Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Here are some long overdue picts as well

This is the view from near my house. They have burned the hills ( slash and burn) so that the cows can have more area to graze.

This is a photo of my town/ village

This is the Catholic church where I go to service.

Some kids getting water from the pump near my house. It only runs 2x/day so we have to stock up when the pump is on.

The CEG ( middle school) where I work. My house is the one with the fense. The red roof building in one of my classrooms and the other building is the school's office.

These are some of the students in my 2nde class at the Lycee. ( 10th graders)

The office of the Lycee and one of my favorite English teachers. The teachers wear white coats like doctors here. Its a good way to keep chalk off your clothes.

Some of my students in 2nde. These two really are the sweetest girls.

Some more of my highschoolers. They made new desks which are no longer used in class.

This is the view from the Peace Corps training center. It is a really beautiful facility that sits right on the lake.

My training group right after swear-in at the Country Director's house. We are officially PCV's now.

this is my room during training.

The Ever Elusive Blog Post

Hello Again!

So, I have completed my first 7 months in country and it is officially the longest I have ever been away from home. Strangely enough, things I assumed were going to be most difficult about this experience seem to be fairly easy, and what I assumed would be easy seems to be giving me some trouble. I always figured that my biggest obstacle in Peace Corps would be the 27 month commitment. I have never been away from home for more than 4 months at a time, so 27 months seemed like an eternity. However, as time slowly but surely passes, I can see that my time in this beautiful place is limited. On the other hand, learning the language is harder than I anticipated. Non -romance languages and I never really got along, however. I came to this conclusion after a much butchered attempt at studying Arabic in college.

I finished my first three months at site and went for our In- Service Training (IST) conference. Peace Corps has a “check up” of sorts on its volunteers after their first 3 months at site. It, however, was rather inconvenient timing since it was the middle of finals at the high school, but whatever. I left my town on the 6th of December and traveled for about 4 days before reaching the capital, Antananarivo. I met other volunteers along the way and arrived in Tana with about 13 of my stagemates. The friday before IST, a guy from the embassy hosted a holiday house- warming rum party at his apartment. This man had free rum for everyone all night! Some people are just overpaid, lol :) Admittedly, however, I was a little apprehensive about the party since socializing with government officials is new for me. Turns out, the party was a lot of fun and I believe that I met all the Americans including a few very cute Marines in the country that night. It’s probably safe to say that every American in Madagascar is in some way connected to the Fed Gov or NGO worlds and PC swings in between the two.

IST lasted for about 5 days and during this time, I was able to visit again with my host mom and sister. I was a little hesitant to go see them because chatting for hours in Malagasy, which I still only half understand, was not as interesting as finishing my marathon of Dexter. Horrible, I know, but in my defense, the show is very addicting and when you have the whole season to watch at once, why wait?? I went anyway and it was very rewarding. My host sister, Fifa, was so excited to see me. I gave her a toy baobab for Christmas and my parents sent over a coloring book and crayons for her. I am sad to say that I kept the crayons and book for myself. As it turns out, coloring is a good stress reliever for me. My host mom told me that Fifa had been very sad because she thought I had gone home early and wouldn’t come back to visit them. After she told me this, I felt so guilty. I promised to come back and stay a few days the next time I was in town.

On our last day of IST, we were scheduled to have several meetings at the embassy. It has to be the funniest experience since being in country. To begin, we were searched and thoroughly. They were playing no games at all when it came to security. We went through a metal detector and they took away everything that might need even the slightest bit of electricity to work. Instead of it being the usual pain in my “you know what”, it was eerily refreshing and reminiscent of home. Once inside, it was like stepping into a different world. Actually, it was stepping into a different world. The doors opened themselves, there was a tile floor, and chairs not made of wooden slates. The bathroom had automatic toilettes and sinks! There was AC!!!! To a group of people that had spent the last 5 months with little to no electricity or running water, this was very refreshing. We were overjoyed and, of course, were laughed at by everyone who walked passed us as we, as a group, gawked at their huge, flat screen TV/ computer/ or projector thing (IDK). It was overwhelming and then to top it off, we had a pool party with a cash bar hosted by the Marines. I don’t even drink really, but they had imported beers. I haven’t even seen a Heineken since July, let alone Guinness. I had to buy a new swimsuit because the ultra conservative, “respect their culture” suit I bought before I left was just not appropriate for this event. This being Africa, I found a wonderful two piece (that fit) in the first store I walked into. This country defiantly has its perks :)

