Friday, November 21, 2008

Visual Aids

Two of my friends: Mino, a teacher at the C.E.G., and Ernesta, who runs and teaches at the preschool.
Me and my friend Finaritra on the bridge at my site a few weeks ago before I went on vacation. She's also a teacher at the C.E.G. or rather, she was. Now she's living in my banking town taking a month of classes, some kind of conference. I don't know if anyone replaced her to teach her classes. It wouldn't surprise me if the students just don't study that topic until (and if) she returns. That's how some things go here.

The inside of the leeches. Werid, huh?

Leeches (I don't know if I spelled that right, lyches/lychees maybe). The Malagasy people go crazy over this fruit. When I went on vacation near the coast a few weeks ago, people were getting all excited in the taxi brousse about something. I finally realized they were excited that the leeches were ripe. They will be in full bloom around Christmas, so it's often referred to as the Christmas Fruit. Tastes pretty good, but the inside looks weird. Evidently, if you eat a lot of them, it makes you hot. I was already hot from the day when I first tried them, so I'll have to let you know if this is true or not.

One of my multiple bright gecko friends, enjoying my fruit.

Also, in a few days or weeks...Happy Birthday to my cousins Catherine and Brady, Lynn, and Tony. And Happy Anniversary to Aunt Julie and Uncle Tarron. Happy belated Birthday to John David and belated Anniversary to Casie and Mark.

More Odds and Ends

So this high school girl that lives close to me asked me Wednesday if she could bring by a friend to study English. I said, No Problem, being she is a nice girl who was kind to me when I first arrived. I’ll blame it now on the Stupid Malagasy Subject Pronoun: Izy = she AND he. I would have said yes anyways because who can expect a guy to come back the next day by himself and quote parts of the song “You Are My Sunshine” to you? NOT ME. I had a thought that he may have alternate motives other than wanting to improve his English speaking abilities, but who’d have guessed he would return so quickly and speak so clearly in English. No wonder he’s already an English teacher at the Catholic school (not that this means anything either because some of the English teachers are capable of speaking very little English).

He told me he saw me two months ago when I arrived and wanted to get to know me then. Ha. Last night when he left he told me “Have a sweet dream” and then texted me “Good night” (His getting my number was an accident. Silly me). When he arrived at my house today, he asked me if I had “a nice dream.” I told him I didn’t remember so they must not have been that bad. He then asked if he could tell me what he dreamed about, which is when he broke out the words to the above mentioned song. I tried not to laugh and at the same time, encourage him that I do NOT need a Gasy boyfriend. I’m here to work. He said he didn’t see why I couldn’t do both. Okay, good point. But, I don’t need time to think about my response, which is what he told me he would let me do. Gee, what a nice guy.

My sister’s text message response to my admirer dilemma: “Look at the impact you are having…that is a lot of English to learn!” Thanks for your support, sis.

Some odds and ends I’ve been meaning to suggest (that’s all they are, suggestions, because they made me think and maybe they’ll make you think, too):
1. Read The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
2. Watch An Inconvenient Truth
3. The Malagasy people were very interested in the U.S. Presidential Election. They wanted Barack Obama to win because he has dark skin. Each time this topic came up, they would point to their skin and say, “Mitovy Malagasy” (same as Malagasy), as if this explains everything. But it should make us wonder, What does this say of what other countries think of America?
4. A PCV who has been here for three years and is getting ready to COS (he extended for a year and is about to go home) said that often in PC, “the days drag on but the months fly by.” It’s true even at home, but I’m just now starting to understand that here.
5. When I first arrived, people thought my name was Quinze, the French word for the number 15. Now they think it’s Kenji. I guess where moving forward slowly.
6. I think my new favorite word at the moment is “to fetch” (maka). That’s the verb that the Malagasy people use for lots of situations: to fetch water, to fetch a piece of paper, to fetch a person when it’s time for the taxi brousse to leave. Maybe my favorite: "maka rivetra", to fetch the wind. For example, my students say it when they are taking a break between classes. I tell them they still have a few mintues to run around and they say this. They still have a few minutes to walk around outside, enjoy the breeze. It's fun, and it makes the language easier for me.
7. Some people flagged me down yesterday when I was walking and tried to explain something about some sort of animal to me. I didn’t recognize the name of the animal or what they wanted me to do wih it, but this isn’t that unusual of a situation for me. They asked me where I lived and said they’d bring the animal by. How thoughtful. Four young children showed up at my door later that afternoon with the biggest, brightest yellow butterfly I’ve ever seen. They had it in a plastic bag, barely big enough for it to squirm around in. I didn’t take a picture because I don’t know these kids and didn’t want them to see my camera. Sorry. And I still have no idea what they wanted me to do with it. Buy it? And then what? Just because I’m a foreigner doesn’t mean I have a special need for a giant yellow butterfly.

