Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Your Wish is My Command

Written on 25 March 2010

That’s how I feel about living next to my site’s EPP (primary school) – like I’m living next to my own personal genie. All I have to do is rub the lamp, say what I want and it magically appears.

The education system in Madagascar is very different from the American system in a lot of ways. One major difference is that the teacher is always right. Students never question the teacher and have to do exactly what the teacher says. If a teacher says to erase the board, the students erase the board. If the teacher says to go get chalk, the students go and get chalk. If the teacher says to go get firewood, the students go get firewood. There’s never any questioning of the teacher. No “why” or “what for.” There’s no parents demanding explanations for what goes on at school. The teacher makes a request and the students do it – even if it’s completely irrelevant to their studies. As a result, teachers (at least at my EPP) end up asking kids to do a lot of household chores for them.

I happen to live right next to the EPP in Morarano and my closest neighbor is a teacher there, so I began reaping the benefits of the free labor right away. It all started during my first month at site when my neighbor, the teacher, asked me where I got my water. I pointed over to the little pond right by our houses. He looked aghast and we had the following exchange:

“Katie, that water is so dirty! Why are you getting your water there?” he scolded
“I know it’s dirty. But that’s where everyone gets their water,” I said matter-of-factly.
“There’s cleaner water that way. You should get your water there.”
“But I don’t know the way.”
“I’ll have the students fetch it for you! Is tomorrow ok?”
“I guess so. But is that ok? Is it far away? Is there time? Do I have to pay them?”
“It’s not a problem! They always get my water from there. That’s the advantage of being a teacher!” [N.B. I have taught these kids formally exactly one time since my arrival]

And that’s how it all started. The American in me was pretty uncomfortable taking advantage of elementary-aged kids. It felt like using child labor. I guess I shouldn’t have been. That’s the way they do things here. A lot of people around here seem to have kids just so they can have someone around to help out with all the work. So now whenever I’m getting low on water, I go over to one of the teachers and ask them to send a few kids over. Every once in awhile one of the teachers will stop by my house and make a comment about my yard looking overgrown. The next thing I know there’s an army of kids in school uniforms at my house weeding my yard. There seems to be no limit to what you can ask the students to do. I’m starting a gardening project at the school and told the teachers that the first thing we needed was a fence around the area to keep out the animals. For some reason I expected them to have a couple of men from the village spend a day building the fence. Of course that’s not what happened. The students have been showing up every day at school for the last few weeks carrying bundles of sticks twice their height and building the fence during their recreation time. Then the other day, I asked my neighbor, the teacher, if there was any lemongrass nearby because I wanted to plant some in my yard. I told him specifically that I only needed a little and could go get it myself if someone showed me where it was. He completely ignored that suggestion and started asking every student that left his classroom to bring lemongrass to school for me. So the next morning about 20 students trickled into my yard toting massive bundles of lemongrass. I ended up with way more than I needed but it provided a perfect opportunity for me to teach them and my neighbors about the benefits of planting lemongrass near your house.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Toilet Troubles

I’ll start off by saying that I really like my house here. My community built me a really nice ravinala house. It’s spacious, the thatched roof and cement floor keep things relatively cool and there’s a big yard with a huge tree providing shade. They did a really good job on the house. I can’t say the same for my latrine, however. It’s not that I have anything against outdoor bathrooms. I actually learned to really like them the last time I was here. There’s no real routine maintenance needed and in a country where the indoor plumbing that does exist is usually malfunctioning, I’ve found that going to the bathroom in a hole can actually be preferable to using a toilet.

I have been having issues with my kabone since I got here. I don’t know what my community was thinking when they built it to be perfectly honest. For some reason, they decided to build my bathroom – something that I would have to use multiple times a day – in the one spot that floods every single time it rains. The east coast has a pretty considerable rainy season, so it has been flooded most of the time since I arrived. It’s not like they didn’t have other options. My kabone is about 50 meters from my house, you can’t even see it from here, I had to hunt for it when I first moved in. There are plenty of other spaces much closer to my house that I have never once seen flooded. So why, Morarano? Why did you build my kabone in a place that is flooded for half the year?

