Friday, December 25, 2009

Trantry ny Krismasy!

Merry Christmas! And a soon to be Happy New Year! As I type this I am listening to Kaley’s Bachelorette CD (shout out- miss you girl!) with my roomies Katie and Nicki here in Mantasoa, Madagascar. We live in a beautiful paradise that looks a lot like Washington state (so I’ve been told). We live on a lake in the rain forests outside of Antananarivo where we can go canoeing, mountain biking and hiking everyday. There are rice paddies, fresh fruits, gorgeous flowers and beautiful birds. It’s almost as 180 as you could get from the deserts of Niger- and our clothing reflects it. We are currently all housed together on a single compound that is reminiscent of sleep-away summer camps, complete with chefs that cook our every meal, and cleaning ladies that also do our laundry once a week. We are being spoiled rotten right now, and we know it. Today, as a Christmas present, our training staff is taking us to Andasibe Nat’l Park. It’s the only home of the indri- the world’s largest lemur whose call is said to be one of the most haunting noises in nature. It will be the sound that I will be waking up to for the next two years as my post is in a small town right outside of Andasibe. Yes, I found out my site placement finally, 2 months and 1 evacuation later! For the next two years I will be living in Antsapanana, with a lot of available projects at my fingertips. I could/will be doing some tree nurseries and fruit tree grafting, setting up vegetable gardens and working with ecotourism. I was told by my APCD (Associate Peace Corps Director) that I will be working closely with an NGO known as SAF/FJKM around the Andasibe area. I’m really excited by the prospect of my future job and projects and the fact that I’ll be able to go camping with the lemurs every weekend. I’m also super psyched that I share a banking town (Moramanga) with Katie and that we’re not too far from Nicki. I actually have a sweet “cluster” of people nearby; Amanda is within biking distance of me (I think) and Monica lives in the banking town. Kelly, Tom, Jaja, Jackson, Aaron, Dacia and Hannah are all pretty near too so we’ve got a great group. I’m sad that Chantel and Steph are pretty far away, but now I’ve got great excuses to visit the rest of the country. Mike is also set up in a sweet national park position right outside of Ranomafana- 11 lemur species, bird watching, beautiful botanicals and rare orchids. Others have great posts near the beach, or near dinosaur fossil archaeological sites or even in the unique spiny forests in the south where the various baobabs give it a Seussian appearance. Most are very excited about their posts and prospective jobs so it was a good Christmas.
Speaking of Christmas we also did a “Secret Santa” which has been tons of fun this past week. Mine got me a cute turtle figurine made of conch shell, a great wrap skirt, a beautiful hand crafted Malagasy kerchief, and this beautiful stationary with pressed flowers in the paper. We made paper stockings for each trainee and LCF here for ‘Krismasy’ and hung paper snowflakes and had a small decorated Christmas tree (just a large pine tree branch). We had our morning classes all snuggled up by a fire. And all day long we ate. It was a ridiculous amount of food- complete with sugar cookies on Christmas Eve, pancakes for breakfast, fruit cake for ‘morning pause,’ hot dogs for lunch and for dinner turkey, ham, and sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. They even rounded up some coconut ice cream from the capital for us, made us apple pie, mango cobbler and mint brownies. American gluttony at it’s finest- but we will soon be in the community eating rice for every meal until post so we enjoyed the feast tremendously.
In other news, we had our first market experience (a very successful one), learned Malagasy carols, and have started a most epic game of “Mafia.” Throughout this holiday season I have somehow managed to become our stage’s representative of the Jewish religion. I’ve regaled the Malagasy and my fellow trainees (some of whom have never known a Jew before) with the story of Chanukah and the other Jewish holidays. I’ve also given a few presentations on bike maintenance and repair to my fellow trainees. We also got a brief history lesson on Madagascar and I would recommend anyone looking for a chuckle to check out the latest in Madagascar politics. A year ago a radio DJ decided to declare himself president (though there already was one and had been on for several years) and due to technical difficulties surrounding a speech made by the then president, the DJ has somewhat succeeded at becoming the president. It’s certainly interesting, and I wish we had internet and news at our fingertips to read more about it.
Though it’s been two long months of close quarters and consolidation, many of us have formed really strong bonds and friendships. Our impending departure from the training sight is both sad and exciting. Our language will improve in leaps and bounds once we move off site into a host family for the last three weeks of training. It will also make swear in that much more sweet as it will be the last time we’re all together again, at least until IST (in service training). I’ve got a good group of friends here that will be a great support for me especially in the beginning, so I’m very thankful. I’ve also been healthy ever since Niger (a little bit of hip pain- probably over exercising after being sedentary for so long) so that’s been great too. Life in Madagascar is pretty great right now though the holidays were a challenge for me with home-sickness. I miss you all and am glad to have been able to chat with a few people this past month. Send me text messages or try and call me on Skype. My phone service will be pretty good at site and I won’t be changing my number after all.
Sorry if this entry doesn’t make the most sense or flow very well. As I work on learning another new language I find my English skills lacking. Anyway, I miss you all. I hope Santa was very kind to you this Christmas/ Chanukah season and that you ring in the New Year (new decade) in health and with your loved ones all around. I know I miss mine. Next time I post it will be 2010 and I could be a sworn in PCV! Woohoo!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sai anjima Niger!

