Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rafting the Rapids

Dear Family and Friends,
                Just a quick update about my brief jaunt over to Uganda to raft the rapids of the Nile River as I have internet briefly on my way back to Nairobi. I made it through the rapids only flipping in the raft twice. I only swallowed a minimal amount of Nile river water when trying to get back to the surface when we toppled over. The last rapid; level 5; was the worst, as the waves knocked me down twice. There were lots of staff around and one of the staff in a kayak brought me back to a raft for me to rest.
Enjoy the pics,

Monday, November 11, 2013

Greetings from East Africa!

Sunrise in the Serengeti
Dear Family and friends,

This blog post is long overdue but hopefully its length will make up for the delay. Today marks 2/3rds of my East Africa trip being over, less than 2 weeks to go. I flew from the capital of Madagascar to Nairobi on October 20th. The day after arriving I stocked up on supplies at the local supermarket and picked up postcards and a wildlife guide at a local bookstore. Two days after landing in Nairobi I went on safari in the Masai Mara Park. The company picked me up in Nairobi with 3 other tourists and we drove all day through the great rift valley to Masai Mara, where we went into the park in the late afternoon for an evening game drive (animal spotting) before returning to the camp for dinner. The first day we saw plains zebra, African Buffalo, Giraffes, African elephants lions and wildebeests. I was surprised at how many animals we saw in just a couple hours. It was hard to hold on when standing up in van with pop up roof when we were moving fast. The giraffes were the easiest to spot as they are tall and can be seen easily from a distance. There were some wildebeest but the migration had ended, I guess I just missed it by a few weeks. Seeing the lions (simba means lion in Swahili) made me think of the Lion King movie. The lions we saw that day were off in the distance and sleeping so it was hard to see. Hakuna Matata (no worries).

The next day I took an early morning walk to see the sunrise and visited a small village of a local Masai clan. Following breakfast we packed a picnic lunch for an all day game drive in the park. We saw lots of animals that day. Some the same as the day before, but we also saw baboons, hogs, ostriches, hippos, a crocodile, hyenas, wort-hogs, leopard, cheetah and antelope. The leopard was taking a nap in a tree when we spotted him. Many of the animals we saw in the afternoon were looking for shady places to escape the afternoon heat. The highlight of that day was seeing a cheetah eating a carcass and then watching as a swarm of vultures swooped in after the cheetah left. That evening I went back into town to watch the sunset. The son of the chief of the Masai clan showed me around the village and told me about all the local plants they use for natural medicines. The last morning at the Masai Mara park we saw Giraffes, impalas, elephants, lions, leopards, and some deer. The lions were not far from the car and a leopard walked right by our vehicle. When I started the safari I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get great photos as my camera doesn't have a great zoom, but since we were able to get closer to the animals than I first thought. I just sorted through my 2000+ photos and picked out 150 of my favorite, check them out on Facebook.

After the Masai Mara we traveled to Nakuru. I stayed in a hotel there and waited to join a different group for that game drive. I went into town to buy some souvenirs at a local supermarket. It seems strange for me to buy things in a large supermarket using my credit card as I am used to purchasing things at local markets. In Nakuru park there were flamingos and rhinoceroses. We saw a group of lions all in a row watching a rhino, but it looked like they had just helped themselves to a morning snack so they didn't seem to want to expend the energy to attack him. I think one of the most exciting aspects of the safari is to be in the car just driving through the forest pass some bushes and see the animals right there in front of you. I always had my camera on and ready, because the animals seem to come out of nowhere. It was so wonderful to see them out in their natural environment.

After the Kenyan safari, I traveled through Nairobi to the east coast of Kenya for a few days where I visited a couple of Peace Corps volunteers(PCVs) serving here, went snorkeling, and saw dolphins off the SE coast. I took the bus from the coast to Tanzania where also met some PCV's serving there. I've enjoyed meeting others in Peace Corps during my service. It's interesting to learn the similarities and differences in our service and countries where we are serving. My friend helped me book a safari to leave for Serengeti the day after I arrived. I enjoyed seeing the landscape on our way out to the park. We stopped at two view points which provided panoramic views. Literally felt like I was on top of the world, vast savanna in every direction as far as the eye can see. Quite remarkable, even an unorganized tour guide/driver couldn't ruin the experience. I read on a blog that your experience is greatly impacted by the quality of the guide and I think this is very true. Nevertheless we arrived in the late afternoon for a short game drive. The photos from the view point don't do it justice. In the evening we camped; real camping; no pool or wifi at this campsite.

The highlight of the Serengeti were seeing a female lion come to join two male lions during early morning game drive. I like the early morning game drives as the animals are more active then and it's easier to spot as they often move around. In the afternoon they all tend to find a shady place; often in tall grass; for siesta. In the photos, it looks like the lions are roaring, but they are just yawning. Before coming across the lions we saw a cheetah chasing a hyena. It was amazing to see how fast both animals could run. First we spotted the cheetah and then we saw a hyena come from the left and then when the cheetah saw the hyena he dashed toward it. Luckily for the hyena, the cheetah gave up quite quickly and did not continue chasing for very long.