After our conference, I went to Antsirabe to do a cook stove project with a few friends. Glenda (Health PCV) wanted some help building a kitchen for the expecting mothers to use while they are in her clinic for labor and/ or delivery. A mother calls me over and asks me to hold her baby as she prepares to strap the little one on her back. So, I hold the baby as mom turns around and prepares the clothe and I struggle a bit turning the baby around so that she was in the correct position for mom to strap her. The other mothers laugh a little at the reminder that although I may look ‘Gasy, I am defiantly culturally not. I spend Christmas in and around Antsirabe where we attempt to merge everyone’s Christmas traditions so we wouldn’t be as home sick for the holidays. We managed my holiday tradition of baking cookies and they turned out delicious in our PC oven. We even made our own vanilla extract. New Years was spent in Fianaratsua (I’m still not sure of the spelling there) which is my favorite city in Madagascar. It was a ton of fun and was my first time actually going out on NYE. I am usually in church with the fam. After that, I made my way back to site where I currently sit. I am excited to begin 2011 and to get back to work. Brian and I have some really cool projects that we are working on and it should be a very exciting year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Adventures on the other side...

I, Erica Wherry, am officially a teacher. I moved into my permanent site about a month before I actually had to start working. I was supposed to be settling into my house and acclimating myself with the community, but for the most part, I was just bored and doing a lot of nothing. But, school has started and has added some fun to my life again. Somewhat surprisingly, I really do like teaching. I was not so sure that I would actually enjoy teaching English to a group of people who understood little to nothing of what was coming out of my mouth. I had some practice with that when I interned/volunteered with the IRC and at times it could be really very stressful. So, needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive of my new job. My first day of school sucked horribly. But, I was expecting that since speaking with Ana, a PCV who lives in the north of Madagascar, and a good friend of my sitemate. She told me that day 1 would be horrible, but it would get better and it did.

I am teaching 6 classes in total, making for 16 hours of class time a week. I have the entire 6th grade equivalent and the entire 10th grade equivalent also. There are between 60 and 75 students in each of my classes, so that makes for a grand total of over 300 kids. How do I learn that many names, especially Malagasy names?? I discussed this problem with some fellow ED PCV’s who told me that they were planning to give their kids English names. Others said they would just call them by their school assigned numbers. I knew that there was no way I was calling people by a number and initially I was not a huge fan of giving them English names either. But, when I found out that I would have over 300 students, I decided to try English names because there was no way I was learning 300 Malagasy names when I couldn’t pronounce them anyway. So, I make a list of names to write on the board for my students to choose from. I really enjoyed making my list and actually laughed a bit while doing so.

I borrowed the names of my college and high school friends, family members and even biblical names to make my list. On the first day, with my first class I explained the classroom rules and consequences (which had been translated into Malagasy so they would clearly understand). I am playing no games. I told y’all it’s over 50 of them and I am only one person. I can’t have a misbehaved class. Can you imagine 60 bad 6th graders in one room?? It’s not happening. So after they copied the classroom rules into their notebooks, I tried to explain the name game. For the most part, it was a miserable failure, but for those who caught on, I had some really fun combinations (Robyn Simone, Lindsay Nicole, Adrienne Jane, Samara Ann, Rachel Louise, Eleisha Gina, Christine Ashley, Malcolm Jamal, Timothy Marcus, Brian Andrew…). I am still figuring out how exactly I will do grades because I am not about to grade 300+ tests/ homework assignments/ projects 4 times each before Christmas either.

One good aspect of having the entire 6th grade and the entire 10th grade is that neither of these levels are tested nationally. Therefore, I do not have to follow the national curriculum so closely and I also do not have to keep up with other English teachers because I will not have to do a combined final. So, I can pretty much schedule my class exactly how I want to. I can skip the vocabulary which no one uses anymore and I can teach only what I want. Everyone in the 6ieme is on the same level (with English competency at zero) and really excited to begin learning the language. The kids see it as a sort of game, “let’s try to guess what Ms. Erica is talking about”. They will shout out the French or Malagasy equivalent and have a lot of fun matching the languages. They were a bit confused one day when I wrote the date. At home, the date is written month/day/year, but here it is written day/month/year. During one class, I wrote the date on the board (November 15, 2010) and a students sais “tsy meti, Ms. Erica”. He wants to show me that I had made a mistake somewhere. I looked at the word “November” again to make sure I had spelled it correctly and I had. Then I motion for him to come to the board and hand him the chalk to fix my error. He promptly erases the date I had written on the board and writes 15 November 2010. I tell him thank you and then explain in Malagasy that in America we write the date with the month first. I tell them that I will always write the date in this way, but that it is acceptable for them to write the date with the day or the month first. It was cute; I do know how to correctly write the date even if I am not completely fluent at speaking Malagasy or French.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! I have to work. We do not get American holidays :(

Friday, October 15, 2010

Another One, Finally!

