desert.jpg

Salama.

My name is Olivia.
I document my adventures in Madagascar as a Peace Corps Volunteer, with the mission to share culture and empower others through my writing.
Enjoy! 

Top Bloggers Tour 2016 Recap

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:

Congratulations, Olivia! You’ve been selected as a winner in the Blog It Home contest! Check your email for details. So happy and so proud of you!
— Vanessa

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.

I told you!
— Jimmy

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 Top Bloggers: Zack serving in Samoa, Mark serving in Kyrgyz Republic, Me serving in Madagascar, Bukhtawer serving in Ethiopia, Gabriella serving in Guyana, Brittany serving in Peru, Jenni serving in Mongolia and Brooklynn serving in Peru. 

The eight Top Bloggers: Zack serving in Samoa, Mark serving in Kyrgyz Republic, Me serving in Madagascar, Bukhtawer serving in Ethiopia, Gabriella serving in Guyana, Brittany serving in Peru, Jenni serving in Mongolia and Brooklynn serving in Peru. 

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:
 

Day 1: 

We were warmly welcomed by Peace Corps' Third Goal staff,. Here is our home base, where we worked on Third Goal presentations and ate peppermint patties all week.

We were warmly welcomed by Peace Corps' Third Goal staff,. Here is our home base, where we worked on Third Goal presentations and ate peppermint patties all week.

It gave me chills walking in to see the smiling faces of the girls I took to the National Girls Leading Our World. It was like they were there with me.

It gave me chills walking in to see the smiling faces of the girls I took to the National Girls Leading Our World. It was like they were there with me.

Say 'hello' to 2016's Top Bloggers! We clean up pretty nice, especially for being so jet-lagged. 

Say 'hello' to 2016's Top Bloggers! We clean up pretty nice, especially for being so jet-lagged. 

I hadn't seen this fabulous human being since June 2015. Hugs were long overdue. 

I hadn't seen this fabulous human being since June 2015. Hugs were long overdue. 

We made our spot on the map! 

We made our spot on the map! 

The Third Goal Staff hosted a potluck lunch that had us all excited. I don't think I ever expected to have McDonald's chicken nuggets and kale on my plate at the same time... 

The Third Goal Staff hosted a potluck lunch that had us all excited. I don't think I ever expected to have McDonald's chicken nuggets and kale on my plate at the same time... 

We took a tour of Peace Corps HQ. Shout out to the Africa Region! 

We took a tour of Peace Corps HQ. Shout out to the Africa Region! 

An elevator selfie, because why not?

An elevator selfie, because why not?

Day 2:

Waiting in line for the tour of the East Wing! 

Waiting in line for the tour of the East Wing! 

Michelle wasn't home, unfortunately. But here I am outside of the White House. 

Michelle wasn't home, unfortunately. But here I am outside of the White House. 

Group pic outside of The White House. 

Group pic outside of The White House. 

The real treat: meeting Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama, Tina Tchen. We shared our Let Girls Learn projects we have been working on. She said she would relay the success stories back to Michelle. 

The real treat: meeting Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama, Tina Tchen. We shared our Let Girls Learn projects we have been working on. She said she would relay the success stories back to Michelle. 

We met with the White House's digital team, including Barack Obama's videographer, Michelle Obama's photographer, the Deputy Director of Digital Strategy and one of Obama's speech writers. Let me add, they are ALL women. #girlpower 

We met with the White House's digital team, including Barack Obama's videographer, Michelle Obama's photographer, the Deputy Director of Digital Strategy and one of Obama's speech writers. Let me add, they are ALL women. #girlpower 

... And then this happened. 

... And then this happened. 

But the day wasn't over. Next, we headed to American University for a recruitment event. Here is my table of Antandroy items from the deep South of Madagascar. Afterward, we had a Q&A. While we had a lot to share about our host countries, there was a lot to learn about others, too. Fun fact: Samoan and Malagasy are very similar languages! Zack and I discovered this by counting to ten in each of our languages.

But the day wasn't over. Next, we headed to American University for a recruitment event. Here is my table of Antandroy items from the deep South of Madagascar. Afterward, we had a Q&A. While we had a lot to share about our host countries, there was a lot to learn about others, too. Fun fact: Samoan and Malagasy are very similar languages! Zack and I discovered this by counting to ten in each of our languages.

