Friday, January 16, 2015

Easter Vacation Part 2...Finally!

For the last few months, finishing my blog, and particularly my post about last year’s Easter vacation, has been on my to-do list. So, here I finally go…
For the first part of this post, see Easter Vacation Part 1
After exploring Antsirabe, Summer and I were ready and excited to head west and continue our vacation. In bullet point form, here are some of the highlights of our trip.
-       The itinerary claimed that on our first day of the trip, we would travel on a ‘perfect road’ from Antsirabe to Miandrivazo. This so called perfect road consisted of many pot holes and the road itself was quite windy. Despite the not so perfect road, we did have beautiful scenery to look at, a gorgeous double rainbow, and an incredible sunset. Although I was quite tired and wanted to sleep, I couldn’t keep my eyes closed as the landscape was so gorgeous and I couldn’t stop taking photos.
-       A three day pirogue (canoe) trip down the Tsiribihina River with 8 other travelers, a Malagasy guide, and three Malagasy boatmen.  I was the only American on this trip. The other travelers consisted of 6 French people, 1 German, and 1 Malagasy. Throughout the long trip on the river, we passed by many rural villages and camped on sand banks. At the end of the boat trip, we said good bye to the three boat men who had traveled with us and they embarked on their five day journey of paddling upstream!!  Faly was the boatman of the canoe that myself and three other tourists were on. Faly was a super sweet man with a cute name, as Faly means ‘happy.’
-       After a day on the river, I realized just how long three days of boating would be. Although we saw beautiful sites and it was so relaxing to be on the canoe, three days is a long time! Canoes are small and even the slightest movement rocks the canoe back and forth. Also, for most of the canoe trip, we were in the direct sun. In an attempt to prevent burning, I was constantly applying sunscreen and using a lamba (cloth) to cover exposed body parts. Unfortunately I seemed to forget about my lips and they got quite burnt, which was a very painful experience.
-       Kicking a soccer ball around with the local kids on one of the sand banks that we stopped at for the night. There was a two year old girl, named Celine, who took a liking to me and held my hand for the entire evening. Once it got dark, we sat on the sand listening to Malagasy music on my phone while some of the other kids danced. The following morning, the kids came back to watch us pack up our camp and sail off.
-       Visiting a waterfall on Easter. Visiting the waterfall provided a nice break from sitting in the boat. It was so refreshing to stand under the waterfall as the water hit my body. Unfortunately on the way to the lunch area after enjoying the waterfall, I slipped on a rock and fell, hurting my leg. Thankfully it was not broken, but rather just very badly bruised.
-       Traveling from the location where the canoe trip ended to the Tsingy Reserve consisted of bad roads and a ferry crossing. Throughout our trip to the west, there were many ferry crossings, but this one in particular that stands out. While all of the other travelers in our group had chosen to walk through the river to get to the ferry, I decided to stay in the car with the driver and keep my feet clean (or so I thought). We drove into the river to reach the ferry, but the 4x4 got stuck and didn’t quite reach the ferry. It didn’t take more than a few seconds before I realized that my feet were wet. The car was quickly filling up with water and thankfully due to the fact that I was in the car, I was able to grab everyone’s backpacks, which were full of expensive cameras, phones, and money, and keep them dry. Getting the car onto the ferry took a lot of time and work, during which we had to empty the entire car to save everything that was inside. It was quite an escapade but luckily the car and everything and everyone inside survived.
-       Visiting the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve. The Tsingy Reserve was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990 and part of the park is located in a protected area. Tsingy means, “where one cannot walk barefoot” and this is very true of the Tsingy. Formed about 200 million years ago from eroded limestone that rises up to 70 meters from the ground, the tops are razor sharp. While hiking through the Tsingy, we saw many wild birds and incredible views that seemed to go on forever. In addition to trekking through the sharp limestone, we also hiked through very dark and humid caves, squeezed through tight crevices, walked through gorges, tip toed across hanging bridges, and marveled at the forest canyons. Prior to entering the Tsingy Reserve, we were all required to put on harnesses, which we had to attach to safety ropes and cables throughout the hike.
-       The final part of our trip took us to Morondava. Although Morondava is a sleepy beach town, it is most known for being home to the famous baobabs. We reached the Avenue of the Baobabs just before sunset and strolled down the avenue, enjoying the beautiful, magnificently tall trees that were surrounding us.
-       After the trip ended, Summer and I spent an extra day in Morondava exploring the town and enjoying the beach. We went on a pous pous tour of Morondava and saw all that the small town had to offer, including two large, beautiful mosques. As I walked along the beach, I watched the fishermen bring in their catches, kids help sort fish, defecation all over the beach, and many unstable, abandoned, and old buildings.
-       While the trip was amazing and it was incredible to see more of the beautiful country that I was living in, by the end of the seventh day, I was so excited to no longer be constantly surrounded by French speakers. Besides myself, all of the other travelers were French or spoke French. Summer tried to translate for me when possible, but it was difficult to not be able to communicate with others or really feel part of the group during conversations.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