Hi everyone,

I know it has been a while since I actually posted a new letter, so this one is long overdue. Well, as of now, I am officially a real Peace Corps Volunteer. I passed my language profiency exam and swore-in as a volunteer a few weeks ago. I am super excited to be finished with training and eager to begin my Peace Corps service in Madagascar. I arrived to my permanent site about 2 weeks ago and will begin teaching school on Monday. My town is absolutely beautiful and I have the most amazing views from my new house. I can actually see a waterfall from my bathroom! In my yard there are mango, orange, and banana trees. It’s amazing really. I am trying hard to adjust to life in my new town and am slowly settling in and developing a routine.

Before swearing in, I spent 9 weeks in training. During this time, my stage and I would go to the PC training center once a week. Everyone looked forward to these days because we would use this time to take hot showers and the girls would, on occasion, have makeover days consisting of hair straightening, doing makeup and eyebrows. I only straightened my hair once and that was for our swearing in ceremony. I'd brought a straightening comb with me for the rare occasion when I would want straight hair. Assuming I would not have electricity, I brought the kind that is heated on the stove. It was actually a gift from Ms Eleisha during junior year of college, but I used it only occasionally. Now, however, it comes in very handy. I was on my way to the kitchen to heat the comb when one of the cooks saw my hot comb and volunteered to do my hair for me. She did an amazing job and did not burn any of it out. I was very surprised and impressed as well. My friend, Glenda, finished it up with our very communal flat iron and it was as good as a job done in the States. I am content to live anywhere in the world as long as I can get my hair done. LoL!

Most people in Madagascar naturally assume that I am Malagasy. It is a reasonable assumption and one of the benefits of being Black in this country is that I don’t have to deal with a lot of the issues associated with being a foreigner in Madagascar. I will never have to deal with babies being scared to death at the sight of me in this country. I don’t have people staring at me like I have 3 heads or screaming “Vazaha, give me money/clothes etc…” when I walk by. Vazaha is the Malagasy word for foreigner, but by that they mean white foreigner. However, I do deal with my own issues. I am still American and sometimes I feel like this fact is forgotten. Whenever I am introduced to anyone new (Malagasy or French), the first thing everyone says is “… I thought she was Malagasy!” The idea that I could be American with no immediate African ancestry is such a foreign concept to some. The Malagasy are intrigued with the fact that I do not speak Malagasy well, nor do I speak a lot of French. But, I look like I should be a native speaker of both. Despite how much I may look like the Malagasy, culture then plays a huge role at reminding people that I am actually American. It was such a refreshing experience for someone to actually say to me, “… that’s just so American”. Yes, yes it is and that’s because I am American, believe it or not.

My sitemate is Brian Klein. He is an environmental volunteer from Hawaii who graduated from Notre Dame in 2008 and is a huge fan of his alma mater. In addition to his PCV responsibilities, he also works very closely with the World Wildlife Fund as they have a field office in my town. Recently, the WWF sent more environmental volunteers to work in our neighboring villages. There is one American, one Canadian, a Spaniard, a French girl and an Austrian girl, a guy from Cameroon and a Malagasy volunteer. The group is a lot of fun and I have greatly enjoyed their company especially during my first few days/weeks at site. But, we were at dinner one night and someone asked me if I drove to school. Of course, I answered. Everyone, well almost everyone, drove to school no matter how close or far you lived. Atlanta is not a very walkable or public transit friendly city, although I do realize that it was extreme to drive when I lived so close to the school. Then, I proceeded to say that I even though I lived close by the school, I still drove to campus. This was not such a good thing to admit, especially not to a group of very nature conscience environmental volunteers. I didn’t even say the worst part, that my two roommates and I drove three separate cars to class and that it was not uncommon of people in my complex or those who lived close to the schools to do the same. That is when the Austrian girl sighs and shakes her head commenting, “… that’s just so American”. Her statement, although it was meant to be insulting, was very refreshing to me because since arriving in country, it has been a constant borage of how “un-American” or “non - typically Peace Corps” I looked. In this country, I defiantly blend into a crowd. I was nice to be finally be associated with home again and have someone else realize this. Even if only for something as unneccessay and trivial as driving habits.

I try to be very patient and open-minded with whatever I do or try to do in this country. Nothing, absolutely nothing, works the way it would in the States. Mail takes an eternity to arrive, there is no such thing as a set schedule, everything is too sweet or too salty, and eating rice 3x a day gets very old very fast. It can be frustrating at times, and I have to remind myself that I live in Madagascar and need to adjust. Things aren’t the same as in the States, because I no longer live in the States. It’s weird because I know that every month that passes is one less that I have left here. It’s not like University where the 4 years seemed like an eternity, until the end of course (LOL). Two years from tomorrow, exactly, I will be home and probably preparing for my first homecoming post graduation!

Thanks Samara for the letter!! I sent a post card to you but remembered, after I put it in the mail, that it did not have a stamp on it. So, I will be sending you another once I get a chance. Hope everything is well with everybody!!

