Interesting Tidbits

Since this doesn’t happen often, “this” referring to my will to write, I figured I would jump at the occasion and update you all on some fascinating little tidbits.

Back in the lovely month of April, I spent a week in Tana for various purposes; one of them being that I was able to say bye to six of my favorites from the stage above mine (Environment/Business 2011). It was a strange experience to say goodbye to them, watch their emotions of leaving evolve from excitement to small traces of fear, hear them talk about their flights and post-PC travels, but the strangest part of all was knowing that once this stage left the country, mine would be next. Sometimes it seems like just yesterday I landed on this island, my camera glued to my face, curious about everything around me – and yet other days it seems like PC has been one long mentally exhausting, physically taxing day that just hasn’t ended yet; like every time I look at my watch I expect an hour to have passed by (or a week) but it’s only been 30 seconds. I am beginning to experience all of those emotions that I observed in the others. One day I am ecstatically “google-ing” grad schools and the next I am having a panic attack about all the different phone plans available, the daunting task of apartment hunting, and the worst above them all: looking for a job. But this is not one of my interesting little tidbits – this is just a tidbit.

Interesting tidbit #1: Just a few weeks ago, my boyfriend, Alexander – whom I must introduce because after reading one of my blogs where I “name-dropped” him, he pointed out that he felt like a foot note in my life – came to live with me at my site after finishing up his PC service in April (he was one of the six), now officially a RPCV (returned peace corps volunteer) he has been relaxing at my site and occasionally giving a helping hand with my projects or at the CSB. Since he hadn’t been able to see the Bandro lemurs of Lac Alaotra the last time he visited, two weeks ago we walked over to Andreba (the town 3 km south of me) and met up with Ndrina, our guide. Ndrina is a friend, a community health volunteer, and he also happens to be the guide that took BBC out on their filming expedition when they visited 2 years ago! At 5:45 am we threw ourselves into a very simple canoe, and went off into the sunrise looking for the very small lemurs. Two hours later we headed back into town, satisfied from lemur hunting, but very hungry. We went to the market, popped into a little stand and grabbed some food before heading back into my town to meet the Directrice of the EPP, Madame Odile. We had plans to go to the quancaillerie (hardware store) and pick up more supplies for our project. With only a few more supplies to purchase and half of the holes dug, I am glad to see that this project is moving along rather smoothly.

Interesting tidbit #2: Last week at around 7 pm on a Wednesday, a very non-threatening intruder happened upon my house. Alexander had gone outside and noticed a chicken sitting on one of my plants, tucked away from the wind. It was a particularly cold evening so we figured it couldn’t be harmful to bring her inside and keep her warm for the night. We did not expect that she would drive us crazy after the novelty of having a “pet” in the house had warn off. I grabbed a huge flat bucket that I do laundry in, layered it with a bunch of clothes that I don’t wear anymore, and put a small bowl of rice/water in it. After twenty minutes she started chirping, jumped out of her prison, and started exploring my house. She found her favorite spot within minutes and snuggled into it for the night. Unfortunately, we were not so thrilled about it so after an hour or so I finally moved her bed into my “office” and closed the door. She was fast asleep in minutes and didn’t make a peep for the rest of the evening. The next day we put her outside and she spent half an hour just sleeping in front of my house. She came back in through the back door and spent the afternoon with us while we read. Later, when we were leaving for our hike up through the hills, I put her outside and when we came back she was no where to be found! Georgette, we miss you, come home.

Interesting tidbit #3: Jumping back a subject, I also wanted to inform you (drum roll please…..!) that the books from Books For Africa are ON THE WAY HERE!! Jessie worked her magic and the books are being shipped over as we speak. We won’t be able to pick them up in the capital and transfer them to our sites until at least August so it is definitely cutting it close (as I am expecting to leave some time in mid-August) but regardless I am thrilled to tell you all the great news. We definitely could not have done this without the support of those who donated and gave us well wishes so thank you, thank you, thank you.

In just a few weeks I’ll shower you with more interesting tidbits while I’m in Tana for my COS conference – the last conference I’ll ever have with PC and also very significant because it means that my last two months in country will be upon me… America get ready, I’m comin’ for ya.

pushing the canoe out to the water

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Sunrise on the lake

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Looking for the lemurs

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Found em!

