Charity and I have been trying to facilitate some water projects in our commune. The water situation for our village is sort of all over the place. For the most part, there is no running water for most of the 20,000 people that live in the many smaller villages that make up our commune. There are dozens of pumps scattered throughout; a few still run reliably, but most are broken for any number of reasons. Some simply need replacement parts, some do not have enough water flowing from the source, some have leaks and have worn down over time. So, we've been visiting the different villages to see the problems for ourselves, talk with community members, and try to figure out what solutions are practical, feasible, and something we can actually help with. This whole process has been an incredibly interesting experience for me.
I suppose there was a part of me that figured at some point during my two years of service, it would be really easy to get work done. As I got to know more people and as my Malagasy improved, I began to feel like eventually I'd reach a point when I didn't have to work so hard at everything. In some ways this has proven true--I am much better able to express myself and while I am far from fluent, every-day conversations have become much easier. I guess what I had never thought about is the fact that Malagasy people are human beings--just like Americans are--and that my own development alone would not be sufficient to successfully complete projects. We are all HUMAN beings. This means that no two people are the same, and that group dynamics are always tricky. Some people are very hard-working. Some are lazy. Some are timid. Some are outspoken. Some like to very involved in every step of the process. Some wait till they are called upon but then will go above and beyond the call. Some like to hear themselves talk. Some like to have things their way. There are people who don't like each other. There are people who gossip. There are people who blame others for their own mistakes. I do not in any way intend for this to be a negative reflection upon the Malagasy people on the whole. Rather, it is simply the realization that we are all flawed, and that working in a group is always a challenge--be that in an office in DC or in a rural village on an island in the Indian Ocean. It has taken a lot of patience and careful listening on my part trying to figure out what needs to be done.
What's tricky with my work as a PCV is that often, the process is far more important than the end result. Sometimes getting people to work together in a healthy and effective way means that they're empowered to solve their own problems in the future. Development is a slow process, but it has to begin somewhere. At the same time, the end result is important too--especially with something like a water project. It would be rather silly if we sat around talking through the issues but never tried to take further steps. Hopefully once we work through a lot of confusion, frustration, and past mistakes, we can use all of the information to move forward.
Despite some of the unexpected roadblocks, I still have a lot of enthusiasm for the projects. The communities we've been working with have all been incredibly friendly, welcoming, and eager to share information as well as hear new ideas. True to the Malagasy way, they have always been unbelievably hospitable. We have at the very least been served a meal (often with soft drinks and meat--typically reserved for holidays and truly special occasions), and are usually also sent home with several pounds of potatoes, bags of rice, pineapples, eggs, or other food items. It is obvious that everyone appreciates our willingness to try to help, and we are well taken care of.
One village was especially fun. They threw a whole party for us, complete with soft drinks, biscuits (not like American biscuits, but the French word meaning cookie--here they're packaged and taste sort of like shortbread cookies), and "toaka gasy" (moonshine) for the men. We thought we were only going to be meeting with a couple of men who were going to show us the issues at the water source. So, we were completely surprised when we arrived and were greeted by about 20 people ready to throw a small party. We watched as several people dipped a small twig in the toaka and sprinkled it on the concrete structure surrounding the water source (in the background of the first photo). We were then told it was absolutely necessary we do it ourselves as it is "FOMBA MALAGASY!" (Malagasy custom) When in Madagascar, do as the Malagasy do, right? In any case it was a fun morning, and we learned a lot about the issues regarding water in that particular community. That's my sitemate, Charity, on the right, so you all know who I'm talking about.
I'm including one more picture with my counterpart, Perline. She's a local health educator that has received training from NGO's and I've worked with her on a lot of things. We've gone out to various villages to give health education talks, and she has helped coordinate some of the water work in the commune. She's also the person I took to the project design management training back in November (where this photo was taken). So, now you know who she is too.
Further updates to come soon! Love love.