Reflections: One Year Later…
After the craziness that was Operation Smile, I returned to Mahatalaky happy to get back to the quiet life. And oh what a quiet life it’s been! It’s my one-year anniversary of living in my happy little hut here in rural Madagascar. And what a year it’s been! To recap:
- · I’ve fallen into a rice patty aka a giant mud puddle.
- · I’ve fallen off a camion truck and injured myself.
- · I successfully weaseled my way into being part of a family here.
- · I completed a really awesome World Malaria Month project.
- · I got good at Malagasy.
- · I became an animal hater.
And that’s just a short list…its crazy to think how much time has passed. The past month in Mahatalaky has been very low-key. It’s still summer vacation here, so it’s kind of life a ghost town. Honestly sometimes I’m surprised I don’t see tumbleweeds blowing through the street in the wind its THAT empty here. The Health Center was also closed for a couple weeks and is only just opening back up. So I’ve really had time to just sit back and relax and remember what its like to live fulltime in rural Madagascar. But as always, I managed to find a way to occupy myself. I painted a giant mural on one of the walls of my hut slash bungalow, made some collages with the one-year of backlogged magazines I have in my possession, and visited my friend Sam, the volunteer (and Alpha Phi!) who lives 15km away from me. It seems like after one year, I’ve progressed in a cyclical manner and am once again just hanging out in Mahatalaky like I did in the first couple months after I got here! Not much has changed in 12 months. But look who’s also celebrating an anniversary! Happy 1st birthday to Christiana!
A couple weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get invited to a traditional Malagasy Savatra, or circumcision party. Circumcision is a major cultural event in Madagascar. Families will save for years to be able to throw a big savatra for their son. Typically, multiple boys and their families host an event together. In this case, around 10 boys ranging in ages from about five to twelve were celebrating. Some of the older boys were circumcised a few years ago and only just now had the money to celebrate a savatra. Hundreds of people are invited, and even more people just come to watch and celebrate. I had heard about these parties, but nothing could have prepared me for actually attending one. I went with Sam and a few Malagasy friends who work for the NGO Missouri Botanical Gardens. We drove out further into the countryside about an hour, and then forded two rivers in rickety canoes. The tiny village of Elodrato, situated right on the coast, hosted the Savatra. By the time we got there around 4pm, the party had already started; Loud music, lots of food, and even more alcohol. The village elders and male heads of family were holding court in one of the houses receiving all the partygoers. The women were preparing food and singing the traditional celebration songs. After we completed our requisite visit to the elders and family heads, we headed over the main area/dance floor/open field and staked out a spot on the grass. I perched myself there from about 5pm until I tried to go to sleep at 10:30pm. What a place for people watching! Pretty much everyone was completely drunk. Every single person, from littlest kid to oldest man, was dancing. Malagasy people really know how to party! Sam and I decided to turn in around 10:30pm, and the party was really only just beginning. I woke up periodically throughout the night, first around midnight, then 2am, then 4am, then 6am. At all these intervals, the music was still blaring, the people were still shouting, and the party was still raging. When we finally got up the next morning at about 7am, there were still around 20 people on the dance floor. Commitment.
Day Two of the Savatra, think Picnic Day. You have all kinds of food ready to eat, the sun is out and shining, people are passed out on the grass, and yet the alcohol is still flowing. Someone cut these people off! By 10am the party was going full steam again. The boys were paraded in on the shoulders of their families and friends and marched all around displaying the money and alcohol they had received as gifts. The mothers and aunts and grandmothers of the boys wore special sarongs and money displayed on their hats or in their braids. Uncles shoot blanks out of a gun into the air. After the marching and parading, there was more drinking of the alcohol received as gifts, and lots of dancing. If you’re Malagasy, there can never be too much dancing, or too much drinking for that matter. Sam and I were pretty exhausted after 24 hours of the nonstop party, so when it came time to leave that afternoon, I was a little relieved. After one year here, I can definitely say that I CANNOT HANG with the Malagasy people when it comes to partying. I think it’s engrained in their genetic makeup to be able to consume insane amounts of moonshine without getting a hangover and dance all night without getting tired. I had never been so relieved to return back to my lonely little ghost-town village with all of its 21 inhabitants. Peace and quiet!
As I look back on my first year in Peace Corps, I am reminded how lucky I am to have such a caring support network back home. My friends and family are endlessly thoughtful and patient with me, from the packages and emails they send, to the crazy person phone calls that they field from me…Thank you Bonnie for not hanging up on me when I called you during your labor screaming about how I was FREAKING OUT about the new baby! It’s a crazy life, but even on the worst day, I can look around and remember right away why I want to be here. There’s still so much to do and so much to see, and I’m excited and ready for my second year as a Peace Corps volunteer.