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In previous posts, I mentioned and covered my views on extraneously large projects and the unfortunate circumstances in which they tend to fall apart when the volunteer leaves. I still stand by that reasoning. But I also believe that if the community donates enough time, money, and effort, chances remain strong that the project will be sustainable. During the two years I spent in my village, I spent a large amount of my time with a family of artists. They are extremely gifted painters who just needed a little bit of direction and focus. It took the better part of a year to convince the family I could help them with constructing a boutique, they just needed to provide a minimum of 25% of the total costs, and that boutique was as good as theirs.

Eventually they came around, and the paperwork was started. Originally, the boutique was going to be a one room, one floor house. That was how much money I submitted for. However, after the project was approved by Peace Corps and started sitting on the web waiting for money to be collected from generous donors, plans changed. It should always be assumed, especially in Madagascar, nothing ever stays the same. Surprise! We’re adding a floor so that a guardian can live above. They did understand though that these added costs would be coming out of their funds and were more than willing to add this to the contribution.

Construction started November 2013 and while it was supposed to take two week maximum to complete the build, we did not officially place the last nail until mid January 2014. Multiple things prolonged the construction. Workers fell ill. Supplies ran out. The artisans had other jobs. I had to travel to Peace Corps meetings. The organization couldn’t agree on no date for their training. Eventually however, the boutique was finished, painted, and experienced their grand opening party.

I was really lucky that there were a lot of volunteers in my region that came out and supported me on this special day. They do say Peace Corps becomes a family to you, and that is very much true. Maybe that was why so many people stopped to see what was going on. Alakamisy is used to two white people in their town, not 8 foreigners. We played traditional, easy party games that would be able to be explained in Malagasy and surprisingly, they were a huge hit. Kids and stopped partook in the simple games of egg tosses and pin the tail on the pig.

When I left site last week for good, Hasimira, the head painter of the organization was painting one wall of the boutique with a mural. It was incredible to see what he could do with just a few paint brushes and some paint and it was a great cumulation of my time at site, the friends I mad,pet and the projects I worked on.

Thank you so much for the donations everyone. You made this boutique possible. Mihone Artisan Association appreciates you and so does Alakamisy in general for that matter.

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One of the construction workers daughters

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The ground breaking ceremony/building

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Playing the egg toss

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Pin the tail on the donkey

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Egg race

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This is a sneak peak to the upcoming post regarding my PCPP funded project to build a boutique in my village for all the artists. My painter donated his time and paint to decorate the walls of the boutique. I have to say, he was causing some traffic. Cars and people were stopping right and left to watch this masterpiece come alive. Stay tuned for the full story in the boutique.

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Peace Corps Week

Today marks the end of Peace Corps Week, today being Peace Corps Day. Doesn’t it seem like everything has it’s own holiday? National Hot Dog Day, National Volunteer’s Day, National Pirate Day, even International Panic Day. What are you supposed to do on that day? Run around yelling the entire day about every little thing. I got to try that one day.

But a day I will always hold close to my heart is today is Peace Corps Day. It’s a day to celebrate current volunteers and previous volunteers and their dedication and commitment to serving. While me myself is currently serving, I would to thank the 220,000 some volunteers before me for their service. If they had not successfully finished their service and created great relationships with their host countries to allow the program to continue and get stronger than ever.

I never thought Peace Corps would be as rewarding as it is and will be. I find great joy in volunteering, living in a community of people who have wholeheartedly accepted me into their group, experiencing a country I will always love and cherish, and getting to know people, that if not for Peace Corps I would never have been able to meet and get to know. I owe JFK a huge thank you when I see him in my next life for creating the Peace Corps in 1961.