It’s been over a month since I rang the bell at the Peace Corps office and officially closed my Peace Corps service. Due to the fact that I was not immediately leaving Madagascar, but rather traveling to the south of Madagascar before leaving the country, I didn’t feel any different once I transitioned from a Peace Corps Volunteer to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. I wasn’t emotional either, as I was excited about my upcoming travel plans and thrilled to finally be done with all the paperwork and meetings that are part of COS week.

Of course leaving Tanambe had been hard, but at the same time, I was so busy in the weeks and months leading up to my departure and tried to block out thinking about my departure and good byes too much, as I didn’t want to get too emotional. My friend, Denis organized a good bye party for me about a week before I left Tanambe.  Although there were issues with the electricity and music, it was sweet and it was nice to see my students and community members. After the party, however, many people were confused as I didn’t leave Tanambe for another week. Similarly, I took photos with some of my favorite vendors in Tanambe before my departure and told them that I would be leaving in a few days. Then, the following day, when these vendors saw me again, they asked me why I hadn’t left yet.

The day before my departure from Tanambe, I gathered all my neighborhood kids together to say good bye and to share the hundreds of photos that I had taken of them over the two years with them. During my time in Tanambe, I spent much time with these kids, playing games, dancing, reading books, doing art, taking photos, and so much more. On this particular day, I sat all the kids down, which was a huge task in itself and explained to them that I would be leaving Tanambe the following morning. Many of the kids already knew that I was leaving because they attended my English Course or I had already told them, but I wanted to make sure that they all understood.

I shared some of my favorite photos of the kids with them on my laptop, which turned into quite a circus as there were so many kids trying to see the screen. I made a CD of all the photos so that the kids and their parents could print copies of the photos if they want. In addition, I gave all the kids photos of myself that I had taken off my house walls. Some of the photos had been taken in Madagascar, while others were from pre-Peace Corps. As if there wasn’t enough craziness from giving out the photos, then I gave the kids candy. Things turned insane, as one could expect, and as I had run out of candy and photos, I had to leave before I was trampled by the children. The kids followed me home and I had to quickly close the gate behind me and lock them out, although that definitely did not stop them from banging on the gate and calling out my name.

During my last few days in Tanambe, I had many visitors who stopped by to give me gifts and hugs. I left Tanambe with a huge collection of woven baskets and boxes, among other locally made crafts. In addition, I left with more packed bags than I would be able to take on the plane with me to Uganda. I had already given away most of my belongings, including my furniture, as I was not being replaced by a new PCV. However, packing was a huge challenge for me and I knew that I would have to repack and give away more of my belongings before I left the country as I would only be allowed to check in one bag on my flight to Uganda.

My final night in Tanambe was a stressful but memorable one. My house was pretty empty at this point, as I had to catch a taxi-brousse to Tana at 5am the following morning. I had dinner at Denis’ house with his family as well as Lilie’s family. It was a nice dinner with the people who meant the most to me in Madagascar. Denis and some of his karate students walked me home and helped me finish cleaning my house. I had been working on an English-Malagasy book with Denis and due to constant electricity cuts during my final week in Tanambe, working on the book and printing it had been challenging. We picked up the photocopies earlier that evening but due to the fact that they were out of order and there were multiple copies of the book that we had to organize, we spread out over my entire kitchen floor to arrange and assemble the book. We were racing against the clock as the electricity had been going off every night at 10pm, so we knew that we had a limited amount of time before it would go off. Luckily that evening the electricity stayed on a little longer than usual and we were able to finish putting the book together.

