THIS BIRD HAS FLOWN


I Feel Fine
March 13, 2013, 12:04 PM
Filed under: PEACE CORPS MADAGASCAR

Hey world!

Happy March, everyone! Before I even dive into anything Peace Corps and Madagascar related…HOYA SAXA! Man, that feels good to get off my chest. Apparently, since I’ve been out of the country, Georgetown basketball has decided to really get it together and start taking names. Awesome, but I’m still so bummed I couldn’t be back in the Verizon Center to watch the Hoyas take the Big East title. Either way – this Hoya Saxa goes out to all my college friends. Miss you guys and I hope you celebrated in style (please say Mr. Smiths, you know who you are, please please please…)

Anyway, so back to the real reason you read my blog. Life in Madagascar. February and March have been fun and busy months for me – lots of work in Andapa and much more work/exploration out in the countryside. This week I’ve just finished up my second full trimester of teaching. I’m really happy to have hit this milestone, and my students seem to be about where I want them to be (for the most part). While teaching is definitely getting easier with every class session, I still find myself having difficulties sometimes trying to navigate school bureaucracy here. Getting the correct information about dates for exams or the official start of the summer break can be a bit confusing. I get frustrated sometimes, but I attribute a lot of it to a) my language level and b) my recent acquaintance with the school culture. I’m still learning how things work, and wrapping up this trimester, it was very apparent to me that I’m still quite new at this. Luckily, I work with great teachers who have been beyond helpful in explaining information. Quite a steep learning curve, though.

My extracurricular clubs are growing in size since my last post, and these are quickly becoming highlights of my week. I absolutely love working with my nighttime adult class, which has now grown to around 30 adults. They are very mazoto (Malagasy word for committed/diligent) because they genuinely want to be there, so it makes teaching a breeze. Plus, I teach with Derio (my counterpart) or my Malagasy teacher/park guide friend Thorien, and both of them are great to work with. An anecdote I thought you’d enjoy…so recently Andapa’s been having problems with electricity. It’ll get cut for random hours during the day or night without warning, which can be frustrating when my night class is dependent on the light to see the blackboard. So last night, the power was cut and it was impossible to see the blackboard once the sun set, so I decided to play some comprehension games outside for as long as we could see each other and then call it a night. One of the adults I teach told me, sit tight I’ll be back, I’m going to go fix this, and he disappeared for a bit. He came back after a few minutes with a crazy contraption – like a car battery with jumper cables, a power strip, and two lightbulbs with wires, that he fiddled around with in the classroom…and lo and behold, light! Definitely an interesting experience, but the fact that these adults wanted to learn so badly that they rigged this car battery to hear what I had to say was just so beautiful in every sense of the word.

My other adult class is turning into just a conversation club with some very knowledgeable adults. I enjoy getting to spend an hour and a half talking with these new friends, because while they are practicing their English, I get to ask questions about Madagascar and hear their points of view. Last week, we had an illuminating discussion about their opinions on Malagasy development. We touched on everything from the International Criminal Court to the cost of living in Washington, DC. An absolutely fascinating discussion. I loved every second of it.

As I said, I’ve been doing a lot of exploring in the countryside around Andapa recently. My teacher/park guide friend Thorien who helps me with my adult class invited me to travel to the countryside, a town called Ambodiangezoka (around 25km away), to visit his family and see where he come from. He met me at my house at 5am, and we set off on the 25km bike ride. The ride was gorgeous but at times pretty tough since the dirt roads were a mess from recent rains. But once we got there, I met all of his family and took a tour of the community. Everyone was so friendly and I received many voandalanas (Gasy word for gifts from a trip), like beans, bananas, and lunch. The ride back was quite an adventure. Thorien took a “shortcut” to try to shave off like 3km from the total ride, but with the recent rains, the road was terrible. In fact, at some points, there just was no road. There were a few stretches where we’d be biking, and then the road would disappear into a mini-ocean. We’d carry our bikes over our heads and wade through water (waist deep on me because I’m so short, awesome) for a while until we found the road again. Ended up taking way longer than the original road would have been, but it was great exercise and a really fun time. Sometimes, ya just gotta let Madagascar happen.

I’ve been continuing my capacity-building work with Malagasy English teachers in Andapa and the country as well. I recently traveled to Marokaboy, a small village around 15km away, where my Malagasy friend Nico teaches English. He invited me to teach a few sections of his students while he and other teachers observed (similar to my model teaching session in Bealampona). It was a lot of fun and, according to Nico, very informative. I stayed for lunch at his house and then biked back in the afternoon before the afternoon rains began. In addition to Marokaboy, the CEG in Andapa where I teach recently hosted a three-day teacher summit for all CEG teachers in Andapa and the countryside. We were split up by subject (Physics, English, Malagasy, French, etc) and talked teaching pedagogy for three straight days. Talk about a great opportunity build capacity with English teachers! There were around 50 English teachers there, many from places so far that it takes around three days to reach Andapa by foot (the village isn’t accessible by car). I facilitated sessions about teaching English, on topics like using music in the classroom, creating an interactive classroom environment, incorporating Total Physical Response into a lesson, and designing lesson plans for all types of learners. The feedback I got from all of the teachers was overwhelmingly positive. Many of them expressed interest on holding summits like this more often than just once per year, an idea that I’ve since begun tossing around in my brain. I’ll keep you posted on that one!

While I have been working a fair amount, I’ve also carved out some time for some Andapa exploring/playtime too. I went with my friend Fredon and finally visited the cascade (waterfall) that I’ve heard so much about. I’ve been dying to go since I moved here, but it just never worked out. But now, with the rainy season, the cascade is huge, so it was the perfect time to go. It’s a bit of a hike, but absolutely gorgeous. If I can ever post photos, I’ll be sure to share one. I also went on a search with my sitemate Kim for Andapa’s rumored baobab tree. It took us a few tries, but we eventually found it. It is noticeably a baobab, but it doesn’t look anything like the ones in Morondava (the ones you think of when you think of Madagascar), mainly because this one is only like thirty years old. Someone was nice enough to spraypaint “BAOBAB” on the tree itself though, so you really can’t miss it. A cool factoid about Andapa – who knew a baobab lived here?

