Saturday, November 27, 2010

weaving, hand-washin, hiking, tree-planting, eating, beaching, caring, jumping, biking, tumbling, giving, smiling, crying, nose-pickn family fun!! :)

The past 6 weeks at site have been exceptionally enjoyable, following our Reinstatement Stage Close- of -Service conference which was at the end of September. The conference gave me points to think about when reflecting on skills acquired and goals still in sight of achieving, and what I really want to make sure I especially soak up and enjoy while living my last 6 months in my beloved village. A teen Life Skill's club is one of the secondary projects I've been wanting to get going for a few months, but I finally organized a clear plan of action with the Director of the middle/junior high school of how many students I want, to start up a group that meets at least once a week to play football (soccer), do gymnastics/ other physical activity; study english; focus on decision making processes, resisting peer pressure, and other health &emotional issues that need to be talked about with teenagers. I'm grateful that my teaching experience has helped in this area, I guess I have always had a passion for the middle school- aged kids:)
Another goal I thought about really wanting to conquer is weaving, and luckily I'm assigned to the the right place for it. Antetezambaro is known all over the region and country for it's basket weaving of random household objects- toothbrush/paste holders, hats, placemats, tsihey's (sleep mats), spice-holders. It's all made of the Ravinala tree, the multi-purpose national tree of Madagascar that Gasy use not only for weaving but also for building huts such as my own Magic:) My good friend, Osoa, has been diligently practicing with me daily and I'm proud of my first couple products. I'll be happy to teach those interested upon my return in 6 months! :)
Other work activities I've been doing included a cool environment program called LEEP (Lifestyle and Environmental Exchange Program). This is a non-profit started by a Malagasy couple, who have been living in Colorado for 15 years now, but wanted to give back to their people's own children. For we that grew up in the USA, school field trips were just part of the yearly school routine, but for kids here, is possibly a once in a lifetime trip. 4 kids and 1 school teacher (plus 2 other PCV's and myself) from 5 different villages were chosen to attend the 4 day camp, which was at another PCV's site about 50 miles north of me. It was some of the kids first time ever seeing the ocean or coconuts (those kids from the high plateau/center of the island). I think this made the kids I brought grateful and appreciative of having a massive body of magnificent water so close all the time. They all had a great time mixing with each other, learning about key issues in preventing devastation to Madagascar's unique floral and fauna, and sharing different games and dances from their diverse hometowns.
The next work project that kept me busy for a straight week was round 2 of "herinandro reny sy zaza" (mother and child health week). I know wrote about this in April, since the Malagasy Ministery of health organizes these weeks every April& October-twice every year. This is a great system to keep children 5 and under free from belly worms, give them dose of Vit. A, and this time around also included vaccines against measles that has become more prevalent in recent years here. Every day I woke up with the chickens to bike about 20 KM (14 miles) to bring these treatments out to the bush. I love doing this, not just for the exercise, but it gives me the perfect opportunity to meet and serve more people in the outskirts country of my commune (Antetezambaro is the commune head of 12 "fokontany's" or small villages).
The fourth big work project I was busy with during the first week of November was translating for a medical mission. A group of doctor's from a Catholic Hospital in Cincinnati and an organizations "By the Holy Spirit", donated their time, $, and vacation days to give their medical knowledge , medicines, and services for free to those in need in my area. Some of the major cases they helped with was an ectopic pregnancy, a 19 y/o woman with cervical fibroids so large she looked pregnant from afar, cervical cancer, and elephantitus (swelling of body extremities due to worms that habitate in arteries, usually transmitted through skin entrance, most likey in muddy, thigh deep rice paddies). Although these were 10 days of long hours and LOTSA talking, this was fulfilling and fun work, as the 3 doctors saw about 150 patients/ day. Plus it gave 3 others PCV's in my region, my Betsimisaraka family, a chance to collaborate and bond together. And I knew many of the patients, which made this project very grass-roots for me especially. I mostly worked with the Dr. Izzy, the OB/GYN that's also my age. She was soooo good at looking at women with stomach/pelvic issues. She did echographies for those in need and also got to show the growing fetus to several pregnant woman who've never even heard of an ultrasound, and I loved being able to tell the woman if they're were having a boy or girl. They were sooo tickled! I was verry impressed with Dr. Izzy's medical intelligence and effective description of OB issues. There was also Dr. Rich and Dr. Jack, a Physician Assitant that really helped confirm my decision to seriously investigate moving forward with getting back to school for my P.A. Working in the hospital every day has made me realize how much I enjoy it. I'll always be a teacher as well, at heart, but I see the vision of all the worldly opportunities that would open up to me if I obtain my P.A. So LOTSA science, chemisty, biology, aka HARD pre-requ's to tackle when return Stateside, but I'm ready for it, bring it on! The hands-on experiences I've seen in trauma, childbirth, malarial, diarrheal diseases, and common cold illnesses I'm sure will proove to be invaluable to this ultimate career goal of mine. So the last few days I've been here in the capital city of Tana, has been filled with plenty of good food, friends, and family fun!!! And much more of the last one to come in just a couple days!!!: Chris's wife (my sis n law), Laura, is coming alllll this way to see me! I'm sooo grateful to at least have 1 person from my family come experience my life here and understand what I'm doing here. I love sharing my stories and pictures, but of course nothing can be fully comprehended until experienced directly. On that note, this first picture , I just couldn't resist posting. I'm soooo blessed to not only have great family and freinds back home, and of course essential support in my fellow PCV's , but mostly for having Brad, my awesome dude, to talk to, share successes and obstacles during this tour past 2 years. My next life goal is to get him here to my Homeland to help him understand the next deepest depth of my soul....which will always be here Madagascar.
Bread and I with our Tung during a crisp fall morning last year. I miss them dearly! Lord willin, will see you sooner, rather than later:)