Happy Homecoming 2010 to my Spelhouse family!!



Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Here is my host sister Fifalina and some of my new cousins. Fifa is the one holding the cute little girl in the red coat. I am still trying to get pictures uploaded, but I managed to put a few more on my facebook. They were adorable and really had a lot of fun taking photos. This was my house for 8 wks.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Rhum in the Rice Paddies

This is going to be a post which describes MY feelings in Mcar. This post shouldnt offend anyone, but in case it does, I will reiterate that this blog is a reflection of the feelings of Erica Wherry and does not represent the Peace Corps or US government in any way.

Now, before coming to Peace Corps, I lived in Atlanta ( Black ), graduated from Spelman College ( Black) and was a member of the AME Zion church ( Black). Despite this, previous to now, I still felt as though I had led a fairly integrated experience. I went to a mixed high school, danced ballet until the 10th grade and actually enjoyed outdoor water sports, for example. I realize these interests dont necessarily scream "integrated experience" but they are the only examples I can think of now. Despite this, I never had the " only black girl" experience. But, I do believe that I am officially having this experience now.

My fellow trainees and I were headed on a road trip out of our training town. In college, my friends and I had numerous road trips ( namely FAMU/TSU or anywhere else HCASC took us). These trips are actually responsible for some of my most memorable college experiences. So, here I am in Mcar with a whole bunch of people whom I do not know all that well and who are listening to music that I do not know AT ALL. It really made me feel very disconnected and isolated from the group on top of already being in a country where I am disconnected from the culture and the language of the people. It seemed that the entire bus was familiar with the music they were playing, but me. My mind began to wonder about whether or not I could really be happy in a group where we dont even share common ground (or familiarity) on something as simple as musical choice. I was really being extra emotional about it.

But, not even within 10 mins of my thinking about how disconnected I was, a member of my PC training group turns on an Al Green song. I kid you not, the entire bus sings this really old school r & b song and I instantly realize that I am in a unique position, having to integrate into two cultures. But, American culture is American culture. Even though people may come from different backgrounds within the US framework, the fact that we are still Americans binds us tightly together and most especially when all familiarity has been stripped away. Im learning to deal, but its a gradual process and one that I am thankful to be having with the really amazing group of people that I am with now:)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Manahoana Madagasikara!!!

Ive been in Madagascar for a few weeks now and trying to sum up my experiences in a few short paragraphs will be a bit difficult. I know yall wont read more than a few paragraphs so I will try to keep it short, sweet and to the point. Overall, Madagascar is amazing and I am adjusting to life here relativly well. I have not recieved any mail from anyone so Im assuming life is getting along just fine without me in the states. However, if anyone feels the desire/need/inclination/ to send me a letter or something I will be more than happy. My address is already posted on the blog. LOL!

To begin, its FREEZING in Madagascar. I do realize that I am in the southern hemisphere and it is technically winter, but I definatly did not expect it to actually feel like winter. Since Madagascar is considered a part of Africa, I natually assumed it would be exceptionally hot no matter the "theoretical" season. In actuality, Mcar is not THAT cold. Its just that there is no heat. No heat any where, at any time. I thought I had gotten smart when I put my host moms small charcoal stove in my room to heat it. But, Peace Corps is not too fond of that idea. They are worried about CO2 emissions or something. Before, I would literally shiver in my room at night. So, until they figure out a better solution, I say it stays.

My second Peace Corps experience came in the task of washing clothes. Now, at home, all the effort required to wash clothes involved seperating the laudry and placing it into the machiene. This is clearly not the case in Mcar. I had a tub full of really muddy/dirty clothes that I filled with water. I started to scrub the clothes with my host mom and within about 15 mins of this chore, my back begins to kill me. My host mom sees (read hears) my discomfort and gets me a stool to sit on. This stool, however, was designed for the calcium and protein deprived Malagasy so it did not do too much to help this American girl. So, I continue to scrub as the sun sets and I was still no where near finishing. We have electricity, but in Mcar that does not mean much. My host mom still had to cook dinner, feed the animals and get the kids ready for bed. But, before she did all of this, she finished my washing. Needless to say, I was beyond embaressed. I did manage to hang them all, however. American lesson #1: When I get to my permanent site, I will need to hire a laundry lady. I wont be washing clothes by hand over a rock again. Sad, I know, but its true.

The Peace Corps is taking very good care of me and I have been instructed in the proper ways of bleaching my drinking water and fighting off malaria and other diseases found in this country. I have gotten something called Guardia, but some meds took care of it quick. No biggie. Hope everything is good with you all back in the developed world. Im actually kind of enjoying living about 100 years in the past. It has a charm to it. Please excuse any spelling/ grammar or any other kinds of mistakes you may find. I didnt have that much time to write this and the internet is rediculously slow.