A few weekends ago, I traveled to Antalaha to visit my PCV friend John and learn about his solar drying project. He has this really cool project where he captures the sun’s energy to dry mangoes and bananas. And they are SO delicious. I think I ate like fifty bananas a day at his place (sorry for depleting your stores, John!). A really fascinating project though, and I also got to visit the beach (long overdue!). Only downside…while taking a dip in the ocean, I got stung by a sea urchin in my right hand. Now, I’ve eaten urchin before (thanks to Ray!) but never had the pleasure of a stinger in my hand…those suckers pack a serious punch. It was so deep that I wasn’t able to dig the stingers out myself, so upon returning home, I went to the Adventist Hospital in Andapa to try to have them removed. Luckily, now I’m urchin free, but my thumb is still numb from the venom, which is a weird feeling. Overall, pretty painful but I’m fine, just a ridiculous thing to have happen to me (I’m honestly not surprised though, I mean, it is me after all). Now I wish I had the chance to eat that particular urchin as my own form of payback. Next time…

Other news on the home front, I’ve recently started to go for runs with my counterpart Derio. When he first asked me, I sincerely thought he was joking. “Ok, meet you at 4 tomorrow?” “You mean in the afternoon? Sure.” “No, morning.” “Oh, um, yes. Right.” We’ve been running at 4am on the paved road that stretches between Andapa and Sambava and it’s a killer. The first 4 kilometers are pretty much just straight mountain, which is why I thought he was nutters for suggesting a run on that road. It’s gotten easier, but it doesn’t make the 4am wakeup any more pleasant! However, running in the complete darkness has such a calming effect. I just zone out (and try not to fall back asleep) and let Andapa happen to my legs. It’s a pretty neat form of meditation almost…but I feel like I’m not quite doing it justice in my description. These runs are just overwhelming darkness and quiet; the only sounds from nature and my feet (and my occasional wheeze), the only thing I can see are the stars above my head. Soul refreshing. Not to mention on the way back down, I am rewarded for my hard work with a spectacular view of the sunrise over the Andapa basin.

That’s all I got for now! I’m leaving this weekend for Easter break to visit some friends outside of SAVA, so I’ll update you all about that with another post when I can.

Much love!
Veloma,
Arianna

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Glad All Over
February 11, 2013, 4:25 PM
Filed under: PEACE CORPS MADAGASCAR

Hey world,

Salama from Andapa once again! Thanks for all of the feedback on my last post. You asked a lot of really great questions (keep them coming!) and gave me loads to think about. Much appreciated as always!

This past month has been my busiest at site to date, and I’m loving it. Productivity suits me well. I’m back to teaching full time and things with my classes are really starting to come together. My 6eme classes are still huge huge huge, but as I wrote last time, this trimester is going much more smoothly. January marked 6eme’s first exam of the trimester (the next one I’m giving is next week), and most students did surprisingly well. I attribute this to a) me being more in control of what I’m doing and b) my students really jumping on the English learning bandwagon. I’ve had a few more lessons that have felt like complete breakthroughs, leaving me smiling all day. There are some days in 6eme where things just happen: I teach, they (hopefully) learn, we laugh, I joke around, class over. But then there are some days when everything just clicks. The class is engaged, I am on fire, they hit all of my learning objectives for the day, and everything runs like clockwork. Last trimester, those days were a rarity, but now they are quickly becoming the norm. It’s a nice reminder of how much I love my job.

In addition to teaching, I have officially started all of my secondary clubs that I wrote about in my last post. I now have three that I teach a week: one for Lycee students, one for beginner adults, and one for advanced adults. To get the clubs up and running, I went on Andapa’s Public Radio to make some announcements and also delivered typed invitations to major agencies around Andapa (police, World Wildlife Fund offices, Marojejy National Park office, all schools, etc). The Lycee club is a lot of fun; there are around 25-30 students who come each week. We focus on speaking and vocabulary mostly. I switch it up, but the format for now is one week we have conversation on a chosen topic (I choose the topic with our newly elected English Club president, Johnny, a student at the lycee who is so great). The other week we do activities like games (Telephone is a big hit) or American music vocabulary with the lyrics. Michael Jackson, Chris Brown, and Akon (really) have been big hits so far. I desperately need to update my music library it seems! I wonder if some CSNY or Stones would be way over their heads. We’ll see.

My classes for adults are also a real treat. I co-teach both of these classes with my counterpart, Derio, a fellow CEG English teacher and my good friend here in Andapa. He is a real asset in these sessions, since the dynamics of teaching adults is obviously very different than teaching eleven year olds. It’s informative for both of us I think: he sees some of my teaching styles, and I get to observe him as well and offer feedback. Mutually beneficial! Our first session had a low turnout (probably due to the cyclone passing through!) of around 5 adults, but our weekly classes keep growing – last week we had around 17 beginning adults eager to learn English! A great sign. I have a few friends attending the class when they can, so it’s really fun for me to teach my Malagasy friends some English (especially since they are so helpful working with me on my Malagasy). The advanced class is also slowly growing. The first session at the library had around three adults, but we’ve since grown our number to around six or seven. I am blown away by how advanced these folks are and am thrilled to work with them. We’ll be working mostly on writing (similar to my Kenya program) and speaking, as they’ve requested.

What else can I tell you? Well, the month of January was also the month of fetys (parties). So many new years parties. So many. I went to one that my best Malagasy friend Zita had a few weeks ago and it was an absolute riot. I was a little unsure of exactly where the party was, but as soon as I turned the corner, I saw the entire road lined with plates full of rice, and I knew I found the right place. There were a few houses dedicated to the affair (block party!), including one just for a dance floor with mega speakers. I hung out with a lot of my Malagasy friends there and caught up from my month away. The CEG and Lycee have also had their new years parties, which have been really fun. All teachers and their families attend, so it was a great opportunity for me to hang out and get to know some teachers a bit more. As always, lots of dancing with everyone in the vicinity was involved. I’m quickly learning to not be shy about my awful dancing abilities – Malagasy people get a huge kick out of me just attempting to dance and making the effort anyway, so it’s a win-win. This week is the new years party for the CISCO (the government/educational bureau where I live, it controls all education-related things in the area), so that will be a lot of fun too.

I have also started to work more with English teachers in Andapa and in the surrounding countryside on teaching methodology to enter into the capacity building arena. I have an open invitation extended to any and all teachers who want to come observe my classes, and a few are eager to join when they have some free time. Today, I had a friend who teaches in Matsobe observe my 6eme classes and we debriefed afterwards about how he could take what he saw and use it in his own classes. Very interesting to hear what he had to say. Also, last week, I taught with my friend Hyacinthe, an English teacher at a school in Bealampona (a rural town around 20km away from Andapa). He invited me to bike out to his school and teach his students for two hours and have all of the teachers at the school observe me. It was a really interesting experience. The bike ride was a bit long and at times quite strenuous (a pretty messy unpaved road), so when I arrived to teach I was a bit (aka a lot) of sweaty mess. Awkward. But the teaching went well, and I had a great debriefing session with the teachers afterwards about techniques and methodology. After the session, I ate lunch with the headmaster before beginning the long bike ride back home. I hope to work with these teachers at least once a month, because they are all so nice and eager to improve!

