Mar 9, 2009

Welcome to Town with a Smile

It’s nice to leave site and return to town armed with a list of things to do (sounds crazy…but its as it should be). Usually when I go to town it’s an orchestrated event, but you still feel like you only accomplish half of the planned ‘to do’ list you bring with you.

I got a call last week asking if I wanted to have dinner with the US Ambassador who was coming to the Ft. Dauphin area and was hoping to dine with some PCVs on Tuesday night. The sad part is (although expected / we are still experience some political ‘turbulence’) the ambassador had to cancel, but a group of representatives from the US Embassy are still coming down and they will still be taking us out to eat as planned, which is great! We are going to dined and (maybe) wined at the nicest restaurant in town!

…So I got that going for me…

As for the current political ‘turbulence.’ Marc R. (the President) has called for an end on all anti-‘his’government rallies and has started enforcing police blockades around Tana. I’ve also heard some talk about a Military commander who has stayed ‘neutral’ thus far (not excepting bribes and not picking a side) was ‘forcefully’ replaced by the President. Whether it is true and what it would mean remains unknown.

Anyway, negations looked promising for a while, but fell apart two weeks ago. The opposition looked like they were loosing steam, but periodically regain momentum. It’s a complicated struggle for power—and when I think I get a handle on what is going on, I get thrown a loop. So, I’ve partly given up.

Life in Sainte Luce is NORMAL. You wouldn’t even know anything is going on—apart from the slight increase on some commodity goods. Overall people in Sainte Luce, for the most part, don’t care.
Remember that Madagascar is a large island (the width of the state of Pennsylvania and the length of New York City to Miami) Everything that’s going on is taking place in and around Tana (i.e. North Carolina) and Ft. Dauphin (i.e. Florida) remains calm. We are all still on ‘Standfast,’ which means daily communication with Peace Corps Staff.

From a still VERY safe part of the island

It’s nice to be missed…

I think it was clear to a lot of people that I almost left. ‘‘You don’t know what you got till its gone’’ and it is applicable on both ends here. To be almost robbed of this experience has forever changed my outlook of it and I think has also rekindled community interest in what I’m doing here and who I am. I have been approached about seeds, tress, gardening advice all over the last day or two. I’ve replanted 15 Moringa trees near the Elementary school with a friend who was eager to help, all while spending the majority of my time away from St. Luce and working with the community north of me helping to plant 24,000 trees.

I’m writing this because I have hit a transition point in my service. Finished and through is the ‘cultural’ adjustment and awkwardness. I can finally turn the page on ‘survival’ mode and focus on the ‘improval’ part of my stay. This is my opportunity to make small fundamental changes in individual lives. I have been in country about a year now. That’s one year spent out of my comfort zone and a whole year away from family and friends. I’m not sure what this next year will bring. I do know its not going to be an easy ride, but committed and determined I am. I have started something here and I intend to finish it. The second leg of this journey beings today and I’ll start by going to church (its Sunday) and greet people with my usual smile and cheer. I am a firm believer that bringing a smile to a face is development!

Not bad.

‘‘Not a bad way to start your day..huh..Brendan?’’
‘What’s that?’’ I ask as I take off my bike helmet.
‘Biking on a dirt road in the middle of Madagascar’’
‘Hah..Yea, I cant complain.’’ I reply with a grin.

It’s easy to get lost out here. To forget about where you are and what you are doing at any given moment. We all do it…and I find myself slowly slipping back into the old habit I tried to leave behind in the States.
Every night as I cook dinner I have the luxury of watching the sun fall behind the mountains that hug the south-eastern cost of Madagascar. Sometimes as the sun sets the sky becomes illuminated with every shade of pink, red, and orange imaginable. It’s an amazing way to close out a day.
Recently I have had the pleasure of waking up before the sun and hoping on my bike and riding 8k to the area my NGO and the local community are planting trees. I get to watch as the sun creeps above the horizon and burns off the morning dew. It’s also an amazing way to start the day.

That’s right my friend…this shit is hard, no doubt, but honestly I am in no position to complain.

Happy ‘I have been in Madagascar for a whole year’ day!
One word… ‘‘crazy’’
Come and knock on my door…

I heard the knock on the door while cutting up the squash I picked form my garden (squash and a watermelon are all I’ve been able to grow in the last few hot dry months). The knock was followed by a question and I immediately knew the voice. It was Ben Ombie (chief of the village) and he wanted me to follow him with by camera, while pointing in the direction of ‘downtown’ Ambaondrika. I say sure, grab my things and briskly walk with him down the road and into a crowd of gathering people. At first I thought he wanted me to take his picture, but the site of the crowd made me a bit confused. ‘Maybe he wants me to take a picture of everyone’ I thought to myself. As we approached the crowd parted and it all suddenly became clear.

