Months have gone by since I last "blogged"...I seem to have trouble writing for a public eye. I start a post and then backspace it and sit looking at the blank screen wondering what to tell you, the reader, about my life here. At the same time, I write in my own journal every day, a practice I've keep up for most of the last 20 years. Glancing over some pages between the end of January and now, there are so many pieces I could share with you.
Here's a few:
February 3rd, Thursday
I wrote the following after a meeting with my community that was supposed to start at 9 but started closer to 11 and didn't end until 3, and that was supposed to be for me to talk to the community about working with them, but ended up being a lot of ranting about the teachers not teaching because many parents hadn't paid the school fees, and a doctor from the city telling us that the plague was in a neighboring county. Eventually it was my turn. By then, over half the people had left and those who stayed, including me, were very hungry. I had prepared an activity to get them thinking about their top priorities for improving their lives based on the survey that I did months ago, and although it was well past lunch, about 30 of them agreed to stay and participate.
I think the meeting went well despite the hours and the negativity and the stress. I felt bad about keeping people longer, but they were so cooperative. Sometimes, in my frustration, I think that things will never get better here. I just want to roll my eyes at everything, pack up and go somewhere that feels like it has more hope to it. But who knows where that hopeful place is. We are all struggling with something all over the world.
And last week in Antanifotsy [one of the VOI communities near the forest] and this week in today's meeting, I did see a glimmer of hope. So that's what I have to hold onto. If I'm going to be easily discouraged, then this is not the work for me.
February 4th, Friday
Sometimes its as though I just forget that I'm not in the States. I'm cooking at my stove, sweeping my floor, feeling grouchy about the rain, in my house most of the day I create my own world. Then I hear the neighbors pounding rice, or see someone go by with a huge load on their head or balanced on a stick on their shoulder, and I suddenly remember where I am. It's startling. I want to turn to someone and say in English "Do you have this too?" but there's no one around. And because of the rain, I don't feel like climbing the hill to send a text message.
February 14th, Monday
The cyclone that Peace Corps has been texting us about for days finally arrived here and I've been in my house all day except for getting water. Strong winds and so much rain--I was disappointed to find my rain gauge had fallen over as I imagine it would have been overflowing. I'm reminded of the typhoon days we'd have off school in the Philippines. Here, the kids had no school today. This afternoon my house was full of kids drawing and reading. It was nice. I was working on literacy lessons for the women in Antanifotsy. I made a big alphabet poster and 18 copies of a worksheet for practicing writing the letters. I'm thinking that I won't be able to hike out there tomorrow though, with this weather.
February 17th, Thursday
My house is strung with laundry. 13 pairs of underwear tells me its been a while since I washed clothes! Unfortunately nothing will dry today, the drought seems to be over. I'm sitting in the doorway now. The kids are kicking around a ball in the road.
Today I held a follow-up community meeting to talk about solutions to their priority problem that they had identified before -- that of saving enough rice seeds from their harvest each year. They decided that they didn't want to work together as a group in an organized fashion, but would rather continue trying to save their rice seeds among their families or with a few friends.
I've been thinking about how encouragement and discouragement come in waves, and how I have to get out of my own boat, stand somewhere on the solid earth. I'll always have my own waves of discouragement, but at least I don't need to take on those of my village. I was thinking that in some ways perhaps development work (at least in this context I'm in) is kind-of like counseling. You can help the process along, you can try to facilitate, but in the end it is the people who make choices to change or not change their behavior or thought processes or whatever it is. Like counselors, development workers have to A) not take things personally B) not get (too) emotionally involved, and C) work themselves out of a job.
My vetiver grass is really beautiful in the wind in the evening. All the little tips of grass bend over just the same way. Okay, now I'm really hungry, time to make some rice.
So, there's a small glimpse into my daily thoughts. We are in full swing of the training for the new group of environment and small enterprise development volunteers and it has been going well. I had two of them out at my site last weekend and they enjoyed hiking out to the forest and waterfalls and we ate lots of good food, including french toast, corn tortillas from corn we picked in my field, and some vegetables from my garden with cheesy pasta. I figured they would be tired of rice! I spent a week with them in March at the training center teaching about soils, composting, and gardening.
When not working on the training, I've focused my attention out to the community Antanifotsy, about a 2.5 hour bike/hike from my village. There is a group of 8 women in the VOI there that had expressed interest in learning to read and write, as well as garden, so I've been going out there as often as possible. We dug garden beds and they each put in 250 Ariary for seeds. We've had 3 literacy lessons so far, and they are starting to warm up to me and participate in the goofy alphabet song I make them sing. We are starting with "how to hold a pencil" and exercises for their hand to get used to holding it. We've also planted some vetiver around one of their new fish ponds to keep the soil from eroding, and are starting a nursery for more vetiver so they will have enough for around all their ponds.
Last week after planting their carrot, onion, and green bean seeds, we were sitting in the field playing with the babies and the conversation turned to reproduction...I ended up attempting to explain to them how babies are formed in a woman's uterus, the whole thing of the egg, sperm, periods. It was a language challenge for me and caused all of us a lot of laughter, but really, it's so amazing that these women have never learned all these things.
In my own village, I had several meetings over the past months and the numbers of attendees dwindled, the enthusiasm was impossible to maintain. I get the feeling that they are too used to handouts from the past NGO that was here. They were ecstatic when I brought them soccer t-shirts for the kids from an NGO a fellow volunteer works with, but to get them to work on anything sustainable together seems to be going nowhere. So I am focusing my attention on the women in Antanifotsy, and on the kids, and will not be doing more community meetings in my own village for now.
That's the update from me. I'm heading on a short vacation with a good friend flying in from the DRC tomorrow! A much needed break before I go back to the training center again. Thank you to all my friends and family for your love and support! I miss you all!