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



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



I Want To Tell You
January 31, 2014, 10:36 AM
Filed under: PEACE CORPS MADAGASCAR

Hey friends!

 

Tratry ny taona vaovao, aka happy new year! I am pinching myself that it’s already 2014…this is the year that my Peace Corps service technically ends! Very weird thought. I hope your holidays were magnificent! I have so many updates to catch y’all up on, so let’s get started…

 

I last left off blogging right before Thanksgiving 2013 (wow, has it been that long?!). For the holiday, I traveled to Sambava to cook with a bunch of friends there. We had a ridiculously ambitious menu planned: vegetable spring rolls, garlic mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, bean salad, fish, meat, deviled eggs, pineapple/tamarind juice, stir fry… I can’t even remember everything anymore because it was SO much to cook. We started out going to the market at 6am and weren’t finished cooking until around 9pm that night. Whoops. Cooking a meal of this scale was quite difficult to do at a PCV house with 4 gas burners and limited running water. I’ll never take an American kitchen for granted again, that’s for sure. But overall it was a lot of fun and beyond delicious! A real multicultural feast with friends from far-reaching corners of the globe: Lithuania, Madagascar, Peru, Argentina, America, France…awesome.

 

I felt full from Thanksgiving for days. By the time I rolled myself back to site, I was greeted by the onset of one of those fun tropical diseases I read about before coming to Madagascar: dengue fever. I woke up in the middle of the night with an absurdly high fever and it didn’t go away for a week. My body was wrecked. Another PCV was in town visiting, and she and Thorien (Malagasy friend/librarian extraordinaire) took me to the local Adventist hospital so I could be tested for malaria and a bunch of other things. Thankfully, no tazo moka (malaria), just, you know…dengue. I stayed at home bored and fevery that whole week, doing a lot of sleeping and staring at my walls. Not very fun.

 

Dengue zapped me of a lot of my strength, but once I felt like I had my sea legs back, I decided to go on a trek into the Andapa countryside with a teacher friend of mine named Francois. He teaches English alongside me at Lycee Mixte Andapa, my local public high school. Francois grows a variety of crops on his land, but the main reason of our visit to his land was to teach me how to pollinate vanilla (SAVA is famous for vanilla, remember?). His land is nestled deep within the hills that surround the Andapa valley. There’s no real trail, which is always astonishing to me – how do my friends just instinctively know where their land starts and ends? But they know. It’s pretty cool. After hiking for an hour, Francois came upon a clump of banana trees that apparently marked the boundary for his land. We did some poking around and found his vanilla flowers ready for pollination. Vanilla is such a fascinating plant – it needs to be pollinated by hand within a specific window or the whole thing is wasted. Francois plucked a thorn from a local orange tree and used that as his pollination tool. Basically, he lifted up a part of the vanilla flower, tucked another part of the flower underneath it with the thorn, and voila! Pollinated. I pollinated a few of the flowers, naturally a bit worried I would ruin such a valuable crop. I’ve since been informed that they’re growing quite nicely! That’s a relief. After pollinating, we indulged in some fresh bananas, sugarcane, and jackfruit straight from the trees. Francois also keeps bees, but I effing hate bees, so I steered clear. On the hike back home, he kept plucking various fruits off the trees for me to try. Some furry, some tart, some sweet, some weirdly tingly? A delicious and informative day.

 

At this point in December 2013, the end of my last first trimester of the school year was rapidly approaching. I wrapped up my exams for my 6eme and 1ere classes without any problems, and then I headed to Tana for a quick jaunt. I had some business I had to take of before meeting up with a group of PCV friends to head off on our Christmas vacation. A bunch of us hopped a brousse from Tana north to Nosy Be, a beautiful island off of the NW coast of Madagascar. To get there, we traveled by an overnight bus from Tana to Ambanja, then took a taxi to a port town called Ankify, then rode a speedboat for an hour to Nosy Be itself. The island is gorgeous. We spent our days exploring Nosy Be. We also did excursions to some of the outlying islands – Nosy Komba, Nosy Tanikely, and Nosy Iranja. Nosy Komba is fairly big and hosts a nature reserve with lemurs that’ll climb all over you, while Nosy Tanikely is home to beautiful snorkeling. We visited Komba for the morning, then boated over to Tanikely for an amazing lunch and snorkel time. A few days later, we took a boat to Nosy Iranja, which is honestly one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. The sand was pure white and the ocean a clear turquoise. Completely isolated and breathtaking. We spent most of the day there lounging around, soaking up the beauty and working on spectacular sunburns. On the way back to Nosy Be, we stopped at a tiny little island filled with lemurs that crawled all over us again. Their hands are so creepy – like human hands! – but they’re so cute. I also spent some quality time lounging poolside at an amazing fancy hotel. I don’t know what it is with me and pools in this country, but I have become quite obsessed. It’s a problem.