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Coffee at Ndrina’s post lake visit

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Stopping by the EPP to meet with Madame Odile

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Popping by the market in Ambatosoratra to pick up food

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Georgette in her little bed

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She found her spot…

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View from the hill tops on our hike

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Picnic on the hill

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One of the holes for the WC at the EPP

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Buying wood in Ambato for the project

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A New Chapter Update

I just wanted to send out a quick update to everyone who donated to the New Chapter (Books for Africa) Project. Before I do, I know I can speak for all 20+ PCVs involved that we are eternally grateful for your donation. The project was fully funded and the books are ready to be delivered! There is one catch, the PCV in charge of the project, Jessie (this is the third PCV to take over the project!), is having an issue with some of the paperwork. The books have been boxed and are ready to be shipped, we just aren’t sure exactly when. I’ll be closing up my service sometime in August so I am hopeful that I will be able to have the library up and running by the time that I leave. If not, then I will have to come up with an alternative solution or pass the books onto another PCV who can use them to build their own library. The most important thing to remember is that you donation will be – and is – appreciated no matter what, whether it is my community or someone else’s. I will keep you updated as the struggle continues! Thank you again for contributing to the project.

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Old Habits Die Hard

One year and almost five months ago I inherited a project. Erin, a current PCV at the time, had approached me during my PST (the first three months of training) and inquired to see if I would be interested in taking on a project after moving to site. She had lived in Ambatosoratra for a year until she was invariably moved to the west side of the lake where she finished out her service in Tanambe. Having already started the project but being so far away, Erin looked to me to take it over since I would be in Ambatosoratra. I immediately jumped at the idea – the thought of already having a project to look forward to before moving to site seemed exciting, I strutted around the training center while everyone fretted over what to do after they moved into their new homes and towns. It wasn’t until months after I had moved to site that I soon came to realize the project seemed destined for failure and my possible future downfall.

The general idea is to help the local elementary school in Ambatosoratra. The EPP, with only two WCs and no nearby water source, educates nearly 400 students from in town and nearby fokontanys. The goal of the project is to build brand new WCs and a well.

After months and months of meetings, searching for a new carpenter, drawing up new blueprints and a new budget, I am pleased to tell you that the curse has been lifted and work has officially begun!

Yesterday Madame Odile, the directrice of the EPP, and I came to Ambato to begin shopping around for prices and bought a few supplies. This morning we returned with a mode of transport and picked up our order of cement, white wash, sheet metal and several beams. Tomorrow we are traveling two kms south of Ambatosoratra to Andreba in order to pick up 10 planks of wood.

I am absolutely thrilled that the project is in full motion now and beyond that I am purely lucky to have such a great counterpart to be working with. Just today, after we had done our shopping, Madame Odile and I sat down to a plate of sambos and a couple of beers. While we talked and laughed about gossip happening in Ambatosoratra, I couldn’t help but think about how thankful I was to Erin for giving me the chance to fulfill this project. I’m very glad that she created this opportunity for the students at the EPP and for me to work alongside Madame Odile.

Speaking of projects, I wanted to update those who donated to the New Chapter Library/Books for Africa project. First and foremost I want to thank you again for donating, every and any amount was helpful and led us to receiving full funds for the project! The books have been collected, placed in crates, and are waiting in a port of Africa. Unfortunately, they have been ready and waiting for a few months now. There seems to be a paperwork snag which there has been much difficulty dealing with. The project has also just recently changed hands once more and is now being led by Jessie. I’m sure she will do a great job and have those books shipped to us in no time! I will update you again once I know more regarding the issue.

I’ll be glad when I can wrap up both projects before my service is done (5 months!).

I will leave you with a short little story::
When I was growing up I had a nasty habit of getting creative with my hair and chopping bangs for myself every few years. My family laughed and joked considering there were several times that I ended up with a bridge across my forehead with bangs shaped like so: /\.
My sister sent me a card for my birthday a few years ago that said: “Sure you’re another year older but look on the bright side… You know better than to cut your own bangs”. Somehow this still did not keep my nasty habit from turning into a biannual phase that I put myself through. And this year, despite the heat and the constant need to sweep my hair out of my face, I somehow ended up like this:

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Mom, I don’t want a lecture!

