Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Site!

I wrote this post a while ago but the internet cafe was closed the last time I was in town. I have more updates to add but should have internet at least through Monday, so I'll make sure to post again. I'm hoping I'll be able to get a few video clips up, but not holding my breath.

Well, I'm all moved into my new village and have spent the past couple of weeks settling in. Although the adjustment this time around is FAR easier than it was a year ago, there have still been some challenges. The people in this region (mostly Betsileo) speak a different one than what's spoken where I was in the West (mostly Sakalava, Antandroy, and Vezo). It's by no means an entirely new language, but there are enough pronunciation nuances and different vocabulary words that I'm a bit confused. [Note: There are 18 different tribes & dialects of Malagasy. Allegedly Malagasy can all understand each other regardless of which dialect is being spoken; I have observed this to be generally true, though not absolutely. The Malagasy people's explanation of their own language sounds much like the United States, where you could go to any state and expect to speak fluent English, though there are distinct accents in places such as New York, Chicago, Texas, Boston. My own experience is that it's more like comparing American English with that spoken in England, Ireland, Australia, etc. The basics are the same, though slang and certain expressions are often unique to the region, and while you'd likely be able to communicate with anyone speaking English, somebody with a particularly heavy accent may be difficult to understand.] The Betsileo also speak VERY quickly, and I'm having a hard time keeping up. I had heard prior to arriving here that the Betsileo are known for being especially talkative. Luckily for me, this has proved to be entirely true -- I can hardly buy a banana without engaging in at least a 10-minute conversation. Surely this will help me pick up the local dialect quickly.
I also have been re-experiencing all the elements of being the new person in town again. In my old village, I had grown accustomed to running errands at certain places and kept fairly regular business with certain market women. It was easier for me since they usually knew exactly what I wanted without having to ask, and I would often get a "kado" (gift), something like an extra tomato or handful of beans. I had friends and knew all my neighbors and had a routine. I knew what foods were available and where to find them. Here, I've found myself wandering around town going to every shop trying to find things. Everyone has been very friendly and helpful, though it is still tiring for me trying to reestablish a routine.
In addition to my having to figure things out, my town is also having to learn what to make of me. There is another PCV in my town, Charity ("Chacha"), who is a Small Enterprise Development volunteer. The day I moved in, though, she left for an in-service training in the PC training village near Tana. About half the town realizes I'm a different person, but the other half keep calling me Chacha. This is especially funny to me because we look NOTHING alike--she is taller and has shorter black hair. But I guess we "vazaha" all look identical, and I guess I should appreciate that they at least think they're calling me by my name, instead of just yelling out "salama vazaha" ("hey foreigner.") It'll be funny when she's back from training and we both are strolling around town.

Despite these minor challenges to readjusting, I think I am really going to like my life here. It's a very artsy area - the region around Ambositra is known for all of its handicrafts, especially woven straw products and silk scarves. I see tons of straw hats, mats, purses, etc. in all of the markets around here. A lot of the Small Enterprise Development volunteers are placed in this region and partnered with a local boutique. I'm back in the highlands/plateau region like where I was during training. There are rice paddies EVERYWHERE - usually at the bottom of hills with terraced farms rising around them. Much of the surrounding area looks a lot like these pictures. If I'm not mistaken, the bright green in this picture is rice that is mature/ready to be harvested. But despite 15 months here, I still wouldn't consider myself a rice expert :)

My new house is INCREDIBLE. I am on the third floor of a house behind the market and commune/mayor's office. The upper balcony is the level that I am on.

I have two large rooms (each of which is bigger than the one room I had before), and a GIGANTIC balcony that wraps around 2 sides of the house. I can watch the sunrise from one side and the sunset from the other. My town is basically built on a hill, and my house is close to the top of the hill so the view (which is gorgeous) overlooks the entire town and surrounding villages. Here's a picture of the balcony, as well as the view from it. Most of the buildings in the second picture are houses.

Here are a few shots of the inside of my house - 2 of the kitchen, and 2 of my bedroom. I haven't been able to get all of my furniture made yet so I'm still living partially in boxes and it's not all set up, but this is an idea of what it looks like.

My landlady and her family live downstairs, but the staircase in outside on the balcony so I really have my own separate living space. I haven't met her husband yet since he's out of town, but she has an adorable 3-year-old son, Fanilo (which means "torch"), who I'm pretty sure I'm going to bring back with me to America. I sort of have electricity; if my landlady's generator is on, I have a light in each room and a single plug. However, they've only turned it on twice for about 2 hours each in the whole last month. Most of the time I still charge small electronics on a solar charger, or just do without. Currently I have to go into my landlady's house to use the rest room, but they're going to build my own bathroom when her husband gets back. (At first I'd thought this wasn't necessary, but Peace Corps was insistent and I have since realized the bathroom's a bit hard to get to, and this could get rather awkward when I'm sick, which is bound to happen.) It's a "real" toilet which means you flush it yourself by pouring in a bucket of water, and it doesn't have an actual toilet seat. [Side bar: I'm convinced there must be an alternate universe somewhere with a surplus of toilet seats but utter lack of toilets, because I have yet to find a toilet in Madagascar that still has its seat attached. I hadn't realized it was such a disposable accessory.] I have my own "shower" (pictured) outside on my balcony - I still have to shower just with a bucket of water, which I always boil first because it's very cold here.

With the move, I had been pretty worried about getting work going and accomplishing things with only a year left. But everyone in my new town is extremely "mazoto" (motivated, hard-working), and I've already gotten started. My second day in town, a guy from the mayor's office took me to a meeting of all the health educators for my commune so I could meet them. There are 22 "fokontany" (neighborhoods), each with 22 health educators. At the meeting I introduced myself, explained a little about my work, and encouraged them all to stop by my house or the clinic to schedule times to work together so I could get out into the countryside/more rural villages. While I was serious, I didn't really expect anything to happen without me taking initiative since that's how it was in my other village--any work I did was entirely started by my own effort. Already, I've had 3 people come by. This week is the mother & child health week that happens twice a year, when Vitamin A, deworming pills, and vaccines are given out to pregnant women and children under 5. I'll talk about the work I did for that in my next post. In November I will start teaching health classes at the high school, and hopefully the middle school as well although I haven't yet had a meeting with the principal of the middle school. I don't think I'll be working at this clinic as much as I had at my old site, but that's probably a good thing since it seems like I'll have enough other work to keep busy.

Last bit of news is that Jerry Marcoss was in Ambositra (my banking town) a couple weekends ago, so I went into town to see him. He's a HUGE pop star in Madagascar; I'd guess at least half of the hit songs on the radio are by him. (And get this: the tickets cost less than a dollar!) I went with another PCV, and it was a lot of fun. Definitely one of those things you just have to do in Madagascar!


  1. 1. I love that you are so immersed in the language that it comes to mind first for certain words before you think of the english word.
    2. You seem like you have work lined up already. A happy volunteer is a busy volunteer.
    3. I'm so glad that you can see more pcvs and even enjoy malagasy culture together.

    This new situation seems to be THE BEST thing that could have happened for you!! I love you wallykins. Keep up being awesome!

  2. Nice description!
    Ambositra is also known for the most drunken town in Madagascar.


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