So much has happened since last I wrote in Konni. Let me first give a picture of daily life for the first month of training here in Niger.5 am- Call to prayer and loud animals wake me from sleep. I sleep outside under a mosquito net and a bat infested Neem tree. 6:30 ish- Go for a run with some of my fellow trainees.7:30 ish- bucket bath in my outdoor latrine
8:00- head to the main street for some breakfast. Usually either fried dough covered in sugar, fried millet covered in spices or delicious Solani- yogurt in a bag.
8:30- language classes begin. I have class with two of my fellow stage members in my host family’s concession. We are constantly and hilariously distracted by either the braying donkey or crying goats, and it took a while for the mean guard turkey to leave us alone. Classes go until 4:15 everyday and we have an hour break for lunch in the middle.
For the rest of the evening I either chill by the seasonal lake of Hamdallaye with some of my friends or I chill with my family and play with Aicha, the 6 year old daughter.
7 pm- Dinner! Lunch and dinner are usually either rice and beans or rice and ‘sauce’ or the occasional pasta and oil. My roommate and I actually eat pretty well (and always with our hands) compared to our fellow trainees that often times have Tuwo for dinner- a pounded millet dish that doesn’t compare to anything American. They tell us we will grow to love it- but for right now it’s not my favorite Nigerien dish.9pm usually finds me in bed already, reading, studying, or writing in my journal.
That was my routine until November 15. We were put under consolidation and have been confined to the training site just north of Hamdallaye. There was a security issue involving Americans in a region a few hundred kilometers away from the training site, but it was serious enough for them to put a lock down on all the volunteers in country. So we have not been living with our families or able to go into town (aside from going to the market). We had a trip to the capital of Niamey scheduled that was cancelled as well. For the past two weeks the administrative forces of Peace Corps Niger have been working hard to asses our safety and our status. They came to the conclusion on November 25 that as trainees with limited language and limited knowledge of what is normal and safe and what is out of the ordinary that it would be in our best interest and for our best security to evacuate us from Niger and send us to a different country.
So we are going to Madagascar. From desert to rainforest. From land locked, to island. From millet tuwo and onions to abundant fresh fruit and vegetables. From ‘hard core’ to ‘beach corps.’ Despite how hard it may seem to live in Niger and how intimidated we all were 6 weeks ago when we landed- Niger and it’s people have this amazing charm and we are all terribly sad to be leaving such a wonderful country. If given the option to choose between staying and going to Madagascar it would not be an easy decision. Our supporting staff was beyond amazing, our host families so hospitable and the volunteers in country that we are leaving behind (the volunteers in country get to stay if they want- just us trainees are being forced to leave) will be so sorely missed. I hope to be able to keep in touch with a few- especially one guy that was an evac from Guinea that went through training with us but has already been sworn in and is therefore staying. We will be leaving Niger Sunday night at midnight, arriving in Paris Monday morning, flying out of Paris Tuesday and landing in Antanarivo Tuesday night. A lot of travel but I’m just excited to get the opportunity to be reassigned so quickly and with my ‘new family’ of fellow trainees. We also get to spend a full day in Paris as a layover. Party time? Excellent! As a farewell to Niger, here are some highlights of the country and the people. The country looks a lot like Arizona, red sand, some small brush and a few trees (depending on region) It’s gorgeous at sunrise and sunset and the nights are lit by a thousand beautiful stars that we sleep under. The people are so welcoming and always laughing. The women here do this throat click or swift inhale when they agree with you which took a while to figure out, but it’s something I love. Market days (Tuesday for Hamdallaye) are the most amazing days when the town transforms into this bustling hullabaloo full of beautiful fabrics, cheap flip flops, live animals and interesting foods. There’s also a ridiculous amount of Obama paraphernalia here; Obama wallets, Obama shirts with a clock in the background (Obama time!), and more. Half of conversations are taken up by greetings, Ina kwana, ina gajiya, ina gida, ina aiki. How’s you sleep, your tiredness, your home, your work. We just celebrated the holiday of Tabaski (Salla laya) where families slaughter a ram and cook it all up and share with their neighbors and the needy. It’s a lot like Thanksgiving, lots of food and family time. We also had a Nigerien Olympics where the Americans had to run an obstacle course with buckets of water on our heads and 'babies' strapped to our backs, we had to pound peanuts to peanut butter and make the best cup of Nigerien tea with authentic technique. Then we made our teachers and staff go through an American Olympics with pin the tail on the donkey, tug-of-war and the most awesome game of musical chair. The Nigeriens really loved musical chairs. It was fantastic fun. I love this country and am sad to leave but look forward to working an environmental job in Madagascar. Send me mail there! Danny and Jillian I've loved getting your letters they brighten my day. I know others have sent me mail and I anxiously await the arrival of mail each week. Thank you all for your love and support so far, I'll be chatting soon!
New address:
Ms Sara Tolliver, PCT
Bureau de Corps de la Paix
B.P. 12091
Poste Zoom Ankorondrano
Antananarivo 101Madagascar

