Four months since I've written here. I apologize. Certainly it has to do with lack of internet access (heck, lack of electricity!), but also the difficulty of distilling my experiences down into a concise "blog post." Okay, so apologies over (this happens to be Malagasy culture for speeches: begin with apologies "sorry I'm not the oldest, sorry I'm not good at talking" etc etc), moving on to what's new, "inona vaovao."
We finished the alphabet! A to Z, minus C, Q, U, W, and X because Malagasy doesn't have those letters, and we've started building words with syllable blocks, two-syllable words like maka (fetch), rano (water), nono (boob), vavy (woman). I made a bingo game out of small and capital letters and called it Katsaka (Corn) because we use a corn kernel to mark the letters that are called, and the winner wins everyone's corn. I read about adult literacy techniques that involve using important words in the culture to inspire discussion and learning so we started with the words "miasa," to work, and "mianatra," to learn. One older woman in the group said that men's work is "heavier" but that women's work is harder because we work all the time but men just work in short spurts. Only two of the ten women went to school (one for a year, and the other for 3 years) when they were children. We talked about different ways of learning, and the things that they learned despite not having gone to school. Last week I handed out to each of them a paper with their name written in big letters. Their homework was to practice writing their name. This week, looking at all their names in their notebooks, I felt amazed at how far they have come. Even if they don't all learn to actually read, at the very least they can write their name, and they have had the opportunity to come together with other women every week and talk about their lives and experiences and learn something new.
The kids' club is going well also, though numbers have been dwindling all summer (winter here). We built a compost pile last May and finally dug new garden beds and started a new experiment to see if compost makes a difference. The little radish sprouts are poking up from the soil--so far we have 20 sprouted on the composted side of the bed and 11 on the non-composted side of the bed. The kids are excited and even I am surprised to see such a difference from the very first day of the experiment. Their exclamations of excitement over every worm in the compost and over finding eggs (lizard?) in the sandy soil makes the club worthwhile to me, even if only a few kids show up.
I've also had a bunch of vacations since I last posted here...since I didn't use many vacation days last year, and am not supposed to use vacation days during the last three months of service, I had to squeeze them in over the last four months. In June I traveled to Isalo, a national park in the east with big canyons and dry grassy landscape stretching far to the horizon, the kind of landscape that opens up my lungs and my heart and makes me feel alive again. I need that kind of openness after months in the tiny valley of my village. In August, I took a short but fun trip to Morondava on the east coast, watching the sunset on the ocean (channel really); visiting Kirindy park to see lemurs, birds, and fosa; and the Avenue of the Baobabs, which actually was as amazing as the pictures I've seen. A few weeks ago, I went the other direction and visited Manakara on the west coast, riding a train from the coast back up to the highlands was a highlight of the trip.
I will be able to post pictures when I get back to the States, which is coming up quickly...sometime between the end of December and the end of January, I'll know the date for sure in a few weeks. These last three months here already seem like they are going to go so fast. I have a lot of mixed feelings about leaving, no surprise. Read my journal, every day it's full of these mixed feelings! But after several attempts at ideas to extend (stay another year), none of which worked out, it seems like it's best for me to move on. There are moments, too, when I feel ready to leave NOW(!), but then I think about the kids, about the women and their eagerness to learn, and I'm pulled back to the moment, to the present, which is still me being here.
I want to write more, there are many stories to tell, but it's 10:00pm and I'm not used to electricity. In my village by now I would have long blown out my candle and tucked in my mosquito net. I need to sleep.