I’m guessing this lapse in judgment is due to the fact that there are no other kabones in Morarano. The people here just go to the bathroom in the woods. They seem to be terrified that if they build a kabone anywhere near any place that people frequent, that the smell will take over that place and make their lives miserable. Consequently, my bathroom is in a place that no one ever goes – the flood zone.

When I got installed, my Peace Corps installer told them it was too far away and they had to do something about the pathway that was under a foot of water. Naturally, the President of the Fokontany (Morarano is a fokontany, or small village, of nearby Foulpointe) immediately responded that they would fill in the pathway so I at least wouldn’t have to wade through knee deep water every time I had to pee. I’m pretty sure he had no intention of ever doing this, however, since every time I asked him when he was going to fix it, he would show me this incredibly long meandering route I could take to my kabone that wasn’t flooded. Naturally, being so close to the flooded area this alternate path, while not under water, usually has several inches of mud the entire way.

After about a month and a half here, a different Peace Corps employee came to visit. He took one look at my kabone and demanded that they just build me a new one and offered to have Peace Corps pay for it. I was relieved because building a new kabone seemed like a simple enough task – all they really had to do was dig a new hole and move the building from the old one to the new one, and with Peace Corps paying, the community would have no excuse to not do it. It seemed simple, but unfortunately, the idea of a cement floor got thrown in there somehow. I don’t know if this idea came from Peace Corps or from the community trying to show their dedication to building an excellent kabone, but for whatever reason, my President of the Fokontany became convinced that he had to have cement for the new kabone. So, the next thing I know, I’m housing two big bags of cement courtesy of Peace Corps.

Sure enough, the day after the cement arrived the President stopped by and admitted that no one in Morarano actually knew how to build a kabone with cement. I didn’t know how to build one either so we went on the hunt for a technician. I knew that there were people in Peace Corps who knew how to do it, but of course, I couldn’t get a hold of them. By the time I did, my President had already gotten this insanely complicated kabone plan requiring tubes leading to holes and who knows what else. I immediately got him on the phone with Peace Corps so they could explain to him what to do. Then I got on the phone and had them explain to me what to do. For the next week or two I went over the plan with the President every time I saw him:
“Here’s how you make the cement floor. Then build the same thing you built before but replace the wood floor with a cement one. Put the building with the cement floor directly over the hole. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand well.”
We even went over exactly where I wanted them to build the new kabone (for some reason, after being so afraid to put a kabone near any houses, they wanted to build the new one adjacent to my kitchen window):
“Please, do not build the kabone right next to my kitchen. I want you to build it in the front right corner of my yard. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand well.”
It got to the point where I reminded him of exactly what to do so many times that I was starting to feel like I was being patronizing. But I at least felt fairly certain that he knew what to do.
I was wrong. I returned home from a Peace Corps workshop a few days ago to find a giant hole right outside my kitchen window and the foundation for the kabone building already started – located, not above the hole as I had specifically stated over and over for weeks, but behind it. I frantically went over all the conversations we’d had in my head:
“What went wrong? Did I mix up the words for over and under? I do that sometimes. Maybe that was the problem. But even if I had, wouldn’t he have caught me? After all, it doesn’t make any sense to say you want the building underneath the hole. And why didn’t they build it in front of my house? I had even cleared the space where I wanted it! Looks like I’m stuck with the crazy tube contraption for a kabone. Maybe it will work and it won’t smell up my kitchen…”
I was still pondering all of this when I headed out to go to the bathroom. When I got to the site of my old kabone I stopped short. The kabone was gone. All that was left was the floor and the hole. Of course! They had taken apart the building of my old kabone and moved it to where the new one would be. And they had done all this before they were ready to build the new building. Well before, as a matter of fact, as they had not even started on the cement part of things, which I hear takes at least a week to dry.
This discovery was one of many times where I desperately wished I could peek inside the head of a Malagasy and see what kind of logic they were using when they made this decision. Maybe they reached the cement step, realized they still didn’t know how to do it so while they waited for me to get back, they went ahead and did what they knew how to do – take apart the old building. Whatever they were thinking, they certainly were not thinking of the fact that they were leaving me with a bathroom without walls and that my kabone sits it plain view of the village elementary school. For now, I have the choice of using my old wall-less kabone and letting all the students stare at my bare ass while I go to the bathroom, or I can switch to using my chamber pot full time. So far I’ve been going with the chamber pot option, but I really hate cleaning that thing out so if they don’t finish soon I might end up returning to swimming my old kabone and letting the entire school gape at me while I go to the bathroom.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rough Travels

