Another Peace Corps volunteer told me recently that San Francisco is the exact global polar opposite of Madagascar. Meaning I am as far from home as it is possible to be without getting closer. 11262.79 miles to be exact. Here’s what’ up and what’s new on the other side of the world:
New and Improved in 2012
As some of you know, I struggled in my first three months at site to find things to do and figure out work. But with the dawn of the new year, that challenge has effectively eliminated itself! About a month and a half ago, I rode the taxi brousse with the nurse back to Mahatalaky, and we had a talk. She asked me why I didn’t work more and I asked her why she was always leaving Mahatalaky without telling me. The end result of this conversation was the two of us sitting down and making a work schedule for me. And since then, I have been so busy! I work 3-4 days at the health center, usually from 8am-12 or 1pm. The past six weeks in Mahatalaky have really opened my eyes to the reality of the health situation here. There is one nurse trying to serve and help every patient that walks through her door. On any given day, there’s at least forty pregnant women waiting for a prenatal visit, plus ten or twenty other patients who are just sick. Seventeen women have given birth in just the last six weeks alone. And it’s just the nurse and me! [A quick note on the giving-birth culture here: the birth room is just a table and a bucket. Mothers in labor come to the health center and just walk around until its time to actually have the baby. No one talks. During a contraction, the woman in labor just closes her eyes and waits it out. Even during the crowning of the baby, no more than maybe a peep escapes her lips. It’s amazing.] I do everything I can to help her. Typically, I do twenty to thirty minutes of health counseling with the waiting patients before I go in and help the nurse with her consultations. I fill out charts, weigh patients, take blood pressure, hold down a kid before a shot, and distribute vaccinations. The fact that I can actually speak Malagasy now is the most influential factor in me taking on a bigger role at the health center. I can converse with the patients and communicate medical information to the nurse without getting flustered or bungled. I love what I’m doing, and it is great to feel like I am a needed and integral part of running the health center in the village.
Project idea: Solar panels for the Health Center. Women giving birth at night do it by candlelight. We keep vaccines on ice blocks!
Malaria in Madagascar
We are currently at the height of malaria season. The rainy tropical weather is the ideal breeding place for blood-hungry plasmodium falciparum, or malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Born and raised in the western world, I had never seen malaria before, and nothing can prepare you for it. Most often seen in children and babies, malaria makes a kid too sick to even move. At least ten children every day come to the health center carried by their mothers. Glassy eyed and unresponsive, these kids have a temperature over 102 degrees F. The highest I’ve seen is 104.6 degrees F. Oftentimes, they are so late into the progression of malaria that they are comatose or convulsing. It is unsettling to see a child not even stir when their finger is pricked for a malaria test or an IV is inserted into their arm to try and revive them. I am still shocked every day to see children so sick coming in to receive care. Sometimes parents have to walk 10 km or more to bring their child to the health center, which is why a lot of times kids come in really late into the progression of the disease.
Watching malaria ravage the children of my community has been perhaps the most personally frustrating thing I’ve witnessed since coming to this country. Using a mosquito net at night is the single most effective way to prevent malaria, and it is SO EASY, but for some reason people don’t do it. USAID has sponsored numerous free bed net distributions over the years, but still people do not use them. I see bed nets used a lot to fish in the ocean and to store cassava, but never to actually sleep under. The worst is the families who have a mosquito net hanging over their beds, but don’t let them down to sleep under at night. People know they need to use the nets and understand how they protect from malaria, but there’s a disconnect somewhere along the way. I’m still trying to figure out where those disconnect lies, but that’s all part of my job as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Project idea: Malaria awareness workshop/campaign, bed net distribution for a nominal fee.
Black Nadia or How I Got Converted to Liking Malagasy Music
Some Malagasy music is really terrible. Actually, MOST Malagasy music is pretty terrible. But somehow over the course of my seven months here, I’ve been converted into a Black Nadia fan. Black Nadia is basically like the Britney Spears/Rhianna/Beyonce of Madagascar. She’s sassy, independent, and sings catchy pop songs. I don’t know where along the way it happened, but I love her. The music video for her latest song features her dancing in front of a Hummer. How can you not love that??
Apples: The Most Delicious Food on the Planet?
Madagascar has every fruit you could ever imagine…except apples. I never thought I would actually write a blog post about apples, but let me say, you’ll miss apples when they’re gone! I’m here in Tana, the capital of Madagascar, for some business, and Tana has supermarkets. And supermarkets have apples!! I ate my first apple in seven months a couple days ago, and I legitimately GOT CHILLS. Then I ate some apple slices with peanut butter and I almost cried! Have apples always been this good???