Monday, February 13, 2006

Three years at the bottom of the world – and still loving it

Just before midnight, February 7, 2003, I saw Madagascar for the first time.

Dinner time, February 7, 2005, I celebrated 3 years in Madagascar surrounded by those who gave me my start and the skills I would need to survive in this country.

This past week I was invited up to the PC training center in Montasoa to participate in preparations for the newest environmental PC trainees (who will arrive this Thursday), with the new PCV trainers and the rest of the training staff. It caught a lot of people off-guard to see a health volunteer arrive with all of the environment volunteers, but it came clear when I explained that the head of the environmental program wanted a session on integrated health-environment messages in volunteer projects. It was great to see everybody, as always, but they were even happier when I reminded them of the February 7th anniversary.

I dropped the hint to the training director that I thought we needed a cake to celebrate that anniversary – and she agreed whole-heartedly. So on Tuesday night after dinner, all the lights went out, and out came the biggest sheet cake I have seen in this country, slathered in chocolate frosting (a contribution of mine from a care package a while back), sporting 3 candles and decorated with the Malagasy “Thank You Erica.”

Yeah, the cake had my name on it, and I got to cut it, but it was an anniversary for a lot more of the people there. Lucie the PC training director, Bruno the site manager, Hary and Andry the drivers, Jovan, Peta, Sidonie, Meta, and Ghislain, the language trainers, Stanislas, the environment training director, as well as the cooks and support staff, are all survivors the 10 weeks of training that produced nearly 50 PCVs and helped the Madagascar PC program recover after being closed due to a political crisis in the spring of 2002. They deserved that cake just as much (and perhaps much more) than I did!

And so we continued looking to the future. This week marked the beginning of the 9th training session since our group swore in in April, 2003, and the 3rd environmental training. This is also the 3rd training that I will have participated in as a trainer. Approximately 180 volunteers will have been trained and sworn in by the time I leave Peace Corps Madagascar later this year. Peace Corps Madagascar is alive and motivated in the effort to develop Madagascar. I am proud to have contributed the little that I have, but even more proud of the staff and other volunteers that have worked together and have done so much in the 3 years that I have been granted on this island.