Happy Peace Corps Day. Send a letter of support to a fellow volunteer out there. “Like” our Pages on Facebook (Peace Corps and Peace Corps Madagascar) and keep updated with what volunteers are doing and their projects, and finally, spread the word about Peace Corps. After all, what’s the point in having a national holiday if no one knows about it. :)

**Warning: This will be a very controversial post, as well as very truthful and I would like to remind my viewers, that these are my views and do not reflect the views and opinions of Peace Corps**

Bullies come in every shape, size, and color. I have dealt with bullies in high school, in college, and at work. Maybe that’s why I am a huge supporter of organizations that try and stop bullying, because although it may be difficult to believe, I was a victim of bullying myself. For some diluted reason, I thought coming into Peace Corps would be different. After all, you have to be a little bit quirky and crazy to join the Peace Corps, or so they say. That makes everyone just as quirky as the next, meaning you are on common ground with eachother. There’s this unspoken bond you share with other volunteers in country and while the reasons of joining Peace Corps are endless, it all centralizes around one idea; you want to make a difference. That idea creates that everlasting bond between each other. You become a family. So, imagine my surprise when I thought I had escaped bullies for two years, but in fact came in contact with one of the worst ones I have dealt with since high school.

You always imagine bullies being this aggressive, I’m going to shove you in your locker type of person. But just like the name of this blog, they do come in all shapes and sizes. Even given the setting you are in, it’s bound to happen. Take a group of 30 and drop them into a foreign country together, personalities our bound to change. Lock them into a training center, where their only contact is your other stagemates, people will get on each other nerves and ‘leaders’ will arise from the crowd.

I didn’t encounter my bully until towards the end of my service. Previously, we had been great friends, coworkers, and fellow Californians, or so I thought. We shared a lot in common, and I was convinced our friendship would last past our service. Maybe that was part of the problem though. We spent too much time together. There was no personal time. We worked on large projects together, we lived an hour from eachother, and we saw each other nearly ever weekend at the local transit house.

The thing about bullies is there’s no set definition. All the dictionary gives is that a bully is “a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.” Bullies can be friends, family members, or significant others. It doesn’t always have to be someone you go to school with or barely know. It can be someone you are the closest to. Funny enough, our downfall started with my wish to bring my dog home. I mentioned in earlier blog segments people in this country were not as supportive as I thought they would be to me taking my little one to the States. This person was one of them. She made it very vocal she did not approve of my love for my dog. And so it began.

I could go though you every little thing that lead the transition from friend to bully, but that would be wasting time, both yours and mine. If you don’t know the individual, then you wouldn’t want to read what seems like a neverending story of how a bully was made. However, it happened. I became an outsider in my region. This person worked so hard to not include me in events and functions happening anywhere within traveling distance. She visably ignored me and make it awkward for others with her to hold a conversation with me. She broke me down emotionally multiple times by sending very pointed emails telling me my Peace Corps experience only amounted to anything because she took pity on me and “included” me in her projects. She made it clear that all of my projects were not accomplishments but rather handed to me by people who felt sorry for me.

When everything started to happen, I was distraught. I was losing a good friend. I tried to save what was left, letting myself be walked over and not allowed to contribute. I was introduced to Malagasy people as “her helper” in public, and given trivial duties like tearing pieces of tape, take notes in the meetings, sit there quietly without saying anything. If there was any meeting involving higher ups from local organizations, I was told to remain silent. “You are not allowed to talk.”

It was after a month of this submissive behavior that I realized I didn’t need this. Someone who called me a ‘friend’ shouldn’t try to control me, put me down in front of my bosses, dictate what I could write on my final Peace Corps report, etc. Yes, it was difficult to cut things off between us. We had spent nearly 1 year together, she personally helped me not Early Terminate at the beginning of my service, but this emotional rollercoaster wasn’t healthy. The end of the relationship made me a stronger person, inside and out. I gained the confidence to stand up to bullies in community, and I gained the confidence in myself. Bullies are discouraging things in society, but they are also great learning experiences. You can learn and grow from them. I will always support organizations like The Trevor Project, Stomp Out Bullying, and Stop Bullying. I don’t know when society felt it was okay to put other people down and make them feel like less of a person, but it’s not acceptable. Hopefully my voice will help these campaigns, even if in a small way.

