Friday, October 29, 2010

"Forget About It!"

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Giants are in the World Series! Maybe I should join the Peace Corps more often…

Teaching has been going very well. This week I taught “Apologizing,” as per the national curriculum. I wrote a dialogue where Georges has to apologize for bumping into Hoby. Now, I’m no expert, but some of these kids are natural-born actors. Great performances, all around.

They also got a huge kick out of an exercise where James had to apologize for killing Hoby’s chicken with a motorcycle and Cristophe had to apologize for dropping Hoby’s keys in the kabone. Their favorite choice for Hoby’s response: “forget about it!”

Today was the first day I’ve been without another PCV here in Ambanja in a week.

Last Wednesday Jonathan arrived to take care of some business before going on vacation on Nosy Be this past Monday. He and I hung out and watched a lot of Curb Your Enthusiasm until Saturday, when we had major errands to run.

Mama Peace Corps created a big list of things to purchase for Katie M.’s birthday party. We were making three cakes, a giant pizza, and chocolate-coconut-vanilla rum punch. Flour, eggs, cheese, and butter add up pretty quick around here, but it was worth it. We brought all the materials to Mama Peace Corps’ house and helped make the rum punch.

The next day (Sunday), Jason, Katie M., Katie B., and Vanessa (all the other PCV’s in close proximity to Ambanja) arrived. Throughout the day we snacked on Oreos sent by my parents and peanut butter sent by Katie B.’s parents (extremely valuable commodities).

In the late afternoon we went to a morengy (boxing) match. We took pousse-pousse’s (bicycle taxis) a few km down the main road and came to a big grass field in a concrete wall. Several hundred people lined the perimeter of the field, while shirtless Malagasy men strutted around the center in a ridiculous fashion with one arm extended.

Apparently, based on size, mutual willingness, and other unknown factors, the men were paired up with one another by officials. When the fighting finally began, it resembled more of a slap fest than a boxing match. Occasionally one guy would get a few good swings in, but usually both fighters would just end up grappling and the fight would immediately be broken up and restarted. If there were winners and losers, I couldn’t tell. We left after about an hour.

We pousse-pousse’d back into town and relaxed before going over to Mama Peace Corps’ for Katie M.’s birthday dinner. Mama Peace Corps went all out. She had a neighbor build a wooden, three-tiered platform, upon which sat three beautiful cakes. There was also a giant meat, cheese, and green pepper pizza. We ate heartily and drank merrily.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I fell asleep while typing last night. It’s pretty darn hot here. I was woken up early this morning via text message from my Dad: Giants take game 2! It’s great to wake up to good news…

Where was I? Oh yes, Katie’s birthday. Great time. The next day (Monday), Jonathan and Vanessa left for vacation on Nosy Be. I taught during the day, Jason and Katie M. prepared a presentation for a U.S. study-abroad group here in Madagascar, and Katie B. returned to her site in the afternoon.

Tuesday evening, after more teaching, I accompanied Jason and Katie M. to dinner with the study-abroad group. Katie had actually participated in the same study-abroad program, and thus knew the director and had some great insight to share. There were eight students with varying degrees of interest in the Peace Corps, so we gave our two-cents and talked about Madagascar for a few hours. I never thought simply speaking in English with native English speakers could be so fun.

Jason and Katie left for Diego Wednesday, and I went through the recurring shock of being left alone in Ambanja again. Like I mentioned in a previous post, I’m having a very different experience from most of the volunteers here in Madagascar: most PCV’s go weeks on end without seeing another American. I think I’ve spent more time at site with Americans than without them.

However, I’ve been making a real effort to integrate into the community, and my Malagasy has been improving. Every afternoon and evening I go over to Mama Peace Corps’ to chat. I also try to start up conversations with the women I buy bread from every morning (and of course with the women in the market). And the teachers at the Lycee are always keeping me on my toes, testing my Malagasy abilities in the Salle du Profs (teacher’s lounge). They’ve had a fair number of Peace Corps Education volunteers come through Ambanja, so as per Malagasy culture, they like to compare me to my predecessors.