After we left the lions, there was a big group of safari jeeps on top of a hill so we went to see what was happening. A group of vehicles all clustered together usually means there is a hard-to-spot animal to be seen. We were right, there were 3 leopards there. One was napping in the tree, the other eating a carcass that it brought up there, and the third was napping on a picnic table. We got in the lineup of jeeps and drove right past the one on the picnic table. I was in the front seat and was the closest. I was advised to roll up the window halfway since we were so close. I was still able to get some incredible photos of him napping. It's amazing to see the animals in the wild. So different to see them in their natural habitat. Unlike a zoo where you're given a map and know where to find each type of animal, during a safari you go out in the car and look for them. The guides can't promise that you'll see any animals, often it's just luck. Our guide was even taking photos when we saw the lions, so I knew that this was an amazing animal spotting. In the first park the guide was good about listening to the radio to hear other guides announcing animal sightings and taking us over there. He was also great about knowing how to move the car so we were able to take the best photos.

We then traveled to the Nongororo Crater and camped there. I wasn't prepared for cold weather so I layered up as it was quite cold at that altitude. Glad we only camped there one night since it was so cold. It was warmer as we descended into the crater. It was a little bittersweet at this was the last game drive of my safaris. It was harder to spot animals here but we did come across some giraffe on the road down and then saw various wildlife including baboons, zebras, wildebeest, lions, hippos, and various water fowl. The guide planned poorly so we missed our connecting bus to the big town and ended up traveling by crowded minivan instead. Luckily that trip was just a few hours and the bus dropped me off right in front of the backpacker hostel.

I went the next day to Nairobi. On the weekend there was a women's conference at that church. It was wonderful to hear all the speakers and listen to the worship songs. I did some shopping in Nairobi over the weekend and will travel west today to Uganda.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Veloma Mada! (Goodbye Madagascar!)

Dear Family and Friends,

The song lyrics “I'm flying on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again” keep going through my head when Malagasy friends ask me when I am coming back. It is hard to explain that I am leaving, and not just leaving on vacation or going to work in a different town. One my Malagasy friends here still said see you when I said my final goodbye to her.

41 months ago if you asked me about Madagascar my response would've been Madagascar is a place, not just a movie? The three years have been quite a roller-coaster ride, there were many times I wanted to quit when I was fed up of constant harassment and challenging co-workers but the positive memories of weighing babies at the community health center, planning and overseeing of health sensitization activities, and working along side fabulous friends and kick ass counterparts to plan regional camps far outweigh the negative. See longer lists of things I will and won't miss below.

I feel privileged to have had this opportunity. It's an experience that not everyone can have. Being a Peace Corps volunteer taught me a lot about traveling with a purpose. Not just going to a place as a tourist but learning about the culture and integrating into the community. The chance to live and learn about Madagascar was amazing. The ability to see so much of the island and all the wonder that it has to offer from climbing down through Tsingy de Bemaraha, hiking in a national forest looking for families of lemurs, taking a canoe down the Tsiribihina River, or gazing out into the turquoise waters of the Emerald Sea. My Malagasy friends are always shocked at all the places I've visited here in Madagascar when they ask me where I've been. I didn't realize how much the ability to travel; even within one's own country; is a privilege, but many people hear don't ever have the opportunity to leave their region. When we took campers to the national park, many had never been there despite the park being located a few hours from their homes.

I hope that in the three years I've encouraged a few people in my town to engage in small doable actions to improve their health, provided a learning space during camps for youth to learn about life skills and leadership, and inspired a couple counterparts to be positive changing forces in their own communities.

Lastly, Thank you to all of you who supported me during my service in the past 3 years. It really helped to have the care and support of family and friends. I always enjoyed getting letters and postcards and seeing your photos and updates on Facebook when I had internet connection.



Things I'll miss about Madagascar
-my friends who helped translate and write stuff in Malagasy
-my wonderful site-mates
-having a “cheering squad” of kids in my town who always chanted my name
-attending choir practice and hearing hymns in Malagasy
-concerts; great dancing and it's so easy to be a groupie here
-fish samosas and the special sakay(salsa) sauce
-fresh fruit; so sad to miss litchi season
-cheap avocados; so great for making guac
-national parks; seeing lemurs and beautiful biodiversity of this country
…. and so much more

Things I won't miss about Mada

  • harassment
  • constantly being told that I am bad at speaking Gasy because people think I am Malagasy and not a foreigner
  • constantly being told I am fat
  • ridiculously small “buses” in the capital
  • eating giant amounts of rice with a spoon

