With my eyes closed and lips puckered, I leaned into the rough bark of the thousand-year-old baobab tree.
“Make a wish,” our tour guide Jimmy said. "Inside, lives the spirit of a beloved king." The locals of the small town of Marofandiliha, near the west coast of Madagascar, ritualized the tree, believing that the power of the king lived in the baobab -- the tree that never dies.
Small plastic bottles of Madagascar’s finest Dzama rum were scattered near the trunk of the tree while tiny candies were nestled within the curves and bumps of the trunk. I opened my eyes and tiptoed across the roots of the tree – they say the top of the baobab is a mirror image of its roots – grabbed my sandals that I was required to take off before approaching the sacred tree and got back in the car.
I turned on my phone, hopeful for phone connection. Within seconds my phone lit up and a text message from my country director appeared on the screen:
I shared the big news – that I had just won a trip to Washington, D.C. for five days to share my cultural experiences in Madagascar – with two fellow Volunteers in the car and my sister, Molly who was traveling with us on vacation. After 17 months in Madagascar, I would be heading back to America to talk about the island I have come to fall in love with. Plus, the perks! (Running water, electricity, Dunkin Donuts, oh my!)
Cue: freaking out. Molly began to scream (in excitement), causing every person in that small Malagasy town to stop in their tracks and turn toward our car. I quickly quieted her down and whispered, “That was my wish.” Of course that didn’t help, because then she began to cry hysterically (tears of joy, of course). By this point, I am sure the driver and our tour guide Jimmy were convinced we were crazy (if they hadn’t already). I explained the contest to them and then the wish I made at the base of the sacred baobab. Jimmy’s eyebrows rose and he smiled.
As a winner of Peace Corps’ Blog It Home Contest, I wish I could be sharing a less-cliché story for you. Needless to say, winning this contest was quite literally a wish come true.
As someone who loves to read and tell stories, I am thankful for the opportunity to share my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and the stories of my students, friends and community here in Madagascar. And that’s what the Third Goal of the Peace Corps is all about – helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
The best part about winning the Blog It Home contest is that its not just a “prize” in the typical sense in which you are awarded when you’ve finished said accomplishment. Yes, we’ve all accomplished something but, we’re not finished. The seven bloggers and I are taking the skills, mentorship and inspiration we received over the five days and running forward, full speed.
The eight of us were selected among 300 bloggers from around the world to travel to D.C. for five days full of "third-goaling." We managed to squeeze in a lot of hot showers, a pedicure (in which the woman asked, is this your first time getting a pedicure? Let's say my feet have seen better shape...) eating, catching up with family, laughing, networking, eating, (not much sleeping), and did I mention, eating?
Here's a recap of the Top Bloggers’ Tour 2016:
Check out the seven other Peace Corps Blog It Home 2016 winners' blogs. They're pretty darn great:
Brittany White, Peru: Siyah En Peru
Bukhtawer, Ethiopia: This Amharican Life
Zack Agerton, Samoa: Coconut to the Head
Gabriella Miyares, Guyana: Letters from Guyana
Mark Jahnke, Kyrgyz Republic: Monday Bazaar
Brooklynn Adelman, Peru: No Sleep Till Peace
Jenni Myung, Mongolia: Jennifer Myung, Peace Corps Mongolia
A huge shoutout goes to the Peace Corps Third Goal staff for supporting us as we work toward the (best) goal and for giving us such an amazing week.
I'll end this post with some advice from Hope Hall, Barack Obama's videographer, that I think could benefit us all, no matter what corner of the world we find ourselves in.