Important alert in the event that you get bored and don't read all the way through the post.....but I have a new phone #. The provider I had for training doesn't have service at my site, so I had to switch. My new number is 032 844 9699.
Woohoo! I have finished training and am now officially sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer! And tomorrow marks the 2 month anniversary of my arrival in Madagascar! I wish I could tell you that the time has flown by – but that would be a lie. It seems like training has taken FOREVER . . . but here I am, finally, trained and ready to go. So, here’s what I’ve learned from training:
1. The Malagasy people are extremely hospitable. A staff member shared with us a Malagasy proverb that says “We are not like the Ikopa River who turns red when other rivers come to join us.” The people in my training village have done nothing but prove this to be true—they have been incredibly welcoming, friendly, and helpful. I’m always invited into people’s homes while walking down the road, and the Malagasy people are always delighted to engage in conversation. My host family has been absolutely wonderful, teaching me to cook Malagasy food, playing games with me, and trying their best to explain things to me when I’m confused (which is still about 80% of the time.)
2. Malagasy numbers and quantities will probably continue to baffle me for the duration of my service. The Malagasy people say their numbers in the opposite order from English, they specify each digit individually, and there are no abbreviations. For example, the number 428763 is recited in Malagasy as the equivalent of “three and six tens and seven hundreds and eight thousands and two ten-thousands and four hundred-thousands.” You would think such a large number would never be an issue . . . but the exchange rate is currently about $1.00 = 2100 Ariary, so I do deal with large numbers on a pretty regular basis. Describing quantity is also a bit of a challenge for me. Saying a word twice means you have less of it. At times, this is pretty straightforward. (i.e. “adola” means “crazy,” as in a person is actually crazy, but “adoladola” is how you might describe your silly friend; “mitovy” means “the same” but “mitovytovy” means “like” or “similar to”) However, this gets challenging with “kely” (“small”) and “kelykely” which is actually LARGER than small because it’s like saying “less small than small.” Very confusing when your brain still functions in your dominant language of English.
3. Peace Corps is a very humbling experience. My host family, my trainers, and people in my training village repeatedly tell me “efa mahay,” meaning already experienced/already knowledgeable. This is a lie. My 4-year-old host brother can chop up firewood with a machete. My 9-year-old host brother can build a fire and keep it going; even after two months of practice, every time I blow on embers to get a spark going again, I end up just blowing the fire out completely. Women carry buckets of water up mountains like they’re running a marathon; I still have to switch hands every couple of steps and am completely out of breath when I go less than 100 meters from my well to my house.
We finished up training by moving out of our home stays and staying at the training center for a few days. We had a few final sessions, mostly on administrative and logistical stuff, and packed up all of our luggage. On Friday all of the host families came to the training center for a thank-you celebration. Two of us trainees gave speeches - one on behalf of the education trainees, and me on behalf of the health trainees. I threw in a lot of jokes, and everyone actually laughed! A lot! I'm starting to move from being funny because I don't understand the language or culture, to being funny because I actually know how to tell a joke in Malagasy! It's a nice feeling. (Although, admittedly, most of the jokes were poking fun at myself and the other Americans.)
We came to Tana for our swearing-in ceremony this morning. Normally it's done at the Ambassador's Residence....but as there is currently no American Ambassador here, that was out of the question. But we did have the ceremony at the Peace Corps Country Director's house, and there were representatives present from both the American Embassy and the Malagasy government. It was a pretty short ceremony, but very well done. The Malagasy and American government officials alike were encouraging. It's quite the journey I have ahead of me for the next two years, and I'm feeling very anxious about it all suddenly becoming real this week. But I'm still eager to get to site and get settled in.
Tomorrow I'll start making the permanent move towards site. There are two other volunteers who will be traveling with me and getting installed before me. But by Saturday/Sunday I should be mostly settled in.
A few notes on mail/packages. I definitely appreciate everything - ESPECIALLY letters. I've received things so far from Grandma and Grandpa, the Hummels, Greta, Clara, Rachael, and Maggie. If you've sent something that hasn't arrived yet, I will get it eventually, but probably not till mid-December. The address I originally gave you will be good for the duration of my service, but now that I'm moving out to site I'll only get mail sent through there when I'm in the capital (once every several months at best). I'm planning to open a PO box when I get out to my site - hopefully I'll have the address for that by the end of the week (though no promises). Mail will also take MUCH longer now that I'm a couple days from the capital. Many of you should have mail coming to you from me already.
I have no idea what my internet access will be like over the next several weeks. But keep the emails coming, keep the letters coming! Hopefully you'll hear from me again soon!
PS: I may try to put up a few more pictures again. But the internet and my computer are being very finicky at the moment. And quite frankly I'd rather try to use skype and call some of you than put up pictures.