In other news, I am proud to announce that I have gotten back into my yoga grind finally, and I’m feeling quite centered at the moment (I’m writing this post after wrapping up a solo session in my house a few minutes ago). I practiced yesterday with my sitemate Kim on the porch area outside my house, and it was rather funny. At some points we had a bit of an audience; some Malagasy kids passing through didn’t know quite what to make of us. One of my 6eme students asked me in class just what in the world I was doing at my house yesterday, and then demonstrated tree pose. Too cute. If anyone has any good suggestions of yoga podcasts or music for playlists, I would really appreciate it!

Alright, that’s all I got for now. Trying to keep the rambling to a minimum for your benefit! Hope all is well!

Veloma,
Arianna



Back in the S.A.V.A.
January 10, 2013, 12:07 PM
Filed under: PEACE CORPS MADAGASCAR

Hi world,

Happy New Year! I hope this blog post finds you in good health and spirits! I’m back at site after the most amazing December and finally gathered my thoughts together to write a giant blog post. Prepare yourself. Where did I leave off?

Quick synopsis of life before I left site in December: I spent Thanksgiving with SAVA PCVs in Antalaha. It was my first time visiting Antalaha and I really enjoyed it! Antalaha has a nice ambiance about it and everything there smells like vanilla. Yum. I stayed with some PCVs who live there, and we spent our time spear fishing, snorkeling, and cooking amazing food (even though I did have to watch a rabbit get slaughtered for our feast. Yuck. I didn’t eat it though.). My Thanksgiving was incredibly multicultural: I ate with American, Malagasy, French, Swedish, and Spanish folks who were in Antalaha, all friends of the PCVs there. I was a teeny bit sad I couldn’t eat my usual fifteen servings of my grandmother’s sweet potatoes though, but I made up for it with fresh Spanish gazpacho, cold homemade mango lassi, and delicious eggplant fritters with peanut sauce. Yum again. Great times all around.

Post-Thanksgiving and post-epic food coma, I headed back to Andapa to wrap up the first trimester by giving exams to my classes. I was nervous because these exams were to be the first written reflection of my teaching. I also knew that cheating is a rampant problem in schools here, and I was a bit worried about how I’d handle that in my classroom. Luckily, it wasn’t too much of a problem. I wrote the tests at home; on test day, I copied them onto the blackboard for each of my classes and proctored the exams. When all was said and done, no major mishaps and I found myself left with somewhere around 400 papers to grade. Instead of drawing the grading process out, I decided just to put on some good gradin’ muzique and power through. Somehow I managed to grade them all in two days. Not sure how that happened but I’m not complaining. A miracle of sorts, I guess. The results were mixed: some students did amazingly well, others shockingly poorly. I plan on having many more assignments in the upcoming trimesters to lessen the shock of one bad test score, so that should help cushion things a little bit. After I gave all my tests back though, I was in pretty good spirits. It seemed as though most of what I taught got through, so that’s a step in the right direction. I also got some good student feedback on things I can explain better in the future.

Oh! Quick side note. The day before I gave my exam at the CEG, I witnessed an exorcism at my school. Just wanted to share. That was one of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen. Anyway, back to regularly scheduled programming…

After my grading marathon ended, I started gathering up all my things to leave and spend the month traveling. I packed up my stuff, cleaned my house, and headed to the airport on December 6th (fly site!). To get to the airport, I have to take a taxi-brousse (a bus, pretty much, usually packed so so so full with people) from Andapa to Sambava (around 4 hours) and then a taxi to the airport in Sambava. I left around 4am, got to Sambava around 8ish, hung around in Sambava, then headed to the airport. It was my first time flying solo in Madagascar, but I figured everything out no problemo. The flight’s short, but we made a stop-over in a town called Maroansetra…basically, the plane took off, rose a little, then landed 15 minutes later to swap out people, then took off again for Tana. All in all, maybe 2.5 hours. I got to Tana around nightfall to begin my adventure.

If you remember, I got to Tana before IST to meet with the Embassy about my library and also to hang out and do some exploring. Well, my Embassy meeting was productive and I’m really energized about my projects (more details later). And I explored all over Antananarivo. That city…where to begin. It’s the most chaotic place I’ve ever been, but hidden away are these pockets of incredible things. If you know where to look, Tana has beautiful views, really great restaurants, fun bars, the works. Such a change of pace from site. My first taxi ride right after I arrived was overwhelming. I saw more people leaving the airport than I see in a typical day at site! And so many lights! I felt like a country girl seeing the big city for the first time (mostly true). I spent the days leading up to IST eating delicious food and spending time with friends I haven’t seen since PST. Things I got to eat which blew my mind: chocolate milkshakes, pretzels, Thai food, tofu, cheese, Indian food, homemade grilled cheese and tomato soup (still dream about those), I could go on and on and on…

IST was informative and great. It was absolutely wonderful to reunite with my stagemates again and hear their stories from site, commiserate over teaching mishaps, swap stories about the weirdest things that have happened to us so far, and more. The first three days were spent with our counterparts; I brought an English teacher and friend, Derio, who I work closely with in Andapa to the training with me (each PCV brought a counterpart from their site). I think the sessions were great for our counterparts. They learned more about the roles of a PCV, how to work with Americans, what PC can and cannot do, goal setting, and project management, to name a few. Turns out other counterparts were originally from Andapa too, so Derio saw some old friends (small world!). After the counterparts left, the IST for PCVs began. We had lots of technical sessions about teaching – large class sizes, different competency levels, discipline – and some language classes too. We learned about sources of PC funding for projects and more projects (like the Malaria initiative) we can take on in our spare time if we are interested. Overall, I really valued getting to swap teaching tips and activities with my stagemates. It was also a huge plus to be fed, avoid having to cook, not have to do dishes, and generally just hang out. A really relaxing time.

IST ended on the 21st, and on the 22nd, I traveled to Mahajanga with 8 other PCVs. Mahajanga is a large town on the NW coast, right on the beach, about a 12 hour taxi-brousse ride from Tana. We spent about a week there, and I had an amazing time. Only downside: Mahajanga is the hottest place on earth. No joke. But Mahajanga made up for it with ice cream, good food (so much fish!), and great friends. We spent our days on the beach relaxing and grilling on a charcoal grill, swimming in the ocean, and exploring the town. On Christmas Eve, we all went to this restaurant in town…no one knew how fancy it would be until we walked inside and felt air conditioning (a first for me in 6 months, Oh. My. God.). Needless to say, my bunch of scraggly PCVs felt very out of place, but the food was amazing. To prove how flabbergasted we were, we felt the need to take photos of the bathroom because it was that nice. One highlight: a friend of mine ate cooked cow brains and another ordered crocodile. Awesome. Christmas day was another adventure: we headed to the market in the morning and bought a huge fish to cook with all these delish veggies and fruit…and thus “Fishmas” was born. A very unique PCV Mada experience that I hope becomes a yearly tradition!