Written on 16 January 2010

I had my first you-chose-to-come-back-to-this-you-idiot moment the other day. I had been waiting for it – wondering when it would happen and what it would be that would trigger memories of all the things that had caused me frustration with Madagascar and with Peace Corps before.

It finally happened during my trip back to site after finishing my portion of the training in Mantasoa. Things started off well. I got a ride in a Peace Corps car early in the morning from Tana to Moramanga. Then my taxi-brousse from Moramanga to Tamatave filled up relatively quickly and we were able to leave way earlier than I had expected. I think I only had to wait for about an hour. Even the brousse ride started off well. We hardly had to stop at all and were making great time. I was actually counting myself pretty lucky, especially since when I left Moramanga, Chris’s car was still waiting for 18 people and it was looking like he’d be waiting around in Moramanga for a good part of the day.

Then the trouble started. I knew something was amiss when I started seeing endless lines of camions along the side of the road and I started to worry about what had caused all the truck drivers to call it quits so early in the day. Then we got to the first traffic jam and I discovered the reason. Land slides. Parts of RN2 were completely covered in mountains of mud. I can only assume that this was a result of the cyclone that had apparently caused torrential downpours on the east coast for days on end. I must say, as an environment volunteer, it’s pretty frustrating getting held up by something like land slides and knowing that if the people would listen to all the various environment workers running around Madagascar and stop burning/chopping down the forest problems like this would be a lot less likely to occur.

The first couple weren’t so bad. The people in the surrounding villages had managed to get them cleared and cars were making it through. Traffic was just backed up because only one side of the road was cleared. But as we continued the traffic jams got worse and worse. The lines of traffic were so long that the drivers were just turning off their cars and sitting and waiting for hours on end. I felt really bad for the men who were clearing the road. Every time we got to another land slide it looked like every male in the village had showed up with their shovels and antsy be (the Malagasy version of the machete) and were working like mad to shovel the mud off the road and push the cars through one by one. The damage was incredible. Rivers and ponds had swelled well beyond their banks; houses were flooded and barely standing; trees had fallen everywhere; the mounds of mud at times reached heights that were well above the heights of the taxi-brousses. Despite all the surrounding damage, the people seemed most concerned about getting the road cleared, which I appreciated but it made me wonder why no one seemed to be concerned about the pitiful state of some of the flooded houses.

Every land slide we came to took longer and longer to get through. The driver kept stopping the car and we would sit for so long that I kept thinking we were giving up for the night and that we would just sleep in the brousse and try again in the morning. I was wrong each time. After sitting for a couple of hours the cars would all suddenly turn back on, everyone would wake up in excitement that we were going to move again and we would advance for about a dozen or so meters. Naturally, my phone died in the middle of this trip so while everyone else was calling family and friends to check in I just sat huddled in my seat thinking of the people I would have been able to call to pass the time and trying to fight off the onset of claustrophobia (thankfully I had my iPod fully charged – I think that was the only thing keeping me sane). My phone dying presented another problem as well. Apparently our Safety and Security Officer had been trying to get in touch with me to warn me about the road being cut and find out if I was ok. Of course, there was absolutely no way for him to get in touch with me and the next morning I received all of the missed calls and text messages from him and other friends trying to find out if I was still alive. At one point we saw a couple bulldozers come through (that’s right I said bulldozers, in Madagascar). At that point I assume the road was cleared but it still took another 4½ hours to make it to Tamatave because everything was so backed up. I am now able to fully appreciate just how many cars use RN2 every day. It was pretty shocking to see such long lines of traffic in a country where you can usually travel from one place to another and only see a handful of other cars.