I’ve been very happy at my site. While no day is ever perfect, and I have my share of hardships and pangs of loneliness, I have a lot to be thankful for: I’ve been healthy and enjoy a relatively balanced diet; thus far I’ve had a rat- and ant-free room (knock on wood); school has already been rewarding and fun; riding my bike on the trails here has been amazing; and most importantly, I have great friends here in country (both Malagasy and American) and loving support from friends and family back home (and in Benin :)). And the coffee’s really good too.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Go Giants!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Second week of school is over. It was a little more organized/official than the first. I taught all five sections of level Seconde for 3 hours each. However, there was a little administrative drama during the week.

Apparently, more students than expected have enrolled in the Lycee this year. It was looking like they would need to form two additional sections of level Seconde (each section is 50-70 students). They wanted me to teach the English classes for these sections in addition to the five I already teach.

I came here to teach, and I’m willing to take on a little more work, but I was also told by the director of the Peace Corps Madagascar Education sector that we’re not supposed to teach more than 16 hours a week. I expressed these concerns to the proviseur of the Lycee, and he said the English teacher for level Premiere would pick up the two new sections.

However, when I ran into that English teacher at the Lycee, he shook my hand and thanked me for taking the other two sections of Seconde. I was caught off guard. I said I didn’t know I was teaching those sections. He went to speak with the proviseur.

That was Monday. When all was said and done, it turns out they only need one additional section of level Seconde, which I agreed to teach. Here’s my new schedule:

Section 2 = 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.
Section 5 = 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Section 3 = 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Section 3 = 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Section 1 = 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Section 4 = 4:30 pm. – 5:30 p.m.

Section 2 = 6:00 a.m. – 8:00 a.m.
Section 4 = 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Section 6 = 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Section 6 = 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Section 5 = 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Section 1 = 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

I’m still free!

Hopefully the weeks will start flying by now.

PCV Jonathan came into town Wednesday to take care of some business. He’s taking vacation days to travel to Nosy Be on Monday. Sunday we’re celebrating Katie M.’s birthday at Mama Peace Corps’ house with all the PCV’s in the region (Jason, Jonathan, Katie M., Katie B., Vanessa, and myself). Mama Peace Corps has an oven, which means we can bake a cake and a pizza. It’s hard to convey how much joy this will bring me. I love food. Jonathan and I are in charge of picking up the supplies to make that happen.

So, that’s my program for today, after I put this blog entry up.

Below I will try to post a photo of Ankify beach. It may not load...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

3 Weeks at Site

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I didn’t describe the swearing in ceremony last time. Summary: It was held at the Peace Corps Country Director’s enormous house in Tana. Speeches were made by the Country Director, the ChargeÈ d’Affaires from the U.S. Embassy, a Malagasy official, and fellow PCT (now PCV) Katie M. All the PCT’s were asked to stand, recite an oath, and we became PCV’s.

We took a group picture, some people talked to the press, and we consumed pastries, samosas, coffee and juice. After that, things were a blur. We were all travelling to our sites the next day. Those of us who had not set up bank accounts (like me) got a settling in allowance + September and October living allowance in cash. Everyone else was supposed to have their money deposited directly into their bank accounts. There were problems with the direct deposit, adding to the stress.

Long story short, people were rushing around Tana getting ready to depart. Many people needed to do the majority of their shopping in Tana because things like gas stoves, gas tanks, and non-stick frying pans are cheaper/only available there. Other people tried to use the internet at the Tana MEVA.

I didn’t have much to do because I was flying the next day and would be doing my shopping in Diego and Ambanja. I tagged along with people, and eventually went out to dinner with others. I ended up sleeping on a couch in the main room of the MEVA so I could say goodbye to Paul, Israel, and Jessica who had to go to the airport at 4:30 a.m.

