24 May 2008

Even Peeing can be an Adventure

“But Angeles Alfaro left as she had come, with her tender sex and her sinner’s cello, on an ocean liner that flew the flag of oblivion, and all that remained of her on the moon lit roofs was a fluttered farewell with a white handkerchief like a solitary sad dove on the horizon, as if she were a verse from the Poetic Festival.”- Love in the Time of Cholera

Oh, what a day.
After breakfast I went to go pee next to my latrine (it makes the shit compost better if keep the pee separate, and I can fertilize the plants) but instead I met an old board. The board had a nail sticking out of it. I was wearing shoes. The nail was very rusty. I don’t remember what we were arguing about but whatever it was, I lost the argument. The board decided to stick its nail right through the sole of my shoe* and into the sole of my foot, leaving the soul of my being stunned. I stood there for about a minute. I kept trying to use my leg muscles to pull my foot free but it wouldn’t come up. I thought I was in shock because I didn’t feel any pain, but I wasn’t. Just stuck. I finally bent down and used my hands to pull my foot at an angle off the nail. It didn’t bleed as profusely as I had feared but it was a good wound – a centimeter deep, eo ho eo (pronounced “yo yo”, meaning approximately).
When I came out from around the back of the house there was a guy there who I had briefly met the day before, and seeing me hurt he helped me bandage my foot. I cleaned it out as well as I could but don’t think I did as good a job as I should have. Then, because it was market day, I hobbled down the hill to do some shopping and he came with me and helped me carry my groceries. I was getting some funny looks in town but was pretty used to that by now. After we came back to my house, I got my first not-so-friendly visit from the gendarme (rural police). It turns out that my new friend was a known thief and they carted him off with them.
I spent the rest of the day reading.

* A good shoe, too. My brother Shawn, for Christmas before I left says, “You’re going to a hot climate so I thought shoes with holes would be good,” and he was right – they are my favorite footwear here. Thanks Shawn. Unfortunately, now they have one hole they weren’t supposed to have.

11 May 2008

Ambassador to the Boonies

“Ambassador to the Boonies” - Is that my job title? I forget that just being here is doing something. I am discouraged because it seems that WWF already has a handle on things: they have already done a lot of participatory rural analysis (one of the things we are trained to do), already helped COBAs create development projects, already know how to survey the forest, already speak Malagasy (my whole team is Malagasy), etc. And I have no idea, yet, how I can really make a difference in their efforts (yeah, yeah – I’ve only been hear two weeks). So I just try to talk. I share a little bit about my love of coffee and my French Press (thanks again, Tanya), about how I don’t like cars, how we don’t eat rice 3 times a day in America but how my mom prepared me well in this department, etc.

Is just sticking it out success? I don’t think so. I am starting to feel like I am doing some sort of self-imposed penance. But for what? Being born into an affluence and not doing anything with it? For having no clear vision, no vocation? Obviously I came because I want to help people, help the environment… but that is so vague. Supposedly I am gaining skills here that will be useful towards that end in the future but I am not sure what they are. I don’t rightly know if I am helping anyone by being here, but I am not willing to leave.

Hopefully I can grow to enjoy being a star, in a freak show kind of way. Right now it is a definite challenge. I am sure that with time I won’t feel like I am in a zoo. There is a fence around my house and always when I am home little eyes staring through the bars at me. Many aren’t polite (or Western) enough to stay outside the fence – maybe if I bite them and post a “Don’t stick your fingers through the fence – Vicious Creature” sign then they will stay out. It reminds me of how we treat monastics back home: with a sort of awe and respect but a definite barrier due to lack of understanding. Back home I was sometimes apprehensive about going out and interacting superficially with strangers. Here, it is my job but the apprehension is worse. It is definitely something to work on. I am finding aspects of the Peace Corps experience, like social interaction, more challenging than I anticipated. I’m up for the challenge and am sure I will come out of this having grown a lot – the real question, though, is whether I can find a way to make a difference in the short time that I have here.

04 May 2008

I Guess I Really Am Living Here for Two Years

I am currently sitting in the bungalow that Brittany and I are sharing in Mananjary on our way to our sites. The plumbing here at Hotel Ideal is faulty (typical) but the loft is cute.

We swore in five days ago, along with our 28 other fellow trainees, as Madagascar’s newest Peace Corps volunteers. I am finally getting around to write about it now. It was at Tsimbazaza, the national zoo and botanical garden in Antananarivo. We had an hour or so to walk around and see the animals and then had a ceremony with the Ambassador and Madagascar’s Minister of the Environment, along with assorted other folks. Unfortunately, our Peace Corps Country Director was at a world director’s conference and couldn’t make it, which was a shame. For the actual swearing in, we were never asked to raise our right hands while we gave our oaths, so I don’t know if we are actually servants of the state or just pretending.

Afterwards, we hung out at the ambassador’s pad for a celebratory lunch; you know, the typical Peace Corps life – swimming, and lounging, eating and schmoozing. Really though, it was an amazing treat.

Then, the next morning, that’s it, vita, done. Two months of spending all our time together and then, poof! we are all off to our respective corners of the island. Brendan, Brittany and I left at 6:30 the next morning. We spent the next two days together shopping for mattresses and stoves and whatnot, as well as visiting partners and government officials (It is a typical cultural practice here that whenever somebody goes into an area to do any sort of work they meet with everybody in charge from the chief of police to mayors to traditional kings. To not do so is perceived as anywhere from disrespectful to downright suspicious). Then after setting up Brendan’s BLU antennae (there is no phone coverage around his site so he uses a radio to communicate – it has an antennae that is about 30 feet long and 20 feet high, strung across two poles that we erected), putting his bike together and eating lunch, we leave him at his site.

To get to his site you have to take a ferry across a river. When we were leaving, as we waited for the ferry, a funeral procession caught up with us. They came walking down the road, singing and chanting, seemingly cheerful and nearly ecstatic. The corpse was on a sling wrapped up in cloths. We rode across the water together, the body not more than five feet from me, and it stunk. It was somehow refreshing to be washed over by such a potent display of life and death. Though we were by no means a focus of their energy, I felt like it was an appropriate welcoming to us as we were in the process of beginning our new lives, adding cultural and existential perspective to my myopic self-centered view.