After a few hours of rest, I woke up to finish packing everything and to make sure that everything was in order before walking to the taxi-brousse station with the help of Denis, some of his karate students, one of my neighbors, and one of the young girls who lived near my house. While leaving my house and taking the remained of my belongings, an argument ensued with my landlord’s family as they claimed that the mattress that we were taking (which I was giving to a friend in Tanambe) was theirs. Although my landlord’s family had let me use their bed frame, I had purchased the mattress. I had given my landlord’s family many gifts as they were constantly coming into my room while I was packing and asking me for things and I had already promised the mattress to someone else. As I explained over and over that the mattress was mine and I had bought it in Ambatondrazaka, they kept insisting that it was theirs. Eventually, I just told my friends who were helping to carry my belongings that we had to go and we were taking the mattress as it belonged to me. It was a sad way to leave the family that I had spent two years living with.

Although the issue with my landlord was sad, it was so sweet to have a group of friends come to the taxi-brousse station in Tanambe at 4:30am to see me off. And as if that wasn’t enough, a few days before I flew out of Madagascar, Denis and Wendy came to Tana to see me off at the airport. It was so great to see these two guys who were such an influential part of my life in Madagascar again before leaving the country.

While my Peace Corps journey may be over, I will always hold on to the great memories that I have of life in Madagascar. For now I will keep in touch via phone and post, but I hope that one day I can return to Tanambe to visit my beloved community.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Easter Vacation Part 1

Many months ago, I went on a trip to the West coast of Madagascar for Easter vacation. For some reason, I have been putting off the blog post about that trip, probably because the trip was so long and it felt overwhelming to write about the whole thing. But now that my PC service is over and I am putting off writing about the last few weeks of my service, it seems like a good time to write about my Easter vacation.
On April 16th, I left Tanambe and traveled to Tana. Unfortunately it is very difficult to travel from Tanambe without going to Tana first. I arrived at the station after sitting through tons of traffic in Tana and then sat in even more traffic in Tana on the way to the station to Antsirabe. The station that goes to Antsirabe and other sites south of Tana is notorious for being a place that no one wants to go to. I had been to this station before with a fellow PCV, but this was my first time attempting to battle this station on my own. For comparison, at the station that goes to the Lake Alaotra area, everyone is very calm and it is not at all overwhelming. But at Fasan’Karana, the station that I was at on this particular day, the guys grab at you and try to take your bags so that you will buy a ticket with them. On top of that, the station is quite large and on this day, it was very muddy. It is a very sketchy place where you have to be very cautious and keep a close eye on your stuff.
It took two hours for the taxi brousse to fill up and during that time I got ripped off on the taxi brousse price, which I was not happy about. What made it worse is that I had asked a lady who was already on the brousse to confirm the price and she lied to me about the price. Being ripped off and having to wait so long definitely put me in a cranky mood.
It took us four hours to travel 160 kilometers to Antisrabe, but I was so happy to finally arrive and meet up with Summer, a German volunteer who was also working in Tanambe and who I would be traveling with. Summer picked me up with Bee, the guy we thought was going to be our tour guide for the trip. That’s another story that will come later.
I quickly learned that due to some circumstances that were out of our hands, our trip had been pushed back a day and instead of leaving the next morning, we would be leaving in two days. The only consolation was that Bee offered to take us on a tour of Antsirabe the following day.
The next morning, we visited a shop that makes jewelry, utensils, and other art out of zebu (cow) horns. It was very interesting to see the process that they go through with the horns to make them soft and to be able to shape them. We also visited a shop where Malagasy candy is made. The ingredients were simple and we got to watch as they mixed in the flavor of our choice, which happened to be peanut. After watching them make the candy, we got to choose a few bags of candy to take home with us. Next, we stopped by a miniature shop, where they make mini bikes, taxi-brousses, motorcycles, and cars. The guy who runs the shop showed us how they use milk cans, expired IV lines, electrical wiring, fishing wire, and telephone line wires to create the different components. He has been doing this for 20 years and showed us his notebook with his ideas drawn out.  It was quite impressive. Our next stop was at an embroidery shop. There were many women sitting on small stools in a very quiet room, making tablecloths, napkins, and clothing. Some of the items take as little as a week to make while others take up to three months. We also visited a wood sculptor and a painter. The paintings were beautiful and I bought a few to take home with me. Although they were priced at 15,000 AR each, I bargained for them and walked away with three paintings for 18,000 AR, which means they ended up being 6,000 AR each. I was pretty impressed with my bargaining skills!
Summer and I treated ourselves to a pizza and ice cream lunch and then went on an adventure to find one of Summer’s friends who lives in Antsirabe. That night, we had tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches with some PCVs who were in Antsirabe.
It was a very interesting day exploring Antsirabe and seeing how things that are commonly sold in the artisan markets here are made. It definitely gave me more meaning and appreciation for the crafts since I had seen the process and the work that goes into it.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Very early on Monday morning, I left Tanambe for the last time. I have been in Tana all week and earlier today, I finished all of my paperwork, got my PC identification card hole punched, and rang the bell in the PC Office to signify the end of my PC service. In PC terms, I have COSed (closed my service) in Madagascar. The last few weeks have been very busy and full of many emotions. Despite all of these emotions, and the fact that some of my friends cried when I left Tanambe, I have yet to cry. It's not that I'm not sad about leaving, but rather, I have blocked it out, been too busy with other things, and am excited about what the future holds.
I don’t yet have the words to write about everything, but they will come soon. For now, I am going to enjoy the rest of my time in Madagascar as an RPCV (Returned PC Volunteer).  I will be visiting the south of Madagascar for a few days with a friend and then I’m off to Uganda.

