Monday, January 31, 2011

A few photos of vacation and my house

My January garden

My house and bike

Me in Fort Dauphin for vacation.

In Lokaro, also one of the most beautiful places...I just can't decide!

Faux Cap, "almost" the most southern point of Madagascar. Definitely one of the most beautiful points though.

Over a year in my village now!

I have been back and forth to the capital every week this month, yet have not found time to prepare a blog post despite all of my internet access. I've finally become "busy" in our American sense of the word!

In the capital, I've been helping put together the training for the new environment volunteers who will be coming in March. In my village, I've been keeping up with my weekly kids' science/nature club, and meeting with one of the VOIs who are now showing some interest in working with me, and weeding, doing laundry at the river, all that daily life that needs doing!

Going back and forth between my village and the capital so frequently has been challenging, since the two places are so different--one could use the cliche about "two different worlds" (which I don't like because there is only ONE world, despite all the differences and divides between parts of it!). I have been thinking, though, that this a good thing for me to practice, this mental--and physical--movement between extremes. It might help me to understand myself and my own niche in both spots.

The poverty of my village, and even more so of the community that I have been spending some time in four hours hike south of me, is set in contrast to the Peace Corps hostel that I stay in, the office in the nice area of the capital, and the pictures of life in the US that I look at on facebook.

I have been thinking about Amartya Sen's definition of development as ability to live to one's capacity. Which gets me thinking of my neighbor kids, one in particular is so smart and yet will probably not be able to go past elementary school, for the simple fact that there isn't a secondary school for 10km and her family can't afford to send her, or any of their 5 kids, to live in another town. Doesn't that impact her capacity? I can't send all the children in my village to school either. I begin to wonder what will this village be like in 50 years. Will kids go all the way through high school? Will the road have deteriorated to a footpath by then? Will someone have fixed it? Will people still be surviving on less that a dollar a day and dealing with a hunger season? Will the soil still support farming?

Too many questions. I can't answer them and I can't be responsible for them either, but I'm learning how to think about them in a non-overwhelmed, and non-guilty-all-the-time way.

For instance, my friend Sara told me that I need to laugh more often. So I discovered video skyping and made faces at my family, seeing them (on the computer screen anyway!) for the first time in 15 months. Also, there is the joy of a phone call laughing with a friends buried in snow in Minnesota. Then the pleasure of a day feeling like I have done something helpful at the office, followed by ice cream and English conversation. In the community I have been visiting south of my village, there are women that want to learn to read and write, they are interested in gardening, and are actively talking about things we could do together, so there is hope there too.

As an old friend once said, Life is good.

(except for the rat that died under my floorboards and stunk up my house all week...yuck ; )

Last Day at the Cactus Hotel

I wrote this little poem on the last day at Faux Cap, on my Christmas vacation.
December 30th, 2010

Last Day at the Cactus Hotel

What do I want to remember from this day?
The seven white birds flying across the water
landing on the shelf that is tide pools
where the waves break and spray,
where the agile fisherman hunts shellfish
with his long thin legs and arms,
where we swam through the blue-green
discovered anenomes, surprised barnicles.

The sun hits my leg, golden reflects silver
on the water and the waves.
My thoughts turn to so many different things
but always come back to the sound churning,
the touch of the breeze,
the shadows of small cactus on the sand,
the pattern of sand on my feet,
the reflection of the thin man on the tide pool
who squats now intently examining something.

What do I want to remember from this day?
The sounds of preparation in the kitchen,
the shuffle of a footstep bringing tea,
the silent movement of a lizard over sand.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Guess what? A fellow volunteer downloaded Skype onto my computer, and I've been in and out of Antananarivo lately, so if anyone out there wants to call me, send me an email and I'll let you know when I'm in internet-land! This world of technology is so exciting...

I'll try and write a real post here soon. Sorry it's been a while!

Monday, January 10, 2011

End of Vacation and One Year Left

Tomorrow I return to my site after two weeks of vacation and a week of mid-service training. While some volunteers are anxious to get back to their villages, I am feeling apprehensive. In the month and a half between when I posted last and when I left for vacation, not much "happened." I finished planting my corn, beans, and rice field. I met with one of the VOIs in an effort to get them to want to work with me. I did two environmental education activities with some kids. Okay, so when I write it down it sounds like enough, like at least I was doing something.

And I was. It just felt like I was doing it on my own without people in the community being interested or willing to work with me, which is what is supposed to happen. And so I get discouraged. What do I expect to happen? I'm not sure. People coming to my house saying things like: "We want to learn about gardening!" or "We want to conserve our hillside soil!" Ha ha. While I know that is silly to expect, I find myself restless, wanting to be doing something already. Not doing something like spending days and days in my field planting alone, but doing something with people.

Maybe it's just restlessness. I read my friend Emily's blog, about her nomadic life, her life between worlds. It's nice to know I'm not the only one with this wandering syndrome. But heading into my second year here in my small house in the village, I'm thinking of the past and of the future, what I've been doing here and what I might be doing this year, and the next. Where will my feet land? At our Mid-service conference, other volunteers are planning their travels for next year, or talking about extending their Peace Corps service. I have some ideas, but I feel the same old crunch of time. What am I doing? What am I going to do?

I have some ideas for my second year of service here, and I want to get past my discouragement and find the energy in myself to get some momentum going. I'm thinking about seed-saving and grain banks for some of the small communities surrounding me. It's a need that came out in the food security survey that I did, and could be implemented with resources from the community itself. My other thought is putting together a small group of young farmers to learn some farm planning and experimenting skills. Plus, I have my group of kids that are the most eager to spend time with me, and the environmental education lessons that I've been putting together. So all I need is some interested people and some enthusiasm of my own!

We got invited to an amazing potluck at a returned peace corps volunteer's house. Delicious food, and people who had been in the Peace Corps all around the world and are now working here in Madagascar. It was interesting to talk to them, and to see how different my life is as a volunteer in a small village, compared to their lives working for places like Catholic Relief Services and USAID, "real" jobs with salaries, deadlines, big projects. In a way, it makes me glad that I get this life among the people. As real as their jobs may be for the USA, I am living closer to the real Malagasy life. I hope that no matter what I do after this, I find something that keeps me close to the people.

Now I need to leave behind the beaches, coral reefs, and spiney forest of southern Madagascar, and the internet and flushing toilets of Antananarivo, and head back to the village. My rice field, my garden, and all the kids are waiting for me...

PS: I'll try and post some pictures of my vacation someday when the internet isn't so slow! It was so beautiful in the south!!