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hi from Koni, Niger

Hi friends and family. Internet is frustratingly slow here but we have a new motto in Niger. Sannu Sannu, sai hankuri. slowly slowly, have patience. i miss you all. im running out of time online but i want you all to know i'm happy and healthy and having a good time here, everything is so different (even this keyboard). i can't wait to contact you all and let you know about my adventures.
know that although its hot the nights are cooling. i'm learning to garden and learning Hausa. the culture here is so different but people are the same the world around. it's amazing!
letters are expensive to send from here (3 coca colas = 1 letter to the states or to cameroun) but i loooooooove receiving all forms of mail. so please do it often. i will be getting a cell phone soon and may be able to access the internet more frequently in about a week and a half and up until training is over. if you want to ever be able to talk to me sign up for skype and find out how much it cost to call a cell from the internet. if not send letters and ill send some back though you might not get african postage. also respond to this blog or send me emails or write on facebook. ill respond to what i can when i can!
i miss everyone a lot!
all my love

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In JFK!!

Hey guys! Last contact from me for a bit. I'm sitting in JFK airport about to board onto AirFrance. Soo exciting! What a whirlwind the last 24 hours have been. I've met my group of 38 new friends that will be traveling and training with me. They're all super nice, super adventurous, and it seems like each person has their own great story. I'm so lucky to get to share in this experience with great people. Orientation and Yellow Fever shots, I'm now officially a PCT (peace corps trainee) and ready to go. I love you all. Thank you for the goodbyes and well wishes. I'll be writing, especially if you write me!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Boston and beyond!

Brace yourself- this post is a long one. I'm terrible at recapping. I'm sure I'll hone those skills while abroad but please endure for now.
So, I went to Boston last week. It was amazing. The weather was gorgeous- like a glorious mid December day for south Florida but it was September.
I spent Friday walking all around with my cousin Amy. We saw Beacon Hill, Newberry Street, the commons, a man doing tai chi in the gardens, and flocks of old people passing through Harvard's undergrad campus.
Friday night I met up with the most amazing people. I'm so thankful Danny came in from NY, and that CC, Lea and Neil were there too. They made my visit so special. I haven't seen Neil in probably 4 years so that was so cool! CC was the champ of the evening, enduring a crazy change of bars, finishing off my first crappy drink, and walking all the way back to HBS with me. Thanks CC!
Saturday, Matt and I went apple picking with the Rubins of Braintree and we got ice cream at the most bizarre ice cream shoppe/ family fun park ever in Harvard, Mass. It was great to spend time with them. Saturday evening I got to see some Bike and Builders! Rachel made the trek in from NY. Spending time with her, Matt and Anahita was a blast! Especially since we got to watch some pro-cycling. The B and B gang along with Matt's friend Robert (who witnessed me befriend a subway full of people in 10 mins- awesome!) met CC, Danny and Neil (and Neil's posse) Saturday night over beers and $1 hotdogs.
Sunday morning/afternoon brought the first of my rough goodbyes ("see you later"s actually). Danny had to head back to NY after the gang brunched together. Danny if you read my blog- I expect mail in the form of awesome cartoons. I'll need them! I spent the rest of the afternoon chillin' with Lea. Sun night my brother, his wicked awesome roommate, and another of their friends met the bike and builders and some of Anahita's friends at a restaurant called Algiers cafe. Algiers happens to share a border with Niger, so it was perfect!
Monday I sat in on a HBS class with Matt. I read the case the night before so I understood and really enjoyed the class discussion. Everyone that spoke said something relevant, succinct, and intelligent. But what else is to be expected from a grad class at Harvard? Matt and I also, unintentionally, wore matching shirts. I reveled. We caught 3/4 of a classical piano concert on campus and then I headed over with Lea to bother CC at work. We sat there without ordering because of the fast and were a complete distraction. I broke fast that night with my brother and family in Braintree. Kugel, bagels, salad and tuna- can't beat it. My aunt also made apple coffee cake from the apples we had picked on Saturday. Mmmm.
Tuesday came too soon but was the end to the perfect trip. Lea, CC and I got lunch (I saved my sandwich for the plane ride- delicious!) and shared some blackberry ice cream. I met Matt on campus to have lunch with Matt in HBS's main dining hall. It looked like it belonged in the magical school of Hogwarts- the hall was gorgeous and the food was delicious.
Boston was great and I'm so happy I got to go visit before heading off to PC.