 

We spent around a week or so in Nosy Be, then took a brousse north to spend Christmas in Diego Suarez, the northernmost point of Madagascar. Diego is a cool city with a really calm, comfortable vibe. In Diego, we spent our time poolside (win) at another amazing hotel, wandering around the streets, meeting up with other PCV friends (so many PCVs in one city at one time!), and going on excursions. One day, a big group of us took a boat to the Emerald Sea – basically just the most beautiful, secluded, and peaceful expanse of ocean ever. We swam around while our boat friends prepared a delicious lunch. We even indulged in some local Malagasy sunscreen, which is like a beautiful facepaint made from some local trees. My eyes hurt during this vacation from looking at so many pretty things. Besides the Emerald Sea (which I still miss, take me back pleaseeee), our friends and I hung out with a really cool family that we met while traveling. They are half Malagasy/half French, and they live in La Reunion. The family basically adopted my friends and me during our vacation, so we spent as much time hanging out with them as possible. They’re an absolute riot. We rang in the New Year with them eating amazing food then went clubbing in Diego. The first day of the New Year, I said goodbye to my friends and returned to site.

 

Ever since arriving back to Andapa, time is FLYING. I can’t believe January is almost finished. What the hell? September, the time of my COS, is approaching at a scary fast pace. Not cool. Anyway, since being back home, I’ve been keeping busy. Malagasy people love, and I mean love, New Years parties. Last year, I had New Years parties through March, and I’m expecting this year to be similar. The CISCO where I live had our NYE party recently, and it was a riot. We set up tents in the compound, cooked a crazy amount of food, and partied all afternoon/night. The CISCO hired the local DJ I’ve seen at parties before to play music, and naturally, everyone at the CISCO wanted to dance with the vazaha: me. I made a fool of myself, but everyone liked watching, so I can’t complain. Integration win. Another party I went to recently was at my friend Pero’s house, but I can’t really call it a party. He wanted to slaughter a pig for the New Year and have me watch/learn, so overall, it was pretty traumatizing. The part after the slaughter, just sitting around and talking with friends, was fun, but watching the horror of the thing beforehand kind of tainted it for me (never been more sure of my choice to be a vegetarian haha). Most recently, my best friend at site Agnes and I hosted a New Years party of our own at Thorien’s house: we invited a bunch of friends in Andapa and Sambava to come cook and relax with us for the day. It was a very chill/delicious day and a good way to reconnect after the long vacation.

 

The only other real update I have to share is that I finally got to participate in one of the most “Malagasy” parts of life here: planting rice! I biked out to my sitemate’s site last week to finally learn how to plant. It’s long overdue, seeing how I live in a country run by rice. It’s incredibly labor intensive yet fun. I, along with five other Malagasy women, waded around barefoot in the rice paddy, planting bunches of rice. People passing on the road kept stopping to watch, finding it incredible to see this random American planting rice. It led to some interesting cross-cultural conversations! I left the day beyond dirty but thrilled that I finally got to experience this part of my host country’s culture.

 

Currently, I’m in the thick of my second to last trimester of teaching and loving it. Things in the classroom are going so well, but I find myself looking forward to teaching my little kids more and more every day. They just warm my heart. The cool thing about teaching 6eme is that I get to watch them go from saying zero words of English to actually speaking some sentences, and it’s an amazing transformation to be a part of. Beyond that, life at the library is going well; we still have classes of all kinds going on during the week. And up in the near future, I’ll be doing another 3-day pedagogy training with the CISCO Andapa and all of the CEG English teachers, which should be exciting and informative. The other thing I have to look forward to in the distant future…Agnes and I will be taking the brousse together to Tana from Andapa in April, which is both crazy and exciting. It’ll take anywhere from three days to one week, and everyone I’ve told thinks I’m a nutcase for wanting to do it. But I want to see more of the countryside in my region, plus I want to experience what people in my region go through to get the hell out of here, since we’re so isolated because of terrible roads. I’ll be sure to write about that absurd journey come April.

 

There. Now y’all should be brought up to speed, I hope! Sorry for the word vomit, yet again. I’ll updated again when I can, but please keep your emails/letters/packages(!!) coming. I love getting news from home. Much love!

 

Amanaraka koa,

Arianna



And Your Bird Can Sing
November 28, 2013, 3:25 PM
Filed under: PEACE CORPS MADAGASCAR

Herro.