For most of my readers, you already know I adopted a dog in Madagascar within my first week at site. I wrote a previous blog about it, telling the story of Parasy: where I found her, how I nursed her back to health, and decided she had to come home for me. I reached out to the masses to fundraise money to bring her back to me. At the time of writing the blog, all I was thinking was the possibility that I might have to leave her here in Madagascar. I honestly didn’t think it would cause the backlash it did. But it did. There became a divide between the volunteers on the island–those who were vocally against me publicly asking for money, and those who while they may not have agreed with my decision, supported that is was my and only my choice. There were times I contemplated just giving into peer pressure and not taking her home with me…but I just couldn’t. And so the time-consuming period began of prepping my little girl to fly out.

Prepping Parasy involved three different trips to the capital, 8 hours from my village for a wide variety of things. She needed vaccinations, blood drawn for tests, deworming pills, and health inspections. I learned just prior to her first appointment, public buses do not allow dogs in their cars. No matter how much I offered in bribes, they didn’t budge. “No your dog is going to bite us,” “she’s mean,” “she has fleas,” were the typical responses, or more like excuses. Parasy was none of those. I even offered putting my dog in a crate strapped to the top of the taxi. I know, horrible thought, but I didn’t know what else to do. Same answer.

In the end, I needed to rent out a private car. It was an expensive expense that I was trying really hard to have to not pay for, but again, Parasy is worth every penny. It ended up actually being a very good thing I had a private car. Very quickly, I learned Parasy does not do well with traveling. It was like a rolling cycle of vomiting. Like clockwork, almost every 20 to 30 kilometers, she was throwing up. Let me add as well, it’s really hard to get a dog to throw up into a plastic bag. She saw that bag come out, and she skattered away.

Ten days before her flight, or what I wanted to be her flight, Parasy made her final trip to the capital. I had tried previously to book a flight for Parasy in the cargo hold and was told that flights aren’t booked for animals but rather, you show up the day you want your dog to depart and they place the dog onto the plane. Right?! I know what you’re thinking. My PetRelocation contact thought it was absurd as well. I knew I wanted Parasy to fly out on the 25th, one month before my expected departure from Madagascar, and before things started getting crazy as I packed up and gave away stuff that I had accumulated during the last two years. With that intention, I made the journey with her to see if I could make any progress for a flight reservation.

The week of Parasy’s departure, I made four trips to the airport for paperwork. For comparison, where I was staying and where the airport is the same as driving from LAX to Newport Beach. Each time I went, at the end I was told the next time would be the last. Low and behold, I kept having to make trips to the airport. First to make an unofficial reservation, to return the next to day to pay, but then told that I needed to bring my dog to pay. I then returned with my dog, having to smuggle her in a taxi because taxis aren’t allowed to transport dogs. I pretended to be a Norwegian tourist who could speak an ounce of English, Malagasy, or French in case we got stopped because Parasy was whining in the back, not liking being hidden in a box.

I thought we were home free until a few days before her departure, I noticed two large bumps on her back. After an emergency visit to the clinic, even the vets were confused what was going on. The best they could do was think that she had a skin infection as a reaction from a shot, most likely from the birth control shots she received quarterly. She was given antibiotics and I was given strict instructions to prevent her from scratching or biting at the spots. I yelled at Parasy out of love because I wanted her to be cleared for travel. I wanted her to get to America. Parasy saw it as mom punishing her for everything. Sorry sweetie! It was love!

When I passed off Parasy to the cargo workers at Air Madagascar at 3am, a wave of relief passed over me. I did it. After all the hard work, the round about ways the Malagasy people and bureaucracy works, I had succeeded. I crawled back into bed to sleep a little before her flight arrived in Johannesburg, happy that it had all worked out. *ring ring* Parasy has arrived in Johannesburg without any documentation (export permit, health permit, vaccinations form, Rabies Titers results, etc). There was no paperwork saying whatsoever this dog was cleared to leave Madagascar and travel anywhere else. Parasy would be placed into holding.

