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