Archives for posts with tag: culture

How did it get so late, so soon? – Dr. Seuss

Kola-nut tea

Kola-nut tea

In just twenty days, I will be on a plane again to the capital city for my close of service conference. It is still difficult to wrap my mind around this reality that I have already spent two years living and working in Madagascar as a PeaceCorps volunteer. It really is mind-blowing. Where did the time go? The amount of exploration and new experiences blurred the days and time into nothing. Sometimes I had quiet days, where the most exciting thing that happened was trying “dité kola” or Kolanut tea, a concoction that resembles the beloved chai tea. Eyes would stay on me every time I ordered a mug because the tea is said to help make men “strong” because of the caffeine, so women do not drink it. I love it! And every time I need to take a taxi brousse, I make sure to stop for tea at the station with my favorite tea maker lady. Other times, I made myself go to the market just to see what adventure that would bring, because there is always adventure at the market. Sometimes it was the things I saw, like freshly caught sharks tied to bicycles, or the interactions with vendors that made the day special.

Sometimes I had frustrating and sad moments. Like the time a student apologized for being black in front of his classmates before giving his presentation. It is Malagasy custom to give a speech before the real presentation. Respect is always first given to elders, and so if they are not the eldest member in the room speaking, they formally apologize for taking the floor, then formally thank everyone for their presence. I was heartbroken and deeply saddened that this one student literally said, “I’m sorry for being black.” I addressed the issue of race in the most calm way I could the following class. I was sad because although I haven’t talked much about race and racism in regards to Madagascar, it is something very real. And it breaks my heart that kids are being told they are not good enough, or something is to be apologized for, because of the color of their skin. I later required everyone to speak proudly, and with purpose. I eliminated the formality part of the speech, because in America, we take the floor. I hope that through my small practice in my small class, something bigger was sparked inside of them.

Everyone at the end of the SAVA English Teacher Training.

Everyone at the end of the SAVA English Teacher Training.

Closing activity at the teacher training. Everyone shared one thing they would take back to their communities.

Closing activity at the teacher training. Everyone shared one thing they would take back to their communities.

During other periods, I was actually busy, like planning for the big regional English teacher training that the other volunteers and I feel very proud of. We hosted 65 teachers from the towns and countryside for three days. It was incredible and very rewarding to see how it all turned out. The training was so successful that we were even requested to host a different one, with private school English teachers. For the second one, we were not responsible for organizing all the other details like we did for the previous one, such as food, sleeping arrangements, materials, etc.

Then there was the Malaria awareness event we hosted at a leprosy village near my town. My friend Loren, a volunteer in a different part of the country came to join us for the event. It was wonderful to interact with the children and so much fun to do all the activities with them. We made skits, played a true/false game, washed and repaired bed-nets and even made “dream-banners” to encourage everyone to sleep under a mosquito bed-net every night. The event at the village was a highlight for everyone involved.

Everyone has a fun time at the malaria awareness day at the leprosy village!

Everyone has a fun time at the malaria awareness day at the leprosy village!

Children doing malaria awareness skits at the village.

Children doing malaria awareness skits at the village.

I was invited to attend an “Antalaha Conversation Club” meeting, run by one of my students at the university. It was inspiring to observe what youth can do. He taught them the lyrics to “Ebony and Ivory” because they learn a song at the end of each month. He even went line by line to explain metaphors, and asked students how this related to their lives. Students from different schools and grade levels were in attendance. I was asked to introduce myself and they asked questions, mostly about what I think about Madagascar. It was impressive.

Recently, I was in Mantasoa, the village where our training center is near the capital for a week-long nutrition training. A nutrition specialist from Washington D.C. and a PeaceCorps program director from Ecuador hosted the event. Thirteen of us were selected to participate in the training. The training was focused on malnutrition, and what it means for Madagascar. We learned about ways to prevent and avoid it through doing cooking demonstrations, working with our local communities and health centers on counseling women, and general nutrition education. It was a great experience that inspired me to continue doing work here.

Nutritious baby food cooking demonstration. Avocado/banana mash! So yummy.

Nutritious baby food cooking demonstration. Avocado/banana mash! So yummy.

Brothers eating nutritious food.

Brothers eating nutritious food.

Preparing food during our cooking demonstration with mothers from the village.

Preparing food during our cooking demonstration with mothers from the village.

Although the calendar says that two years have past, and this becomes more clear to me when I see that my nieces are now potty-trained through pictures, I am still wanting to do more here. I now know how things go, what moves people, what they prioritize, and how I could be helpful. I have decided to extend my volunteer service with PeaceCorps in Madagascar for another year to work on youth development, vegetable gardens, and nutrition programs.

Boys from the village, so excited about the malaria awareness activities.

Boys from the village, so excited about the malaria awareness activities.

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“The beauty lies in the experience.”

One of my favorite things to do is creating and sharing meals with other people. Those close to me know that I ENJOY food. REAL FOOD. It was a highlight when a few of us got together one Saturday after lunch and decided to make totomvuanzo (peanut butter). Totomvuanzo is made frequently in some Malagasy homes. There were five of us, including our friend’s host brother. We bought about a kilo of peanuts, some salt, sugar, bananas, and bread. We roasted the peanuts over a fire low to the ground on a skillet. Together, we peeled the peanuts as they cooled on a rice shaker tray. Everyone took turns in mashing the peanuts with the giant mortar. It was fun watching peanuts transform into thick brown real peanut butter. I have always preferred almond butter to peanut butter before tasting what totomvuanzo minus the preservatives, additives, and what have you tastes like. Bam!  We sliced bananas and devoured our delicious version of a peanut butter sandwich. Never once did any of us complain about the effort that went into being able to have a peanut butter sandwich because the joy in making it together from step one was the most fun.  We shared some with our Malagasy friends and they smiled through every bite. It was one of my most memorable Saturdays here in Madagascar. A day rich in friendship and experience.
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One of the most unique cultural traditions of the Malagasy culture is Famadiana. It is a celebration where the bones of razana (ancestors) are redressed and turned as a sign of honor and respect. In the Malgasy culture, it is believed that the spirit of the ancestors still remains as long as the bones do. Families usually save a lot of money to honor their ancestors with a Famadihana. They believe that once you die, you live forever in spirit.  For the most part, Famadiana is prevalent in the highlands. It happens during the dry season and about every few years. We were lucky to have been invited to one. I was unsure what to expect because all I knew about Famadihana was what I had previously read online, which wasn’t much. We walked into the village to meet everyone. There were about a few hundred people walking together to the tomb. A few people carried pictures of whose bodies these once were. There were three of them. Everyone was full of joy. Famadiana is intended to be a happy event where ancestors are honored and thanked. When we arrived at the tomb, the sound of drums and flutes played while a few men meticulously wrapped a clean white sheet and tied several knots over each ancestor.  I watched as people danced, took pictures, and even asked to take pictures with us vazaha (foreigners). For a second, I felt strange having people want to take pictures with us during an event that I would consider sacred in a sense. But then I thought that our presence was as much enjoyed as the ceremony and if we are curious enough to snap pictures of all people and things that intrigue us, so can they. Kids, babies, grandmothers, and adults all were present during the ceremony. Some of the men danced and took swigs of tokagasy (moonshine) throughout the whole event. A man gave a speech thanking everyone for being there and maybe even talked about the ancestors but I was limited on what I understood in Malagasy. The whole process of experiencing and seeing Famadihana first hand was an organic and real moment for me. I feel blessed to have been a part of such a unique cultural experience.
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