These birds "morteau's" are (kinda sadly) captured and their wings clipped for the enjoyment of having them around. They can make very human- like word sounds! I'm training this one to say my name when he comes to visit me every evening. :)

Part of the PMI-President's Malarial Initiative includes handing out free mosquito nets to each family. I had to make sure to tell the people "they're for hanging above your bed, not catching fish!!!" which is a real issue in some areas and could cause serious sickness and ecosystem damage because of the bug-killing chemicals on them.

Osoa starting out her daily weaving lessons. It's a relaxing hobby and I've always loved doing projects with my hands where I see a finished product that can be enjoyed!

DOOOHHH! Free show!! ;P My ladosy (shower) has seen better days....the wind finally overtook my lovely washing spot that has been slowly destroyed by termites.

October 15th, 2010- National Handwashing Day!! "Andro i Manasa Tanana" I did a sensibilization to these elementery school kids, then had volunteers demonstrate the proper fomba for washing hands. In the background is the commune head of Antetezambaro, where the Mayor's office/ admistration buildings are.

After mine and student volunteer's demonstrations, I had each class line up with their teacher's to practice washing their hands properly WITH SOAP (often not used). There's also a great song they sand loudly to the tune "wheels on the bus"- zaza manasa tanana, tanana, tanana......

This man is in the process of making Betsa, an alcohol made from fermented sugar cane. He has a huge tree trunk set up to easily roll over the sugar cane peices he stuffs under, which causes the liquid alcohol to be extracted.

One of our activities during the LEEP camp included climbing this steep hillside to plant trees where they had recently been burned down for fuel. It was a challenge that was worth it! The pile of yellow debris is all the sugar cane the Betsa maker has already used and extracted alcohol from

The view from the top of the hillside, overlooking Ampasibe-Onibe, the site of the LEEP camp. These were the student girls and teacher from my site. I swear they were having a good time (maybe beside being hot, thirsty ,and tired;p) it's just Fomba Gasy (custom) to not smile in pictures.

Our whole LEEP camp group during our last activity together at Parc Ivoloina, which is a great lemur/amphibian conservation parc near my site.

Some of my boys posing for me across the rice paddy.

I can already tell how much I 'm gonna miss these kids......Cono is def. the most mature, well-behaved , and hardest worker of the bro's.

