Monday, March 1, 2010

One month in...

February 13, 2010
I’m continuing to get more comfortable in my village. I was invited to speak at an event for all the schools in my commune (about 8 of them I think); I did a (very) short presentation on hand washing and nutrition and sang two Malagasy songs (regarding each topic) for about 250 people (mostly kids and teenagers). This was all done in one of those bull horn/microphone things. I went fairly well I think; they especially seemed to enjoy my songs. Here are the words and the rough translations:

Zaza Manasa Tanana (children wash your hands) *to the tune of “wheels on the bus”
Zaza manasa tanana, tanana, tanana (children wash your hands, hands, hands)
Zaza manasa tanana (children was your hands)
Jereo ny tanana (look at my hands)
Madio ny tanana (my hands are clean)

Sakafo volanjalanja (Balanced food) *to the tune of “oh my darling”
Fanorenana (building foods *ie “grow foods” - proteins*)
Fiasana (working foods *ie “go foods”- carbs*)
Fiarovana koa (protecting foods too *ie “glow foods” – fruits and veggies)
Volanajalanja (balanced)
Miovaova (variety)
Lanjalanjao (balanced)
Ny sakafonao (your food)
Mihinan-kena (eat meat)
Mihinan’ ovy (eat potatoes)
Mihiana anana sy paiso (eat greens and fruit)
Voatabia, tsaramaso (tomatoes, beans)
Dia ho salama ianao (then you’ll be healthy)

I did not write these songs myself… I got them from one of the language teachers during training. Not much else has been going on, just the regular daily routine.

March 1, 2010
I have been here for just over a month now, and time has gone by pretty quickly. My language is getting better slowly, but is still not great yet (which actually turns out to be amusing at times). One day at the clinic, a man came in with an STD and I told him he really needs to be using condoms when he has sex, and I asked if he knew how to properly use a condom. Before he could answer the nurse told me to just go ahead and explain it. Of course, I don’t really know any technical jargon really, so I wound up saying the few words that I could get out while demonstrating with an old condom and a wooden penis that Peace Corps issued us for just such an occasion. After a lot of awkward laughter and the nurse re-explaining the parts I fumbled through, he seemed to get it, and maybe was just grateful that the whole thing was over (at least I was).
Since I have a lot of free time on my hands (something I know I will miss when I come back home), I’ve been doing a lot of reading, playing guitar, and exploring my neighborhood on my bike. The other day I went riding out in the fields and I found this great big tree that provides a lot of shade, and while sitting underneath it I can enjoy a gorgeous view of the fields and mountains that surround me. I’ve enjoyed going out there and just sitting or reading a book. Another day, I went further down the path and found this creek that I think leads into the major river right by me. I was walking on top of the rocks that go across it when I man came up and started talking to me, but I couldn’t really understand what he was saying. I know he said something about the creek, and I think it may have been that there are alligators in it. I’m not sure, but I’m not about to go looking to find out.
All in all, things are going well, and I’m enjoying myself, but I do miss home sometimes. So, if you want to help with that and are feeling generous and want to send me something, here is a list of things that would be greatly appreciated:
***letters are always appreciated… my address is on the side bar
*books (any book that you enjoy will do. I’m also interested in the Kathy Reichs – creator of the show Bones – novels)
*Magazines (again, any will do – gossip/trashy, news, decorating… maybe anything but the food ones… that would probably just make me hungry and jealous)
*(on that topic) Food – anything that will keep for a while, as it takes about a month and a half to get to me… such as granola/protein bars, peanuts/cashews/pistachios (any sort of nuts really), things that can be cooked on a stove top that don’t have to be frozen or refrigerated (mac & cheese), candy is good too (note that peanut m&ms don’t melt)

Also if you ever have the time, please call me. My number is: 011 261 033 05 901 76 or you can dial +261 033 05 901 76. You can use skype or just an international calling card.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Another update?!?! (dont get used to the frequent updates direct from me)