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



Here, There, And Everywhere
November 28, 2013, 3:24 PM
Filed under: PEACE CORPS MADAGASCAR

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 ☺



Because
November 28, 2013, 3:22 PM
Filed under: PEACE CORPS MADAGASCAR

Hey there, world.

So. It’s been a silly amount of time since I’ve posted in this blog. At first, I didn’t write because I couldn’t (get to that in a sec), and then, as time passed, I just got crazy busy over here in Madagascar and haven’t had a second or the internet to do so. I know many of you ask how life is going over here, so I owe you a big post or three about what’s been going on. I’m going to try to split these updates into a few organized posts so it’s not just a bunch of overwhelming Ari-style ramblings.

First things first, though, I need to address the elephant in the blog-room…that whole neo-Nazi incident. I should start by saying that I am okay. I was just rattled and disturbed, but bottom line is that I’m safe and sound. So here’s what happened. Back in April, I woke up one morning before biking out to teach in the countryside only to discover around 40 emails in my Georgetown account from unknown individuals, all following an anti-Semitic, hateful, and threatening theme. I had no idea where they were coming from or what prompted them, but as I was late, I had no time to investigate. When I returned home from teaching that afternoon, I checked my email again, only to discover that the number of emails had increased to something around 75ish without sign of slowing down, and the tone was becoming more disturbing and threatening (aka garbage like “I hope you die” and “I know where you live” blah blah blah). Naturally, I was freaked out, and I felt a bit helpless because I didn’t have the internet access at site to properly deal with it. I contacted some Georgetown professors and administrators that I still keep in touch with and they got the ball rolling on the administrative side to see where the emails were coming from. In the meantime, a good Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) friend suggested I contact the Country Director (CD) of Peace Corps directly, since I had no idea how I should handle the situation. The CD was very helpful and she suggested that I shut down my blog and Facebook for the time being (since I was getting comments/messages on both pages too) and see how Georgetown could help me. When I woke up the next day, the threatening emails continued to flow in. I noticed one from a moderator on Reddit, who was kind enough to tell me that I was all over a “Men’s Rights” (wtf?) Sub-Reddit dedicated to bashing and harassing me. After doing some investigating on my own, I discovered that I was the subject of numerous message board threads on various Men’s Rights and neo-Nazi websites (one, ironically enough, I used as a source for my thesis – ha), complete with my photos, personal information about my life here in Madagascar and back in America, and threats against my family and me. It was incredibly unsettling. Because of the nature of the threats, Georgetown began working with the FBI. With the new, alarming information (like the fact that my photos and death threats were posted all over the internet, along with my family’s home address and phone number), the CD decided to bring me to Tana so I help out the FBI and use the internet to deal with what was going on. It was a very stressful period, because the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the US Embassy and Peace Corps had to reevaluate my security situation at site to determine if I would even be allowed to return. After around a week and a half of uncertainty about my future here, I was given the green light to go back to site. Cue the sigh of relief.

I wish I could say that since I’ve returned back to Andapa everything’s gone back to normal. Unfortunately, internet crimes like this have an incredible staying power. If you Google me at all right now, you’ll see what I mean. However, I will say that I am so thankful that everyone mobilized so quickly to help me out when I had no idea how to deal with what was happening. Peace Corps took me seriously and got me access to resources, while my friends at Georgetown and my family worked tirelessly on my behalf to stop the threats. And my PCV friends were so supportive. My deepest gratitude for all of your help during that time! Whether you were talking to the FBI for me or sending me an email to ask how I was doing, everything helped. Thank you times a million.

So what exactly happened? Why was I the target of some crazies? Well, here’s what I could gather. Somewhere in the interwebs, there was an anonymous blog that talked about alarming admissions practices at Georgetown (obviously untrue) that put white males at a disadvantage. This blog angered “Men’s Rights” and “White Rights” supporters, who then launched a campaign to find out the identity of the blogger. The blogger mentioned defending her dissertation in 2012, so these people assumed, without any evidence, that this woman went to Georgetown. After accessing the Georgetown library thesis database and cross-referencing it with the date of the blog’s dissertation post, they stumbled upon my thesis, which just happened to be published during the same month. A really unfortunate coincidence, and some seriously bad luck on my part. After reading my thesis (which, ironically enough, talks in detail about the neo-Nazi movement and is openly harsh and critical about their methodologies), these people were even angrier, and now were armed with an identity to attack: mine. And that’s where it all began.

For the record, I should state the following: I am not the author of the “Feminist Conservative” Blog. I have never worked for Admissions at Georgetown University. I have never written a dissertation at Georgetown – I graduated magna cum laude from the undergraduate School of Foreign Service after writing an undergraduate Justice and Peace Studies thesis. And that’s that.

