Monday, December 12, 2011

All Work and No Play Makes a PCV a Dull Girl

Sorry for the once again very overdue post. A ton has happened in the past several weeks, but I’ll try to share the highlights.

In early November, I had my mid-service training, heading back to the training village where this whole adventure began. I hadn’t seen many of the other PCV’s from my training group since last December, so it was really great catching up with everybody. It also was a perfect opportunity to reflect on the first year of service and think about where I’d like the second year to be headed.

The first week of the training was only for health PCV’s and a counterpart from our site. A “counterpart” can really be anyone in the village—somebody we work with on a regular basis and who is likely to be heavily involved in future projects we may have. So we had quite a mix of people: doctors from the local clinics, mayors, community members. I brought along Perline, one of the village health educators I have worked with a few times out in the more distant parts of my village. The first few days of the training were a very in-depth malaria training. Peace Corps Africa is now engaging in a huge “Stomp Out Malaria” initiative, so we were brushing up on our malaria knowledge and learning new tools and ways to work on malaria projects. It was incredibly interesting for me, as doing malaria work was one of my primary motivations for wanting to join Peace Corps . . . but also a tad disappointing because my new village has an incredibly low incidence of malaria, and it really would be a poor investment of my time trying to do major projects on it when there are much bigger concerns in my region—clean water, family planning, STI’s. However, the rest of the week was much more applicable to the work I’ll likely be doing for the rest of service.

The second half of that week was a “Project Design Management” workshop, mostly with the intention of training up our counterparts, but it was also incredibly helpful for us PCV’s. We reviewed some of the tools for doing community analysis (to help a community identify and prioritize its needs, wants, and problems), and also learned about aspects of project implementation such as budgeting, task designation, goal-setting, etc. It was very valuable information and I know both PCV’s and counterparts learned a lot. It was also a fairly heavy reflection time for some of us PCV’s. Some of the sessions got a tad frustrating, as there’s sometimes a bit of a disconnect between what the PCV sees as his or her role, and what the community thinks the role of the PCV should be. The perception on the part of the Malagasy is typically that “vazaha” have lots of money, and that it should be used to fund the construction of physical things such as pumps/wells, school buildings, etc. Although some of the sessions got a bit heated, it was great reflection time for counterparts and PCV's alike in terms of development, the roles of outsiders, sustainable work, among other things. Wrestling with these questions and challenges has been one of the best aspects of Peace Corps for me.

The second week of the training, the education PCV’s joined us and had some additional sector-related sessions, but also had general administrative, safety/security, medical, etc. sessions from various staff members. The highlight of the week for me was definitely the prank war that Tisa, Ally, and I ended up in against our friend Raff. It all started with Tisa harmlessly swiping Raff’s brand new THB shirt. Now in order for you to understand the implications of this, you probably need a bit of background about THB. THB, or Three Horses Beer, is virtually the only beer available in Madagascar. It tastes awful and is not ever a selection that would be made by an intelligent person in America. In certain “vazaha” establishments, imported beer may be available, but is not generally the best option for a PCV's budget. Thus, many of our gatherings involve the consumption of THB. Additionally, the "THB tour" travels through Madagascar, doing promotions, putting on concerts, etc. These promotions often involve swing music and Elvis tunes blasting out of gigantic stereo systems, deals such as 10 small THB's for 10,000 Ariary ($5.00 US), and the distribution of free THB hats and shirts. These t-shirts are highly coveted by PCV's, as the acquisition of one is like a Madagascar PCV milestone. It is in so many ways symbolic of the experience here in general - that things never quite work out like you plan and you may often have to try to accomplish the same task more than once. (Case in point: attending a THB tour event is in no way a guarantee that one will receive a t-shirt, as they often run out very early on. I have seen the tour several times and do not yet have my shirt.) Thus, Raff was beyond excited about the acquisition of his THB shirt, and was therefore beyond distraught when it suddenly went missing. Thus commenced the prank war.

Several pranks were executed by both sides throughout the week, but here are the highlights: #1: Raff and his roommates, Paul and Israel, moving all of Tisa and Ally's belongings from their room outside, including all furniture, and identically replicating the setup of their room outdoors. #2: Us girls individually taping/pinning all of Raff's belongings to the ceiling. #3: Raff spraying me with shaving cream in the middle of the night (which I did not wake up to until much later, and thus had rolled around in it for quite a while). #4: The final kicker, the victory.....we took all of Raff's "madinika" (small bills, the equivalent of nicks and dimes, but the most frequently used currency here), and freezing it on a gigantic block of ice which was left out on display at the breakfast buffet. This elicited the remark of, "Awwwww. Alright, you win." Needless to say, it was a hilarious week and kept everyone's spirits high as we had to part ways and embark on the final year here in Mada.

I also had a great Thanksgiving celebration with some of the PCV's in my area: Monique, Carolyn, Natalie, Dan, and my sitemate Charity. Although I don't have any stories nearly as ridiculous as last year's diarrhea-ridden bird, it was still a phenomenal day. Natalie has a "real" oven (run off of charcoal), but we were able to pull of a legitimate (and DELICIOUS) roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, stuffing, salad, and many desserts. Great food, great friends, great times.

I have now been back in the village for a few weeks and am getting work underway. Charity and I have a meeting this coming Friday with village leaders about a possible water project. I have also been continuing cooking club, and have had a few new faces every week. I've also been teaching health classes at the high school and will hopefully have the Girls' Club underway by the end of January. So, it looks like things are going pretty well!

I will be spending Christmas in my village, but then going on vacation to Mahajanga with a bunch of girls for New Year's. I am VERY excited, since I really haven't seen much of this island yet and STILL haven't seen lemurs in the wild. (I know, I can't believe it myself!) Anyway, hope all is well and that you all have a very happy and blessed holiday season!

Love love.

PS: I apologize for the lack of photos. I have several ready to post, but this internet cafe is a little weird and I'm having trouble. Maybe next time!

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