All in all, the trip from Moramanga to Tamatave – a trip that normally takes around 4 or 5 hours – took us over 16 hours, 12 of which were spent trying to get the 30k strip of land slides. That was probably the worst taxi brousse ride I have ever experienced in Madagascar. But when I came back to Madagascar I knew something like this was bound to happen and I’m feeling pretty good now that I’ve survived my first incredibly frustrating event. I’ll feel even better if I ever make it back to site. Today is Saturday and I left Tana early Wednesday morning. I’m supposed to get back today but I don’t want to jinx it since I was supposed to make it back yesterday but the taxi brousse to my site never showed up. This trip has been plagued numerous problems aside from land slides. Peace Corps is going to have a hard time getting me to come back to Tana again during the rainy season, which is going to be a problem for them since there are several things scheduled in the next few months that they need volunteers for. At this point, I think I’ll only agree to make the trip again if they send a helicopter to pick me up and take me back home.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Welcome Niger Trainees! (Oh yeah, and Happy Holidays too)

My much needed one week holiday vacation to take a mental break from site (and Peace Corps in general) turned into three weeks dedicated almost entirely to training the new training class that just transferred from Niger. So much for the mental break! I still got to take my Christmas trip to Ambato with some other volunteers but my plans to spend New Year’s on relaxing on the beach in Foulpointe quickly got thrown out the window when Peace Corps called me two days before Christmas to say, “We hope we caught you before you left site (they didn’t). We would like you to come in to train for two weeks after Christmas. You don’t have to commit to the full two weeks (actually, you kind of do) but we really think the trainees need the support of volunteers because they still have not met any PCVs in Madagascar. Oh, and we’d like you here on the 27th.” Well, I couldn’t very well say no to providing support to a bunch of trainees who had just lived through consolidation and evacuation from Niger and were now being forced to start back at square one with a new country, a new language and new jobs. So I ran back to site, grabbed a few warm clothes for the cold Lake Mantasoa weather at the Peace Corps Training Center and said goodbye to my chance to relax.

I knew when I signed up to reinstate that a large part of my responsibilities would be to help get the program started again, i.e. training. And I had been excited about the opportunity to help restart and reform Peace Corps Madagascar. So the fact that I had to train this new group didn’t bother me – in fact, I was excited to meet them. The timing, however, was pretty unfortunate as was the chaotic, last minute nature of the request. This was made especially frustrating since I had spoken to Peace Corps several times about when and if they needed me to train and had gone ahead and planned my vacation since I had been unable to get any information aside from being told I would be needed some time in January and definitely not for more than a week. This is Peace Corps though, and organization and communication have never been among Peace Corps strengths.

I am excited for this new group of volunteers. Overall, they seem like a really good group. They’ve handled the evacuation and transition to Madagascar surprisingly well. I’ve lived through Peace Corps training and evacuation if I had to go through both at the same time I don’t think I’d be in nearly as good of shape as this group.