I don’t like feeling as though I have to defend myself against people who did not use any actual evidence to draw their conclusions, but since this is the internet and the information is out there, I feel obligated. It still blows my mind that this kind of thing goes on AND that it could seriously affect my life all the way over here in Madagascar. But for now, I’m trying to focus on the present and enjoying every moment of being a PCV. I hope this write-up of what happened answers your lingering questions, but feel free to contact me if you are confused. It was surprisingly difficult for me to sum up that crazy two-week period into a single blog post, and I might have sacrificed clarity for concision. So, don’t be afraid to holler, I don’t mind talking about it.

Let’s change the subject, shall we?

Right before all that shit went down, I just finished an amazing Easter 2013 vacation. Some close PCV friends and I decided to travel to Ile Sainte Marie and Ile Aux Nattes, a small set of islands off of the east coast of Madagascar. Before reading any further, please either a) google these places or b) stalk my photos on Facebook that I posted a while back so you can have a mental image of how amazingly beautiful this place is. To get there, I met up with my friends in Tana, and then we took a bus to a boat (travel time: maybe 2 days total). We spent a little over a week on the main island of Sainte Marie. We spent our days lounging around on the beaches and exploring the island. One day we traveled north out of the main town to visit a waterfall and natural pool, which was beautiful. We also visited the oldest church in Madagascar and the famous “pirate cemetery,” which to me seemed a bit hoax-y but was still kind of cool. After exploring Sainte Marie, we took a dugout canoe to Ile Aux Nattes, the tiny island to the south of Sainte Marie. That place is pure paradise. There are no roads on Ile Aux Nattes, just footpaths and bungalows. It’s the most peaceful place I’ve been in…well, as long as I can remember. I loved how isolated and quiet it was. Apparently, during whale season, you can see whales breeding and playing around right from the doorway of your bungalow. We weren’t so lucky since it wasn’t season, but I could sit on the porch of my bungalow and watch the tide come in. What the what? How is that real life? We spent our time there enjoying each other’s company, eating amazing food, and playing around on the beach. The island is so small that you can actually walk around the whole circumference in around two hours. On that hike, we saw lemurs and some amazing views of the beach. Ugh, I miss it. I was back in Andapa for maybe around a week before the whole neo-Nazi craziness kicked in. At least I had vacation memories to comfort me in the wake of stress! Great people, great food, great place = great vacation.

That’s enough rambling for one post. I’ll write again soon with updates from my whirlwind of a grandes vacances (aka summer vacation, but here it’s winter!).

Much love to you all, and again…thanks for your support back in April. Means the world.

Amanaraka koa,
Arianna



Something
September 26, 2013, 8:59 PM
Filed under: PEACE CORPS MADAGASCAR

Hey outside world; it’s me Arianna Pattek!

Sorry about the ridiculously long blog hiatus. Most of you understand why, and a blog post about that whole ordeal is forthcoming. But for now, I wanted to post a quick update and photos to show that all is well on the other side of the world!

There is major library progress to report…recently, I secured 15 boxes of books (totaling over a thousand books!) from Books For Africa and put them on a taxi brousse from Tana to Andapa. It took 5 straight days (no wonder I’m a fly site), but all arrived safe and sound. After working a few days dawn til dusk with Thorien, the librarian, all the books are organized and on the shelves. Check out some photos below. It’s pretty incredible – the library finally has semi-full shelves and looks so professional and real. Not sure how else to put it. Everyone in the CISCO is so proud and excited by the new delivery and so am I. It’s so impossible to get materials up to SAVA, so it’s a huge thing for us! I hope to have a grand opening party/inauguration ceremony for the center in the coming weeks once I’m back at site.

I’m currently in Tana for my Mid Service Conference – the gathering for all one-year PCVs – which is so crazy to think about. These past 14 months have gone by so quickly that it hurts my head. I’ll be sure to post a blog soon about gran vacances (including my mom and dad’s visit to Madagascar!) and my future plans at site.

Arianna Pattek_parent visit

Arianna Pattek – Parent’s Visit

lib 1

The dictionary and encyclopaedia section

The dictionary and encyclopaedia section

Please note the semi-full shelves!

Please note the semi-full shelves!

Droppin' knowledge

Droppin’ knowledge

Thorien the librarian labeling books

Thorien the librarian labeling books

Thorien with the mountains of books

Thorien with the mountains of books

Anyway, sorry this is short. I’ll update soon!

Veloma jiaby,
Arianna Pattek