After them, wave after wave of our group left the MEVA in Peace Corps cars. Gloomy weather and gloomy spirits. Eventually I left for the airport with Jason, Katie, and Nicole.

Flew to Diego. Shopped with Kamar (regional driver) and Tovo (our installer) in Diego. Had dinner with Dorothy and Corie.

Next day we did more shopping in the morning, and then we drove to Ambanja. That night we stayed at a hotel.

Next day I set up a bank account, did some protocol visits, dropped off all my stuff in my house, checked the locks, and came back to shop with the others (I didn’t need much because there was already furniture in my house). We stayed another night at the hotel.

Next day we installed Nicole in Ampasindava. Her site is on a beach. It’s gorgeous. People from her village killed a goat for a feast. Before we ate, a group of youths sang and danced. Nicole’s stuff was unloaded, and Kamar and Tovo spent several hours making repairs to her house. When everything was in order, we left.

Same story the next day when we dropped off Jason in Siranana (minus the feast and dancing).

And the next day when we dropped off Katie in Djangoa (minus the feast, but with the dancing).

That was yesterday. I rode back to Ambanja alone with Tovo and Kamar. They deserve a huge round of applause. They spent almost a week with us, loading and unloading the truck over and over again, taking us shopping, translating, rebuilding our houses, and maintaining a positive attitude the whole time. We couldn’t have asked for better installers.


Today was my first day completely on my own as a PCV. I went to the market to get sweet bread and bananas for breakfast, and then went to the bank to deposit a check. I came home and ate my breakfast when a young man about my age came to the door. He introduced himself as Tsiky, the son of Mama Peace Corps.

This was the moment I had been waiting for. Dorothy (my site predecessor/mentor) had told me all about Mama Peace Corps. She lives down the road from the CISCO office, and she essentially takes any Peace Corps volunteers living in or near Ambanja under her wing.

Tsiky asked me to come with him, and I was brought to Mama Peace Corps: a large, serious woman with a subtle but infectious laugh. She brought me to her living room and explained that if there was anything I needed—if I was tired, sick, hungry, or annoyed by neighborhood kids—she would take care of it. She’s legit.

I left her place to go to the market and pick up some food items and a pillow. Success. I came back, played guitar, read, and then went back over to Mama Peace Corps’ house to chat/practice my Malagasy. I came home and made rice soup with condensed milk and peanut butter (my Malagasy comfort food of choice).

Next week I have meetings at the Lycee to determine class schedules. I should be teaching five classes, three hours a week per class (broken up into 2 hour and 1 hour sessions). The week after next I start teaching. Until then, my plan is to settle in. This will be my home for the next two years. I made it through this day. I can make it through the rest.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Wow, it’s been a week. Time is moving right along.
Last Wednesday I went to the market and spent more time with Mama Peace Corps.

Thursday PCV Jonathan (Environment March 2010 stage) came to Ambanja to bank, to meet with his counterpart, and to pick up medicine I had been given to pass on to him. I had sent him a note via taxi brousse (because he doesn’t have cell reception at his site) informing him that I had his medicine. I was very impressed that it got to him. I just wrote “Jonathan M., PCV, Anjiabory,” and Kamar handed it to a brousse driver going in that direction.

Jonathan just left this morning. We’ve had a few adventures while he was here. On Saturday we rode our bikes a few km down the main road with his counterpart to a place called Mangabe. Once there we met with a big-time cacao grower (one of Jonathan’s projects is to assist cacao-grower co-ops). We spent a few hours literally making our way through an immense forest of cacao trees. Every few minutes, the guide would point out a tree heavily-laden with giant cacao pods and comment about how old the tree was, or how much money all that cacao would bring in, or how many trees were planted each year.

On Sunday we rode our bikes 27km to Ankify beach with Mama Peace Corps’ son Tsiky. It was a tough ride, but well worth it. Beautiful beach, and almost no other people were around. We relaxed on the beach for a while before broussing it back into town. Next time I plan to bike back.