Since Boston, I went mountain biking with my friend Jay. Terrifying and exhilaratingly fun at the same time, though I certainly did wuss out quite a bit. Thanks for taking me Jay!

Jillian came down from Gville and Laurin came up from Miami (with Kimbo in tow!) ad we hung out Friday night. I miss S167 like crazy, so it was nice to be reunited with my roomies again. Laurin spent the night at my place and hung out for a while on Sat before heading back south. Glorious!
Both of my brothers came in for the weekend too! All 5 Tollivers together in one household for the last time in the next 2 years. I love my family so very much. My Mom hosted a dinner bash for my family and close family friends on Saturday night. I need a new synonym for great/wonderful/glorious but it really was just so special to have everyone over.

It'll be strange to come back in two years and my cousins will have shot up like weeds. As will my neighbors' kids. Even my younger brother still has some growing left to do. My older brother will have an MBA from Harvard. My younger brother will be nearly done at FSU. Jillian will have her MSM. Lynn will be done with OT school. Hopefully the Gators will have won at least one more championship (Go Gators) :)

Today both my brothers left to head back to school. I won't see them again for a long time. That's really hard to handle, but I have to. I love you both so very much. You mean the world to me and I hope your academic endeavors prove to be fruitful as well as fantastically fun. You better write back to the hundreds of letters I'll be sending your way.

Goodnight for now and salamu alaikum!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

One month...

I will be in Philly for orientation in a month. It's so crazy soon, I feel like I have so much to do still! Things are starting to come to order, as I have started to amass the things I'll take with me for the next two years. I need need NEED to make a scrapbook- and by scrapbook I mean photo album. I'm not nearly crafty enough for scrapbooking. Let's be honest.
I also have to continue eating delicious food that I won't have for a while. Mom made a delish mock Thanksgiving dinner tonight- since I won't be home for turkey day state side. Sooo yummy. I love my family. Is that corny to say? Who cares.
I've been reading up on tree planting and goat milk processing as well as 3000 other things I find relevant/interesting.
I need to find some books to bring with me that I want to use my awesome Barnes and Noble gift card on. Recommendations?
Last time I posted I was headed to Gainesville. That was a ton of fun- I love my 'family' there and, boy, I do love my Gators.
This time though, I'm headed to Boston... on Thursday! I'm very excited to see my "peeps" up there. It'll be sad to say goodbye- but it's only for a few years. There's a pro cycling race, a potential birthday celebration, possible "free cupcakes" from a local bakery, Harvard business school classes to sit in on, and hopefully a holiday to spend with my Northeasterly family. It will be good times.

à plus

Thursday, September 3, 2009


So, I'm going to Niger!
"Oh wow!! Wait...where is that?"

Niger is north of Nigeria, landlocked, 80% Sahara Desert and one of the poorest African nations. I'll be heading over there on October 19th to train for a few months before heading to my small village. I will be trying to develop irrigation farming, planting of fruit trees as well as focusing on small animal husbandry. No, not marrying animals. Jokers. I'll be promoting chicken vaccinations, and the healthy raising and utilization of goats in all their caprigenous glory. I'm soooooooooooooo excited!
Until that time I'm takin' care of business...
Today I got the last of my medical paperwork done, took care of my passport and my visa, and read a whole lot more.
Tomorrow I head to G'ville to say goodbye to my former home away from home before leaving for Niger. I'm so excited to see everyone and go to a Gator game, even if it's against Charleston Southern (who?).
Zo-cial, gator game, and Bob's riverplace. It's going to be a pretty sweet weekend.
Au revoir!