The question of whether taking this training class from Niger was a good move for PC Madagascar is still up for debate. On the one hand, having an extra training class, especially one with volunteers in each of the four sectors, will do wonders for getting PC Madagascar back up to where it was to before evacuation. Also, keeping the training class together in the transfer is great for their group. This way, they get to go through this incredibly trying time together and have each other as a support network as opposed to getting farmed off to different countries and having to go through transferring/training alone. On the other hand, Peace Corps barely seemed ready for our tiny group of reinstatees when we arrived in country and I’m afraid that taking on such a large training class so suddenly is going to start a vicious cycle of disorganization. Instead of being able to take time to develop really good sites for the next training class and provide good support for the volunteers that are already in country, they were scrambling to get enough sites ready in time for the group from Niger and now they will have to scramble again to get sites for the training class due to arrive in March. Finding appropriate sites and matching appropriate volunteers with those sites has always been a difficult issue and probably always will be. However, I had hoped that by starting off with a small number of volunteers they would have the time to devote to site development that they didn’t when there were 120+ volunteers in country and that maybe by starting off on the right foot that some of the issues with finding sites would be eased. At the same time, starting off small would not have guaranteed that there would have been any more organization once the program got back up to full capacity so in the end, it may not make a difference and more places in Madagascar will have a Peace Corps Volunteer, which is a good thing.

Either way, after having met and worked with the group from Niger, I am positive that they will all be great volunteers once they make it to site and I’m excited to see the kind of work they all end up doing.

And finally: Happy Holidays Everyone! Here's to hoping 2010 is a little less rocky for Madagascar...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Readjusting to life as a PCV

One of the things that really made me think twice about rejoining the ranks of Peace Corps Madagascar was the memory of the culture shock I had dealt with when I first arrived at site last time. My first few weeks, months even, in Andina were really tough to get through and the thought of going through that again was really not appealing. Having lived through it once and being familiar with Madagascar, I assumed it would be an easier process this time. First, I already know how my body deals with that kind of stress so I would be able to identify culture shock for what it is rather than constantly pondering over whether or not I’m manic depressive. Plus, I wouldn’t be quite as clueless when it comes to Malagasy culture and things like shopping at the market so I wouldn’t have to constantly think about every little daily activity – previously a source of great distress, mental and physical exhaustion as well as questioning of my mental capabilities both by myself and my neighbors. On the other hand, I knew going into reinstatement that my new site would be very different from my old one and we were going to arrive at site right as the holiday season began. So while I convinced myself I could survive the inevitable adjustment period, I was also bracing myself for a painful first few weeks.

I’ve been at site for three weeks now and I must say, the adjustment process is going much smoother the second time around. First of all, I seem to have skipped over the culture shock induced state of constant hunger I suffered through last time. That’s been a relief given the lack of food options in Morarano and insanely high price of food in Foulpointe. Plus, there’s nothing more embarrassing than always feeling like you’re starving when you live in a place where most people really don’t have enough food to eat.

The language barrier is also miniscule compared to last time. I still have issues, obviously. They speak a different dialect here and I forgot a lot of Malagasy while I was back in the states. But it’s coming back to me quickly and even though the dialect often makes it difficult for me to understand what people are saying, everyone here is usually able to understand my random mix of official Malagasy and Betsileo. I think this has a lot to do with the process being easier this time for two reasons. First, I’m able to express my wants and needs. When I got to Andina I was constantly stammering through broken sentences about wanting to do something like buy an egg, all the while gesticulating wildly in the hopes of supplementing my incomprehensible gibberish (picture me hopping around imitating a chicken laying an egg), and being met with blank stares or long lectures on the correct pronunciation of “egg” (neighbor: “ah TOO dee” me: “ah TOO dee” neighbor: “no no no, ah TOOOOOOO dee”). Needless to say, I either did not get answers to my questions or would be unable to understand the answers to my questions and ended up egg-less and sad. This time I have had much more success. I can actually ask a question and then have a full on conversation about the response. In keeping with the egg example, I asked about eggs and my neighbor told people don’t sell them here. I explained that I really like eggs and that they are a good and cheap source of protein and she went off and tracked down some eggs to sell me – success! The second reason my improved language is making life easier is closely related to the first: as seen in the egg example, the people in Andina thought I was a huge moron. And while I don’t blame them for thinking this (after all, I thought I was a moron half the time too), the belief that I was a moron really stuck and it took me months to redeem myself. So far in Morarano, however, the people appear to consider me a fairly capable adult – or at least as capable as a vazaha can be.