Monday, August 25, 2014

English Courses

A week after returning from the GLOW Camp, I began three month-long English Courses in Tanambe. My friend and counterpart, Denis, as well as one of my GLOW Camp girls, Innocente, and I designed posters and spread the word among the community.  Almost every day, I had (and still have) people come up to me to ask me about the courses and inquire as to whether they or their children can attend the courses. Innocente agreed to be my assistant for the English Courses and she has been an incredible help not only to me, but also to the students. While I teach in English, sometimes certain concepts are not clear and Innocente helps by translating and further explaining in Malagasy. In addition, Innocente helps me manage the classes and the materials. 
On Monday and Wednesdays, from 8-10am, I have a course for kids. There are usually around 25-30 kids ranging from 5 years old to 12 years old in this class.  We began with the English alphabet, greetings, and basic dialogues, and have since covered numbers, food, and some verbs. In addition, I have been teaching the students English songs, such as ‘Five Little Monkeys,’ ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,’ ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It,’ and ‘The Wheels On the Bus.’ The kids love singing and enjoy watching me make a fool of myself as I sing and dance with them!
Every day, I also prepare a handout for the kids with pictures of different things that start with each letter of the alphabet. So, on the first day of the course, we covered the first four letters of the alphabet and learned three words that begin with each letter, such as boy, ball, and bicycle for the letter B. The kids love this part of the course and look forward to receiving the handout each class. I can tell that the students practice the words at home, as when we review the words, they know all of them. It makes me so happy to see them enjoying English and learning new vocabulary.
A very proud moment was when I saw one of the girls who lives near my house teaching another child who does not attend the English Course the dialogues and vocabulary that she had learned. I couldn’t stop smiling when I saw this! There are a number of kids from my neighborhood who walk with me to the class every Monday and Wednesday morning. Since beginning the course, these kids always greet me or say good-bye to me in English and have encouraged their friends to do so as well.
Immediately after the kids’ class, I have another class for adult/lycee beginner students. This class is much smaller than the kids’ class. It started with 3 students but now generally has around 6 students. This class has been the most difficult, as the students in this class are very soft-spoken and very hesitant to talk or participate. Many times the students would not even respond when I would ask them if they understood something. It was frustrating, but we are doing better now and I usually can tell when the students do not understand something.
On Tuesday and Thursdays, from 9-11am, I have a class for intermediate/advanced adults/lycee students. There are about 12 students in this class. This class has been such a pleasure to teach, as the students are very vocal and I can tell that they enjoy learning English. Some of the students in this class take notes on things that I say, such as directions, as well as random other commands or questions, so that they can improve their English. In addition, I have a student in this class who has come to my house many afternoons to continue learning English through English books that she reads aloud to me. 
In the adult/lycee classes, we have covered many topics, including greetings, verbs, family, question words, and daily activities. In the intermediate/advanced class, I frequently bring texts about animals for the students to practice reading. We review the vocabulary together and the students enjoy learning new things about animals such as elephants, kangaroos, and bats. I try to always have the students practice speaking with partners, as well as with me.
A student from the intermediate/advanced class that I am very proud of is Denis’ cousin, Rosa. Although I have known Rosa for most of the time that I have been in Tanambe, this course has really encouraged him to learn and practice his English. I eat lunch at his family’s house a few times a week, as they live near the classroom and I am usually quite tired and hungry after the courses. During lunch, Rosa will ask me questions in English and ask me to explain vocabulary words to him. I am so happy that Rosa is taking an interest in English taking advantage of the opportunity to speak to me in English and ask me questions in English. It is amazing because before this course, Rosa would only speak to me in Malagasy, but now he is more confident in his English skills and I know that he will continue practicing and learning English once I leave. 
When I was recently asked if I thought that the students that are attending my English Courses are improving their English, my answer was a definite yes. I can’t say the same thing about all of the students who attended my English classes at the lycee though. The difference is that the students who are attending the English Courses want to be there, whereas when I was teaching English at the lycee, the students were forced to be there. In addition, my classes at the lycee were so big, that it was impossible to work one-on-one with the students. In my English Courses, the classes are small enough that I know all of the students and can help them individually if they need extra help. And lastly, when I was teaching at the lycee I was expected to teach to the government’s English curriculum. I may have gotten in trouble for not exactly following the curriculum because I realized that my students still didn’t understand English grammar or vocabulary that they should have already learned and because I thought that some of the curriculum was outdated and not relevant. But that’s a different story. Anyways, during my English Courses, I am in complete control. I create the lessons and if we have to spend more time on a certain topic because the students don’t understand it, then we do that. If the students are very antsy and noisy, I play a game with them or teach them a new song.
On Friday afternoons, at 2pm, I invite all of the students from all three classes to come play games, read English books, do art, or learn English songs. The students have a great time and it’s a fun way for them to practice English and be creative.
These English Courses have been a fun, educational way for the students to learn and practice their English. Although the courses have been keeping me quite busy and leave me very tired, I really enjoy the courses. I love watching the students learn new phrases and vocabulary and hearing them actually use that vocabulary. I hope that these courses encourage them to continue practicing English even after I leave.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

