Thursday, April 15, 2010

Just wanted to share with y'all some of my favest pastimes with my kids of Antetezambaro: picking fruit (this pictured happens to be soanambo or breadfruit, every month the fruit of season needing to be picked changes). And of course fishing is an ultimate favorite pastime...soo, these aren't the biggest fish I've ever caught, but when lotsa them are fried up, delish!! :)

saryko velohany!! my first pictures published!!

This is my smile muscles once again realizing their true form, after our great hike that brought us to the top of the rock, in the tiny train village of Andrambovato....sooo KANTO but as you can see by the lighter green patches, has already been stripped of hundreds of acres of primal rainforest.

This is me talking about the consequences of "sipa maro" (many partners=more chance of contracting STI's) at Brittany's site in Anketrakabe at our original show of Cirque de SIDA. I'm realizing how much I love public speaking and am grateful for this skill, since by statistics , is the #1 phobia of Americans....just gotta make people laugh and it's all good! :) I've also realized how much I luuuuv acrostic poems, so the top picture illustrates how I made an acrostic on how to prevent HIV/AIDS and STI's: TSIKY (SMILE) and each letter stands for T-Tsy manao firaisana (Don't have sex) S-Sipa (partner) I-Iray ( faithful) Mampiasa Kapoty (use a condom if you do choose to have sex) because... MahatokY (you can trust them)

This is me with my fellow PCV's taking a wee break to soak up the lovely beach in the northern port city of Antsiranana, during our AIDS conference...Life is sooo beauuutiful!!!

ups and downs in life as always, just lots more frequently here!

So, I got a phone call yesterday evening that made my face’s smile muscles rejoice happily :) Rinasoa, the oldest daughter of the mother in the accident with the traumatic brain injury, let me know that her mom is doing well. She did get transported to the hospital in the capital of Tana to get a brain scan and still is recovering there and waiting for the final results, but it's looking ok. Since I’m currently here in the capital city, getting ready to return home to my hut in Antetezambaro (which I’m sooooooo ready for after these crazy past 3 weeks!!), I’m going to make a visit to the hospital myself this afternoon to check up on the mother and her younger daughter who was also hit. This experience, as well as the awful witness of watching a young, sick man die on the train to Fianar on my vacation last week, has definitely changed me, has definitely made my spirit and will stronger. The man was sleeping when we first got into the train, but obviously struggling to breath as his chest was noticeably rising rapidly and. My friends and I stood a few feet away from the bed he was lying on, in the overly packed, dark, slooow moving train car. I’m not sure what was wrong but he appeared to have symptoms of malaria, which sadly is a common killer in Madagascar. Especially for the people that live far out of the city, away from doctors or even pharmacies and access to medicine have no or very little chance of fast, reliable transportation to health centers. And malaria can kill fast if not treated. The young man passing away, as he was getting comforted and cooled by his wife, brother, and toddler, was so sad but in a way, but also appeared to be a solemly spiritual and peaceful ending of life. So this was just one more sad, unforeseen event of my last 3 week travels, but I’m confident this is all just another test of will and strength, and I know that I’m Blessed by our Creator with that needed muscle that helps me push through to the sunshine waiting on the other side. Because the sunshine really is always there. It may sometimes hide for days at a time, but it looms behind the clouds patiently, waiting excitedly for the clearing of the clouds to bring back the life of my natural balance of light. And of course, the light that I also obtain from the night shining stars, which are always aligning perfectly for me, no matter how unfortunate some experiences and circumstances may be, also keep my tsiky (smile) alive and well. It's amazing how life takes you right where you were always destined to be.