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

International Day of the Girl Child

Dear Family and friends,

        This will be one of my last posts in country. I just got back from visiting my old site and banking town., To celebrate the 2013 International Day of the Girl Child Alaotra(the region I used to live in) Volunteers hosted a training for counterparts about GLOW(Girls Leading Our World) camp management training. 13 community participants from 5 town in the Alaotra Mangoro were be in attendance. Nicole P. and Teena co-facilitated sessions with our Malagasy counterparts. Session topics included gender equality in Madagascar, sustainably camps, planning and logistics, creating a good camp environment and participatory teaching. As the theme of the International Day of the Girl Child was Innovate to Educate we highlighted GirlTech; camps focused on science and technology; during the session when we talked about camp themes and sessions. Recently installed volunteers; Kourtney, Neil, and Steve; attended the training and participated in discussion when drafting action plans for 100% community funded “mini-camps” to be held in 2014 as we invited training participants from each of their towns in addition to past GLOW camp chaperones an community members who've expressed interest in women in development activities.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Going to capital in 1 week and finishing service in 1 month

Cake with writing that says Goodbye Teena in Malagasy that my friend Miray made me

Dear family and friends,

         I will be traveling to the capital in a week and will finish my Peace Corps service in a month. It seems strange after arriving in this country 38 months ago to be preparing to go home; packing up my stuff, saying goodbyes to co-workers, doing final paperwork, shopping for health insurance, and final mental and dental appointments. In the last few weeks of service, I've been thinking more about sustainability of development programs. How to build capacity of host country nationals to help manage programs and seek funding after I leave. I am working with local counterparts and another volunteer to plan a training about sustainable camp, drafting social venture plan with Women in Development organization leader in order to apply for funds through contest for health education of junior high students, and discussing long term funding possibilities with ONG in my old town to find stable funding for their feeding program. These activities are keeping me quite busy; along with planning post Peace Corps trip to Kenya and Tanzania and job searching; but I am enjoying being able to coach friends on NGO program planning and grant proposal development.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sudest Girls Leadership Camp

 Group Pic at end of Camp

                                                              Campers take a tour of Valbio Research Center

Career Panel 

Fellow Volunteers -they did a great job planning the camp

Peace Corps Volunteers, Chaperones, and Campers take a break from sessions for group photo 

Dear Friends and Family,

My secondary projects are wrapping up as the Girls leadership camp just finished last Friday and the Bush Proof technician is conducting the second water quality test this week for the water systems project. It feels great to finish these projects with less than 2 months before I finish my service.

Last week I joined other Peace Corps Volunteers in the South East part of Madagascar to put together a week-long Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) Camp. August 17-23rd; 20 CEG students, 5 chaperones, 1 director, and 10 volunteers; took part in the GLOW camp that was held in Mananjary(my town) and Ranomafana Madagascar. Campers participated in sessions about health, business, study skills, conflict resolution, girls' hygiene, gender and development, and computers. Other activities included tour of Valbio research center, hike in National park, scavenger hunt in Arboretum, campfire, and career panel. We encounter several challenges along the way including bus reservations needing revision, contract issues with 2 cooks, not having pots large enough to cook rice for that many people, mis-communication with chaperones, and challenges with the t-shirt order. Despite all this the campers had a great time and were really sad to leave their new friends by the end of the camp. It was a lot of fun coordinating the camp and was a great learning experience.

I will spend my last weeks here helping with a health training, one last visit to the field, going on one last vacation to the north, visiting my old site to co-facilitate a training about camp management, and completing paperwork for finishing my Peace Corps service.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Thank you Darien Books!

Dear Friends and Family,

      Do you remember the joy of looking through picture books as a child? I have fond memories of my Mom and grandparents read my bedtime stories, going to look at other books at the library, and of course story time during preschool and elementary school.

I am happy to announce that all the books from Darien Book Aid have arrived. Just in time for the Girls Leadership Camp that will begin in a week. We're excited that each camper will be able to take home 2 books and a solar powered reading light(donated by Lights for Literacy) for reading and studying on the final day of the camp. There were enough books to donate a bunch of books to a local orphanage in Mananjary and to start a reading corner at the community center that I funded through a Peace Corps Partnership project during my first two years of service. The kids at the orphanage were so excited to open the box of books and to each hold one for the group photo(see below). I am very thankful to Darien Books for sending the books for the kids in my community. It's such a great way for Peace Corps volutneers to get books for small scale projects. Peace Corps Volunteers just have to send a short email describing the books they need and Darien Books sends a box to the volunteer at no cost the volunteer. Since it's labeled educational materials, it did not cost me anything to accept the books.

To learn more about this organization and/or to give a small donation visit http://www.darienbookaid.org/donate.html . For just $50 you can help send an entire box of books around the world and help spread the joy of reading!

Love, Teena 

Picture of me with the kids at local orphanage after opening box of books from Darien Book Aid