Monday, February 15, 2010

January 23, 2010

We are a few days away from “swearing in.” We've had our last training sessions, our language placement interviews (a.k.a. language test) are over, and we left our host families yesterday to come back to the training center for all of our last minute logistical nightmares before we head to the capital for the ceremony. Hopefully I'll get internet while we're there and I can post this.

I think I would have gone crazy with all this training if it wasn't for the host family that I lived with for the last three weeks. They lived in a small two-room house, in which I had one of the rooms and they slept, prepared food, and we ate meals in the other. I felt bad for taking up so much of their space, but they were so flexible and welcoming. It was a young couple and their two boys, ages 6 and 3, and a little cat who was always hungry and liked to curl up on the rock by my window/doorway. The entrance to my room was through the window, which was big and had a big sill, so there was plenty of room for me to sit there and look out at the world.

What I would see from my window seat would be a nicely made fence, a small corn field, a decomposing house across the way, chickens in the yard, and off in the distance down the hill, bright green rice fields in the valley. We spent our days in language classes at another trainee's house, and doing some technical sessions on things like gardening, composting, making mud-brick stoves, and planting rice. In the evenings, I would help with dinner, dishes, sometimes drawing with the kids, and studying. On the weekends, we did things like laundry in the river, and going on walks with the family.

I made some meals for them, including tortillas with re-fried beans and salsa. It was a trick to learn to cook with the charcoal stove on the ground, and the first time I was left alone to fix lunch while the mom was still at the market, I had to find the young neighbor boy to help me light it in the rain with no kindling! We ended up breaking off little branches from one of their fences in order to start the fire. At least they were impressed by how well the rice ended up turning out!

Everyone in the small town where we were staying was friendly and kind, and very encouraging with the language, always telling me I was “mahay” which means good, smart, intelligent, etc. “Efa mahay Malagasy,” they would say, which means, you're already good at Malagasy! They would say this even after I had only said three words, like my name is Amanda, or something really silly like that. In reality, I'm at just the level expected of me by peace corps, no higher!

Yesterday we had a big thank you party for all the families. It was estimated that 300 people were invited when you counted all the kids, officials, and staff members. I was voted to give the thank you speech, which didn't worry me until I found out that I had to use a microphone. Fortunately, several other volunteers also did speeches, so I wasn't alone, and it went very well. I managed to talk slowly and clearly and pause at all the right moments. One of the language teachers helped me prepare it, and I actually made the families laugh several times, so apparently they understood what I was saying! My host family whispered to me that I was the best, they are so encouraging! The staff had prepared so much food; the families were stuffing their pockets and purses full.

On Wednesday I will be moving to my site. It will probably take me several days to move in, get what furniture I need for the house, and meet all the appropriate officials. Two language teachers will be coming with me and two other volunteers to move us in and introduce us to the communities (they call this “installation”). Right now it feels surreal to me that I will be in my site in less than a week. I can barely imagine it. Especially after years of moving around, it's unreal to think I will be in one place for two years, and I can't quite grasp that idea. I will have email access once a month when I go to my banking town, so I will try and give an update about how it all goes!