Although as I’ve mentioned numerous times, the last 3 weeks of travel have been quite traumatic and crazy, they’ve also been full of fascinating, fun, exciting, and fulfilling moments. Ohatra (example) exploring the primal, extremely green rainforest of Ranomafana National Park, one of the most well-known active bird/lemur/reptile/plant habitats on this magical island. We had a mahay guide who first took us on a wee night hike to get a good look at the nocturnal chameleons and mouse lemur. Then followed the next day with a tour through the rainforest, which resulted in seeing 12 lemurs!! Soooo cool, and one of them even danced within 5 feet of me! And a few days before that, taking the train to the tiny village of Andrambovato, which has only 150 residents. We stayed in a lovely wee hut, which overlooked the breathtaking view of the carpeted lush coverings of the mountainous forests…although at the same time, after making the trek up the towering rock overlooking the tiny village and miles of landscape, it was obvious that logging and slash n. burn agriculture is quickly taking its toll on the rainforest lands. But the bananas in Andrambovato were the thickest, yummiest akondro I’ve ever eaten, which is why this is the main cash crop of the village. Also, to speak of a couple more positive stories that I haven’t yet had the chance to tell, includes how successful our (my fellow reinstatement PCV’s and I) first performance of “Cirque de SIDA” (SIDA is french for AIDS) was. It took place on the final day of our week-long AIDS conference up north, at a friends’ site , in the lovely village of Anketrekabe. Our main objective for our visit to her community was to have a big, community gathering and fety, to raise awareness of SIDA. And it was quite big, as I’d say most of Brittany’s village showed up. Me being the only health reinstatement volunteer, took the reigns of leading this festival and sensibilization, but the mid-wife also helped me out. My fellow PCV’s definitely helped me with skits and games such as the condom relay race, but I confidently took the mike and the stage to lead the discussion about the causes, symptoms, preventions, and treatment of STI’s and AIDS. It was sooo much fun and a self-esteem booster to be able to stand up and at least semi-clearly speak Gasy well enough for the village, my supervisor’s of Peace Corps, and fellow PCV’s to be able to understand more about the deadly disease. During our stay in the beautiful, northern port city of Antsiranana, we also got the chance to talk with a panel of people living with AIDS (Madagascar overall is said to only have a 1% HIV infection rate, but already this year 8 have died from AIDS in the north), and commercial sex workers- CSW's (there are a lot up north because of the tourism and all the French men that work/live up there). There are Thankfully a lot of resources for these women to get cheap access to doctors and free STI testing and treatment. We also got to observe a mpanentena (I’m actually considered one’s a person who sensibilizes about health issues) talking with the prostitutes at the brothel, one on one. It was very interesting to see this occupation at work in real time, not just on t.v., and hear from the women their history and reasons for being a CSW, which is one of the oldest occupations in the world. It definitely changed a lot of stereotypes I realized I had about commercial sex workers. All 5 women we talked with at their place of work, which was located on dark benches in a park in the middle of the city, were very willing to listen, talk about, and grateful to learn how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS. The conference went so well that some friends and I are working up a plan to continue on with her Cirque de SIDA, the most entertaining albeit informational show in town!!! I’ll really need to figure out how and take the time to upload a couple pictures from the festival…gooood times!!! Once I find out more info on the future showtimes of this kanto (magnificent) show, I'll let y'all know! :) Cheers* Amy menaraka!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Thankfully.....Misaotra Andriamanitra!