We all headed back to Tana on the 30th. I spent New Years with about 40 other PCVs who were in the capital. A PCV who lives in Tana had us all over to his house and then we went out on the town. I had so much fun and it was great to ring in the New Year in Madagascar! The last few days before I flew home I spent with my friends relaxing and exploring Tana some more. The night before I left, I went to a really nice restaurant and had tuna sashimi. Yes. You read that right. I told you, Tana is a crazy place. Hopefully that wasn’t a bad idea, but I’m still alive, so that’s good I guess. I was really sad to leave everyone but ready to get back to site and back to work. I flew home on the 3rd, spent the night in Sambava, and broussed back to Andapa on the 4th. Coming back was a bit overwhelming, to be honest. My house was an utter wreck. How could one tiny room get so dirty in just a few weeks?! Luckily, my Andapa mom, Marguerite, helped me clean my house and wash anything and everything so I wouldn’t lose my mind. I spent the next few days planning and generally getting my life together before I started teaching again this past Monday. But it’s been a bit tough – I just spent four weeks surrounded by my friends 24/7 and now I’m back at site, so I miss everyone a lot. I am really invigorated and energized to be back at site though!

I started teaching on Monday and it was nice to get back in the classroom again. The whole CEG Annex thing hasn’t panned out yet, so I still have around 115 students in my 6eme classes. The upside – they somehow are more well behaved this time around. Maybe we are used to each other, or I am surer in my discipline style and I’m armed with new tools in my disciplinarian arsenal, I don’t know. But they were respectful and sat quietly so that was a relief. I only was able to teach my first section of 6eme on Monday, because after that, the director sent the children home so all of the teachers could have a meeting. Now, my Malagasy (Gasy for short) is getting so much better, but teachers meetings are an entirely different beast. They’re loud, long, and confusing beyond belief. I knew we were talking about discipline, but I couldn’t gather much more than that, except for a phrase here and there. I did catch the phrase “disco weekend” at one point and was really thrown for a loop. What was that meeting about?! Jury’s still out on that one, haha. But I’ll keep you posted if this disco weekend ever comes to fruition.

I was back at the lycee for my 6-hour stretch again on Tuesday, and my lesson went really well, so that was a huge boost! At the CEG on Wednesday, I taught my first section of 6eme again. Just as I was ready to start my second section finally, the director told me that all of the students were sent home. A student in 4eme (maybe 7th or 8th grade) passed away the day before, so all of the teachers needed to go visit the family in the countryside. I piled into cars with the teachers and went to pay my respects to the family. One of the saddest experiences I’ve had here so far. The student was so young, and they have no idea why he passed away so suddenly. I couldn’t get the mother’s wailing out of my head that entire day. Completely heartbreaking.

I went home after the family visit to decompress and gather my thoughts, because I had my first student English club meeting on Wednesday afternoon. It was mainly to discover interest in the club and plan future meetings and activities. Around 25 students came, which is a good sign! I’m really excited to get started on my secondary projects; I’ve had a lot of ideas since December that I want to put into motion. In the works right now…student English club, adult English club, a weekly writing workshop (similar to my Kenya project, I’m working on conducting workshops with my counterpart, and at the end we will bind the finish product and feature it in the library), upgrading the library space (adding chalkboards and painting outside signs), and hosting a big grand opening party for the library to get the word out around town. My counterpart wants to transform the library into a big cultural center for Andapa, so we’re putting together a Gasy marketing campaign, including a radio and TV blitz next week. I might have to go on Andapa local TV, which should be very, very interesting as I make a huge fool of myself haha. While I was gone, the CISCO hired another librarian, Marcel, to work alongside Marguerite, and he’s great. I’m meeting with the librarians later today actually to discuss plans moving forward. Having all of these projects on my plate, things that I know my community wants and will enjoy, is making me feel productive and useful here at site!

In other news, yesterday, January 9th, marked my six-month anniversary with the Peace Corps. I cannot believe that I’ve hit this milestone already. I’ve probably said this before, but time is funny in the Peace Corps. To me, each day feels really long, but the weeks and months really do fly by. Reflecting back on these past six months blows my mind. Since last July, I have learned so much, and I’m trying to wrap my head around it all. Here’s a sample of where my head’s at, six months into my Peace Corps service:

– I’ve learned how to cook. No longer starving. Also developed an addiction to homemade peanut butter.

– I’m learning a new language, and now I can actually have meaningful conversations and basically understand what’s going on around me (for the most part, let’s not get ahead of ourselves). I get by.

– Might sound corny, but I value education more than I ever have before. I have seen the dramatic extent some students go to in order to get educated, and I’m humbled, but also enraged. To me, education is a basic right. Each child should have access to an adequate education. And any time I encounter a situation where that is not the case, I’m at a loss. Teaching here, I’m learning about how complex the global education system is. I’m excited to continue learning more about it and see where I fit in in all of this.

– I’ve gotten stung by seven wasps at one time and lived to tell the tale. For those who know me and my fear of bees/wasps, you’ll know how big of a deal this is. I’ve also fought a bat and won.

– I’m developing my own teaching style and method of discipline (slowly). I was terrified of being a disciplinarian when I first started teaching. But that fear doesn’t help my students or me. Disruptive students hurt the entire classroom atmosphere. I’ve been working on developing a trusting relationship and rapport with my classes, so they won’t feel a need to act out and we can get our work done together. I also have learned that I like teaching younger students, which I never thought was even a possibility.

– I’ve learned how to bend technology to my will and work with my limited resources to get the job done.

– I’m learning to be less hard on myself. To be okay with making mistakes. To be honest with myself and what I want/need. To be comfortable not running at a million miles a minute as I used to do. To live in the moment. To find one thing of beauty every day. To cherish the relationships I have with the people in my life. To value those who support me, and to return that support in whatever manner I am able to. To not take anything for granted. To face my fears and recognize that they’re not crippling but enriching.

– Peace Corps has been so many “firsts” for me: first time living on my own (no roommates), first time being away from the USA for more than 3 months, first time running a library, first time entering a tomb of corpses (a story for another time), first time teaching, first time cutting a pineapple (gasp), first time experiencing isolation/loneliness of a certain caliber…I’ve left everyone and everything I know to be familiar back in the US and transplanted myself into a completely foreign environment, and, at six months in, I think I’m thriving. Some days are really tough, some days are really great, but overall, I am really happy to be here. Andapa and Madagascar as a whole have such potential, and I am so glad that I can help uncover and transform this potential into productive energy in whatever way my community wants me to. It’s what being a PCV is all about.

So that’s just a tiny snapshot of where I’m at on this sunny Thursday morning. As I say every time, I love hearing from you all, either comments here or otherwise. And update! If you have iMessage or Whatsapp on your cell phone, you can text with me now!! Just let me know. Also, I finally figured out how to get gchat to work on my computer (still no skype though, sorry). If you want to gchat, lemme know and we can set up a time. As always, you can email me and I’ll get it eventually, and you can call my Gasy cell phone from skype! Hope to hear from you soon!

