaraka koa,
Arianna