Moving in tomorrow!!!

Trip Start Nov 02, 2003
Trip End Feb 14, 2006

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Flag of Madagascar  ,
Friday, January 16, 2004

hello everyone! I'm in my banking town for a couple of days, shopping and doing business=type stuff, before moving to my site (tomorrow!) (again, if you want to know the names of these places and don't yet, email my mom at

peace corps gave us a FORTUNE for moving-in and our living allowance for the first 3 months: it's about 1500 dollars but it's in the second-largest malagasy bill, which is worth about 4 bucks. last night the other new volunteers here with me (who have sites in the same region and will also bank here), caitlin and sarah, and i took turns taking photos as the other 2 threw bills all over the bed in our hotel room and, laughing hysterically, rolled around in them!

i really love my banking town; by all accounts that i've heard, it's one of the most beautiful cities in mcar. the region is all dramatic hills, waterfalls, and rice paddies - horrendous in terms of deforestation, which is nearly complete around here, but still really beautiful.
caitlin, sarah, and i have been discovering new wonderful qualities of the city each hour. yesterday we had the greatest surprise yet: a pizza restaurant run by a half-italian, half-greek, entirely-jovial man who speaks 7 languages and makes practically the best pizza we've ever had. (i say this not because i'm pizza-deprived -- there was, bizarrely, a pizza restaurant next door to my host family's house and i've eaten it every time i've gone to tana -- it's just *that* incredibly good!!) he also will cook greek food with a day's notice, and we already have an order in for moussaka the next time we're in town! and he baked us some bread and gave us peach-ginger chutney as gifts before we left, which were both fantastic. it might sound ridiculous to be going on so much about this food, but as i told the man, it's not just delicious but also makes us feel like we're back home.

we also went to my town today to meet officials; the gendarmes, mayor, district director, and police (no, i don't know the difference between gendarmes and police yet). they were all pleasant enough but the 'medicine inspecteur' (the person in charge of all medical affairs for the town, who essentially runs the hospital and clinic and who will have a lot of power over me) was pretty frigid. i was excited because the medicine inspecteur's a woman, but we didn't quite bond as i'd hoped: she argued with the peace corps doctor helping me settle in, dr alain, about what to do with me in case of medical emergency and told me that i don't speak malagasy very well. grr.

anyway, despite some bug infestations (spiders, ants, and flies, not the giant hissing cockroaches that my parents tried to use to scare me out of coming here (which do exist, just not in my house)), and that woman*s disdain, i really like my house and my town and am excited to move in. i'll spend the first couple weeks just getting settled - buying the stuff my house still needs, painting the inside walls (they used to be white, i think, but now look like vomit) and learning my way around the town. once i'm settled better, i'll find a malagasy tutor and start helping at the hospital and the clinic - just basic stuff like weighing babies at first, then moving on to chatting with patients about breastfeeding, vaccinations, nutrition, etc in the waiting room. i'm not allowed to 'work' for the first 3 months, but that's essentially defined as starting a new project; helping out at the clinic and hanging out with members of the women*s microcredit group in my town are great ways to build language and relationships. once i do start working officially, it will have to be on neutral topics like diarrhea, nutrition, hygiene, vaccines, etc, at first: volunteers usually don't have the language skills and personal acceptance/relationships to work on sensitive topics, like birth control and aids/std provention until the second year.

oh, speaking of language, i was selected by the language director as one of a few trainees that journalists were told to interview after the swearing-in ceremony. no one interviewed me, to my relief (the ceremony was broadcast on national tv, and i've only had 10 weeks of malagasy training, after all), but it was great to know that he thought i could handle it.
the ceremony was fine and not terribly exciting; one new pcv gave a fairly humorous speech (including telling the host families that we didn't have very much diarrhea, which was one of their big concerns = he's a little wacky) and another did a 10 minute hiv/aids presentation FROM MEMORY, which was amazing (my presentation was entirely read off of index cards - which my high school speech coach, dr erickson, is probably cringing to read! and there's more sacrilege, dr e: eye contact is considered rude, which has been a problem for me thanks to your excellent coaching!) the officials' speeches were bland: congratulations, we're happy to have you, etc. one noteworthy thing is that the speeches of both the us ambassador and peace corps country director had to be translated into malagasy, since neither of them speaks it. hrmm. and another interesting thing is that the oath we recited had absolutely nothing to do with serving others; rather, it was about defending the us from enemies and upholding the constitution, neither of which has any relation to what i'm doing here. i'd 'really' love to know the history and politics behind that. BUT i am now a real live peace corps volunteer, which is pretty cool.

anyway, i'm not sure about my communication abilities here quite yet. there*s another volunteer who comes into the city to email and eat american food every week, but she's been at site for 3 months already and my malagasy's better. everyone i've asked says that that's not a coincidence - the more time at site, the faster and better the language skills, and vice versa. so while i can access email and phone pretty much when i want to (it's only a 25 minute ride from my site to this city, which in peace corps terms is really really close), i don't think i'll come in more than 1-2 times per month, at least not at first. so keep that real mail coming (again if you don't have the address yet, email my mom at - don't use the old peace corps office address because i won't get that mail until in-service training in april or may) but email too just in case.

take care and wish me luck!

love, jess

And now, some legalese:
The opinions expressed and experiences described in this travelogue are those of one individual Peace Corps Volunteer. Nothing written here should be interpreted as official or unofficial Peace Corps literature or as sanctioned by the Peace Corps. I have chosen to write about my experience online in order to update family and friends; I am earning no money whatsoever from this endeavor.
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