GLOW Camp in Ambato and Tana – Part 3

On Tuesday night, we all slept very well and instead of getting up very early the next morning, many of the girls didn’t want to get out of bed when I turned the lights on and woke them up at 6:00am. In fact, many of the girls stayed in bed until 6:30am, thirty minutes before breakfast.
Wednesday’s topic was health and was held in the dining room of the place we were staying at. Two female doctors spent the entire morning discussing health topics including nutrition, HIV prevention, and sexual health with the girls. The graphic photos of STDs, as well as the discussion about early pregnancy, really made the girls realize the importance of practicing safe sex. The girls got to practice using condoms on wooden penises and although some of the girls were a bit shy at first, they warmed up and learned how to properly use the condoms. This is especially important, as sexual education is something that many students don’t learn about, even though it is in the National Curriculum. According to my counterpart, the reason for this is that many of the teachers are too shy to actually teach this lesson to their students.
The girls asked tons of questions and really paid attention to the new information that was being shared with them. After lunch, we also covered dental hygiene and malaria prevention with the girls. We played a game where the counterparts asked the girls questions from the health session and the girl who answered correctly got a prize. It was fun and showed us that the girls really got a lot out of the session. 
On Thursday, we were supposed to visit Ankatso, the university in Tana, but there was a strike going on there. Since it was not safe for us to visit the university, we met some current university students in a park where they shared their stories with the girls. The students not only shared their personal stories and struggles, but also gave the girls advice and answered their questions about university life. After breaking up into smaller groups where the girls got to talk one-on-one with the university students, we drove up the hill to check out the view of Tana. Of course we took a bunch of photos, many of which I posted on Facebook. We thanked the university students with a song that one of the counterparts had taught the girls and headed back to Rovan’ny Tovovavy for lunch.
In the afternoon, we visited the EducationUSA office, where the girls learned about studying in the USA. Being in the EducationUSA office felt a lot like being in a college counseling office with flags from different American universities on the walls and tons of books about attending university, getting scholarships, and taking exams such as the SAT. I was surprised by a 2013 statistic that was shared with us. Out of the 692,000 international students in the US, 30,858 were from Africa and only 124 were from Madagascar. Many of the girls were very interested in studying in America and I think that about 5 of the girls in our group really have the potential (dedication and English skills) to study in America if they want to.
One of the girls who expressed a great interest in attending university in America is Innocente. She is one of the girls that I brought from Tanambe and is an extremely bright, open-minded, spirited girl who wants to be a journalist. As long as she continues to study hard, I think that Innocent could really end up at an American university in a few years. Since getting to know her better during the camp, I have taken Innocente under my wing and she has been my assistant for my current month-long English Courses in Tanambe. In addition to helping me with the English Courses, Innocente frequently comes over to my house to practice typing and using Microsoft Word on my laptop and we always end up chatting away in English and having a great time together. I have already told Innocente that once I leave Tanambe, I want to stay in touch with her and provide her with any help that I can to help her achieve her dreams. She was so grateful and happy to hear this!