Veloma,
Arianna



Eight Days A Week
November 16, 2012, 10:50 AM
Filed under: PEACE CORPS MADAGASCAR

Hey friends,

Today marks my official two-month anniversary with Andapa and it’s been quite the ride so far! It’s weird for me to think about how time passes during my service. Each day feels incredibly long, but when I look back on the weeks and months, they just fly by. I can’t believe I have been living here for two months already, and that I have been in Madagascar since July.

Since my last post, I’ve been pretty busy getting into a routine at site. I have started to teach full time, and even though I only teach three days a week, it’s exhausting but rewarding. Teaching my marathon six-hour stretch at the lycee every Tuesday is going well. The students are really open to learning, but they are all at such a variety of levels (and there are a lot of them – over 60 students per lycee section) that it presents a bit of a challenge when I try to teach anything too complex, like difficult grammar. I’ve had to step up my discipline a bit recently too, because they can be chatty (as all high schoolers can be). Most recently in class, we have been working on writing our own dialogues with new grammatical structures and vocabulary, and then presenting them to the class for corrections. It took a while for students to both understand the idea of generating new content on their own and then for them to get excited about the idea of presentations, but since we’ve started, they are taking real ownership in it. This coming Tuesday, we’ll finish up the presentations and review, because in two weeks, I have to give my first exam! I cannot believe it’s time for testing already. For tests here, teachers write the exam on the blackboard, their students copy it down in their copybooks, and then they answer the questions and turn in the pages. I’m looking forward to the experience of giving my first test; I just hope my students study and behave themselves!

I’ve also started teaching at the CEG (middle school), which has been quite the experience. I showed up on my first day, received my roster, and laughed, because my roster was like a bazillion pages long. I thought they gave me the roll for all of the 6eme classes, not just my section. But, as it turns out, jokes on me…I have a million students in each section. Just kidding, not a million, but anywhere from 105 students to over 120 students per class on any given day. I walked in on my first day to all of these faces sharing up at me and was smacked in the face with the enormity of the task ahead of me. In 6eme, I am their first formal exposure to the English language, and I really don’t want to mess that up. 6eme is a foundational year for the rest of their interaction with English. Huge responsibility! I had a lot of ideas about how I wanted to run my classroom and activities I wanted to do, but I’ve had to do a lot of reworking and rethinking in light of the sheer number of students in my classes. It can be frustrating at times when it comes to discipline, because they can be chatty (and what 11-year old wants to sit still for two hours straight?), but I think that’ll just come with time. My 6eme lessons are a lot of fun for me to teach also – lots of miming, dancing, singing, and making a fool out of myself. Here’s an example: I’ve never been one to feel comfortable singing in front of people, but a few weeks ago I was teaching them the alphabet song, and I wanted to model it for them before they went to town. So, I threw all caution to the wind and belted it out for all 120 students plus all of the other stragglers who were hanging out in the courtyard. When I was finished, my students were just as surprised as I was, and gave me a standing ovation. What?! Cutest thing ever. At the end of every lesson now, they line up to give me high fives as they walk out the door. It makes it tough to bike home after class, because 120 hard little high fives in a row really makes my hands sore, but it’s so cute that I can’t help it.

While teaching 6eme is fun, it’s also prompted me to do some serious contemplation on the value of education in different societies and the lengths individuals go to get educated. The sizes of my classes are so large that all of my students can’t fit in the classroom – some go outside to look in through the open window, using the windowsill as a desk, or stand in the back along the wall. It is difficult for me to watch sometimes, because in classes this large, students will inevitably fall behind and that frustrates me. I know I’m not able to individually tutor every student in my class who is having a difficult time, but I try to reach out to the ones I know are struggling as much as I can. It’s tough because there are so many children who want the gift of a solid education, but resources are scarce, hence my overcrowded classroom. If you have any thoughts, post in the comments section – I’d love to hear what you have to say! There is a silver lining though – I talked to the CEG Director about my class sizes and they are hopefully opening an overflow site in the countryside and breaking up 6eme into more sections of smaller students. Our conversation was enlightening: I was concerned that in such a large class at such a young age, many students wouldn’t learn anything, and he agreed. I’m still not sure when or if the splitting/moving will happen, so we’ll see. In two weeks, I’ll be giving my 6eme students their first exam as well, so that should be an interesting indicator of how the first month went.

I’m giving my exams early because I have to go to Antananarivo (Tana), the capital, early in December for In-Service Training (IST) with the Peace Corps. IST is a training conference for the newest class of PCVs. We are brought back to Tana after 3 months at site to attend more training workshops and reunite with our training class. I am beyond excited to see everyone in my stage again! I’m flying in a bit early to meet with the US Embassy in Tana about library project ideas, and then IST officially starts on the 12th and ends on the 21st. Afterwards, I’ll be taking a vacation for the Christmas holidays. Cannot wait – December will be such a fun month!! Just lots to do before I get there haha.

Ok so beyond teaching, there’s been serious progress with the library over the past month. All of the repairs on the structure are finished, which is great. A librarian from the countryside came to help me and the Andapa librarian organize the books and set up a labeling system. His visit was beyond helpful, and since then, Marguerite and I have been hard at work labeling books and getting them onto the shelves in their sections. I hope to have it opened before I go to Tana, but it’s still not clear if it’ll be ready by then. If not, I’ll hit the ground running in January so we can have it open and usable at the beginning of the new year. Once we’re open for a bit, I’ll decide what the next steps should be. The Andapa librarian and I have loads of ideas – library-to-library partnerships, getting chalkboards installed, painting the outside, hosting various clubs, getting more books/technology/etc – but before we move on any of these, I want to see how the community responds to the library once it opens. A soft-opening of sorts, I guess. I am just so happy and fortunate that I get to work on a cool project like this!

At the beginning of November, I attended my first VAC (Volunteer Action Council) meeting for the SAVA region. Basically, PC splits up PCVs into regions and they meet every three months to discuss what’s going on site. Then, our VAC representative takes what we say to a National VAC meeting in Tana and communicates our ideas/problems/concerns to PC. Ours was in Andapa this year and it was a lot of fun and very informative. The SAVA PCVs are a great group of people. We had a productive meeting and then cooked an absolutely amazing meal (homemade humus, pitas, baked mac and cheese, carrot salad, cake…who knew food like that was possible here? I sure didn’t). I also spent a day in Sambava to get some shopping done last weekend and got to indulge in ice cream (gasp). It was nice to get out of site for a day. Sambava is much bigger than Andapa, but the hustle and bustle of the city made me really appreciate how quite and calm my site is. I think I’ll be reuniting with the SAVA PCVs again for Thanksgiving next week, which will be nice. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, so I know I’ll be sad I’m not at home for it this year. It’ll be fun to forge a new tradition of Thanksgiving Gasy style though!