At the feet of the awaiting crowd laying on some banana leaves was the carcass of tow conjoined baby calves—two heads, two sets of front legs all sharing a single torso and two hind legs.

The crowd was continually scanning my face trying to read my reaction. I was continually scanning the faces of the crowd trying to read their reaction. Not knowing what to say, I paused and let the situation soak in. No one seemed frightened or scared, which I can only assume is good—this isn’t viewed as some kind of horrible omen.

‘‘Wow!’’ I said in gasy, ‘‘that’s a surprise.’’

I examine it for a few minutes.
After which I snapping two pictures (one with Ben Ombie), I turned to the guy next to me and asked (jokingly) if he was gonna eat it. He smiled and took a few steps backwards with his hands in the air saying ‘‘No, No, No.’’ We both smiled and everyone laughed.

I thought for a brief moment about picking up a stick and drawling pictures in the sand to explain how this type of thing happens. But, I quickly remembered the last time I tried to explain something through illustration (on the topic of ‘what my dad does for a living,’ which quickly morphed into the topic of ‘specialization.’) it did more harm than good—causing mass confusion. So, I let this opportunity for a lesson in human reproduction and anatomy pass me by.

As for the picture…as word got out that I took it people have been asking to buy a copy. That’s right! BUY a copy…slowly we are working away from a mentality of ‘give me,’ to one of ‘show me, teach me, and sell me.’

Two Moments…

I hear the cry from outside my house. I recognized the sound of the voice immediately.
‘E!’ I yelled. I dropped my notebook on the floor and peeked out the doorway of my house.
‘I haven’t seen you in a long time!’ I shout from the door.
‘Where have you been!’ he replies with a smile.
I walk outside and shake his hand with a smile that had to rival his. He puts his hand on my shoulder.
‘Salama!’ another voice cries out form the road.
Oh..What’s new!’ I yell back with equal excitement as we both walk towards the road.
All three of us chatted a few minutes; I explained where I have been and gave both men some water, all while sporting a big smile the whole time.

I don’t need to write anymore…I think I captured it…
This is what Peace Corps is all about… Bridging two very different worlds.

I spot Seringoty as he walks home from work. (he’s a guard for the Rio Tinto research camp).
‘Going home?’ I ask.
‘How are you?’ he replies ‘I haven’t seen you in awhile.’
‘All is good!’ I reply. ‘Its going to rain!’ I point to the dark clouds in the horizon. ‘We need it, its hasn’t rained in awhile, its good for the cassava, the garden, and all the trees.’
‘But your house leaks’ he replies with a smirk as he points to my roof and continues to walk by.
Damn…he’s right!

I wrote this awhile ago and never posted it:
I think its appropriate keeping with the ‘smile’ theme
‘‘Yes, We Can’’

‘‘What do you do in St. Luce?’’ I was recently asked by a tourist.
‘‘I live here,’’ I replied.
‘‘and do..?’’

I once heard a story of a PCV who worked as an environment volunteer in southern Madagascar and was asked a similar question. The volunteer didn’t respond. He simply smiled, turned to the Malagasy boy next to him and slowly extended his clenched fist out in front of him. The boy responded by doing the same and as their fists met; it brought a smile on his face that stretched from ear to ear. The volunteer didn’t say a word; he didn’t need to, because the smile he created said it all.
A lot of volunteers are self-conscious about their work, and I am defiantly among them. As a volunteer you are continually frustrated, you often feel like you are doing nothing, or working hard and producing little if any tangible result. Personally, I am not sure if I will ever be completely comfortable answering the above question. But over the past few weeks it has been made clear what a big part of my job here is and I’d like to share it.

I am providing the people of my community with what I have had throughout my brief life. Whenever I thought I couldn’t, I always had someone telling me that I could. It’s called encouragement!

I am a motivator, a cheerleader, a generator of laughter and smiles (a clown? Is there a better word?). You could say I am the Barrak Obama of my community. I tell people that they ‘can.’ ‘‘Yes, you can’’ and ‘‘yes, we can’’ are words I find myself continually saying. I might teach someone about how to make a cook stove, how to plant a tree, how to grow a new variety of vegetable, or about the nutritional value found in Moringa leaves, but it is never without instilling a little bit of ‘hope’ through encouragement in people. This is done by continually reminding them that they are the ones building the stove, planting the tree, and growing the vegetable. Maybe that’s why I have trouble answering the question above, I never see myself as part of the equation. My advice to other volunteers…get your pom-poms out! I don’t leave home without mine.

1 comment:

joanie said...

This post was awesome! You have such a great outlook! I am so proud of you.