Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How Peace Corps Made Me Proud to be an American and Madagascar Surprises Me Once Again

My post-World Malaria Day life has continued on at a slower pace. A crippling countrywide teacher’s strike has shut down the entire education system here, and subsequently squashed my hopes to get my Peer Educator project (PHELT!!) off the ground any time soon. But after almost a year here, I’m no longer concerned with these Western notions of “time-frames” and “schedules.” So it is what it is. I’m working a few days a week at the health center, and spending a lot of time riding my bike around visiting the new Peace Corps volunteer and my old friends at Azafady. Also as anyone familiar with my Machu Picchu Peruvian trek would know, I can use all the extra bicycle-practice I can get. Jekka, I am happy to report that so far I have NOT crashed over any cliffs! Although I have found it very challenging to bike through sand, it’s literally not possible. And it’s very frustrating. But enough about that. 

Madagascar’s Quest to Always Defy My Expectations

Living every day in a Third World country really makes you thankful for what you have at home. I guess after so long here, I’ve developed certain desensitization to things, but I was really struck when I brought a group of 8 or so Azafady volunteers to see the health center. The health center of Commune Rurale Mahatalaky is very basic. It is made up of five cement rooms: an office where the nurse sees all sick patients, a maternity room/sick ward, a dispensary, a delivery room, and another office where the nurse does prenatal visits and family planning appointments. The maternity room/sick ward is made up of four metal beds. The dispensary has one fuel-powered refrigerator where we keep the vaccines on ice blocks. The delivery room has one bed with stirrups and a water bucket. The two offices have a desk and a few chairs. It’s very simple. I think it’s pretty nice! But taking these visitors there for whom this hasn’t become the norm was an eye re-opening experience. They were shocked at the lack of amenities.

“So what if something goes wrong during labor?” someone asked.

“Umm…then they get on the truck to go into Fort Dauphin, if they have enough money.” I replied.

The other day as the nurse and I were doing the standard 50 prenatal visits, a very extremely pregnant woman walked into the delivery room with her mom and grandma, her birthing team.

“She’s in labor!” exclaimed the mother.

My wonderful, hard-working, ever-patient nurse sighed and paused the prenatal visits and walked over to the delivery room to check on this mother-to-be.

“She’s not nearly dilated enough. Come back tomorrow” the nurse kindly informed the woman.

“But she’s in pain! She needs to push now!” the over-eager grandma-to-be said forcefully.

Throughout this whole exchange, the nurse had kept her cool, but after that comment, her cool slipped a little, and the animated and confident and adamant nurse I’ve come to know and love emerged:

            “Labor MUST hurt! It is painful work! COME BACK TOMORROW!”

I stifled a laugh, and the expectant mother and her team meekly headed out the door.
This is just a day in the life at the rural health center. One hard-working and committed nurse with her vazaha sidekick (me!) doing the work that an entire department would do at a Western hospital, with about 1/18th of the amenities available at one. When I stop to look around at what I’m doing and where I’m working, it really is a learning experience. Waiting 6 hours for a prenatal visit in the rain? Women here do that every single month. Walking 10km in the early stages of labor just to give birth in the hospital? Normal. How lucky are we to live in a place where it is culturally acceptable for a woman to scream obscenities at her husband during labor? How lucky are we to live in a place where people are impressed at a mother who chooses not to get an epidural? How lucky are we to never have to worry about malaria? And these are just off the top of my head. Madagascar never ceases to amaze me.

America the Beautiful

I spend a lot of time hanging out with Europeans. The Peace Corps community in Southern Madagascar is small, but luckily enough for my sanity and social life, Azafady is around to keep me company. Among fellow Peace Corps volunteers, being a Californian is reason enough for ridicule. (You all just WISH you were from the Golden State!) But among my Euro friends, hailing from the Land of the Free is all the ammunition needed to make an average joke an excellent one. I don’t get it, obviously. I mean they’re all just jealous right? So I’ve come to the conclusion that America is the place everyone else loves to hate, but secretly wishes they could be from. Take that, haters! Where else can I get away using vocabulary like “holla” and “bummer” and “haters” and spelling things with a “z.” Additionally, living outside of the US makes you appreciate all the mundane inside the US. Boy, do I appreciate a sandwich now! And all those other little things you never realize you’ll miss until you do. For example, cuddling up under the covers on a cold morning, eating popcorn in a movie theater, and running down to Walgreens to pick up some Scotch tape. But seriously, there really is something so sweet about the companionship of a fellow American when you’re far away from home. They just GET me. I would also like to say that Arnold Schwarzenegger, the disgraced former governor of California, is one of the few Americans that are also famous in Madagascar. This list consists of fellow superstars Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, and the one and only Barack Obama. You’re welcome World!

            I recently found myself sharing a Mexican dinner with a few of my awesome British friends on Cinco de Mayo. As we happily ate our bean burritos I commented on how glad I was to be doing something on Cinco de Mayo.

            “What’s Cinco de Mayo?” asked one ill-informed British person.

            “You know, Cinco de Mayo! Fifth of May! Mexican Independence Day? Cinco de            Drinko? NOTHING??”

I was flabbergasted. What kind of country doesn’t celebrate another country’s independence?? As it turns out, Cinco de Mayo isn’t even the real Mexican Independence Day, so that’s my bad. But I still caringly explained the joys of Cinco de Mayo to my poor, unknowing friends. To which they responded along the lines of “Oh how typical of Americans, any excuse for a party, celebrating a day that’s not even the real independence day of a country that’s not even them!” That comment was about the last I could take. I mustered all the patriotic fire I had and proudly declared:


             “Sooo…the same colors as the Union Jack then?” retorted my snappy British friend.

England: 1. Monica: 0.

But never fear, they may have won the Battle of Cinco de Mayo but I will win this war! AMURICAAAA!

In conclusion, please everyone send out good vibes that this strike ends soon so I can get back to work instead of sitting around all day musing about my love for America. God Bless the U.S.A.!

1 comment:

  1. your posts kill me! I'm cracking up the entire time it seems.

    hey another great thing about amuricaaa, WIFI ON PLANES> talk about sky luxuries. I'm appalled with the technology of today.

    Thinking of you always love! :)

    take care out there! xoxo besitossss!