And last (and least, ugh), this week was the first time I’ve gotten sick since I’ve been here. I wasn’t able to go to school to teach at all this week, which made me sad, but I would have been a joke of a teacher since I couldn’t stand up for more than two minutes without falling over. It wasn’t serious (I just needed lots of fluids and rest), and I’m finally feeling like my human status is back above a 50%. While being sick sucked, the support of my community was incredible. Teachers at both schools came to check on me every day, as did my Andapa mom Marguerite and many of my students (and stagemates via text, thanks friends!). It really warmed my heart.

So that’s all I got for now! Again, oops, this is all over the place, but I guess y’all should just get used to that? Ha. Keep your emails/skype calls/packages coming! They make my life.

Veloma,
Arianna



What Goes On
October 21, 2012, 11:21 AM
Filed under: PEACE CORPS MADAGASCAR

Aaaaaand I did it again. I’ve procrastinated yet another blog post. I’m not too pleased about this bad habit I’m developing, so I’ll make a conscious effort to post more. There are times during the day when weird or amazing things happen to me, and I think, “Wow, this is blog GOLD,” but when I sit down to write, I freeze. So many things that go on in my life here are the epitome of a you-had-to-be-there moment, and anytime I try to describe anything, I feel like I’m not doing it justice. But I’m trying!

So. I left off last time right at the beginning of my transition to my site: Andapa. Well, I’ve officially passed my one-month anniversary with Andapa and man, I’ve got a lot to say. Days here are long, but looking back now, I cannot believe how fast time has gone since I’ve moved here. Where to begin??

Andapa is a remote town in the northeast of Madagascar, located in the SAVA region. Google it. It’s gorgeous. SAVA stands for Sambava, Antalaha, Vohemar, and Andapa – the four biggest towns in the region. Peace Corps designates this region as a “fly site,” meaning that it is incredibly difficult to get here without taking an airplane. So, for installation (when new PCVs are set up at their sites), I flew up to SAVA, to Sambava’s airport specifically, from Tana with another new PCV, Harris, who’s moving to Vohemar. When we landed in Sambava, I felt like I landed back in Florida. Sambava is on the coast and there are palm trees everywhere. I could taste the ocean salt in the air. I had not realized how much I missed the ocean! Harris and I (along with our installer, Franka, my amazing Malagasy Peace Corps language teacher) were met at the airport by a bunch of SAVA volunteers who traveled to Sambava to welcome us. It was incredibly nice to see so many friendly faces. It was immediately apparent to me that SAVA has a close-knit group of PCVs up here and I am excited to be a part of it. My first day in Sambava was a blur; I was so exhausted and dealing with sensory overload, so even now, I’m not quite sure what I did. I know eating good food and meeting new people was part of the deal (Sambava has delicacies like pizza and ice cream, who knew?). The next day, Harris and I did our shopping for installation. Since Sambava is a bigger town than Vohemar and Andapa, we had to buy larger household items that we needed there (especially nice because we had a Peace Corps van at our disposal for a short time too!). I really lucked out because I’m replacing another Education PCV named Hilary, and she told me that she left me a majority of the things I would need, so I didn’t have to buy that much stuff. I stocked up on some food staples and got a new mattress and called it a day. When we were finished, Harris and I spent time getting to know some more SAVA PCVs.

We drove three hours from Sambava to Vohemar to install Harris first. It was cool to get to see another part of SAVA and check out where Harris would be living and teaching. I accompanied him to all of his courtesy visits, which are basically meetings with all of the important town officials when a new PCV installs. Vohemar is really interesting and beautiful, situated right on the coast again, but so. hot. Man. That was a rude awakening for sure. Franka and I helped Harris get his house together and made sure he was comfortable, and then we left him to get settled in the next day. I traveled back to Sambava solo that time around, ready to crash the night in Sambava before traveling to my new home the next morning. Needless to say, sleeping that night was rough for me! I missed my stagemates and friends, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect about the coming days.

When I got in the van to drive the three hours from Sambava to Andapa, I was so excited/nervous/anxious/whoknows. The drive was breathtaking. Andapa is called the bucket or the basin because it’s in this gorgeous valley surrounded by these amazing mountains. The area is part of Madagascar’s rice basket, so there are all these lush green rice fields around. The air always smells like vanilla because this is the area where the famous Madagascar vanilla is grown. Yum. I specifically remember cresting this one hill on the road and finally getting a glimpse of Andapa in the valley below, and my stomach flipped over. Beautiful. I could not believe that I was so lucky, getting the chance to live in this remote and breathtaking part of the country for the next two years. I still cannot believe it, even a month into living here.

Once we arrived, Franka and I drove straight to my house so I could drop off my bags and new installation purchases. I’ll describe my house in a little bit, promise. That first day, I met my two sitemates, Nick and Kim. They are amazing and I am so lucky to have them here. Nick is a third-year extension environment volunteer living in Andapa, so he knows the answers to all of my random questions, and Kim is a new environment volunteer living 5K away by bike in a town called Matsobe. She has been here for around 6 months and remembers what it’s like to feel new, so that’s helpful also. They have been SO helpful during my transition to site. I had all of my courtesy visits then too, meeting the police, mayors, school officials, etc. It was a bit overwhelming, especially since my Malagasy isn’t the best yet (improving though every day!), but having Franka there was comforting.

The next day, Franka came by my house to make sure that everything was in order. And then the moment came when she had to leave. And the Peace Corps van drove away. And I was officially on my own, starting my new adventure. Not going to lie, I was a bit terrified to be alone in my house that first day. I had no idea what to do with myself. So, naturally, my inner OCD came to life and I started cleaning like a madman. My house is tiny, but it’s a treat. It’s one small room, but it’s big enough to fit a double bed, a small table and chair (like a desk situation), and another table that serves as my kitchen. I have a closet where I keep my clothes in some baskets, and a small indoor bathroom with running water, a sink, a flush toilet, and a showerhead. The showers are cold, but I thank my stars every day for a western-style toilet and running water. I also have electricity, which was an unexpected surprise! The previous PCV, Hilary, rented a small refrigerator from a friend in town, and I’m continuing that arrangement, so I also have a fridge. What?! Definitely not what I was expecting when I envisioned my Peace Corps house. Bottom line, the house is small, but it’s big enough for me to fit my yoga mat on the floor, so I cannot complain. I live on the CISCO government compound – the CISCO is responsible for all of the education-related functions here, managing schools, teachers, etc. So it’s fitting that the Education PCV lives here too. Offices surround me, so it’s busy here during the day but quiet (ish) at night, which is lovely. Everyone at the CISCO has been so nice and welcoming to me. Marguerite, the woman who works in the office next to my house and speaks decent English, has quickly become my Andapa mom, helping me with random tasks and answering whatever questions I have. Also, right outside of the CISCO is this great outdoor market that sells fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, rice, etc every day. I buy most of my food there and have made friends with a lot of the vendors, since they see me every day.