The top three things I discuss with Malagasy people:

1. Am I here to ‘fetch’ a Gasy sipa/mpivady (boyfriend/husand)? And then at great length, Why not?
2. Obama or McCain? And now, did I vote for Obama?
3. Rice. It’s always about the rice here. Do I eat rice? Do I eat it three times a day? Do I eat rice three times a day in the States? Do Americans eat rice? Do Americans eat rice three times a day? If Americans don’t eat rice three times a day, what do they eat? They want to know what our rice is: bread, pasta, potatoes, cassava? Seriously. I’ve had this conversation and will continue to have it until I leave.

“I will do my best to give thanks for gifts, strangely, beautifully, painfully wrapped.” p. 417 (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells)

“A moment was not a single moment at all, but rather an infinite number of different moments, depending on who was seeing things and how.” p. 215 (The Memory Keeper’s Daughter)

Playing Catch-up

An old entry I typed up on my flash drive. Last time, the computer at the Internet cafe didn't like the format of the document. So you get to read a lot all at once. Sorry, but enjoy.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Where to begin--always a tricky question. I’m typing up some emails and blog entries on my computer at site so that I have more time to piece together the more interesting details of my time here and also, so I spend less money using the Internet.

Wednesday, October 8th, I was hanging out at the basketball courts when one of my friends pointed out a bunch of young guys climbing the cell phone tower. Orange and white, the tower has been there for a while, well before I arrived to live here. So naturally, I take little notice of it, even more so because we never had service. But rumor got around that my town should have service sometime Wednesday, which was the reason for the congregation of young men around and on the tower. It was quite amusing.

I headed home after basketball, cooked my dinner, and was reading some when I heard the man on the loud speaker, making an announcement to the town. This has happened before, when there were two concerts scheduled, and the man would drive around shouting at everyone to remind them of the concerts (the signs were everywhere, the banner in the center of town, the constant replaying of the bands’ songs in the weeks prior to the shows, not to mention how small the town is or how fast news travels here were not enough advertisement). I listened (I had little choice, like when the pigs near my house sound like they are dying at 2:37 a.m. or the roosters and dogs are competing for the blue ribbon in the category of who can irritate the most people at the most unusual times of the night), although I understood little of what was being said. And then I caught a word and realized the voice was telling us that the town now had cell phone reception.

Eagerly, I turned on my phone to see full bars of service but the words “Limited Service” so nastily displayed on my screen. I had doubts it would work: I’d been told several times that the service would be provided by a company that I did not have a SIM card for (even though I have SIM cards for two of the three phone companies in Madagascar). Sure enough, I tried to text my sister and even call her and my parents. No such luck. The full bars of service were overridden by the nasty message of “Limited Service”. No worries though. The town should have a mpivarotra (a merchant), selling the correct company’s products soon. Good ole Supply and Demand. At the very least (or should it be longest), I’ll have to wait until the end of the month when I go to do my “banking”.

Speaking of banking, here’s a story for all of my friends from HSB. Towards the end of training (this would be about a month and a half ago), we were in the capital for some reason or another and had a meeting scheduled at the PC office in order to set up our bank accounts. There are several banks in Madagascar, so which bank a volunteer is assigned to use depends on what part of the island he/she is located. The majority of us, however, bank at the same “brand” (Can I say that? My English fails me sometimes because of the Malagasy.) of bank. So, on this sunny morning, there had to have been between 15-20 of us almost-volunteers (tired, cranky, ready for the next phase of the PC experience even though we still had a few weeks left living with our host families) sitting in a small conference room with four Malagasy women: one who works with PC and three who work with the bank, two who speak English.

