Some people ask, ” What are your biggest challenges being a Peace Corps volunteer?”
A couple things come to mind…
1. Using holes as toilets and getting overly joyous when a kabone (hole in the ground) doesn’t have swarms of flies or larva flying around. Ew..
2. Forgetting what water pressure feels like and when the opportunity is available for a hot shower you burn yourself because your skin squints as the foreign heat approaches your body.
3. Being squished, okay squeezed, okay piled on top of people in a taxi brousse. Where normally 4 people sit comfortably you find yourself side by side toppled over 8 in one row. Don’t forget the chickens pecking at your heals, the baby gnawing at your purse strap, and the woman asking you to hold her voandalana (gift to bring home) while your butt cheeks have lost all sensation from sitting on the hot withered brousse seats.
4. Having people look at you all the time, let me repeat ALL the time. Kids yelling VAZAHA, while running circles around you.
5. Missing market day and making crazy concoctions of food for dinner- hoping for a good outcome. Personal favorite- (rice [of course], sakay [hot sauce], parmesan cheese [lifesaver! thanks mom] and some sardines) Don’t forget the PROTEIN!
With these every day challenges comes the joys, the ups, the reasons why we volunteers do what we do. Some great examples of these joys in the past year of service:
1. Waking up to my two little sisters (neighbors, but you know everyone is family once you live next to one another long enough) singing at 5 am. Then when they see that my door is open at 5:15 am they peak their heads in and yell “GOOODDD MOrrrrrNING CHARLOTTTTEyyyyy! Now that is a wake up call and a beautiful one.
2. Malagasy people are some of the most giving, sweet, and nurturing beings I have met. Yes there are those days where I have missed the market, taught 8 hours and wasn’t able to buy food for the night. I come home lay down on the floor (where it is much colder believe me it is HOT out here) and just here my tummy rumble. All of a sudden I here my Neny (host-mom) yell through the wood and palm tree panels separating our homes, “Mandroso SAKAFO!” This translates- “Come get some food girl!” I smile, and walk over to a pile of rice and my favorite, homemade lentils with garlic- we eat together and enjoy each others company.
3. Sometimes having people look at you all the time, curiously investigating your freckles and assuming you don’t shower, can be difficult. (People have told me I need to shower more because I have dirt dots on my skin… freckles are mysterious things- who would have known.) Yet, the benefits to having people look at you all the time is that you can then look at them all the time too! This leads to the ritual greetings, “Manakory, Ino vaovao?” Hey Whats up? Next thing you know you are having a full on conversation about their kids, their family, the rice fields, the weather. And, after all that you have either been invited for lunch, to the wedding ceremony next week, and undoubtedly to attend church with the family this coming weekend. Stares are a beautiful thing- get used to it, and embrace it.
4. Rice. I repeat. RICE. I had a love hate relationship with RICE when I first landed in Mada. Now, I can’t live without the white grains on my plate! I don’t feel full without eating rice and all my meals MUST include this beautiful RICE! haha.. okay really though I have grown to enjoy it- even if many times it involves cracking parts of my teeth on pebbles (or rocks) which were hiding in the grains.
5. My favorite UP this year and my most joyous moment: speaking Malagasy. I remember trying to learn Malagasy greetings through a Youtube video when I received my acceptance letter for Peace Corps.
youtube: repeat after me “Salama”
me (thinking): oh…goodness here we go..
Now a year later, I am impressed not only with how I have been able to adapt to this new culture, and new way of life, but how I have been able to express myself in Malagasy. I think in Gasy, I speak in Gasy, I even sometimes have DREAMS [I kid you not] in GASY! I love surprising Malagasy people with my Malagasy. They automatically think all foreigners are French (due to the fact that Madagascar was colonized by France, many people speak French here). They see me they revert to French, when I answer in Malagasy- an enormous smile appears. That smile is worth many many nights reading a Malagasy dictionary!