Hello again!
I’ve been at my site for 1 week now, it’s certainly been a change of pace. I’ve been going to the CSB (health clinic) each morning and trying to help out by teaching about different health topics (note, this isn’t very effective yet because the nurse has to re-translate into better Malagasy, or a least a form of it people understand better). I also spend a lot of time observing and trying to learn more of the language. You’d be hard pressed to find me around my town without my 2 dictionaries (Malagasy to English and English to Malagasy). I’ve seen stitches both put in and taken out… which is quite different than anything I’ve ever seen in the states (lets put it this way… no suture kits and not anesthetic; just betadine, alcohol, needles, scissors, and string).
I’m usually at the CSB for the first half of the morning than I am free to just do whatever… walk around, read, ride my bike, play guitar (I’ve written 2 songs already since moving to site), anything really. However, by no means am I leaving in the lap of luxury. My house while quaint and cozy, is also a semi-hot box slash large oven seeing as my walls and roof are made out of tin. It gets up to anywhere between 100º and 110º during the day, and down into the upper 70s at night (note this is the middle of the night while I’m asleep). Since I have no electricity and I shut all my doors and windows once it gets dark out (so the mosquitoes don’t come in), I usually am in bed by 7:30-8 and read by flashlight until I start to fall asleep. I use a lot of candles at night so I can see while I cook my dinner and then get ready for bed… I will be amazed if there is no incident involving this. Actually come to think of it, I have already burned myself on some dripping wax (I’m sure none of you are surprised). No other (minor or major) accidents to report so far.
Other things about how I live here… I use a “kabone” (aka outhouse otherwise known as hole in the ground). My biggest fear is falling in and getting stuck (it’s legitimate… the floors are made of wood and if they rot out… there goes Jess into a really shitty situation… quite literally. My shower is more of a space right next to the kabone. I had to fix the door a bit with some string in order for it to stay closed (I had some issues with the little kids staring as I showered for the first time there… had to yell at them to go away then and again when I was trying to change). I found out that my tolerance for children ends at my own personal room… I don’t really like them there. I’ve started to get used to the staring (mostly from the children) while I do anything… reading, dishes, laundry, cooking, etc; still slightly obnoxious.
I have to get my water from a well that is 200 meters away. The water level is about 20 feet down, and I’ve been borrowing peoples buckets with rope to retrieve my water. They laugh at me because I almost always have to stop and rest on my way back (note I am carrying 2 buckets FULL of water). They told me I need to learn how to carry it on my head… we’ll see if this happens.
Anyway, I’m quite happy where I am. I do miss home and all my friends and family, but it won’t be long until I’m back again.

written on the 26th of Jan

Hey all!
So I finally have time to update this… sorry for all the delay. It’s been crazy busy throughout training with trying to learn a whole new language and getting technical training and all that jazz. Today is swear-in day… YAY! Approximately 12 weeks of being a trainee I will finally get to be an official volunteer.  I’m really excited to get started on my service and get up to my sight. Since the roads here aren’t exactly the best, another volunteer and I have to fly up to our sites on Wednesday, then we spend the next day or two being “installed” by a Malagasy Peace Corps employee.
Anyway, I promised that I would write some funny/interesting stories, so here are some (in no particular order other than me thinking of them in this order):
So we all know just how clumsy I am normally, and it is even more pronounced here. The first day that we moved in with our host families, I was unpacking trying to get soap and other things out of a plastic container when I feel a sharp pain on my finger. Apparently the safety on my razor fell off and the pain I felt was the razor leaving a fairly sizeable gash just below the nail on my middle finger. I was able to clean it up and now (3 weeks later) it is completely healed, with only a small scar in it’s place.
The path leading up to my host family’s house was very steep and at times very slippery. I had almost mad it to the bottom of the hill walking to class one day when on the last step, my foot slipped, and I fell/slid the rest of the way down on my butt. Even if people didn’t see me actually fall, they all knew by the tell tale sign of the dirt stain on my pants.
A few days later I was walking around the village with my host mom and two other trainees and their host mothers. We were walking down these really steep steps and right when my foot hits the road, it slips and I (once again) hit the ground. Definitely bruises on the butt and scrapes on the arm this time… awesome.
Last week, myself and another trainee walked up to the local “vazaha” (foreigner) hotel (that took about an hour and 45 minutes to walk to). On the way there, I once again tripped over my own to feet and fell on my knees (only a scrape or two) but walking back was a different story. Part way back it started mini-cyclone-ing outside, causing my umbrella to flip inside out multiple times, so much so that it was absolutely pointless as I was COMPELTELY drenched. Then when we were about 15 minutes away from my house, I fall flat on my face… again. I have huge bruises on my legs, sizeable cuts on my feet and matching bruises underneath the nails of the 2nd toe on each foot. I’m kind of a mess… but at least it makes for semi-funny stories. 4 falls in less than 3 weeks… that’s not great. It will be amazing if I make it through the two years here without some sort of semi-serious injury (ie broken bone or very large gash). I guess only time will tell.
Other funny things that have happened... I was sitting with my host family at breakfast talking about the partial solar eclipse that was going to happen that day (I didn’t get to see it cause I was in class) when my 7-year-old host sister says “yeah there’s going to be an apocalypse!” umm… not quite sweetie, but close. The mom and I could not stop laughing.
Another time, all the health trainees were walking back from the market (a good 40 minute walk) when my host father rides up next to us on his bike, and had very obviously been drinking (mind you this is 11am on a Saturday). He kept trying to talk to everyone, but most people weren’t very responsive because he just kept saying the same things over and over and not really getting the hint that we wanted him to just ride on ahead of us. After 40 minutes of sheer awkwardness, we got back to the house when he asks me “why don’t your friends want to talk to me? Is there some sort of problem? Do they not like me?” (this is all said in Malagasy, FYI) and I wanted to say it’s because we really don’t like talking to annoying drunk Malagassy men, but I couldn’t say this because it’s not fomba (culture) to call out a person when they’re drunk, because they will just get offended and deny it. Instead I said “I don’t know, I think everyone was just tired from walking.” What was great was at lunch my host mom totally called him out on being drunk (which he of course denied by saying that he only had one beer… which doesn’t really mean anything cause he’s only 60 kilos and the beers here are HUGE). But he eventually did agree that he likes to talk a lot when he drinks. It was pretty funny, but very awkward nonetheless.
The stay with my host family was great, and training was as much fun as it was stressful. It’s been a long haul just to get to be a volunteer, but I know that it’s so worth it. I leave tomorrow morning, bright and early. I’m sad to be leaving all my new friends but I’m also really excited to get started. I know time will fly.
Hopefully, I will be able to update this a little more since I will (maybe) have regular access to internet once a month.
Love and miss you all!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

