Pre-Service Training #1: Welcome to Mantasoa!

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June 28th 2017. Blog post #1 for PST.

Tonga Soa and Welcome! This marks the first of many posts about my new life…living and serving in Madagascar as a Peace Corps TEFL (English Language Education) Volunteer. This isn’t just a new job…it’s a whole new life. The best way I can explain what has been happening to me is this: I am relearning how to live. I feel like a child. Practically overnight, I lost the ability to communicate and the autonomy to make nearly all decisions for myself and by myself. It’s as if I’m giving up control of my life in order to be built anew. It’s hilarious, irritating, and very, very humbling. I wonder if deep down it’s necessary to experience a naissance in one’s host country to feel like you’re home and you really belong….

But, I am getting ahead of myself. For the sake of brevity I would like to answer a few burning questions you might be having about just what I’ve been doing since arriving in Madagascar…

Where are you living? I am living in the town on Mantasoa, which is between 2 to 3 hours’ drive from the capital city, Antananarivo (known in-country simply as ‘Tana.’) Though Mantasoa is small (I heard a figure of around 5,000 people…I’m not quite sure if that’s accurate or not), it feels quite big because it’s very spread out. Little hamlets dot the landscape, tucked behind acres of rice fields and beautiful clear lakes. In the morning, haze lifts above the mountains and it is impossible to see five feet ahead of one’s nose.

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View of Lake Mantasoa from the Peace Corps Training Center

Who are you living with? I am living with a host family, as are all twenty-nine other TEFL volunteers. We come together in the mornings and afternoons for language classes and technical training sessions.

What are you doing? Learning! We have four hours of language class every morning. So far, I have found Malagasy to be such a fun, sing-songy language with lots of repetitive vowels and literal meanings. I like it. Every afternoon we have technical sessions on a variety of topics: safety and security, health—(I now know more than I ever thought possible about ways to contract and treat diarrhea)—cross-cultural and education. In short, the days are long and jam-packed.

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Our PST focuses on experiential and student-centered learning techniques…so we do a lot of group work and writing on flipchart paper. Example A: Malaria awareness!

What are you eating? Rice! Lots of it. I’m also eating vegetables in incredible variety. My favorites so far include fried green beans, mashed pumpkin with garlic and ginger, and cauliflower with tomato and egg. I’ve also had so many varieties of beans that I can’t name even in English. But my most favorite thing is totomboanjo, which translates to mashed peanuts. Yes, it’s peanut butter, but: eat your heart out, Jiff. This is the real deal—salt and roasted peanuts only. I got to mash the voanjo (peanuts) on Sunday using my host family’s giant mortar and pestle, and I quickly realized that it might not be that difficult to stay in shape after all…

What do you do with your free time? To be honest, there isn’t much. Classes take up most days, and because it’s winter, it gets dark (and cooold) around 6 pm. Last weekend was Malagasy Independence Day, however, so there were soccer games and festivities; practically the whole town was out. It felt nice to be out in the sunshine and relax a bit, although it wasn’t entirely relaxing because I was still fumbling through my two-year-old Malagasy! Currently, I can hold a two to three minute conversation before my brain hits a wall.

Have you seen any lemurs yet? No. And I probably won’t for a while.

What’s next? Pre-service training continues for the next two and a half months. I feel totally unprepared for what’s to come, and I’m unable to speculate that much about it. Right now, I’m just Trusting the Process (as I learned from my last job) and relying on the many resources Peace Corps is giving me…books and notepads and curriculum to name a few. But the best resource so far has been the people: our Language and Cultural facilitators, our staff, my host family, my fellow trainees, my community. Talk about active learning!

Until next time! Stay tuned.