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.