I also think that having more to do here in Morarano is helping a lot. I feel like I’m spending a lot more time doing things that can be defined as work as opposed to sitting around all day. I do still do an awful lot of sitting around so it’s possible that I’m just more used to doing nothing. But I’m at least telling myself I’m doing something productive and this is enormously helpful.

Over all I’m kind of amazed at how quickly I’ve settled into a routine remarkably similar to my routine from Andina. I still listen to the news and Border Crossings every night on the Voice of America. I make a lot of the same meals. I’m becoming friends with a lot of the teachers. Every Sunday, I avoid the church crowd and do my laundry. I go to bed and wake up at about the same time. The kids here are even stealing from my fence just like the kids did in Andina – it’s good to know at least one thing is the same on both the plateau and the coast.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tonga Soa! We have been waiting for you for a long time!

Written on 01 December 2009

I finally made it to my site this past Saturday so my second attempt at Peace Corps service has officially begun. This came after three days traveling up and down the east coast making courtesy visits to virtually every authority figure in the area. Now anyone who is anyone knows that there are two volunteers in the Tamatave region and how to contact us and Peace Corps if there’s ever a problem. Personally, I think this was a little overkill. If the last crisis is any indication of Peace Corp’s handling of security issues I expect to be receiving hourly text messages directly from the Peace Corps office so there’s really no need to involve every gendarme in the surrounding area – they will probably have bigger problems to deal with.

Regardless, I eventually made it through all the meetings and reached my site. Morarano is beautiful and everything about it is completely different from my old site. First of all, there are trees! I’m actually surrounded by them – a huge change from Andina, where every square inch of land was being cultivated. And 4k away from my house is Analalava Forest, a small but largely endemic patch of forest that the community (in partnership with NGOs) is working to conserve. I’m not a biologist so I don’t really know what all makes this forest special but my neighbor has pointed out a couple of the trees that are unique to here and she seemed to take a pride in the fact that they only grow here so that was cool to see.

Another big difference is resources. As in, there are none. I didn’t buy any candles in Foulpointe because I assumed that if nothing else, a local epicerie would have them. They are pretty essential, after all, when living without electricity. I was wrong. And I was getting a little worried about having to cook in the dark when someone who had heard about my issue dropped a candle off at my house. There also are no vegetables and no beans, although I’m told there’s an epicerie that sells them from time to time. My water source was described by Leif as “that swamp” and it’s where people fetch water, bath and wash clothes and dishes so you can imagine how clean the water is. Litchis and charcoal are the only sources of income and thankfully there’s a lot of moringa and fruit around because it looks like the only thing people actually plant is rice. I hate to say it, but after being told by a couple of people around town that the soil is good but nobody plants anything, I started to think there might be something to this laziness stigma attached to the people on the coast. Andina, on the other hand was producing anything you could think of and whatever you couldn’t find at the epiceries would certainly be available on the major market days.

My arrival was also drastically different this time around. When I got to Andina before there weren’t really that many people around and we had to go track down someone official to let them know I had arrived and get the keys to my house. A group of people helped me move in but they seemed to only be in it for the day’s salary I would have to pay them and it took forever to clean up the house and make it livable.