And when your best friend walks in, you have no option but to dress her up and hand her a spear. 

And when your best friend walks in, you have no option but to dress her up and hand her a spear. 

Day 3:

The busiest day of the week was spent at D.C. Public Schools. I gave six presentations to middle and elementary schoolers, teaching them about the Malagasy and Antandroy culture. The kids were so curious and loved to learn about a part of the world they knew little about.

The busiest day of the week was spent at D.C. Public Schools. I gave six presentations to middle and elementary schoolers, teaching them about the Malagasy and Antandroy culture. The kids were so curious and loved to learn about a part of the world they knew little about.

After learning about Antandroy clothing in band class, these aspiring musicians asked if they could play a song for me. Mahay iareo! They were good! 

After learning about Antandroy clothing in band class, these aspiring musicians asked if they could play a song for me. Mahay iareo! They were good! 

Where in the world is Madagascar? Guyana? Samoa? These kids had a lot of discovering to do.

Where in the world is Madagascar? Guyana? Samoa? These kids had a lot of discovering to do.

Day 4:

A unanimous decision was made to visit National Geographic and meet with former Peace Corps staffer, Ryan. We talked about his new role and about the rapidly changing world of digital media. 

A unanimous decision was made to visit National Geographic and meet with former Peace Corps staffer, Ryan. We talked about his new role and about the rapidly changing world of digital media. 

The Bloggers and Ryan outside of the NatGeo office.

The Bloggers and Ryan outside of the NatGeo office.

Here's me laughing at Brittany's fear of people wearing masks after passing a zombie on the street. I'm sorry, Brittany. 

Here's me laughing at Brittany's fear of people wearing masks after passing a zombie on the street. I'm sorry, Brittany. 

I owe it to these two people who inspired me to travel the world, dropped me off at my Peace Corps staging event rigfht before I jumped on a plane to Madagascar and to drive down to give me the biggest hugs in D.C. 

I owe it to these two people who inspired me to travel the world, dropped me off at my Peace Corps staging event rigfht before I jumped on a plane to Madagascar and to drive down to give me the biggest hugs in D.C. 

Next up: a presentation to Peace Corps HQ to talk about what Third Goal means to us. 

Next up: a presentation to Peace Corps HQ to talk about what Third Goal means to us. 

I love to tell stories and my Peace Corps experience and blog is a great way to tell stories of amazing people in small corners of the world that would otherwise be unheard. 

I love to tell stories and my Peace Corps experience and blog is a great way to tell stories of amazing people in small corners of the world that would otherwise be unheard. 

Grandma and my brother getting their hands (and heads) in every culture. Here they are wearing hats from Mongolia.

Grandma and my brother getting their hands (and heads) in every culture. Here they are wearing hats from Mongolia.

We shared stories of the inspiring women we work with each day and our Let Girls Learn projects with the Girl Scouts. 

We shared stories of the inspiring women we work with each day and our Let Girls Learn projects with the Girl Scouts. 

I got a lot of questions from Girls Scouts of all ages. 

I got a lot of questions from Girls Scouts of all ages. 

Each day was packed, but we made time for family. My cousin flew from California to visit! 

Each day was packed, but we made time for family. My cousin flew from California to visit! 

Day 5: 

Our final day we spent at the State Department. The highlight for me was meeting with Madagascar's Country Desk Officer, David Campbell. We discussed the severe drought the people of the deep South of Madagascar are currently experiencing and what is being done to reach a solution. 

Our final day we spent at the State Department. The highlight for me was meeting with Madagascar's Country Desk Officer, David Campbell. We discussed the severe drought the people of the deep South of Madagascar are currently experiencing and what is being done to reach a solution. 

The aftermath of a busy, busy week at Peace Corps' Third Goal office. 

The aftermath of a busy, busy week at Peace Corps' Third Goal office. 

Wrapping up Bloggers Tour 2016.

Wrapping up 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. 

"Be kind and be useful. Slow way, way down. Let the world speak to you. Go toward the good - -the good people, the good moments -- and let the rest of the static, noise and drama fall away." 

A Trip Up North: Nosy Be and Diego

A Trip Up North: Nosy Be and Diego

Give Access to Reading in Rural Madagascar

Give Access to Reading in Rural Madagascar