Buying cement with Madame Odile:

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Sorting through the wood to find the right beams!

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Our “mode of transport” for the items. He carried everything!

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My Lasts, Misses, and Not So Misses

About two days ago I begun my last five or six months stretch!
I have already begun my list of “lasts”. For instate: my last rainy season, my last Women’s Day, my last mango/passionfruit/avocado season, etc. I’ve already begun feeling nostalgic about leaving here but at the same time I have been entertaining certain thoughts in my head which have cause me moments of excitement- I try not to let it happen for too long or else I’ll depress myself. I think about living on a country where you don’t have to bleach your raw food, wash your feet before going to bed, think an ice cold drink is a luxury/rarity…and that’s where I stop myself.

While thinking about leaving and my “list of lasts” I also started pondering on the things I will miss and, of course, those I won’t miss at all. I made a list of these too just a few weeks ago:

Things I Will Miss:
• watching the wind ripple through the rice patties
• buying coffee/tea at a shack
• buying fresh fruit during the rainy season
• the vivid green color of the rice when it’s growing
• buying handles of sugarcane, chewing the juice out, and spitting the remnants in the street
• hanging my laundry to dry in the sun
• seeing women carry items on their head
• hearing my friend, Mme Lydie’s laugh (Its one of those that make you laugh no matter what mood you’re in)
• hearing the group of women at the church sing along with drums around dusk
• the red dirt
• jus natural (natural juice)
• baby Zebus/goats – they’re so cute!!
• dite (citronella tea)
• peeling leaves off of trees/plants and making food with them
• picking fruit off of trees
• unexpected events that turn my whole day into an adventure
• getting to see more stars than I’ve ever seen and the milky way

Things I Will Not Miss
• washing laundry by hand
• leaving my laundry to dry in the sun and it begins raining
• all of my clothes/shoes turning red from the dirt
• everything becoming dirty right after you’ve washed it
• little kids/people in general staring at you
• worrying about getting gored by a Zebu
• the whistling/people yelling “vazaha” or in my case also “karana” (Indian/middle eastern)
• the rarity if things happening the way you would expect them to (aka different than your culture has taught you to expect things)
• sweating at 7 am with no hope of ever cooling down
• having to be inside with the doors and windows shut so you can’t appreciate the stars because of the mosquitos and stray dogs.

I know there will be more that I will take from this experience than just these things that I’ve listed but that’s just to name a few and I look forward to adding more during the next few months (to the Things I Will Miss list obviously)!

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A Faint Glimpse

Just last Friday, my community hosted another (my second – and last!) Women’s Day event but unfortunately this year was far from as organized as last. Last year we had met in front of the main commune building and with broom or shovel in hand we made a parade from the middle of town to the north end and back all the way to the CSB. For a few hours we cleaned up the yards belonging to the CSB and my house and afterwards we met for a cup of Fanta and two crackers each as a reward.
Sadly, this year, nobody showed up. At 8:30 am Dr. Rose came to my house to tell me to wait there until she could figure out what was going on. Just as she was leaving, Madame Lalao (the dispensatrice at the CSB) arrived and we decided to all wait at my house until word came to us. After about two minutes Madame Lalao got up and decided we might as well start shoveling up weeds because “someone had to do it”! After half an hour we heard a small crowd of women who came to help us. We passed the time by telling jokes (naturally I just listened and laughed, especially when one woman said, “there are no men here now but there are in the evening and especially in the bed” – that one definitely got a round of cackles and nervous laughter).
After two and a half hours later we had cleaned up a good deal of the yards and went over to the CSB for our Fanta and crackers.
I looked around at all the women and I was mortified to see that I was the only one who seemed to be out of breath, sweating, and clutching my side. I thought of how use to the work the women were – how could I be groaning over a couple hours of minimal manual labor! “I’m just not use to it”, is what I told myself after everyone had gone home. I stretched out on my couch with my cup of tea and book, secretly thinking that I was glad to have the afternoon to relax after my “grueling” experience.
Within minutes I was looking longingly over at my bed heavily contemplating a nap when some of Gilbert’s (the guard) children showed up at my house. A week prior they had spotted a pack of cards on my table and began an almost daily ritual of popping in during the afternoon for a game of what looks like just pulling out random cards and slapping them. Regardless, it gave them some time away from their duties and they got to dump their baby brother on my hands while they had fun. The toddler, Jasp, and I get along swimmingly now that he has stopped running away whenever he sees me. Now we play games and I chase after him, always careful not to scare him too much…but this day seemed different. Maybe this time I was a little more tired or maybe it was the universes way of giving me a faint glimpse into motherhood and to be thankful that I am NO WHERE NEAR it – I’m not entirely sure. But the next thing I knew, Jasp was running around pantless with the threat of peeing everywhere as he pulled up the flower beds in my garden and brought in cockroaches throwing them into my lap and running away while yelling “BIBY” (insect/animal) at the top of his wee little lungs. While all of this is happening his brothers began wrestling on my floor, knocking down books and a jar full of flowers that had been on my table. I felt like I was in another life or that I had somehow fast forwarded ten+ years without going anywhere or aging. Fortunately it only lasted about two hours and then they ran back home to have lunch with their family before I had the chance to have a proper meltdown. Later, once I had the opportunity to think more clearly, all I could think of was how much more I appreciate the patience mothers and women who have spent the majority of their lives working and/or taking care of children must have and continually manage to keep a positive attitude. And to the fathers who help in whatever way they can, of course.