Now, most of you have opened a bank account before, whether you were the customer or the bank representative. Either way, lots of paper, lots of signatures, lots of paragraphs of words that don’t make complete sense. Imagine doing this in a foreign language (French, even though we speak Malagasy, because everything to do with numbers here, numbers above 10,000 that is, and anything that’s truly legal in Madagascar, is usually done in French). One of the first things that crossed my mind besides, How long is this going to take because I’m hungry?, was, Dad and mom told me never to sign anything until I read it and then, only if I agreed (I know I’m not the only one who heard this when they were growing up). Despite this deeply engrained lesson, I signed my name, over and over again. I have to get my Living Allowance somehow and PC is a U.S. government organization, so I should trust their judgment, right?

This was stressful for us trainees, all talking back and forth across the conference table, using whatever language skills we had (English, French, Malagasy--sometimes, I throw in a Spanish word every now and then too, Mrs. PJ), to figure out what these four women were trying to get us all to accomplish in a decent amount of time and in a somewhat orderly fashion. Part of me, the former bank teller part, was dying inside because I knew how much of a pain we were. It’s hard enough to get twenty people to pay enough attention to a person who is trying to get them all to sign one sheet of paper in one location, let alone twenty people to pay attention to four people who are trying to tell them in several languages where to sign their name 31 times on 17 sheets of paper.

I keep thinking of funny things that have happened over the last four months (October 12 marks 4 months in Madagascar for me), which is why it is better for me to write at my site when I have time than to try and say something semi-interesting when I’m sitting in a hot, stuffy Internet café, waiting impatiently for my email to open or my pictures to load or trying to hurry because other people want to use the computer or my friends are already finished and wanting to leave.

Spanish. That’s what I was thinking about. Malagasy people think any foreigner they see is French. It’s an assumption that goes way back to the French colonizers and one that gets annoying fast. It’s quite hard for them to comprehend that I do not speak French (those two classes didn’t help very much) even if they do eventually realize that I am not from France, but the U.S. [Side Note: Part of me wants to be shocked with them too because most Malagasy people speak enough French to get by and maybe know a few words in English (Thanks to Celine Dion and Britney Spears, if nothing else. They blare their music everywhere), where as a great majority of people from the U.S. don’t speak anything besides English and think it appalling that they should have to learn a different language when the U.S. is (was?) such a big power in the global society. I’m sorry. I’m getting off topic. Maybe I have too much time to think when I type these up before I go to the Internet café. But have you ever noticed that in so many other countries, the people, especially the students in high school and university, are capable of holding a conversation in at least one other language than that of their native country, yet the people of the U.S., so big and powerful and said to be at one point so far ahead of everyone else, do not even care about having the ability to communicate with others who may not speak their language?]

Back to Spanish. I try to pacify them by telling them that I studied Spanish in high school because more people in the U.S. are apt to speak Spanish than French. I tend to leave out the fact that I am not, nor was I ever, capable of holding a conversation in Spanish like I can now hold in Malagasy (This may have something to do with pride and the above mentioned--and quite lengthy--side note. I never did take enough interest in learning Spanish, which I now regret). Anyways, here’s the real story, the funny part, which is what I thought you all would find funny.

During one of my first few weeks in country, my host father asked if I liked his family, and me, still somewhat shocked I was actually in Madagascar and barely capable of telling people what my name was, half nodded yes, have shook my head no, partly smiling, partly frowning with confusion, looked around the table for a clue of what question I was being asked (I only knew it was a question because everyone was looking at me, waiting for my response). My host brother saved me by translating a few words he knew in English. And I was so grateful to finally know what was being asked of me that I quickly shook my head yes and said, “Si”, which is Spanish for “Yes” but unfortunately is how the Malagasy word, “Tsia”, is pronounced, meaning “No”. I quickly realized my mistake, and tried to explain my mix-up, but like I said before, my language skills were not quite at the right level to understand the original question, let alone how to explain my confusion between two languages. Yikes! They gave me two presents when I left their house after training and want to visit me or have me visit them for Christmas, so I guess we all semi-understood each other in the end.