The 6th of April,2010, this is the most blank looking page I’ve seen in a while because it’s hard to know where I want to begin, when all’s I can think about is the vivid horror repeatedly running through my mind. The end of March, my 10 fellow reinstatement PCV stage-mates and I were sent up to northern Madagasikara, in a brand spanking new, quite comfy Peace Corps 4WD. The 2 day drive was long, but soooo beauuutiful, as I got to see the landscape change from the lush rice patties of the plateau, to the green rolling mountains (quite like my sis’s homeland of Scotland, actually!) of Ankazobe, to the hot, dry clay bushlands of Maevatanana, up through the Lion King-like savannah with tsingy (jutting stalagtites of limestone) on the horizon near Anketrakabe, then up through the Mt. Amber rainforest (where I saw my first wild lemurs..mating!), which is the corrider to Antsiranana, the most northern city port of Mada (more commonly known as Diego Suarez, after the 2 Portuguese who attacked the port city and ravaged and raped its peoples…so I’d rather not forgivingly call it after such). I spent a lot of the 24 hrs of car riding on the way there, writing about my past few weeks at site and the 24 hrs on the way home, about the hectic yet amazing week of AIDS conference we had up there. I thought it’d be depressing to start our drive back to Tana right on Easter Sunday, rather than flying kites, which is my traditional family fun holiday; but it actually was interesting to be constantly on the move, observing each community, each tribe, each regions’ celebrations/ fety’s and praying going on for the holiday. But then the nightmare happened yesterday, Easter Monday late afternoon, just 70 K- 2hrs. before ending our journey back in the capital city. Easter Week is a huge holiday here in Madagasikara and there were tons of people mitsangantsangana (walking/hanging out and about). Our driver, who surely had to be exhausted, not to mention had been sick that morning, and the sun was shining brightly, hit 4 pedestrians! And I was the passenger in the front seat, who saw it all, everything before it ever happened, not being able to scream fast enough to make him stop. As we approached the small town (which ironically is a site of another PCV), he slowed down and came around a 90 degree turn to the right, crossed the center line in the left lane and then never corrected back to the right lane. He probably continued to drive straight, in the left lane for about 30 meters before hitting a mother and her 10 year old daughter, a 17 year old girl, and a 20 something man on a bike. He was blinded by the sun, but maybe because of my short height and different perspective, I was not affected and as I said, completely witnessed the tragedy that felt like went in slow motion, but then again took an eternity for it to end! After I screamed 3 times, the car came to a stop, and the driver and I both quickly jumped out to check the victims. I focused on the mother, who was gushing blood from her head and holding a disfigured arm, and her daughter, who laid flat, crying in the road. My first thought was “Misaotra Andriamanitra” (Thank God!) they were both conscious and able to speak, despite obviously being in pain and shock(as I believe also being in a similar state during this time). I was sooo aftraid to look under the car, for fear of what I might find, but again, Thankfully there was nothing to be afraid of. The other 2 victims were also very much in pain, but conscious. Despite me knowing accident victims SHOULD NOT be moved, especially those with head trauma, I could not stop their families and friends who quickly scooped everyone up and brought them to the local hospital, which again, Thankfully was only 200 meters away. Plus, there are no ambulances out in villages and most likely any backboard to even transport them properly. 2 local doctors were called in to help the patients. The mother was the most pressing, as heads can really bleed, and after the doctor cut back her hair, we realized it was an inch square gash of skin that was peeled back, revealing her skull. I got yet another observation training on stitching wounds before I was called out by a PCV to go talk to the police about the incident, since I was the main witness. It turned out that I had to return this morning, with the driver and our safety/ security officer, to do an official interview with the head “gendarme” (military/ police of small villages). I talked with the 3 other PCV’s in the car who were awake to witness this with me as well as our PC doctor since I was feeling stressed about incriminating our driver during the witness interview, since he really is a great guy and usually a good driver. As probably anywhere in the world, he’d be going to jail for manslaughter if someone died, but Thankfully that’s not (knock on wood, yet) the case. The interview went fine, as I just said what I saw and nothing more. No one but him and God could no what really happened in his world during those split seconds but it surely was horrible having to see it come before it came. I’m really happy I did go back to Ankazobe today- most importantly to check back up on the patients and talk with their families. I think it really helped for me to go back there and be a representative of Peace Corps offering the empathetic, caring attitude, especially since local hospitals are a familiar environment for me and naturally, I’m deeply concerned about the health and welfare of the victims and their families. I did get the phone number of the oldest daughter of the mother, so I can keep in touch with the updates. Of course, despite the immediate expenses of medicines, the families seemed to voice their main concern of their immediate living situation for the entire family. For instance, the mother is a single mother of 7, and teacher at a private school, which surely won’t pay sick wages and who knows how long Peace Corps’ insurance money will get to them? Our driver gave the families provisions for maybe the next couple days, but even he doesn’t make a ton of money to be able to dish out. The mother most likely will need to be evacuated to Tana, although transportation in this country, which guarantees a bumpy, jarring 2 hour ride, is definitely risky for her, with a brain injury. Thankfully, her 10 year old girl was up, walking around, and ok besides a big bruise on her back. The teen girl needs an x-ray of her hip, which could likely be broken and the guy’s knee and shoulder/collarbone is immobile. This accident was such a bad combination of long, exhausting& difficult driving conditions, lotsa pedestrians, with no sidewalks. We all know accidents can happen anytime, anywhere, outside your house, or in the other hemisphere, it just often doesn’t get thought about until it happens to or near you. Hopefully I can eventually not constantly re-think the image over in my head all the time. I’m very much looking forward to a wee getaway with some education PCV’s to mid-south Mada and taking a train from Fianarantsoa-Manakara. Anything sounds better than being in a car at this point. They’re such dangerous clusters of clinking metal, killing machines. I have so many good stories that I want to write about and share with y’all that has happened this past month, but I’m sure you see how drained I must be after all this, so those more positive stories will have to wait til I’m able to relax a wee bit. But again, Thankfully the victims are alive. Thankfully I’m alive. Thankfully we’re all alive! Misaotra Andriamanitra!!!