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This Year…

Normally I don’t make New Year’s resolutions for the sole purpose that I believe you are setting yourself up to create goals that will never be fulfilled: “this year, I’ll stop smoking” or “this year, I’ll get out of the house more.” Two weeks later, you find yourself smoking more than you were before or still in the same mumu for the last three days. So instead, deliberately two weeks after New Years, I decided to make two “promises” to myself instead: blog more and take more photos. As it’s March and my last post was in December and my camera has just stopped working, I realized I had accidentally made resolutions for myself instead. So in case you were wondering, that’s what mine were. I hope the rest of you were slightly more successful than I have been…

I left the island for the second time during my service and flew home to Florida for Christmas. My first connecting flight was to South Africa and I swear I must have changed clothes at least 10 times in the bathroom before even making it to my next gate. Everything was so clean, shiny, bright, and colorful, I felt washed out and too grimy to even be walking in the terminal. My flight was heavenly, and exactly what my friend Mariana, who had flown to America the month prior, had described to me: “so clean, so comfortable…oh definitely order the veal and get the merlot” – both of which I did. I landed in JFK and was immediately overwhelmed. Left and right I was getting shuffled to here or there, I even got yelled at in security for not taking off my shoes (I was barefoot)! As soon as I got to my terminal I skyped a friend back in Mada (thank you Jetblue for the WiFI) to keep my sanity and then I boarded my flight to Florida. I spent two amazing weeks at home, got to eat delicious food, walk on sidewalks(!), ride in a car with a whole huge seat to myself, I got to meet my little baby brother and my cousin who were born while I was gone, and most importantly I got to spend time with my family.

On my flight back, I realized how calm I was. I wasn’t nervous about how I would feel going back to Madagascar. Actually, I was looking forward to going back. Being in America made me feel cut off and I had that feeling like I was making up a different world. Every hour that I flew back, the idea of my life here became more real and tangible. But about a week later I found myself tense and distressed because everything that had taken so long to become accustomed to had suddenly become harder. Fortunately I’ve gotten back into the swing of things and I feel balanced again.

I arrived back in the late afternoon of New Years Eve and was greeted by Alexander. We dropped everything off at the hotel and immediately went over to a friend’s house to begin the festivities. It was a great atmosphere to be in after spending two weeks away, it almost felt like everyone was celebrating my return instead of the end of the year. With the exception of a friend tripping over the edge of a cliff and falling about 10 ft and re-opening the stitches on his leg, the evening was perfect and one of my favorites to top it off.

When I came back to my region and was having difficulties adjusting to certain things I was glad to have a friend who was kind of going through the same thing. One of the PCVs in my region had been gored by an omby (a cow) at the end of November and spent majority of December in the capital being treated for her wound (it was a fairly deep hole in her hip but otherwise no horrifying damage), she had also spent the second half of December traveling so by the time I had returned she hadn’t been in the region for a long time and was having trouble in other ways adjusting to being back. I think that made it all that much easier on the both of us.