On Friday, we began the day by walking around downtown Tana and visiting ORTANA, the regional tourism office. The girls learned what it takes to be a tour guide and how they could get into the tourism field. After checking out huge maps of Tana, we made our way to TVM (Television Malagasy). The building which TVM, as well as Malagasy National Radio, is housed in was not very impressive, but going into the studios was awesome. We got to see how the radio station works and watched as a woman gave a live news update. We also got to visit the TVM studio, which the girls had previously seen on television. Of course each girl wanted her photo taken in front of the Tana backdrop that is seen in the news reports and I had the privilege of taking all those photos! The girls were in shock and so happy to meet some of the women who tell stories on Malagasy National Radio before leaving the building.
In the afternoon, I stayed behind to put together a slide show of photos that I had taken during the camp and to print certificates, while the girls went souvenir shopping. My Tanambe girls were so sweet and bought a necklace for me during their shopping adventures.  When the girls returned, we discussed how they could share their new knowledge and skills with their peers, friends, and communities. The girls had some great ideas about how to share what they had learned with others. One of the girls mentioned that she was not a very well behaved young lady and the camp had taught her a lot and she realized that she needed to get her act together and encourage her friends to do the same. Watching the girls grow, learn, and experience new things during the camp brought me much joy and hearing the girls talk about how they could educate others after the camp ended made me realize that this camp was not only having a huge effect on the girls who attended the camp, but that it would also have a huge impact on the girls’ communities. 
That evening, after our final meal at Rovan’ny Tovovavy, we had a talent show in the dormitory. The girls danced and sang and Denis performed some karate. After the talent show, I had the girls participate in an activity that had gone really well at the Mini Camp in Tanambe. I wrote each girl’s name (and the counterpart’s names too) on a piece of paper and asked the girls to write something nice about each of the other girls. The girls really got into the exercise and wrote some very sweet and heartwarming things about each other. I decorated each paper with pretty stickers that my mother had sent to add some color. It was cute to watch the girls when they received their completed papers, as many of them just sat on their beds reading all of the nice things that the other girls and counterparts had written about her. You could see many of the girls’ faces light up. In fact, my face lit up when I read all the sweet words that the girls wrote about me. It is definitely something I will always treasure.
On that last night, a bunch of the girls pushed their beds together and slept together. It had been an amazing week full of lots of new experiences, new knowledge, and new friendships and many of the girls were sad that the camp was coming to an end. Although it had been a long, tiring week and I was in much need of a day’s worth of sleep, I too was sad that the camp was ending. I had gotten to know the girls so well and I enjoyed spending time with them, talking with them, laughing with them, and watching them ask questions and learn new things.
We left Rova’ny Tovovavy early on Saturday morning to head back to the Alaotra-Mangoro region. As the girls sang on the taxi-brousse, I sat there thinking about how amazing the camp was and how lucky I was to be apart of such an incredible experience for these 21 girls and 5 Malagasy counterparts.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

