Mornings have turned into my favorite part of the day since I moving to Madagascar. In the mornings I get to witness the beautiful sunrise, the smell of fresh clean air and I get a brand new chance to start over. Every morning I can hear the the faint sound of music booming in the distance, the air is cool and feel the fresh air touch my skin. I can also hear mothers calling out to their children “MALAKY...MALAKY” (Hurry Up...Hurry Up). All these sounds are my cue that it is about 6:00am or so and it is time for me to wake up like and get ready for the day.
It has been a little over 5 months since I have been living in Sahambavy and my transition into being a full-time Peace Corps volunteer has been very smooth. All of the community members including the Lehibe (elders) hold Peace Corps to high standards and they are very happy that I am here and that is because of the great work the volunteers that came before me have done here in Sahambavy. Integrating myself as a member of this community has been very easy because of the excellent work done by these volunteers and for that I am very thankful. Many of the people here still remember them and often ask me to send them their regards.
My experience thus far as a full time volunteer in Sahambavy has been absolutely wonderful. I love being surrounded the mesmerizing beauty of the Fianar region highlands and the tea fields in Sahambavy are especially stunning. The Bestileo people in my region are incredibly friendly and have gone out of their way to make sure I feel Tamana (at home). The women and children have especially taken the time to help me with many of my daily chores such as: doing the dishes, burning the trash, cooking, yard work and the grueling task of fetching water. Here in Sahambavy we do not have access to running water so I have personally lowered my standards of needing to shower 2-3 times a day to just one bucket bath per day. I typically go through at least one 20 liters bidon (jerry can) per day.
To fetch water I have to walk about 50-60 meters to the closest water pump which is right next to Nony’s Hotely. A hotely is a cafeteria style Malagasy restaurant where they serve a pre set menu of Malagasy dishes all day. **I will write more about Malagasy hotely in a future blog post** Carrying a bidon from that distance is often a very grueling task because bidons are really heavy and they typically weigh around 50-60 pounds.
The truth of the matter is that although I am absolutely loving this experience some days are challenging. Fetching water is by far one the most tiring task for me--there are days I do not want to go fetch water but I HAVE to because my next meal or bucket bath depends on it. There have also been days where I have felt extremely exhausted and completing simple tasks such as doing the dishes or cleaning my tiny one room house takes longer than expected. Adjusting to a simpler lifestyle when you are accustomed to western commodities such as 24/7 access to electricity and running water is not always the easiest. There have definitely been day where I wanted to lock myself inside my house and forget about my very own existence (or just to avoid drunk people).
Initially when I first signed up to become a Peace Corps volunteer I prepared myself to feel alienated and at times lonely because of cultural barriers that separates me from Malagasy people. But honestly that has not been the case--here in Sahambavy I always have people visiting me and making sure I am “tamana”. In general people here are very curious about my background since to them I look Malagasy. I spend much of my time explaining to them that similar to the people of Madagascar I too come from an island that is deeply rooted in the African diaspora. I myself do not simply identify as an American but as an African-Dominican American woman. Many of the people in my community have taken it upon themselves to dub me “The Malagasy Vazaha” (Malagasy Foreigner) since to them I am already one of their own despite being an American foreigner in their community.
My primary assignment as an education volunteer in Sahambavy is to teach English at both the public CEG (Middle School) and the Lycee (High School). My work schedule is here very relaxed compared to what my teaching schedule was back home in Boston. Here I only teach 12 hours a week 3 days a week (Tuesdays-Thursdays). I spend my mornings at CEG Sahambavy and the afternoons at the Lycee Lalangina Est. I have to bike about 5k from my house to the CEG which is one of the highlights of my mornings because biking through the country side of Madagascar is a spiritually enriching. The Lycee is about a 20-30 minute walk from my house and although I commute there at the hottest part of the day I throughly enjoy it because I always run into my students who are also on their way to class. During our walks to the Lycee they typically help me practice my Malagasy and I help them practice their english.
I have managed to make quite a few friends in Sahambavy and they are constantly checking up on me making sure I am okay. One of the first friends I made at site is Tahina. Tahina is 26 years old and one of the most helpful and talented human beings I have ever encountered on this planet. Amongst many of her talents Tahina is an amazing cook, excellent hairdresser, great manicurist and amazing seamstress. Tony and Angelo my next door neighbors befriended me right away when I initially visited Sahambavy during site visit back in July. Angelo especially always try to sneak into my house to use my kabone (bathroom) or to watch a Disney movie on my laptop. During my breaks from teaching in the mornings I always stop by Madam Rossette Yogut Spot to purchase some delicious homemade yogurt. I stop by her store every other day to say hello and buy yogurt.
During my breaks from teaching in the mornings I always stop by Madam Rossette's Yogurt and Mofo shop to purchase some delicious homemade yogurt. I stop by her store every other day to say hello and buy yogurt. Every afternoon at around 4:30pm Farasnina a lovely 15 year old young lady that has also befriended me comes by and visits me. Farasnina is very intelligent and is always helping me improve my Malagasy and usually keeps me company on Saturday afternoons. Everyday at around 5:30pm I usually go to the water pump to fetch water. On my way to the water pump I always see Mampinona, Tony’s and Angelos mom’s and everytime she sees me with the big yellow Bidon she yells to me “Matanjaka Anao!” (You are strong!). Mr. Tino (my counterpart) who works as the treasurer for the community of Sahambavy usually comes in to check on me a couple of times a week to make sure my electricity is working. Aina and Annaisy two young children ages 12 and 9 are always checking on me and they usually accompany me to market to help me with my Malagasy and make sure that the sellers are not ripping me off with the prices.
On Saturdays I do not have a pre planned schedule and the day in itself is full of surprises. I usually get all kinds of visitors on Saturdays which includes the neighborhood children that usually want to come to my house and play or make music. Also on Saturdays Tahina comes in to check on me and make sure I am okay. Every other Saturday, in the afternoons, Madam Vololona (my other counterpart) and myself host a session with our girls group. We have only met only a handful of time but all of the girls are really excited to be a part of this group and to work on projects together. On Sundays I enjoy preparing meals with neighbors. I especially love preparing Dominican dishes and watching their reactions as they compare it to Malagasy dishes.
Overall, this adventure has been one of the most mentally, physically and spiritually stimulating experiences of my life. This experience has helped me reconnect with a part of me that I feel I have been longing to reconnect with. I say this because I too come from lineage of farmers in the Dominican Republic that lived a very similar lifestyle to the people here in Madagascar. My mother too grew up in the countryside of the Dominican Republic in a house without electricity, running water and using a latrine (kabone). She too had to endure the pain of having to fetch water everyday and washing clothes by hand. These are all things I have not had the opportunity of experiencing because I grew up in a more technologically “developed” country with access to many western world amenities. Through this experience I have learned to slow down and to enjoy the simpler things in life. It has also taught me to appreciate the beautiful smiles of the people in my region. It has challenged me to laugh and make the best of things even when I am faced with adversity. Living here in Madagascar has brought out a side of me that I never knew existed, it has shown me adaptable human beings can truly be and it has also shown me that you do not need a lot of material things to truly be happy. Through this experience I am also learning the value of mutual understanding, trust and community. I am very happy to be serving here in Sahambavy and I cannot wait for what is yet to come.
**Please take a look at the video below if you want to see what a typical day looks like for me.