Thursday, March 24, 2011

Poke the Pimple

There is a Malagasy game I'd like to tell you about. It is called Poke the Pimple, and it is quite similar to Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Although people use their fingers instead of paper tails, and there is no donkey - only the many pimples on my face. I'm still not sure of all the rules, but it seems to me the main objective is to see who can get their fingers closest to a pimple. 25 points if you notice it and point at it while whispering to your friend; 50 points if you point to the corresponding location on your own face; 100 points if you actually poke my pimple; 200 points if you muster the courage to ask me what it is. This game is extremely popular with Malagasy children, although adults are much better at it. Children usually don't jump out of the 25-point bracket, but market women consistently break the 200-point barrier. I believe I heard a rumor they're considering adding Poke the Pimple to the Olympic Games in 2020. If they do, I'm sure that Madagascar will sweep the medals and probably set several new records.

Other than playing that every day, there hasn't been too much going on lately. I've spent the last several weeks having repairs done on my house. A series of storms knocked my fence completely down, and I had reinforcements put on my windows and doors for overnight and when I leave my house for extended periods of time. Since I lived in the residence halls all through college, I've never had a place of my own where I was in charge of dealing with maintenance. It's been really funny to me trying to navigate all of that in a foreign language--I'm clueless enough with all that stuff in English. Placing orders for supplies and negotiating with the carpenter has been an absolutely hilarious adventure. I debated whether or not I even wanted to have the fence rebuilt, but ultimately decided yes for several reasons. Everyone around me has fences, and I really do feel like it's necessary for security. But the most important thing that influenced me was my role as a health volunteer. There are lots of cats and dogs in the neighborhood (generally not vaccinated), as well as chickens, goats, and other creatures that roam around. When I talk about hygiene, cleanliness, disease, keeping food and water clean and uncontaminated, I figured it might be helpful if I model a healthy lifestyle and clean home by trying to keep animals away from my living & cooking space. If I don't even do it, how can I expect anyone else to?!

I've been fairly frustrated with work lately. I am in a new site for Peace Corps - no PCV has ever been in my village before, though there have been volunteers from other organizations/countries. I can tell those groups had very different roles from me, though, and I have struggled to figure out how to explain why I'm there and what my role is in the community. Getting projects going outside of working at the clinic that also involve Malagasy people is very challenging. I really want my local counterparts to be involved in every step of the process so that things may continue even after I leave here. I've decided to try to stop focusing all of my energy on work and try instead just to live here. I'm hoping that if I spend more time with women at the market, start inviting people over to my house for dinner, and find other ways to build relationships, ideas might start to develop.

That being said, it is getting easier. More and more people recognize me (even if I have no idea who they are -- there are thousands of people in my village!) ... but I'm not just the vazaha anymore. At least not to some people. A lot of times I don't even have to explain myself - somebody else will jump in for me and say "oh, yes, she works at the hospital, she goes around and talks about health, I saw her doing this/that one day, etc etc." It's really reassuring to hear that.

International Women's Day was a couple of weeks ago, and my village had a festival for it. There was a parade of sorts in the morning, and then everyone gathered around all day for singing and dancing. Here's a picture of the parade up to the village commune:

All the women were also doing "yard work" in front of the commune/cleaning up the area. I decided to pitch in and help, figuring everyone would get a kick of the vazaha getting involved. Sure enough everybody thought it was hysterical and kept telling me I was doing it the wrong way. There is a right way and a wrong way to dig up weeds, didn't you know?

I kept hearing that the Prime Minister of Madagascar was going to be coming - to which I thought, "Seriously? Out of ALL the places in Madagascar, he's going to be in MY village?!" But after I had waited around for several hours, still with no sign of his arrival, I finally decided to leave. But I did stay long enough to see a lot of the singing and dancing, and enjoyed lunch. It was kind of like a Malagasy picnic with people sitting on mats on the ground!

Even though I've been here for several months, I had NEVER IN MY LIFE seen so much rice!!!!!! They had dozens of ENORMOUS pots of it, and it was scooped into gigantic water buckets to distribute. I unfortunately didn't snap a picture of the giant buckets, but here are some pictures of lunch & a couple women I ate with:

All in all, it was a very nice day, and it started generating some ideas to possibly implement later in my service. It reminded me that people love food and a celebration which has food will always attract maybe I can organize some educational festivals similar to this one. We shall see.

Well I think that's about all the news I have related to Madagascar. Before I sign off, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY LITTLE BROTHER!!!! He turned 18 this week!!! AND he's gotten into quite the selection of colleges. Congrats, I'm so proud of you!

Love love.


  1. I'm glad you can see the humor in your frustrations :) You always amaze me with that! And this might be a stupid question...but do they not get pimples or acne there?! Otherwise why would they think pimples are weird? Just I hung out with your brother this past weekend at State Convention and I am positive that he is going to do a GREAT job at Wilmington Secretary this summer! Also, I had the strangest craving the other day for a Chipotle burrito and root beer, and it made me miss you. And do you remember the time you, me, and Rob Barnes stopped at Arby's on our way to something at camp and they had MUG ROOT BEER?! Hahaha this comment is so random, but I hope it makes you smile because it made me laugh to think about that! Miss and love you!!

    <3 Holly

  2. Hey Kristen!

    It was great to talk to you the other day...(TWO days in a row, rare!) I am happy to hear your rash is calming down. And am so pround of you for trying so hard to make the best of your time in a new place!

    I got your email and can't wait until June!

    Love you and miss you!


    ps. I always seem to catch the post the day you write something...but maybe miss days in between..just thought that was funny)


  3. Kristen!

    I am SO unbelievably happy to see you post again. I got your letter in the mail since the last time you posted. Surprisingly I got it about 3 weeks from the time you sent it. You said it wouldn't get here till Easter. Anyway, you are so incredibly thoughtful for sending me the letter. It happened at just the right time and it really made my week. I think I cried it was so emotional lol. I'll be sending you a response soon. We have SO much to catch up on and I can't wait to talk to you.

    I miss you and love you tons. You're doing wonderful things and we're all so proud of you.

    Love Love

  4. I'm so glad you're getting into the swing of village life. You are so right they need to know you and recognize you before they'll open up and help you with a project idea. A friend of mine started a woman's cooking group where they got together and learned new cheap/nutritious recipes. Thats a great way to get close to some of the women and start working on your project goals.

    I just want to let you know how awesome you are!!!! I love that you are not afraid to be the fool if that will help them be more comfortable with you. They need to see you as human not a foreigner. I love you I love you I love you. Keep kicking ass girlie!!!


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