I traveled as fast to the airport as I could to see where the paperwork had gone. I had handed them off to the workers; they stated they would stick them onto the crate as soon as Parasy was in the holding area. I got passed from one worker to the next, having to explain my story over and over again. A hard feat in Malagasy. Dog. Arrived in Johannesburg. No paperwork. Where is it? Gave it to worker this morning. Yes! She left this morning. I finally made up to the Director of Fret’s office, who “kindly” informed me that documents are never affixed into a crate, but rather given from one worker to the next. Sounds real efficient right? After realizing I would get no where with the airport and that the airport was trying to blame me for their downfalls, I resorted to taking photos of everything that I had to email over to the agent in South Africa to see if that could get her through the red tape. Very few scanners here.

It took Parasy five hours to get through customs, but she finally did. The rest of her trip went smoothly, arriving in Los Angeles, almost 38 hours later. My best friend picked her up at the airport and she is currently enjoying her first few days in America.

Huge thank you to PetRelocation who assisted me in moving my dog from Madagascar. They dealt with nonsense emails filled with stupid questions about moving animals. They dealt with late responses because I sometimes didn’t have internet access. They were always patient withe, regardless of what was going on. If I ever have to move Parasy again, they will be the company I will use.

Also thanks to everyone that donated to help me get her home. I raised nearly half of what was needed to get her there. What happened with the rest? Well the Amex got some action for the first time in over two years, and let’s just say they’ll be happy to be accepting the interest for the next year(ish). But without the people who graciously donated to me in the first place, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. And for that I am thankful to each and every one of you. It means the world to me.

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Skyping with Parasy from Madagascar. She recognized my voice…but where is it coming from?

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One of her first photos in America. All smiles to be off the plane.

So much has happened and changed since I left America in 2012. A new, significantly bigger iPhone was released. iOS7 became the new operating system. Tablet computers replaced netbooks. President Obama was elected for another term. Snapchat and Vine became phenomenons. Carpool lanes became HOV lanes. My parents moved. My grandfather and my second childhood dog passed away. 3 friends got married, 7 got engaged, and 2 became pregnant. My sister graduated dental school. My other sister entered medical school, and yet another sister started the final steps to become a nuclear engineer.

I left the States at the ripe age of 22, just out of college and having worked in the hospitality industry for four years. I hadn’t left my parent’s house yet–the one year I spent in college dorms doesn’t count. I spent more time home than in the dorms. I did have financial responsibilities like paying off a car loan, medical insurance, and my phone bill. That makes me a grown adult, right? Maybe less than I thought it did. I characterized myself as this super independent woman, not asking for help and trying to do it all on my own. I was fairly quickly knocked onto my ass. I wasn’t nearly independent as I thought I was. No one was there to hold my hand. I couldn’t call my father or my friend’s boyfriend to kill the spider/cockroach/anything that crawls. Wait, you expect me to cook, clean, hand wash my own laundry, get my own water, and travel everywhere by foot?

I adopted a dog thinking it would be something fun to pass the time, and was just as quickly informed by The Gods that getting a dog takes MUCH more responsibility than I ever imagined. No, they’re not already house trained when they come out of their mother’s womb. They whine constantly. They want to be walked or played with at all times. They decide when it’s bedtime. Yep, I had passed those responsibilities off to my parents as well.

By the time I arrive back in the States, I will be 25 years old. While my other friends are progressing in their careers, starting families, and putting down roots, I am doing the complete opposite. I am trying to figure out where to go next in my life. We joke that you don’t age in Peace Corps, and maybe that’s partially true. Some aspects of myself are far beyond the years that I am, others never left college. I want to travel, spend summers backpacking through counties. I want to learn as many languages as possible. I want to see the world.