After I spent some time at site, Alexander and I decided to head to the Toliar region in the SW of the island. Both of our services are coming to an end and the chance to explore more of the island is slipping away from us. So at the end of January we met in Fianarantsoa and broussed to Ranohira which is the small town near Isalo National Park. We spent two nights there and I think it was the best part of the trip. INP is nothing like I have ever seen in my life. The Park is massive, covering over 80 hectares of land, full of the most amazing flora and fauna that is spotted all along these massive windswept mountains that cover the park. We hiked for half of the day and spent a few hours swimming in the grottos and waterfalls that are hidden within the mountains. These little oases were the perfect way to cool off in the hot sun (I was so concerned about Alexander wearing sun block that I didn’t put any on and ended up getting burned!) The next day we headed for Toliar. We got in around 3 pm and decided to head straight to Ifaty. Why spend a night in Toliar when we can head straight to tropical paradise that’s only an hour hand half away? We crammed ourselves into a huge camion and an hour later our journey started. Considering Ifaty is such a popular tourist destination I thought the road would have been paved or at least far more flat but it turned out to be mostly small sand dunes! I spent most of the time staring out at the villages or at the Mozambique Channel to keep my mind off the fact that I was clutching to the bar in front of me to steady myself when I went flying into the air. An hour later we found ourselves sitting on the side of the road waiting for one of the tires of the camion to be changed and about ten feet later we found ourselves sitting on the beach waiting to see why they were now taking two tires off… It was nearing sunset and we started to feel a little panic stricken. What should we do? Where should we sleep? Can we get back to Toliar? How far from Ifaty are we? We sat there for a few minutes more until I saw a car heading South and we flagged it down. It was a French man traveling with Malagasy people and he agreed to give us a ride back to Toliar. We grabbed our bags, gave a wave to the crowd waiting for the camion, and jumped into the car. We spent the night in Toliar and the next morning we made another attempt. Everything seemed to be going fine until the brousse we were traveling in stopped in the middle of nowhere – I mean, all I saw where rolling hills of sand and a sign that pointed towards the water saying “Hotel 2 km”. We figured we were there. We started walking until we saw two men. I asked them if there were hotels nearby that were vacant and one of the men turned back to me,
“No. This hotel has been closed. You are 7 km away from where you are supposed to be. This is Ifaty. You need to go to Ifaty-Mangily”.
So there we were, in the middle of nowhere, with a false sign, and it had started raining. What else could we do? We started to walk. Fortunately, about two minutes later, I managed to flag down a car heading north. The driver agreed to drive us up to our hotel since he was headed in that direction anyway.
For the three nights we were in Ifaty we spent it swimming in the pool (!), playing Monopoly (more like losing at Monopoly), and exploring the town. Two days later we were in Tana so that Alexander could attend his COS (Close of Service conference) and I could get business done in the capital. I couldn’t wait to get back to site after traveling so much. I got back and shortly thereafter came a time period I am now calling “Oregon Trail Week”. While I had been gone it had stormed daily causing floods, rivers to overflow, and even washing out some of the tanambary (rice fields). The kafe (the dip in the road on the way to my site from Ambatondrazaka) had flooded to higher than I had ever seen it. The water coming off of the mountains had formed a river that cut the road in half. It had flooded so high that the water branched out in all directions looking for room to expand itself. I had prepared myself by packing everything into a backpack, wearing shorts, and slip off shoes but I still managed to get covered in mud. After managing to cross the road by foot, we all packed into brousses waiting on the other side. We switched cars twice before we were on our way. About 5 kms outside of my town we came to a halt. I peered out from the back of the brousse to see what the hold up was. A rush of water coming from the mountains had cut the road in half but the current was too strong for us to pass through. Taxi Bicyclette drivers were hopping off of their bikes, raising them over the heads, and cutting through the tanambary to get by the obstacle. We waited an hour, the water died down, and we were able to pass through successfully. I was glad to be home. The next day, I got dysentery. I spent the better part of a week buying all different types of medication for myself to help me through the pain but in the end the doctors told me to come back to the capital. They would send a car to pick me up because if I didn’t stop being sick they would have to set me up with an IV at the hospital. It didn’t come to that in the end but I had to spend the rest of the week in the capital while the doctor checked in on me. No Game Over for me (unlike every single time I’ve actually played the game).
Fortunately the most exciting thing about this month of March is going to be working on my PCPP (with the elementary school), saying goodbye to Jennifer (who will be leaving us the first week of April), and my 25th birthday! I’m looking forward to the peace and quiet that’s ahead of me this month.