The first few days at site were a bit overwhelming, but I made an effort to get out of my house as much as possible. I went on long walks to learn my way around, introducing myself to people along the way. I’ve also quickly discovered that I have no idea how to cook for myself, which is such a tragedy because I’m surrounded by all this fresh produce, but no creativity to put something together. If you know of some easy meatless recipes that don’t call for any really intense ingredients (aka things I can find here), please send them my way! I’m still a vegetarian here (eating eggs and dairy products though), which has been fine actually. But cooking is a whole other battle (aka send me foods! Check out my wishlist page haha, shameless plug). I’m slowly learning though and it’s been getting easier, but I know it’s something to work on. I met my first Malagasy friend my first few days here during one of my long walks. Her name is Zita and she’s a teacher in the countryside. She knew that I was struggling with cooking, so in addition to hanging out and showing me around, we sometimes have cooking lessons, which has been helpful and loads of fun.

I journaled a bunch during my first few weeks at site, writing down even the most mundane things, so I wont bore you with the tiny details (unless you want them. In that case, email me and I’m happy to share what I did on Tuesday, October 1st, at 9:30am). Transitioning to site was full of very high highs and low lows. Everything was new and unfamiliar, but everyone was nice and helpful to me. I think the part that I struggled with the most was not having a real routine. I had three weeks to wait before I started teaching, meaning I had to fill the time somehow. I like having schedules and routines so that I can function properly, so that was a tough adjustment. In the end, I resorted to making myself little projects each day to pass the time (for example: Tuesday. Go make a friend. Buy bananas. Clean my toilet. Sweep. Cook beans. Wash clothes. Go make another friend. Go for a walk. Read Game of Thrones. Eat leftover beans. Sleep.). Each day, I felt myself getting more confident in my language and in learning my way around here. However, I’m glad the Peace Corps forewarned me that the first few weeks at site were the toughest. It was no joke, a real mental test of coping with a dramatically new situation, but I’m proud that I’ve come this far. Every day is a new day with new challenges, but also new rewards. I live for the moments here when something finally makes sense, I have a full convo in Gasy, or I help someone with an English related question…it gives me some sense of forward progress. Also, I’ve since learned to deal with my free time here. While waiting for school to start, I’ve spent time hiking, doing yoga, making friends, being outside, wandering, daydreaming, reading, planning, making a million lists, etc. Now that I’m a month in, I can actually say that I feel very comfortable here at site. I’m getting my routines down and people actually know who I am and what I’m about. It’s interesting…when I walk down the road now, I have such a different feeling in the pit of my stomach than when I did that same walk a month ago. I’m really looking forward to what the next two years here brings.

As for my actual job…it’s been an ordeal trying to hammer out my school schedule, but I made serious productive strides last week. I finally found out that I will teach Mondays and Wednesdays at the middle school, 2 sections of the equivalent of 5/6th grade English, so 6 hours a week there. Then, I teach on Tuesdays at the high school to 11th graders, for 6 hrs all on Tuesday, 3 different sections. Thursdays/Fridays off! Which is awesome! Gives me a lot of time to work on other things…like the library. The previous PCV, Hilary, right before she left Madagascar, started Andapa’s first public library. But the library is still not up and running/open. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done and I’ve inherited the project, which is awesome. I see it as a great window of opportunity to do something wonderful. There’s a real need for a project like this here and I’m stoked to take it on. I’m focusing on getting repairs made to the structure to make it more secure, then I plan on painting signs on the outside of it…and then I have a bazillion ideas about getting more books for the library. I want to partner the library here with some libraries at home and possibly do a sister-library type thing. If any of you are interested, or if you have any ideas for library-related projects, email me! I want to make this library into not just a room of books, but something really special and productive. So I’m really jazzed about it!

Last Tuesday, I had my first day teaching at the lycee (high school). Tuesdays will be long days for me, since my 3 sections are back-to-back, from 6am-8am, 8am-10am, then 10am-12pm. Nuts. But I thought my first lessons with my students went pretty well! Also, hilarious story for you all, during my second section of the day, I was taking role and the first name of the student on my roster is Hitler. Not kidding. What? Another funny teaching story: I’m too short for the blackboards, so I’m constantly up on my toes stretching, willing my right arm to get longer, and the next morning my arm was so sore. My students got a big kick out of how short I was, though. I think I’m going to have two different sized shoulders by the end of Peace Corps from writing on the blackboard! It’s an acquired skill.

I’ll start teaching at the middle school this coming Wednesday I hope. This week, I also am finally starting some of the repairs needed on the library, so I can get it up and running as soon as possible. I know I will have an English club at the lycee once a week too, but I would really like to have the students come to the library to do it, so we can use the resources there. But to do that, I need it open. Soon! All in all, though, I’m really excited that things are finally starting to come together and I have projects that I’m jazzed about.

Another funny occurrence, I think last week I was invited to join a Malagasy band? Not entirely sure. But I’ve been hanging out with a fellow middle school English teacher who’s quickly becoming my good friend, and we jam around on the guitar a lot. I guess word got out around here that I play. An acquaintance came by last week and dropped off a guitar for me to play around with. He’s going to Tana on business, but when he gets back, he said, we are going to go play with his friend in a band. Awesome, but unnerving…it’s been a while since I was decent at this so I hope they’re not expecting fireworks or genius. I’ll keep you all posted on how that goes!

Alright alright, so once again this is long and rambly. Maybe if I get my act together and post more frequently, each of these posts wont turn into a novel. Important!! I’ve updated my wish list and contact info, so please please check that out! And, if you have specific questions for me, or if you’re just bored, send me emails!

I’m off to go finish hanging up my laundry and I’m headed to an outdoor concert in Andapa later today with a few friends, which should be fun! I miss you all!

Veloma,
Arianna



Helter Skelter
September 26, 2012, 9:33 PM
Filed under: PEACE CORPS MADAGASCAR

Hello hello!

I am so sorry for the incredibly long blog hiatus. The last few months have been beyond nuts and I haven’t had enough reliable internet access to be able to post this until now. Before I dive right in, thanks to those of you who have been writing/calling/emailing/texting me. You have no idea how wonderful it is to hear from you all! Please please please keep doing what you’re doing and thank you times a million!

