I sincerely wish I could tell you all that I’m joking, but I’m not. A couple of weeks ago, I asked Floria if it was possible to buy a turkey here since there was an American holiday at the end of November that I was hoping to celebrate with my new friends here. She told me there are lots of turkeys but that they get very expensive close to Christmas, so I should buy one now. In the spirit of embracing life here I thought, “Well, why not? Raising a turkey for several weeks might be fun.” So on Friday (market day), I ventured to the market with Floria’s oldest daughter, Nuelina, in search of a fine Thanksgiving bird. I had assumed a turkey would cost roughly the same as a chicken, so I took what I figured would be enough money. After a disappointing realization that turkeys are actually considerably more expensive, I settled on a small but decent-looking bird, figuring it may plump up a bit after several weeks. I haggled the price down to 10,000 Ariary (roughly $5.00), brought the bird home, and—despite warnings from my brother not to get too attached—named it “Philbert Kely.” (Philbert is Floria’s oldest son; Philbert Kely, meaning Small Philbert, was the closest I could come up with for “Philbert Jr.”) I figured the neighbors would get a kick out of the fact that I named the bird after my adopted host family; indeed, they think it’s a riot.
Well, after getting Philbert Kely settled in to his new home, I headed to work. About four hours later I came home for lunch only to find out that Philbert Kely is VERY VERY SICK with terrible diarrhea. Actually, not even diarrhea so much as liquid perpetually falling out of his hind end. My first thought was, “I didn’t even know turkeys could GET diarrhea.” My second thought was, “Oh, how nice. My bird is just trying to live in solidarity with me while we both adjust to our new homes.” Many of my fellow volunteers, and a few of you back home who I’ve been able to talk to, have told me, “You WOULD be the one to buy a turkey.” Fill has been the only person who wasn’t remotely surprised that I bought a turkey but instead remarked, “YOU would get a turkey with diarrhea.” Philbert Kely seems to be making a slow yet steady recovery, so I’m holding onto a small glimmer of hope. Here’s a picture of the little guy; Floria’s the one holding him, and behind them is Narindra, a girl who lives across the street.
In terms of work, I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I can be useful here. Last week at the clinic was interesting. There was a Madagascar-wide malnutrition outreach program for children under 5 (the most at-risk group for malnutrition). Vitamin A capsules, deworming pills, and vaccines were available for free to all children under 5. A local nutrition organization brought in several staff to help throughout the week. On Monday, I went around town with a woman, telling people to bring their kids to the clinic anytime this week. On Tuesday morning I went to a local elementary school to help with the distribution. That was great because I got to meet the principal of the school and she wants me to start giving presentations there this week. A couple days I helped fill out cards at the clinic, and on Friday I went with the doctor and a couple of other helpers out to a village farther away from the clinic to get the meds out. This past week the schedule was back to normal, but I’ve started taking on a few more tasks as my language skills are improving. I mostly help weigh children under 5 and chart their growth to see if they’re malnourished or at risk.
I think in the long run the clinic is not going to be where I’ll do most of my work. My clinic has a great staff (a doctor, a midwife, and several support staff), and they already give presentations on preventative health measures (which is pretty much most of what I’m qualified to do). Some other volunteers were placed at clinics that don’t even have doctors or have staff that never shows up to work, so their help is much more needed. What I really think my clinic could use would be another doctor/nurse/midwife available for patient consultations, which I’m not even remotely qualified to do. But, I’m trying to help out where I can and in the meantime am looking for other ways to contribute to my community. I’ve started giving presentations at elementary schools and I’ve met several people that do nutrition work or community outreach through various organizations. My plan is to volunteer with current programs for a little while longer and then begin to see where my own ideas can expand on the work my local counterparts are already doing.
I’m still eating dinner with my neighbors every night, but I’ve had fun experimenting with various concoctions at breakfast and lunch. It’s always a gamble what I’m going to be able to find at the market at any given moment, so I’m trying to be creative with whatever’s available. I’ve had moderate success. In addition to being really, really good at boiling carrots, I have also successfully made a couple of meat dishes, tortillas from scratch, and homemade refried beans. I have unsuccessfully made several things not worth mentioning. One night I offered to cook “American food” for Floria’s family. Since many of the village children have made faces at my cooking and told me that I should make “good Malagasy food—rice with maybe some sweet potatoes on the side,” I decided to keep it pretty standard. I cooked beef in a tomato sauce and threw in some steak seasoning I had bought in the capital, a dish I’ve just about perfected. And I served it, of course, over rice. Everyone seemed skeptical at first, but it was a big hit. Here you can see Philbert (for whom my bird is named), and Calaneny, a friend who stayed with them for a few days.
Before I include a couple more pictures and sign off, I want to say thank-you to everyone who’s sent me stuff. Brenda, I got your package! And I’ve gotten letters/cards from the Hummels, Grandma and Grandpa, UMSA, Greta, and VB. And I’m sure there’s more on the way—things seem to be coming very sporadically. Some stuff comes in 10 days; some was sent over a month ago and hasn’t yet arrived. Anyway, this post is coming off of a pretty good week, but I would be lying if I said I’m acclimating and that things are getting much easier. In all of the seemingly endless frustrations, I often ask myself what I’m still doing here. There have been so many moments when if somebody had said, “Just come home,” I probably would have done it. But in those times that I’ve forgotten why I wanted to be here, your letters/cards/phonecalls/texts/emails/prayers of encouragement have reminded me a little bit about where I come from and where I hope to go in life. And they remind me that I have tons of people rooting for me back home (who are probably reading this from their iphones while sitting on the toilet . . . but I won’t even get into that.)
Here are some more pictures of the area around my house. Here you can see my water source. I lower a small bucket about 15 feet underground through this barrel.
These are the pig pens behind my house. The pink and purple thing behind the pigs would be my shower and latrine. I wasn’t kidding when I said they’re attached to a pig pen.
The slightly more pleasant view from my back yard, once you go a bit past the pigs.
As always happens when I pull out the camera to snap pictures, the village children were all ecstatic and wanted me to take pictures of them. There are mango trees growing all around my house, and in the picture several of them are holding up small, unripe mangoes. They LOVE to eat unripe mangoes with salt. It’s not my favorite snack, but I just really, really love ripe mangoes, so I’m willing to wait a few more weeks till they’re ripe.
So there you have it! A few more pieces of my life here :)