How I keep myself busy at site: Solitaire and Reading
Solitaire at home Feb 2013 (4)

My house (5)

Passionfruit! I love rainy season
Passionfruit

This was on the way back to Ambatondrazaka after my Oregon Trail week- still some water but not as much:
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Kafe Feb 18 2013

Kafe Feb 18 2013 (3)

Fianarantsoa

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On the road to Isalo

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Beginning of Isalo National Park

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Elephant foot plant

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Cool landscape

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Ring-tailed lemur!

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Natural Piscine

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Sunset in Ifaty

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Losing at Monopoly

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Lunch in Ifaty

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10 More Sleeps

With the excitement of Halloween and Thanksgiving behind me, I’m looking forward to ten more nights of sleep before I land on Floridian soil once more. Although Halloween was a little less exhilarating considering I was plagued with food poisoning for most of it, Thanksgiving on the other hand was full of fun – and left me feeling full in general. I had emailed my family to let them know how I was and make sure they knew I wouldn’t be lonely on Thanksgiving or not eating a proper turkey. I probably should have realized that telling them we had bought him the day before, named him, and tied him up in the yard so he could enjoy his last day before we started cooking the next day would have been a little too much for them to handle…my mom told me I should pardon him like Obama, my sister told me I ruined her appetite (doubtable – Aunt Sissy makes the most irresistible food), and my dad said he guessed he was glad I met my meal. I think I’m going to have to remember to refrain from speaking that way when I go back to the States for good…

Luckily, I didn’t have to wait a whole month between Halloween and Thanksgiving to have a little American-style fun (meaning: speaking English, eating varied meals [as opposed to my daily diet of eggs and tomatoes], and hanging out with other PCVs). The second week of November – election day in America to be more precise – National VAC was held in Tana. I was able to catch a ride with some of the PC staff that was visiting my region and luckily the radio station was already switched to BBC before I could even ask. After we learned of Obama’s victory, I think I spent a good portion of the ride yelling “YAY” sporadically because of my excitement (and to think it’s still hard for me to believe that I’ll be 25 soon…). When I arrived at the MEVA, the house was already full of the other VAC members – several being from my own stage. It was fun to catch up and discuss how we feel being the second oldest current stage in Madagascar.

“Remember when our flight landed? We were bright-eyed, nervous, and cleaner than we’ve been in almost a year and a half…ah, those were the days.”

A few of us got to discussing what our post-PC plans will be (or what we want them to be) and how we got to those ideas – mostly because I kept replying, “what?? How the heck did you pick that as your future Master’s degree?” Like I’m one to judge… after a while it was just Kimball and I who were discussing our futures. I gave him the briefer version of the career paths I’ve considered since I first started having doubts about my Anthropology bachelor’s degree back in my sophomore year of college: Archaeologist, Forensic Archaeologist, Egyptologist, Doctor, Lawyer, Physician Assistant …. Etc. I told him about how when I had stayed with my sister over the summer of 2010, post-graduation, that she had tried a little game with me to help me figure out “what I want to do”.

“What do you see yourself wearing?” she asked, “A suit? Casual wear? Where do you see yourself working? Inside? Outside?”

After about twenty minutes of Questions, I told her that I had a pretty decent sense of imagination and that I could basically see myself doing anything. I’d watched enough movies and looked at myself in the mirror enough to be able to crop out Rachel Weiz’s head in the Mummy or Meryl Streep’s in The Devil Wears Prada and place mine there instead. But would any of those jobs make me happy? That was my biggest question. After I told Kimball that, he replied: “Ask yourself this…do you want to take a shower before work or after?”

I told him that I better be able to shower whenever I want after Peace Corps. I guess we all have different questions that we ask ourselves and need to figure out what’s more important to us in the end.

I have little doubt that the question, “so… what will you do after Peace Corps?” will evade me on my two week trip back home so fortunately (for my own sanity) I have narrowed down my options. And I guess if none of those work out, I could always just reapply to PC every two years, right? Just kidding, Mom and Dad.

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