When we weren’t going on bike adventures or browsing the market, we were either hanging out with Mama Peace Corps or watching Curb Your Enthusiasm at my house.

Yesterday Jason and Katie M. came into town to pick things up at the market and hang out for a bit. Yesterday evening Dorothy and Kinsey arrived via Taxi Brousse on their way to Diego from Tana. They stayed at Mama Peace Corps’ house and left before I even woke up this morning.

So, today I was alone again. I’m having quite the opposite experience of most of my fellow PCV’s. While I’ll still have to deal with loneliness at some level, I’ll also have to try to stop speaking in English with all these Americans passing through Ambanja so that I can actually practice and improve my Malagasy. I practiced a bit at the market today, but those conversations don’t really go anywhere.

Other news… I had a meeting at the Lycee yesterday morning with the faculty. By meeting, I mean I sat in a room while the teachers and Proviseur argued and joked with one another in Malagasy for 30 minutes, and then was told to come back the next morning to pick out my class schedule.

When I arrived at the Lycee this morning, I discovered that my schedule had already been picked out for me. I teach 5 sections of Seconde level, each with about 70 students.

Here’s my schedule:

-Section 2: 8:00a.m. – 9:00a.m.
-Section 5: 9:00a.m. – 11:00a.m.
-Section 3: 4:30p.m. – 6:30p.m.

-Section 3: 10:00a.m. – 12:00p.m.
-Section 1: 2:30p.m. – 4:30p.m.
-Section 4: 4:30p.m. – 6:30p.m.

-Section 2: 6:00a.m. – 8:00a.m.
-Section 4: 8:00a.m. – 10:00a.m.

-Section 5: 10:00a.m. – 12:00p.m.
-Section 1: 4:30p.m. – 6:30p.m.

I’m free!

Yes, I do have a class that starts at 6:00 a.m. However, some of these classes can be abridged because each section is only supposed to meet for 3 hours a week (a 2 hour and 1 hour session).

I also recorded two songs today. That’s all for now.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tomorrow I start teaching.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Today is my last day of my first week of teaching. So far it’s gone very well. In every class I’ve introduced myself as the new English teacher (in English). Then I clarified (in Malagasy): “Mpampianatra Anglisy vaovao zaho.” Every class immediately broke out into cheers and applause as soon as I spoke Malagasy. There are many white people here in Ambanja, but they are all tourists, and they all speak French. It blows Malagasy people’s minds to hear a white person speaking Malagasy.

In my opinion, that’s actually one of my biggest first hurdles: dispelling the myth that all vazahas are French tourists. Everywhere I go, people scream: “Bonjour vazaha!”, “Salut vazaha!”

My first class was supposed to have 68 students, but it was the earliest class on the first day of school, so only 22 students showed up. My second class had over 70 students.

My lessons are confined to the nationalized curriculum, so my job is to make sure I make them interesting without freaking the students out. The students have been brought up on a strictly regimented learning format: they come in and expect to spend almost the entire class copying notes from the board. I have to somewhat accommodate them in that regard because they do not have textbooks. The teachers essentially write their textbooks for them. The students copy everything on the board, exactly as it appears on the board. But I’ll also have room for creativity: performing skits, bringing in pictures, music, etc.

The students were pretty well behaved. Occasionally ubiquitous class chatter would grow to a rumble while I was writing on the board, but a quick turn and a stern look quieted them back down.

Other news…

Yesterday I came back from teaching at 10:00 and found Katie B. (Environment PCV, from the stage transferred to Madagascar from Niger) sitting in front of my door. She lives about 90 km south of Ambanja on the main road. She came to do banking and submit Peace Corps forms at the internet cafÈ. We went to the market with Tsiky and bought tons of food for Mama Peace Corps, which she later prepared. We feasted happily.


Today to celebrate successfully getting through my first week of teaching Katie and I splurged and went to one of the few actual vazaha restaurants in Ambanja. We had juicy steak with seasoned potatoes and shrimp in a creamy pepper sauce. It was delicious. I may dream about it…