What luck! I'm back in Tana for the night before heading out to my site visit, so I have internet! I head out first thing tomorrow morning to start driving out to my permanent site, so I get to stay at the MEVA (transit house) in Tana. For security reasons, we're not allowed to travel at night, so it's going to take two days to get out to Morondava, the biggest city near my site. It's a 12-17 hour drive usually, depending on the weather/season/condition of the road, so it'll probably be nice to break up over two days anyway.
Although I'll be staying at a hotel in Morondava, on Tuesday and Wednesday I'll take day excursions about an hour and a half away to my permanent site (again, I can't publicly say the name of my exact site). I have certain things I'll need to do - introduce myself to the mayor and police in my town; check on my house to see what (if anything) needs to be added/repaired/etc; visit the clinic where I'll be doing a lot of my work; and hopefully I'll have time to meet some of my coworkers, neighbors, etc. I'm excited mostly just to see the city where I'm going to spend the next two years...but I'm also keeping my fingers crossed for a few days of some hopefully warmer and less rainy weather.
People have asked about the weather. It's fairly sporadic and the sky changes really quickly. It's usually pretty cold and rainy - remember, it's winter here - and it gets really cold at night. But there have been a couple of sunny days which have been GORGEOUS, and the sunny days seem to be increasing in frequency. The locals promise that the weather will only get more pleasant over the next month. I wouldn't be opposed to a few more sunny days. On clear nights, the sky is filled with the brightest stars I have ever seen in my life, and the Milky Way absolutely glows. It's too bad I can't really stay out after dark to look at them, but I can get a few glimpses here and there. When I'm at sight I'll have a little more freedom for things such as stargazing :)
The highlight of this past week was probably Sunday morning, when my family taught me how to kill a chicken. I knew this was likely to happen during training, and I was actually pretty excited about it. I'll probably be more likely to eat meat at site if I prepare it myself, and I thought it would be interesting to learn. During breakfast that day, my host dad pointed out the live chicken sitting in a basket that I had not noticed the day before. He said it was a small chicken and had only cost 3,000 Ariary (less than $1.50). I asked if I could learn to kill it, and they told me yes. I assumed initially that this would be a few weeks later, when it had grown bigger. I quickly realized that the chicken was actually going to be our lunch and that I would be killing it that very morning.
While I hesitate to glorify the slaughter itself, it wasn't as bad as one might guess and the event in general was rather funny. My host mom basically had me stand on the chicken (one foot over its wings, one over its feet), hold its neck, and slice off the head. Not really knowing what I was doing, and wielding a knife I thought far too large for the task at hand (really, "small machete" would be a more fitting term than "knife"), I made a fairly big mess of things and created a bit of chaos. We stayed in the kitchen rather than go outside, which struck me as odd but having never killed a chicken before I figured it wasn't my place to suggest otherwise. Since I was standing on the bird, it obviously couldn't run around with its head cut off as the expression goes, but it did wiggle rather uncomfortably under my feet for several minutes. After a few moments of stillness, my host mom would poke it to see if it started moving again. Though my Malagasy is still very limited, I do know the words for finished ("vita") and chicken ("akoho"), so I kept saying "akoho vita, akoho vita," which my host family thought was hilarious. It seems I am a constant source of amusement for them. Although, I wouldn't have it any other way since my host brothers never cease to amuse me either. Anyway, after the chicken died my host mom showed me how to remove the feathers and take it all apart. We later enjoyed a delicious lunch and dinner.
Aside from the chicken, this past week was pretty much the usual schedule - language class, tech sessions, administrative and medical stuff, etc. I would say the language barrier continues to be my biggest challenge. I'm amazed at how quickly I'm able to retain information, but I still obviously can't have very extensive or insightful conversations with anyone. It's funny the things I can say. In addition to learning basic things I need to know for my own survival (greetings, food, directions), I'm also learning health-tech-related vocabulary, safety and security, and various grammatical things. So as I flip through my notebook, I realize I can string together odd sentences like "she doesn't have AIDS yet," or "the police officer shot the thief." I know with time and patience I'll develop more fluency, so I just need to keep at it.
There is a Malagasy proverb that says "If you start up a hill like a young person, you will finish old; if you start up a hill like an old person, you will finish young." My frequent hikes up and down the mountain every day have taught me that in the most literal sense this is true. I have a lot more energy at the top if I go slowly and take small steps on the way up versus when I hurry or take big steps. Beyond the literal, though, these words are proving true for life here as well. It's a lot easier to take things one step at a time, one task at a time, one day at a time than to focus on too much all at once. Hopefully I can keep this in mind over the next couple of years.
Well, I want to get some sleep before heading off to site visit in the morning. Miss you all!