This time, the car was surrounded almost as soon as it stopped and everyone pitched in to bring my stuff down the hill to my house. The house had been built specifically for a volunteer so it was new and clean and a couple of women immediately grabbed my hand and showed me everything: both rooms, the yard, the path to my kabone and even the windows to show how well they locked. When they noticed I didn’t have any furniture someone showed up with a table and a little later someone dropped off a chair (I found out later these are on loan from the director of the elementary school. He told me I can feel free to keep them until I get my own, which is good since I’m still trying to find someone to order furniture from). Once I got settled they killed a chicken and we had lunch with the President of the Fokontany. That was followed by an official ceremony with lots of speeches and of course, plently of Bonbon Anglais – the beverage of choice for any special occasion in Madagascar. The whole time, people kept coming over to greet me and the one thing that everyone said was “We’ve been waiting for you for a long time!”

Overall, it was quite the welcoming party. Now, to be fair to Andina, the people who were mostly involved with requesting a volunteer lived pretty far from my house, so maybe if they had been around when I arrived there I would have been greeted with more enthusiasm. But still, it was nice to feel like people were excited for my arrival. Nice, and a little overwhelming. Morarano was supposed to get a volunteer from the group that should have arrived last February. So they have indeed been waiting for a long time. And now that I’m finally here everyone keeps coming up to me to ask when I’ll start my work – when I’ll start teaching about SRI, or how to plant vegetables, or work at the tree nursery or teach at the school. It’s been a little crazy. Not to mention the fact that I’m still just trying to figure out how to get from my house to my kabone without having to walk through the enormous flooded area that is supposed to be a path. Fortunately, we’re in the middle of litchi season so the majority of the town is too preoccupied trying to get all the litchis off to Tamatave to be serious about wanting to start working with me. Unfortunately, my neighbor told me litchi season is over on Monday, and she expects me to start working then.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I hear you're going back to Madagascar. And I hear you're excited about this.

That's how I was greeted one morning last weekend when I stumbled, still half asleep, into my friend's living room. As I pondered how best to respond and wiped the sleep out of my eyes,the girl's serious look of concern for my mental health came into focus. That's when I realized it was high time that I explained myself before one of the following two rumors started circulating amongst my friends and family: (1) Peace Corps bound and gagged Katie and forced her to return to Madagascar or, (2) Katie's masochism has officially gotten out of control and the intervention is scheduled for...

So here I am attempting to shed light onto my decision to return to Madagascar. Let me start off by saying that I understand why many of you may be confused. After all, over the last few months my feelings towards Peace Corps and development have vacillated between the following extremes: (1) I hate Peace Corps; (2) I love Peace Corps; (3) politicians suck and are making development impossible, so why bother with anything remotely related to Peace Corps? (4) I loved the PCV work... but there are crazy people running Peace Corps so I should probably get out while I still can; (5) really?? did that just happen? Clearly, it's been quite the rollercoaster. Either that or I've become schizophrenic. But I had no trouble getting my medical clearance so I'm assuming that means I don't have to worry about the possibility of being clinically insane.

Anyway, on to my perfectly logical reasons for returning. First, it has really been bothering me that I was unable to finish service. Particularly because I felt like I had dealt with a lot to get to where I was and ended up having to leave just as I was making headway at my site. So reason number one has to do with my search for closure. My second reason is that I thought it was important for people to return to Peace Corps Madagascar and help reopen the program. Despite the numerous stumbling blocks, I still for some reason believe that there's a lot of potential for development work over there and the people in Madagascar need assistance now more than ever. Yet another draw for me was the opportunity to try again in Madagascar with a clean slate. I had been having a great deal of trouble at my old site due to a variety of different site specific issues and I knew Peace Corps wasn't reopening sites anywhere near my old one. Therefore, it was really tempting to get the chance to start over, learn from my previous mistakes and see if I could have a little more success the second time around.

So there you have it, my top three reasons for agreeing to go back to Madagascar with Peace Corps. Hopefully it's all making a little more sense now. Our group actually flies out tomorrow so I'll be back in Madagascar this coming Monday. And I should make it out to my new site sometime in the next couple of weeks meaning that I'll find out soon if my motivations for returning were naive or rational. In the mean time, just know that yes, I am going back to Madagascar and yes, I am excited about it.