Where to begin?! I guess I should start by saying hi, I’m alive and well, healthy, and loving life here so far. Toughest job you’ll ever love, right? So much has gone down since I left the USA on July 10th that it makes writing this blog post a little intimidating. In fact, I’ve been putting it off for a bit (sorry) because there are just mountains of stuff I feel like I need to cover. Here goes, and forgive me if it’s rambly…

Since I left the US on July 10th, I have been in Pre-Service Training (PST, be prepared for a bazillion acronyms) here in Madagascar. PST is an intensive 9-week training program designed to provide Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) with an arsenal of skills that will ensure our effectiveness as Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs). I flew over here with 24 other PCTs in my “stage,” or training class. We are all TEFL Education Volunteers. When my flight landed in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo (aka “Tana”), I was all over the place. Definition of a hot mess. John Reddy, the Peace Corps (PC, I warned you about these acronyms) Country Director, greeted us at the airport and helped load us into vans. From there, we had a three-hour drive to the town of Montasoa, the PC training headquarters. Anticipating the landing in Tana, I had no idea what I would feel; when I was finally in that van, I was filled with relief that the toughest part – leaving – was over, anxiety about what was to come, and overwhelming curiosity about my new home. We made it to the Peace Corps Training Center (PCTC) in Montasoa by nightfall. We were greeted by all of the PCTC staff with a beautiful song, but I was so delirious by that point that I don’t remember much else, except for sleeping horizontally for the first time in a few days.

For first few weeks of PST, I lived with a host family. I had an absolutely amazing experience. My Neny (host mom) and Dada (host dad) are farmers, and they have three older kids: Tahiana (20 year old host sister), Nambina (18 year old host brother), and Noumena (22 year old host brother), all students. Tahiana speaks the most English, so she was so helpful during those first awkward days when my Malagasy vocabulary was limited to around 15 words. The house was great too: there was a well right outside the front door, a decent kabone (pit latrine) in the yard, mostly spider-free outdoor ladosy (outside room for bucket showers), and electricity. The two bedrooms were on the second floor and the kitchen/eating area was downstairs when you first walked in. Small but cozy. If my internet cooperates in the near future, I’ll attempt to post some photos. They adopted me as their own and made me feel so welcome. Now that I’m not living with them, I miss their company (and their cooking!).

While in homestay, our daily schedule consisted of around four hours of Malagasy class each morning. We had classes in groups of 2-4 PCTs, which was great and made learning this difficult language a lot easier. After Malagasy class, we’d return to our host families to have lunch and then reconvene back at the Montasoa commune (a central building for meetings and events) for afternoon sessions. These varied, anything from cross-cultural info to technical training (basically anything pertaining to teaching), etc. Each Thursday, we’d travel back to the PCTC to spend the day there for medical sessions. We’d get lots of shots and important medical and health info. I enjoyed these sessions though, as maintaining my health is critical to my success as a PCV here. The homestay PST schedule was definitely grueling, but I learned so much those first few weeks. And, on top of all that, it was a great opportunity to get to know my stagemates, and I made some amazing friends here thus far.

In addition to cramming our heads full of information, the first few weeks of PST are also devoted to site selection. We received information about each of the possible sites for placement. We had to rank our top five and write an essay outlining our reasons for our selections. It was a pretty intimidating and stressful process. Once our essays were turned in, we had individual interviews with the head of the Education Program (the position is called the APCD but I forget what that stands for, oops). Then, PC spends a few days matching us to sites. The site announcement day was full of anxiety…we were brought back to the PCTC from our host families and had this makeshift scavenger hunt to find our names on this big map of Madagascar painted outside on the basketball court. Everyone was running around like crazy trying to find their spots. I found mine pretty quickly and was ecstatic: I got placed in Andapa, my first-ranked choice. I’ll talk more about Andapa in a bit, since I’m here right now, but overall, that was quite the day.

Once site selection was over, it was time for us to move back to the PCTC and say a temporary goodbye to our host families. It was really bittersweet; I was so sad to leave them but excited for the next chapter of PST. The PCTC is around a 2-mile walk to their house though, so it’s easy to swing by for a visit. The rest of PST consisted of Practicum, a few weeks of constant practice teaching in real Malagasy schools with real Malagasy students. Quite stressful but I learned quite a bit about my teaching styles and best practices. It was nerve-wracking being constantly observed and evaluated, but the feedback was constructive. We also still had language classes during this time, but we switched from learning Standard Malagasy into classes grouped by dialect according to our site placements. In Andapa, the dialect is Tsimihety, which has a pretty heavy French influence. Looks like I’ll be picking up a lot of French while I’m here, fine by me!

Before we could swear in officially as PCVs, we had to pass an oral language exam. The exam’s basically just a conversation to see if we can explain ourselves once we get to site. Our target level to pass is intermediate mid; I got intermediate high and was quite relieved. After the exam was over, it was smooth sailing and lots of celebrating with my stagemates until the swearing in ceremony just a few days ago. The ceremony was great: we each gave our host families a certificate of appreciation on behalf of PC and there were a bazillion speeches. My PCTC roommate, Gabby, gave a speech on behalf of the new volunteers (in Malagasy!) and rocked it. She’s super mahay (a Malagasy catch-all word meaning knowledgeable, expert, etc). The next day felt like the end of summer camp with everyone packed up and leaving in various vans to begin their new adventures. It was incredibly sad! I was fully prepared upon arrival to get to site, but after being with my stagemates 24/7 for the past 9 weeks, it was really rough to leave them all. But I was so anxious to get to site and see what my life here would be like. Roses and thorns.

Whew. Ok. I sincerely apologize that this post is so scatterbrained and all over the place. There’s just so much to cover about PST and I feel as though I left out a million important things. I think I’ll cut myself off here and write another post soon about Andapa and my life here thus far. A fresh start, a new page dedicated to the more important things: site. I’ve been here since last Thursday and every day things start to make a little more sense. Overall, while there have been some really stressful and trying times during PST and transition to site, I am really glad that I am here and I know that this is where I should be right now, if that makes any sense. I have met some incredible people in Madagascar, both Malagasy and PCVs, and I already know that I’m a completely different person than that sweaty, crazy mess of a human that boarded the flight from Miami to Philly a few months ago. That being said, I miss you guys! As I said above, even the smallest bit of communication from friends/family back home makes a world of difference here. Also, I have a new mailing address for letters/packages:

Arianna Pattek, PCV
Bureau CISCO
Andapa 205
Madagascar

I’ll update the wishlist of things to send me soon, but anything spices/food related would be much appreciated at the moment. But please write! Or email! Or smoke signal, I don’t care! I hope all is well back in America and you are all rocking whatever it is that you are up to. I’ll be in touch soon!

Veloma,
Arianna



Hello, Goodbye
July 10, 2012, 5:55 AM
Filed under: PEACE CORPS MADAGASCAR

I’m officially done with staging in Philadelphia! Everyone is amazing and I am exhausted, so this will be super brief. We just got back from dinner and are getting ready to leave at 2am… I’m pinching myself that the day is finally here!! I’ll update when I can from across the pond.

Love you all!

Veloma,
Arianna