Jeff's main page can be found at http://web.mit.edu/iggy/Jeff.
This page is the letter that Jeff sent on: Oct 24, 1999
Sun, Oct 24, 1999 6:00PM
I now have a new life and I think I'm going to like it. I'd like to preface this letter with a disclaimer: My life here in Madagascar is so different from anything I (or any of you I suppose) have experienced before that I don't think there is any way short of seeing it for yourself that I can explain it to you. Nevertheless, I will try.
Let's start with the present. The electricity just went out, so I am sitting outside my one room cement house writing by the dim light of the disappearing dusk. It's beautiful here in Andapa, and especially so at this time of day, but in 5 minutes it will be completely dark. [Last night, the electricity came back on after 10 minutes. If the same does not happen tonight, I'll have to revert to my old friend the Mag Light. I shouldn't whine too much though, many people don't even have electricity here.]
My boss, who lives next door, just brought me a candle, so I'm back in business again now.
My story goes like this: I arrived in Andapa on Thursday morning with 2 other volunteers ( 1 veteran and 1 rookie) and the Assistant Peace Corps Director who was here to "install" me. We spent the day doing introductions - at the middle school (CEG) and high school (Lycee), at the school district office (CISCO- these are the players in the Malagasy education system), the mayor's office and the police station (Gendarmerie). In between all this, I moved into my house - it's one room, made of cement with a tinf roof, about 15 feet by 15 feet, and oh yes, pink and white. We had a nice dinner at the hotel the others were staying at, and then parted company. As of 11:00pm Thursday night, I was on my own.
It only took about 14 hours for me to have a breakdown. Well, perhaps I'm being a bit melodramatic - or perhaps not. Anyway, I woke up early Friday morning and walked to the CEG to observe an 8:00am class at the 6eme level (roughly equivalent to 6th grade in America - the first year in which Malagasy students take English). After observing for 2 hours, I spoke with the Assistant CEG Director about the school's rules, policies and logistics. He was an extremely nice man and even offered me a room in his house if the one I had wasn't satisfactory. (I assured him that it was fine where I was.) Then I walked home and started to clean my house/room. It was around 1PM.
All I had eaten that day was a package of cookies. I couldn't get my new petral stove to boil water. My stuff was everywhere in my room. The only furniture I had was a bed and a school desk. I felt the need to unpack my stuff, but had nowhere to put it. I felt the need to eat, but didn't know how to go about it. Even if I could boil water (which I still couldn't do) and put my filter together, I didn't won a glass to drink out of. I could buy glasses, but where would I keep them when I wasn't drinking out of them. What if I spilled water? I didn't have a rag to clean it up with. I could use a shirt, but they're too precious since I had absolutely no idea how or when I was ever going to get laundry done. I was in an awful state - with too much to do and nowhere to begin. Starting a life on one's own is hard enough when one knows the area and the language, but when you don't know where to buy a broom or how to ask where to buy a broom - when the simplest of tasks seems impossible - just getting started can be too much to handle. And it was for me. So I allowed myself about an hour of self-pity and mental breakdown. Then I got down to business. I asked for another desk in my room. With 2, I could put them face to face and essentially have a picnic table (Note: the second desk still hasn't arrived, but it has been promised.) I went to the Lycee. The Proviseur was not yet back from wherever he went, but Augustin, the English teacher whom I had met the day before, invited me into his home. I told him that I did not want to begin teaching at the Lycee this coming week but the week after. He agreed that that would be better. He asked me how I was doing and I said okay. He asked me if I felt alone and I said yes. He told me that he had trained in England for 5 months a few years ago, so he knew how hard it can be to live alone in a foreign country. He was very kind to me. I told him that I needed to buy furniture and he helped me order it from a carpenter. Since then I've felt much better.
I spent Saturday and Sunday working on little jobs in my new house - putting together my bike, getting my stove and filter to work, putting things on the wall - and talking to the veritable parade of students who have passed by my house to speak English with the new American in town. These kinds want to learn English so badly - its amazing. I've had at least 5 visitors each of the first three days that I've been here, all students wanting to practice their English. I never went to any of the French people in Larchmont to practice my French skills. These kids really want to learn. I run into them all over town too. I end up being escorted practically everywhere I go by a student. I speak so much English that I've realized that I'm going to have to be very self-motivated if I want to learn Malagasy.
The town of Andapa is large by Malagasy standards but still not on the level of the large cities of Tana and Tamalave. I would say it's approximately the size of Larchmont (maybe a little smaller), for those of you who can make that comparison, but it only has 2 paved roads. One of the signs that it is a larger town by Malagasy standards is that there are more cars/motorcycles than long horned cows pulling carts. It is absolutely beautiful here. Andapa is located in a valley, with mountains all around. The views can be absolutely breathtaking, and I've heard that they are even better from the tops of some of the hills. Hopefully I'll have pictures to send soon. Speaking of pictures, I'm sending one of all (or most anyway) of us taken at the Ambassador's house in Tana after the swearing in ceremony.
People of note: 1) Myself, in the back row, once again with more hair on the face than on the head. 2) My best friend Katie, who was 1 of 4 of us chosen to give a speech during the ceremony, wearing the black dress with red roses on the right side of the picture. 3) My other best friend Rachel, with her head tilted a little, just below and to the left of the bearded guy above Katie. 4) The Ambassador, Shirley Barnes, standing in front like she owns the place (remember, she doesn't, the American Taxpayers do). 5) The Peace Corps Country Director, John Peddu, a really really nice guy, in the back row on the right with glasses with his head barely peeking over a blond girl in front of him. Most everybody else in that picture is really cool too and deserves mention but there's just no way. I already pity Alicia for having to read my handwriting and type this all up. Thanks Alicia! Everybody say, "Thanks Alicia!"
So anyway, the ceremony was pretty cool. 4 of us gave speeches (not me) in 3 dialects of Malagasy and French. We sang songs in each dialect we had studied. There were a few official type speeches and we were out of there in under an hour. We had a nice reception with very un-Peace Corps-like food (croissants, quiche & champagne) and took some pictures. After the picture, everyone sang Happy Birthday to me since it was my birthday. It was all very lovely, blah blah blah.
And so that's how I've come to be where I am right now, siting at my desk writing by candlelight (the lights never came back on), a little disorganized, a little disoriented, a little scared, but on the whole, quite content with how things have gone and how things look for the future. I'm not quite sure what my exact purpose is here, or what I'm going to see or do in the next few years, but I'm confidant that it'll all be very worthwhile in the end. Take care and keep in touch, and I'll do the same.
A word about mail. I haven't gotten too much. I mean that in the most literal sense. I believe it's been sent, because I know of a lot of letters which have been, but it's been lost along the way. From what I've been told, this is typical of training, but mail gets much more reliable once at site - i.e., now. If you haven't heard from me, that means most likely I haven't gotten your letter(s), because I've actually been pretty good about writing back. Please give me and my new address a chance before giving up. Here it is:
PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER
C/O Chef CISCO
Air Mail via Paris
[Note: Jeff's handwriting *was* pretty bad, but he wrote his address in 2 different places and that's really what it said.