GLOW Camp in Ambato and Tana – Part 2

We arrived in Tana on Monday in the late afternoon and settled in at Rovan’ny Tovovavy. The 21 girls, 3 female counterparts, and I claimed our beds in the huge dormitory on the fourth floor, while the three guys stayed in a smaller room on the third floor. The girls were exhausted after the long trip and carrying all of their luggage up four flights of stairs. They took showers, which I learned firsthand later that evening, were freezing cold. At site, I take warm showers by heating my water either on the stove or in the sun, so this was quite a shock to my system! However, after the first night and me mentioning (just stating, not complaining) to one of the counterparts that this was the coldest shower I had ever taken, the kitchen staff heated up water for the rest of my showers. I was beyond grateful!
After dinner, which was delicious and came with dessert, we headed upstairs for some much needed rest. Of course, although I was quite tired, the girls weren’t ready to go to sleep and requested a movie. So, after the movie, the girls and I finally went to sleep.
I chose the bed closest to the door (remember the whole feeling responsible part that I mentioned in the previous blog post), which ended up meaning that I didn’t get a very good night’s sleep. Here in Madagascar, it is common for people to use a ‘po,’ a bucket that you use during the night instead of walking to the toilet. Although Rovan’ny Tovovavy had indoor toilets, they were on the bottom floor and it was quite inconvenient to walk all the way down and up the very dark stairs in the middle of the night. So, a few buckets were placed outside the door for the girls to use during the night. Of course, the door squeaked every time the girls opened the door to use the po. On top of that, although breakfast wasn’t until 6:30am and we weren’t leaving until 7:00am, a few of the girls woke up at 4:00am. The noise from them rustling around their bags and walking around woke me up and I couldn’t go back to sleep. That evening, I made sure that the girls understood that I like my sleep and that from the next day on, they could not get out of bed until one hour before breakfast. It worked quite well and the girls were more respectful about staying in their beds and being quiet in the mornings after that discussion.
After breakfast, which consisted of rice every single morning, we departed for the US Embassy. The girls were all dressed up and they looked very nice. Getting into the US Embassy was their first introduction to ‘Little America.’ Everyone had to go through a metal detector and be searched with a hand wand. In addition, we had to leave our cells phones and cameras with the security guards, as you are not allowed to take photos of the US Embassy. We also had to give the guards our Identification Cards and weeks earlier, the names of everyone in our group had to be sent to the Embassy. Entering the US Embassy was quite a process, but it was definitely worth it as the girls had a wonderful experience at the Embassy and many of them said that visiting the Embassy was their favorite part of the camp.
We spent the entire morning in the IRC, the Resource Center, where we listened to about 10 female US Embassy employees talk about their lives, their work, their personal struggles, and their advice for the girls. All of the women, except for an American intern, were Malagasy and spoke to the girls in Malagasy. The girls asked lots of good questions and despite the fact that we listened to these women speak for many hours, they were very engaged. The girls also had the opportunity to look at the wide selection of books and magazines in the IRC.
One of the highlights of the US Embassy visit that the girls couldn’t stop talking about for days was using the bathroom equipped with automatic flush toilets, automatic sinks, automatic hand dryers, and toilets that you could actually flush toilet paper down. Most toilets in this country cannot handle toilet paper, so you have to throw the toilet paper in the trashcan. The bathrooms are something that they were very impressed by!
Before receiving a tour of the Embassy, we ate lunch in the dining area. Although the girls enjoyed their lunch, they noted that there was not enough rice and too much laoka (side dish). The Embassy was impressive and honestly, it felt like we were back in America, which was a bit crazy for me. The girls and Malagasy counterparts were impressed to see the pool and the gym and I was surprised to see a bank inside of the Embassy.
After spending all morning as well as the early afternoon at the Embassy, we left to go to Tsimbazaza, the zoo in Tana. We split into groups and walked around the zoo, checking out the animals, eating cotton candy (for the first time for some of the girls), and of course, taking lots of photos. After about an hour of hanging out at the zoo, the girls started walking very slowly and it was obvious that they were very tired from the long day.
The girls were too tired to watch a movie that night, but while we were all in the dormitory after dinner, I took some time with the girls to reflect on the day. This time with the girls turned into an evening ritual. I would ask the girls to share their favorite parts of the day and their least favorite parts of the day. In addition, I had the girls go around the room and say something nice about the girl sitting next to her. The next night, we went around the room the opposite way. The girls even included the counterparts and myself in the exercise and it was sweet to see them share their feelings about each other with the group and to watch the girls make new friends.
Every evening after reflecting on the day as a group, I would ask the girls to spend some time writing in their journals about the day and would give them some questions to consider responding to in their journals. It was so heartwarming to watch all of the girls sit on their beds and write in their journals. On some days, the girls would even start writing in their journals hours before I asked them to, as they had so much that they wanted to write about. Quite frequently, some of the girls would also continue writing after journaling time was over. It is my hope that at least some of the girls have continued journaling since returning home from the camp.