Each time I type up a new memory, another one comes to me. Celine Dion made me think of the other funny music-related moments I’ve experienced. Has anyone ever heard of the boy band West Life? Evidently, they are from the U.S., and the Malagasy people love them. Must not have enjoyed the same success at home as *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys, because I’ve never heard of them. And then there are the times people welcome me into their homes (Mandroso = Come in) and I sit down on a thin mattress and feel the boards of the couch beneath it and look up to see an old, faded poster of Britney Spears next to Mother Mary and/or the President of Madagascar. I’ve even seen a few of Avril and Christina. I can’t help but smile at the hilarity of the situation every time and my hosts are pleased because I seem happy with their home. Even when I went to the PC office for the first time, I was surprised to see an 8x10 photo of President Bush and one of same size of Chaney displayed in the front lobby. The Malagasy people walk around with t-shirts, displaying huge pictures of their President’s face. It’s quite unusual to me, but nonetheless, I think it’d be funny to bring one back to the States (I can’t wear it here of course, because I can’t show any political favoritism for this country or my own, but in two years, I can display it on my wall at home;).

Speaking of presidents, we’re part way through October now and by the time I post this, it will most likely be the first of November, and I still haven’t received my Absentee Ballot. Go figure. For all of our technological advances over the years, you’d think someone would have come up with a way for military personnel and PC volunteers overseas to vote in a timely manner. But once again, I digress). I should take this time to mention once again that these are my thoughts and not the thoughts of the U.S. government or Peace Corps. Plus, I have a lot of time to think here, so don’t take anything I say too seriously. I don’t mean to offend anyone, just posing some thoughts and hoping they cause others to think too.

Monday, November 10, 2008

a little something from madagascar

Kinsey was trying to update her blog. Had it typed up on her flashdrive, but unfortunately the computer wouldn't open them. They are so slow over there.

I posted a new address for her. The other address is at the captial, she will still get them, just will take longer. It is about 6 1/2 hrs away, and she doesn't get there very often.

She said teaching is slow, but going well. Her classes are pretty similar to those in the US. You've got your good students and your class clowns. Just a different language. She is also teaching the school board/superintent office people twice a week for about 2 hours. They know lots of vocabulary, but need practice speaking. They write up lots of dialogues and practice them over and over.

She was able to watch the new President Elect give his acceptance speech live! It was around 8 a.m. in Madagascar. She didn't get to vote. Her absentee ballot arrived on Fri. Oct 31th.

Besides the scorpion bite she has had sand fleas in the bottom of her feet. They burrow down into the skin and lay eggs-then the skin turns hard and you have to dig them out! She said her feet hurt, but it is too hot to wear shoes or boots.

Has been warm at her site in the mid-80's rains every day, some times a little, some times all day.

She has gotten to see the Indian Ocean twice now.

She sounds good when we talk to her. It is so good to hear her voice and hear her laugh. She has limited cell phone access at her site, very limited so far we have called her twice adn she will say Hi, how she is doing and I don't know how long this will last....CLICK...... So hopefully that will get better soon so we can talk to her more than once a month.

She will be going to TANA(captial) Dec. 13th for more training. She will update her blog then.
She loves to get letters and really looks forward to it, so if you got a little time she would love to hear from you and it means so much to her.

Becky(Kinsey's Mom)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Scorpions and Jelly Shoes

Every two months, the schools take a week vacation. So I met up with some friends and went to a Malagasy music festival (similar to a county fair), celebrated Halloween by carving a fruit (I forget the name), got stung by a scorpion (I'm still alive! and fine. The Benadryl just knocked me out all morning and it didn't hurt THAT bad), bought some jelly shoes (you know you're jealous. just like when we were kids!), and worked on my tan at the beach.

I'm heading back to my site now, just made a stop in my banking town. Have to go see if my brousse is ready to leave. Sorry this is so short. Maybe my sister or mom can type up a quick summary of the phone calls we've had recently. I hope all is well. I love and miss you all!

Not quite a pumpkin, but we made due. Good job Catherine and Brian.
Me and my friend Megan, hanging out at Brian's site after the music festival. I'm wearing a lamba (just a large piece of material. Popular with the women here).

Efa Malagasy zaho (I'm already Malagasy). My feet after a day of traveling on the taxi brousse and walking around in the dirt. Part of it is a tan line though:)

Enjoying the first afternoon of the Malagasy music festival (it was kind of like a county fair). In the back: Jessica, Megan, Brian In front: Michelle, Kinsey, Dorothy.