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!!