|A jackfruit tree|
The following are some new photos I took illustrating Market day in Mahatalaky:
|My favorite coffee stand|
|The juice and popsicle man, he's always excited to see me ha!|
|Town square on Market day|
|A clothing vendor|
|The lychee tree in my backyard|
Every Monday is Market Day here in Mahatalaky. People come from every hamlet and little village in the commune, up to 20 km away to sell and buy in the market. Once a week my semi-quiet town is transformed into a bustling metropolis complete with music, lots of people, lots of yelling, and everything you could possibly want to buy. I love Mondays! To start out, all the food stands make the best of everything. Fried bananas, donuts, banana bread, you name it they make it, and it’s so delicious! Second of all, I love all the activity going on. Vendors calling out prices, buyers trying to barter down the price, people saying hi to their friends, kids running around. When I was first here, I found the whole experience to be very overwhelming, but now I enjoy and look forward to it each week. The other wonderful thing about Mondays is that with market day come all the foods and goods that Mahatalaky doesn’t usually have during the week. For example, there’s no bread here to buy during the week, but every Monday fresh bread comes from Fort Dauphin. Also, popsicles! Since there’s no electricity here, there are no refrigerators, and therefore no cold drinks. And yet every day I’m sweating by 7:00 am as the temperature climbs up to 100 degrees. Never before in my life have I craved a cold beer or soda, but here I am in Madagascar wishing every day for an ice cold Coke. I can’t seem to wrap my head around the idea that a lukewarm soda is somehow supposed to be refreshing. So when the trucks arrive early on Monday mornings with coolers full of frozen flavored ice, I’m first in line to buy them. We all know I love Otter Pops; so buying my popsicles is one of my favorite parts of Mondays. The vendor is no longer shocked when I buy at least five, so hopefully that’s a sign that I’m integrating! Then, just as quickly as the town was transformed, by 2 o’clock in the afternoon, everything is packed back up and the town returns to normal.
Lychees and Jackfruit
Although Mahatalaky doesn’t have bread, cold drinks, or meat a lot, one thing that they have in excess is fruit. Bananas, pineapples, papayas, mangos you name it they have it. My favorite new fruits here that they don’t have in the US are lychees and jackfruit. Lychees have just come into season, and they are the most delicious things I have ever eaten. They’re kind of like berries, except bigger, with a big pit in the center. They grow in large bunches on trees and ripe and ready for picking at the end of November, and are gone by the end of December. They are super sweet and juicy, and every lychee is like a little piece of heaven. I have at least 30 per day, but I think eating them in such large quantities is making me sick, so I’m trying to cut back. The other really popular fruit here is called jackfruit. They are the size of a watermelon and also grow on trees. The outside skin is spiky, but the inside is very sweet. When I first tried jackfruit I thought it was ok, but it’s definitely an acquired taste because I love it now. On the mayor’s compound where I live, we have a lychee tree and a jackfruit tree, all my favorite fruits in the same place!
Figuring out the education system here has been a big challenge, mostly because there really is no set system or levels of school that the kids go through. Or rather, there is one but there isn’t anyone to regulate it, so school is not of number one importance to anyone besides the more wealthy families. The youngest kids go to primary school, but only like four days a week in either the morning or the afternoon. The older kids (around 13 years old) go to school maybe three days a week for a few hours in the morning. The oldest kids (15 years old and up) go to school the least, three days a week for maybe two hours.
On top of the really small amount of time any of the kids are in class, “school” here is not like school in the US. They can’t afford textbooks for the kids so when the kids go to school, really they just show up, copy down a lesson into their notebooks since they don’t have a book to learn from, and then leave. Depending on the teacher and the subject, sometimes there is lecturing that happens, but there is no curriculum for the teachers to follow so it is up to their discretion how they run their class. There is no annual standardized testing or anything, so students are really only evaluated when they take the exams to pass to the next level of school. For example, my best friend Erika is 12 years old, and he is in his last year or what we would call primary school. This June, he will take the CEPE exam to pass on to CEG, the equivalent of middle school. Since this is an exam year for him, he goes to school six days a week, from 6:00 am to 5:00 pm. The most shocking thing I learned about education here is that a lot of the teachers still use corporal punishment as a disciplinary tool, or often just as a tool in general. Erika has been hit with a stick on his back many times because he didn’t know his lesson well enough. If a child is dirty or doesn’t have shoes, the teachers will often hit them. For this reason, a lot of the more poor children just stop going to school before they’ve even finished primary because they are afraid of the punishment they’ll receive. Another common reason for a young kid to stop going to school is because they have to work and their family can’t afford school, or because they are pregnant are need to get married.
The biggest education problem in Mahatalaky right now is the fact that they don’t have adequate schoolhouses. The CEG (middle school) has no roof and a broken floor and only two rooms for over 300 students. To solve this problem, the siseme level kids (around 13 years old) have class in the town hall, and the cinqeme, catreme, and troiseme kids (15 years and up) go to school in the broken schoolhouse. And when it rains, there is no school at all since there is no roof. Luckily, this problem is close to being solved because a British volunteer organization called ONG Azafady has been working here for about a year building four new schoolhouses for the four levels of middle school. The project is scheduled to be finished around March 2012.
As I come into my third month of living here in Mahatalaky, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do here in the upcoming years. Even after five months in Madagascar, my reasons for doing Peace Corps and my perception and understanding of my role as a Peace Corps volunteer has changed so much. Being successful and happy as a volunteer is just as much about living as it is about working. I seem to have gotten down the “living” thing pretty well, and I’m still figuring out the “working” part. When I get back from my vacation in January, I’m going to start a couple new projects that are all my own and completely separate from the health center. I spend so much of my time with kids and teenagers and I see how much they could benefit from a more regimented routine than just the few hours of school, and then ‘stay-out-of trouble’ until dinner. I also see when I work at the health center how young the majority of the new mothers are. So I’m going to start a Girl’s Club where we’ll meet once a week to talk and hang out, and learn about sexual health and things like that. I’m also going to work to get the Women’s Association restarted in Mahatalaky because I think that would be a really good resource for me to use to tap into what the community wants and needs the most. Finally, I’m going to hopefully start working with the health campaign of the organization ONG Azafady as a liaison who can travel out to the different fokontanys of the commune and check up on the trained community health workers there and help with health education as its needed. So in conclusion, I have a lot to look forward, I am doing very well, and I miss everyone a lot. Happy Thanksgiving! Eat extra turkey for me. I tried to explain Thanksgiving to my friends here, and it just didn’t translate well, they were just like “…so it’s a party where you eat a lot of food? Because the white people and Indians were friends?” Maybe when I figure out how to explain colonization and race relations in Malagasy I’ll be able to do a better job of describing Thanksgiving. Kisses!