During training, I lived with a host family in Mantasoa for 6 weeks. They helped me learn basic housekeeping the Malagasy way (i.e. cooking, doing laundry, cleaning, etc.) for when I move to the Deep South of Madagascar, where I will be living on my own in the small village of Ambondro. They also taught me a lot about family, friendship and how to appreciate the simple things in life.
As I crouched close to the concrete floor, I watched the steam rise off my naked body. I filled my zinga cup with the water fetched from the pump and hastily poured it over my head. Each pour was followed by a sharp inhale, never getting used to the chill.
It was routine at my Malagasy home to take a bucket bath each morning in the ladosy adjacent to my house. But before that, my day started with a run along the rice paddies. My morning runs, (more comparable to parkour due to the treacherous condition of the dirt roads), allowed me to explore Mantasoa, practice my Malagasy and most practically, warm me up in preparation for my bucket bath.
Exchanges during my runs go something like this:
Me: Manahoana! Hello!
Malagasy person: Manahoana!
Malagasy person: Mihazakazaka! Run!
Malagasy person: Matanjaka! Strong!
Though daily life in my Malagasy home was nothing like anything I was used to, I quickly found comfort in my new routine. Most days went something like this:
5:30 a.m.: I wake up to the sounds of roosters and dogs barking outside. I lie in bed for a few minutes, hearing Nenibe moving around in her room right next to mine. She wakes up at 4:30 a.m. each morning to start cooking.
5:45 a.m.: Hearing music come from downstairs, I leave my room and greet Nenibe and Dadabe.
The first conversation of the day goes something like this:
Dadabe: Natory tsara? Did you sleep well?
Me: Natory tsara. Natory tsara? I slept well. Did you sleep well?
Dadabe: Natory tsara. I slept well.
And then I’m off on my run.
6:30 a.m.: I fetch water from the pump, about 70 meters from my house. I carry it back and take a bucket bath.
7:00 a.m.: I walk downstairs for breakfast. Nenibe often sits next to me (after she eats her rice breakfast with Dadabe upstairs) and chats while I eat the omelet and bread and homemade toto voanjo peanut butter she prepared for me. She serves me coffee and laughs when I don’t put sugar in it. She can’t imagine coffee without at least three spoonfuls of sugar.
7:30 a.m.: I say Veloma! Bye! to Dadabe and Nenibe and I walk to the Commune in the center of town for my Malagasy class from 8 a.m. to noon. Peace Corps Madagascar has nine extremely talented, amazing Malagasy language trainers to teach us their language.
For the first few weeks, they taught all of us Malagasy official and we had an oral exam. After learning that I will be moving to the Androy region of Madagascar (after training), I started to learn the Atandroy dialect, known to be the hardest of all the dialects. Most words in Malagasy official are different from those in my dialect, so it was a lot of re-learning.
Generally speaking though, Malagasy is an easy language to learn (especially compared to English). To conjugate a verb, you change the first letter:
Nihinina aho – I ate
Mihinina aho – I eat
Hihinina aho – I will eat
12:00 p.m.: I walk back to my house for lunch. Nenibe usually has a big bowl of rice ready, along with laoka (a side of food to flavor the rice, typically veggies, beans or meat). Dadabe, the eldest, is the first to serve himself. Next is Nenibe, then my sister, me and finally my little brother. After I finish what is on my plate, I am always offered more.
The conversation goes something like this:
Me: Ampy, azafady. Misaotra. Enough, please. Thank you!
Dadabe: Voky tsara? Are you full?
Me: Voky tsara. I’m full.
Lunch was often interrupted by our ducks casually walking inside. Nenibe would get out of her seat and yell “Gana, gana, gana” (duck, duck, duck) and shoo them out. After every meal, we all drink ranon’ampango, which is a traditional burned rice beverage made by boiling water in the same pot used to boil the rice. They insist that I must be tired from so much learning and suggest I go upstairs to relax.
1:30 p.m.: I walk back to the Commune for my afternoon technical session. These range from cross-cultural lessons to teacher trainings to medical sessions.
5:00 p.m.: I walk back to my house for dinner. I offer to help make dinner and sit in the living room and talk to my sister or help my brother with the puzzle of the United States I gave him. (It was his first puzzle!) Sometimes, I go upstairs to study and prepare my lesson plans.
7:00 p.m.: Nenibe lets me know it’s time for dinner. The electricity is very unreliable (many homes in my neighborhood don’t even have it), so we often eat dinner by candlelight.
Nenibe, Dadabe, my sister or brother say a prayer before every dinner, followed by:
Dadabe: Maztoa homana! Bon appetite!
The menu for dinner is very similar to lunch – rice and laoka. Sometimes, Nenibe makes pasta and then reminds me how much Americans love pasta. Sometimes we have chicken, sometimes beef. Sometimes, I don’t know what I’m eating, until I recognize a duck’s head on Nenibe’s plate. Dessert is either bananas or oranges. I insist on helping clean the dishes, but Nenibe tells me that I must be tired and that I can go upstairs.
The conversation after dinner goes something like this:
Me: Matsiro be! Very delicious! Misaotra betsaka! Thank you very much!
Nenibe: Tsy misy fisaorana. It’s no problem.
Dadabe: Tafandria mandry! Goodnight!
Me: Tafandria mandry!
Outside my bedroom window, I can hear the neighbors singing loudly, many of them drunk off toaka gasy Malagasy moonshine. They are my soundtrack as I study Malagasy, complete assignments for our technical training or write my lesson plans.
8:30 p.m.: Depending on how long they decide to sing, I typically go to bed at this time, tucked under three blankets below my mosquito net. (In Mantasoa during the winter, it gets pretty chilly at night). I am usually exhausted. But before I go to bed, I make sure to peek out my window and look up at the sky full of stars. With zero light pollution, I can’t help but stand motionless and smile in awe.