I've Arrived at Post


I’m sitting in my room right now and it is 99 degrees Fahrenheit! THIS IS THE PEACE CORPS!

Getting here was an adventure. After we had our swearing in ceremony, Maya and I got a flight via Air Madagascar from Tana to Sambava. A Peace Corps escort and a driver met us. We did some shopping for pots & pans and other household items. We then drove about an hour and a half to Maya’s town. There are police stops along the road where the gendarmes stop everyone asking for ID cards and vehicles are inspected. Peace Corps has given us a “Laissé Passe” ID card, so we can travel freely.

Maya has a lovely house that is completely furnished with electricity and running water. Basically all she had to do was move in. I was not so lucky. We (Maya) came along too, continued northward another hour to my village. The Mayor of the village had the keys to the house, but he was not there. We were told that he was, “on his way”, but in Malagasy terms that doesn’t mean a whole lot. He could have been there in a couple of hours or a couple of days. We continued on another hour to my banking town, the closest major town to me which is 30Km away, to set up bank accounts and get our post office boxes. We spent the night at a hotel in Vohemar and it was lovely.

We then drove back to Fanambana and I finally got to see my house on Friday. The house was completely empty. There is no electricity and no running water. We went drove back to Sambava and bought a gas camping stove, then back to Vohemar where I purchased a bed, table and chairs. I have no refrigerator, nor oven.

The house itself has 2 rooms (sort of). It is made of corrugated tin and reinforced with some wooden beams. A bamboo wall separates the living area from my sleeping area. The tin walls are painted white. The bathroom is a separate little building – nothing more than a hole in the ground and filled with creepy crawly things. I wash my clothes with a bucket. I wash my dishes in a bucket and I wash my body with a bucket. The town well is about 200 meters down the road and yes I have to get my own water and carry it back to my house.

There are tons of mosquitoes, especially at night and in the early morning so I am sleeping with my mosquito net tucked in around my bed.

I did go to a Catholic Church Service today, but there was no Communion service. The people seemed very friendly. I did meet the Malagasy nurse/midwife who I will work with. She is going to teach me Malagasy and I will teach her English.

Well that is it for now. Send magazines. I am dying for news updates.



Saturday, January 30, 2010

I have a new address. It is:

Jessica Wisecarver
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 02 Iharana

Country Code 261

Note: If sending packages, please write my telephone number on the side or back of the package. THANKS

Sunday, January 24, 2010

More from Madagascar


Dear Mom & Dad,

Things are pretty good. It is pouring rain right now. It rains every night. While I was walking, it got so muddy, I slipped right out of my shoe.