I’ve realized as well that when I return to the States everything will look differently. Showers will never be taken advantage of again. Same with running water, paved roads, fast food joints. I also know that I will probably never ignore the homeless man by the freeway exit or the one that sits outside Target ever again. Before, I was annoyed by them asking for money or for donations. It was a scam and I didn’t want to support it. But the fact of the matter is they might actually be unemployed or hurting enough to the point that they’ll go and try to get some spare change off of passerbys or shoppers who won’t give them the time of day. If you can spent $100 dollars on a trip to Target–which is very plausible and realistic–you can spare a dollar or two to give to that person. And if you still think you can’t, then cut out that expensive morning coffee and there you go, problem solved.

So when my plane touches down in three months, it will have a long time coming and waiting. I’ll get to see family and friends that I haven’t seem in over a year, and pick off where we left off 27 months ago. I’ll drive to Tucson to pick up my dog that flys out of Madagascar tomorrow, watch one best friend marry her high school sweetheart, and help another plan her wedding. I’ll reenter the work force, this time in human resources giving me an advantage for law school. And I’ll probably be planning my next adventure, in which I’m leaning towards going to Denmark and seeing the country my dad’s side comes from.

It’s been a great experience, and not over yet. Farvel, Veloma, and goodbye. See ya later world.

At Close of Service Conference, many things are running through your mind. What COS date will you get? Who are you going to COS with? COS trip? Where? Ugh, final language test.

When you first enter Peace Corps and finish PST (Pre-Service Training) you must complete a language evaluation that will place you on a scale as to where you are with language. When you finish your service, you must complete the same test to see if your language skills have improved since your started. The test is all dialogue and typically is guided by how you answer the previous question. For example, they always start out with you having to tell a little bit about yourself. If you mention your work at site, then you can almost guarantee the next question will have to do something with your work, and so on until the 30 minute time allotted is up.

I was extremely nervous going into my final language test. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel confident in my skills. It was because I hate tests and I always feel like people are judging me for the little errors I make when speaking Malagasy. It’s started out a little rough but then I got into the grove. I explained the differences of hotels here in Madagascar and the States, and then transitioned into Ritz Carlton’s $1000 limit for staff to compensate/serve an unhappy guest. I thought I was home free until the following question was asked:

Tester: Ianao no niteny mamaky boky any Alakamisy. Efa namaky Harry Potter ve ianao?
Translation: You said you read books in Alakamisy. Have your already read Harry Potter?

Now if I was smart and knew where this was going, I would have answered no. But, I answered eka, yes.

Tester: Tsara izany. Mbola tsy mamaky aho. Afaka lazalazao?
Translation: That’s good. I still haven’t read it. Can you explain it to me?

So then ensued a intimidating two minutes of me struggling to explain the storyline to Harry Potter.

Me: uhhhhhhh…..de misy mpampsavy. Anak’telo. Roa lehilahy. Iray vehivavy.
Uhhhh. So there are witches. Three of them. Two males. One female.

Tsara fanahy izireo. FAAA misy iray mpampsavy tena ratsy. Lord Voldermort no anarany
They are good spirits (in Malagasy, you use this when you want to say that someone is good and honest.) BUT there is one wizard that is very bad. His name is Lord Voldermort.

Namono ny neny sy dada’ny Harry Potter-izy ny mpampsavy tsara raika- izy. Niezaka namono Harry i Lord Voldermort fa tsy afaka.
He killed Harry Potter’s mom and dad-Harry is one of the good wizards. Lord Voldermort tried to kill Harry but he couldn’t.

Mianatra any sekoli’ny mpampsavy ahaona manao magique ny mpampsavy telo tsara. De isan’taona miady miaraka amin’ny Lord Voldermort izireo.
The three good wizards learn at a wizarding school how to do magic. And every year, they fight off Lord Voldermort.

I believe at this point I had gotten so flustered that my lovely language tester felt bad that he guided the topic into another category. It seems so easy to discuss whatever you are asked after living in a country and learning the language for two years, but that’s wrong. I honestly believe no matter how long you live in one place, you will never be able to speak that language fluently. I’m American, and I still have issues with English. What was my GPS again in college? (Inside joke for those I worked with at Disney). I just have to take it one word at a time.

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