They're soo cool and crazy! Arsenn is the spunkiest troublemaker of the group, but those kids are always hilarious as well!! We ironically busted out similar poses for this snapshot. In the background is my kabone (hole in the ground) and ladosy, which you can see I added a couple support beams to try to prevent from blowing away:)

Mondrosoa any tranoko Magic! (Welcome, come into my Magic hut!) Isn't she lovely?!!

This lemur coming outta the corner , suddenly from nowhere, somehow perfectly timed his leap, to land right in front of the camera at the perfect time of exposure! I'm tellin u, this hut of mine is the source of all things Magical!! :)

A beautiful mother grinning ear to ear after her baby has white traces of evidence on his mouth, of killing those worms that have been stealing his precious nutrients!

Other mothers and children anticipated their de-worming doses, vit. A, and vaccines. The poor boy and girl up front know the needle to come may pinch just a wee bit.

HAH! This is a great , perfectly timed, unplanned capture of Gasy culture. It's not funny or gross for big sister to shove her finger waaaay up there to get out the crusties. ;P

This is me arriving early morning into Toamasina (Tamatave-port city 20 KM south of me). I had to transport these 2 boxes of vaccines safely and quickly to the bush sites in need during Herinandro Reny sy Zaza. Of course I'm wearing my bike helmet as all good Peace Corps Volunteers do :)

A 4 year old all ready for her bi-yearly dose of Vitamin A!

Fikambanana Fomba Fiainana miaraka @ Kanto! (Life Skills Club with Kanto) This was my first club meeting, I was really happy with the turn-out!

My Fikambanana practicing gymnastics- "10 handstands, tight legs, Alefa!!" (go!) Some are amazing gymnasts naturally, others I'm working with, but Gasy kids are verrry quick learners.

Some of the more elite naturals of the group. Of course no formal training, they just have no fear! and lotsa soft sand pitts to practice in. This kid gets the award for most air of all.

Kanto's east coast breakfast of choice, breakfast of champions: fried fish! especially the crispy head is my fave!! :) yummmmm

A couple of my Betsi sister's , Katie and Megan at our Halloween party/meeting @ beautiful Mahambo beach. I found this awwwwesome leopard housecoat so couldn't resist gettin deckd out to be a cat. Katie on the left is supposed to be Madonna and Megan is a Jirama worker (common construction job for men in the area)

Dr. Izzy doing an ultrasound on a curious expecting mommy.

A couple toddlars fetching water for their mom who just had a baby at a hospital in the city of Toamasina that I volunteer at

I loved watching this process of children fulfilling a humans most basic need for survival- water, although this water must be boiled or filtered before consumption to prevent bacterial diseases/ parasites.

"It's full, Mom, here I come!" :)

Patients camping out under the shady palms, as they await their chance to be seen by the American doctors.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Where smiles are born :)

The landscape up in Mahajanga (north-west coast) is sooo much different than my home on the east coast. This region hasn't had any rain since April, which explains the golden dryness of the hills, valleys, and plains. Even though this is obviously beautiful in its own right, I'm looking forward to getting back to Betsi-Land with all its green wetness! :)

A market in downtown Mahajanga. These are some local cacti and small Baobab trees (top left) that ar commonly grown in this region.

This cutie was made to live in the front of the camera- she was smilin &posing all day for us!

Even though the patient was still out of it from anasthesia, the smiles on the face of this mother (far left) and sisters illustrates their happiness, after the completion of her 14 year old sons' cleft lip surgury.

It usually takes a week or so for the babies to really show off their smile, after the pain wears down, but this mother is already happy with her daughter's beautiful new face.

I think this momma told me MISAOTRA BETSAKA (thanks so much!) a good dozen times. Most families were sooo appreciative to everyone involved: of course the surgeons, anasthesiologists, dentists, nurses, and us translators. I loved being able to sit down with the families and share their happiness of their childs' transformation (which is shown in next pic).

This is her before and after shot. Such a precious soul.