I did two presentations called “Kabarys” in Malagasy. They were about acute respiratory infections and HIV/safe sex. One of the presentations was for my professor, the other I did at a local school.

I did go to church again and I thought the bench was going to break. The benches are made of plywood with no real center support. I was sitting next to the father of the family I am living with and two other rather large people sat next to me. I could feel the bench bowing. They read the Bible and then there is a sermon with lots of singing, but with no kind of communion service.

There was a solar eclipse the other night. One little 7-year old girl said, “Look! It’s the Apocalypse!”

I have discovered that the little children I live with do not understand the concept of “personal space”. They come to my room and just stare at me while I am studying. I made the mistake of allowing them to come in and watch the movie, Madagascar, on my computer. They have returned every afternoon to watch more videos. I told them it was broken. They are also very curious about my skin coloring. They pointed to my freckles and asked, “What is this?”

I heard about the horrible earthquake in Haiti. One of the other health volunteers has friends volunteering in Haiti. I understand the devastation is terrible.

Thank you very much. I did get the package you sent with the candy, nutria-grain bars, calendar and pill box. The candy is almost gone. I also received a postcard from Jon from Budapest dated 12-15-09

Could you please look into flights for me to return for Jon’s wedding?

Our swearing-in ceremony is Tuesday January 26th and then we should go to post right after that.

I will keep you posted.



Living with a Malagasy Family

I moved in with my host family.  My mom is 32 years old, dad is 38 and they have 3 children, a boy 9 years old, a girl, 7, and a girl 5.  They are very nice.  The house is in a small village.  The road to get here is horrible and requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle.  It is about a 20-minute drive from the Peace Corps complex.  We all had bruises from the car ride.

We went to Church earlier today.  The service was 2 hours long and the bench was rough.  There was a lot of singing, which was nice.  In the afternoon, my "mom" and I took a hike up to a big rock/mountain with Matt, Joanna and their "mothers:".  It was about a 30 minute hike and all the way up.  At the top we sang a  Malagasy version of “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.”

The bathroom is called a “kabone” It is basically a wooden outhouse on higher ground in the compound.  I have to duck to get through the door and the ceiling is so low that I cannot really stand up straight.  It is a hole in the ground and it is full of spidery things.

I have discovered why people here are so sick.  It is because of the way they prepare their meals.  They make mini-fires inside the house and the house fills up with smoke.  Almost everyone has an upper respiratory infection due to smoke inhalation.  Peace Corps is going to try to teach us to make a “cook stove” which should cut down on the amount of smoke and lessens the amount of firewood needed.  I did teach the little kids to cough and sneeze into their arms. 

Laundry is an interesting situation.  Nothing dries completely because of the dampness in the air.  I went to put on a shirt this morning and noticed that it was dry enough, but then the mom took it from me to check herself.  She put it to her face and said it was dry enough to wear.   Then one of the little girls put the shirt to her face so she could feel it too and a huge snot-bubble came out of her nose onto the shirt.  I had to wear it anyway, since I had no other dry semi-clean clothes.  So gross.

We actually wash our clothes in a pond in a rice field.  To get to the pond, there is a path about a foot wide. It is always slippery, muddy, and full of gnats and flies.  As I was trying to wash my clothes, I decided that it would be easier just to sit-down rather than fall down, so the pants I was wearing got filthy with mud.  My “mom” just started laughing and instructed her daughter to run back to the house and get a towel.  They had me take off my pants right in the rice field so I could wash them right then and there. 

We get water from a well that is at the corner of the rice fields, the path to which is steep and slippery.  The family gets income by farming, mostly rice.  They also have some livestock – chickens and a cow.  It is really cute when the mama chicken sits on top of the baby chicks when it is cold and you can’t even see them, except for a few beaks and feet sticking out.  Then she will stand up a little and you can see the little chicken feet sticking out.  Then, randomly all the baby chicks run out and it looks like a little clown car.  I help the family with the dishes, getting the water and taking care of the children.  Although, I can only carry one bucket of water and the boy can carry two buckets at the same time.  Peace Corps gives them money for food.  The food is great.  There are lots of fruits and vegetables – cucumbers, tomatoes, cassava.  They also make a wonderful fried banana bread.  

I am doing language training with Maya as we will be in the same part of the country.  The dialect is Sakalava.  It is very similar to French.  We should arrive to post at the end of January.  I will call you as soon as I find out what my mailing address is. 

I haven’t received any packages from you, but no one has yet to receive packages. 

I love you.