Letter to Family 6-14-08

This entry updated by Mom. Names are removed to protect their privacy per Peace Corp instructions.

Dear Family,

Manahoana! I’m writing to you in my bed under mosquito netting at my new temporary household, the household of Rivo Mamisoa R**************. The drive here took about an hour from the capital and was quite the sight: jagged hills are the home to grids of rice paddies, wild roosters, red sand, green shrubbery and often women carrying objects like milk canisters and sacks on their heads. The village, ********, has almost 7000 residents, and we are the only Caucasians here. People stare without shame or apology everywhere we go. And like I guessed, believe it or not, I’m one of the tallest here. (I’ve hit my head on my host family’s doorway three times already.) With the attention comes gossiping, too; one trainee slipped and fell in the mud one morning, and by that afternoon three other trainees knew about it through their families.

During the day I go to the bathroom in a “kabone”, which is Malagasy for “outhouse with a hole in the ground”. At night I use a “pa”, which is Malagasy for “bucket”. The Malagasy do not go to the kabone at night because that’s when the wild dogs and Mpamosavy roam. A Malagasy man at our learning center told us that Mpamosavy is witchcraft conducted usually by naked women who rub oils into their bodies and hypnotize you to stripping your clothes and being their four-legged horsie for riding. I have unfortunately not encountered this.

I really lucked out with my host family because they speak French. We’ve been communicating in French to cut down on the confusion and silent responses other trainees have when their families speak to them only in Malagasy. I also think I’m making more progress in Malagasy because of my ability to ask questions in French. I’ll write more about the Malagasy language later, but I will let you know that in this language, the standard sentence structure is predicate+object+subject, and there is no verb for “to be”. So, the sentence, “Ita vary izireo” literally translates into, “Like rice they”, and “Mpampianatra aho” literally translates into, “Teacher I” or “I am a teacher”. Pretty different, huh?

In the mornings my family wakes me with the sunrise around 6 a.m. I take my po, dump it in our kabone, and clean it. Then I take another bucket, fill it with hot water that my host grandmother has prepared me, and go to a room in the back of the house for showering. When I’m finished, I sweep the water out the door onto the patio. The shower room, the “ladosy,” has a curtain partition for what I thought was for multiple showerers, but on my first morning I looked behind the curtain after my shower and found some pens of live rabbits and chickens. I then return to my bedroom, brush my wood floor with a coconut half with my foot to scrape away splinters and potential larva, and sweep.

I eat nearly every meal with my host family. We eat white rice and a side dish for almost every meal every day. For dessert we eat clementines or bananas. At my family’s insistence one morning, I put a few ounces of condensed milk and a spoonful of sugar into my tea, and when I took a sip and felt my teeth being eaten away by the tea’s sugariness, each host family member put milk and five or six spoonfuls of sugar into their tea and were astounded that I would take my tea so blandly. They also load their coffee with sugar in quantities that make dentists around the world toss and turn at night.

My host father’s name is Mamisoa and he is 35 years old. His wife, Verohanta, is 30, and they are tailors for orders from the capital. They are constantly sewing and their machines sometimes wake me at 3 a.m. There is a grandmother, Albertine, who tends to the house. I have a host brother, Manitra, who is nine years old, and a host sister, Tsiky, who is five. They are adorable and seem to have taken a liking to me. We dance with the coconut brush and broom when I clean my room, and they insist that we brush our teeth and wash our hands together. I’m impressed by how generous, loving , and happy my host family is. The parents gave up their bedroom and sleep with their children so that I could live with them for these 10 weeks, and they are incredibly willing to hear me slaughter their language in my effort to learn it.

It has more or less rained here every day, but it has been a nice, gentle, misty rain. And for the record, I’ve gathered that my host family is more well-off than other families in town. Our house has a living room, wood floors, glass windows, electricity and a television, all of which many other trainees’ families lack.

I haven’t been in Madagascar for even a week, but it feels like months. There is so much to see, and everything is exciting and new for me here. This is what life is about. I feel so alive here.

Hugs to everyone including the pets. Happy belated birthday, Laura! I hope to hear back from you all!

Love, Jordan.

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One Response to Letter to Family 6-14-08

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