This American nurse, Kathy, was such an enigma of energy the whole 10 days. It's obvious she's already been on about 10 Op. Smile missions and has a special connection to these kids, no matter the cultural/ language barrier.

My first witnessed surgury. He is a 15 year old who will be recieving local anasthethsia to fix his cleft lip.

This was such an amazing experience to be right up in there with the surgeons, holding the patients' hand, and comforting them as much as possible through this no doubt frightening event. We PCV translator's talked to the patients (usually 13 years and older/ younger would be general anasth.) as they were recieving the shots of nova-caine (mitovy-tovy mainaikatra tantely, fa dia ngoly: it'll feel close to getting stung by a bee, but then will go numb) and as the doc's progress through the surgury. These guys and girls cut with such confidence! Don't know if I could do it, but sure was awesome to observe and learn about it!

Vita!!!! (Finished!) He looks great!

Bailey (fellow PCV) and I were there as he first stared in the mirror at his new face. He exerted a humble satisfaction with his doctor's work. I was sooo happy to have led him through this life-changing experience.

This was one smiley dad, all day long!! So precious!

This is the finished result of the baby getting worked on below. She was known to be one of the most difficult cases, but was a success!

She worked for about 2 hours to finish this adorable lil girl, it was quite intense! She had a bilateral, complete lip and palet.

Esther and I all scrubbed out!

This lil guy wanted to show off his before/ after ;P "Tena bagosy izy!!" said his mom: He's so handsome!

My amazing sister, Kelly, in my Betsimisaraka family(our east coast regional tribe) gave me a super fantastic birthday prezzy!!! She woke me up for a deeelicious bed n. brekky of Bolo (the best, delicious choco/cream cookies snack made here) pancakes, with a homemade card. This was at our Peace Corps hostel, the day everyone left to get back to site/ head on from the awesome 10 days of Op. Smile work we did together. Thanks sista, I love u, girl!

This was my first stop on my business trip to the northwest coast. Started with a Handwashing kabary with the women and kids of Jennie's site (this is her house in the background) of Berivotra, near Mahajanga. Global Handwashing Day- Oct. 15!!!! :)

After the handwashing kabary, I moved on to speaking about birth control with the women and mothers. Jennie said she thinks the average family has 8 kids. In this photo, I'm showing the poster that asks "Where do you like" with 1 picture a family of 8 kids, scraggly skinny, not enough food, unhappy; and the other is a happy family of 3 children. This is the first group of women that had a couple say they like the family with sooo many kids, since more kids, more help for work they have. We all had good discussions on why kids shouldn't have to be so responsible to work at such young ages, and most everyone participated in these talks.

Stop 2 of my business trip to Mahajanga: teaching at fellow Education PCV, Brian's site in the city. He works at a verrry well run and managed private pre-school and elementary school. It was kind of culture shock to see such clean kids! But I feel good about introducing soap to their routine: previously they would wash their hands with just water after using the latrine or after recess but now have shown to understand my lessons on why soap is so important in preventing bacterial diseases and worms, since Brian has reported back to me that they're still using it :).

Another class of pupils with squeaky clean hands.

This is the school's elementary kids. They were "efa mahay be" (already knew well) the reasons why we need to have good body and drinking water sanitation.

Brittany, Kinsey, Katie, Chris, Corie, Kanto, Beth, and Dorothy: The reinstatement "zoky's" (older siblins). Our last time at Lac Mantasoa all together ;,( There are 11 of us that did return back here to Radagascar November 2009, after being evacuated last year, but only 8 of us could make this Close-of-Service conference that helped us start thinking about how to say goodbye to our villages/have a proper closure, look towards the future, and how to articulate all the skills' learned through our Peace Corps service.

" Keep it Real" We're doin' it right here, right now!! :) Bamboo, 1 of our training center's dog wanted to get in with it 2

Mantasoa alllways has some spectacular sunsets over the lac, brilliant colors!

These are some kids playing, in the Mantasoa area (on the plateau/ center of the island). Mahay be!!

Some of my village kids playing in Antetezambaro (on the east coast) I'm sooooo looking forward to getting back to them soon!! I miss the east coast vibe and heat!