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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