So I realize I haven’t exactly been active on this blog while I’ve been in Peace Corps what with inconsistent internet and the unusually “mundane” routine of most PCVs. That being said, my service is very shortly (in 3 or so months) coming to an end, and I figured it was time to make another post. Many people ask why I joined the Peace Corps, and the stereotypical and expected answer is to help save the world. As much as those ideas of grandeur are noble and partially correct, I’m sure for all PCVs, my most prominent reason for joining was selfish. I wanted perspective, knowledge, and an escape. I, like most people do at some point in their lives, had made a bit of a muck of my personal life before departure…like the three years before my departure. I hurt a lot of people I really and truly cared about by being selfish. Anyways, I had been in a pretty tumultuous relationship before all this selfishness began, and I think I was more or less looking for someone to fix me, and when the person I was with couldn’t (not that I, more or less, gave any of them a chance at trying to), I threw them aside for the next girl. In this way, many people were left hurt and confused which further, just made me feel more broken and guilty. It was a vicious and base cycle.
Then I met her. I had known her for YEARS before, but it took me awhile to get out of my own way and really MEET her. (Even then I still messed up quite bit and hurt her before finally letting her in). I busted up my face playing soccer and had to get surgery, and she came to my apartment and held my hand while I recovered. I knew it then. Anyways, we dated seriously for a year or so before I finally had my date to leave for the Peace Corps. I lived with her for a little while, and we were talking very seriously about marriage, future, etc. She began putting me back together. She was exactly what I needed to feel good about myself again and to feel whole, but alas, I had goals and dreams, and those needed to be achieved on the other side of the world: Madagascar. So I left.
She supported me and wrote me every week for the first 7 months. I fell more in love with her then than I thought was ever possible for anyone to feel about anyone else, but she was going through a lot of struggles, struggles that I couldn’t be there for because I was dealing with my own struggles here (supporting myself, my village, trying to make friends and fit in, trying to adjust to a new culture and language, being away from my family, etc.). Eventually, it all fell apart. She found someone who made her happy, and so did I…myself. That’s what this post is really about.
Before coming here, I was a pretty broken individual, still. I thought I needed someone to fix me, and to make me whole again, but really, all I needed was a new perspective, a new experience, and some quality time with myself (or perhaps it took a whole village to fix me. haha who knows). I don’t know what I was looking for exactly when I joined this program, but I know what I found. I was put into a village in which I had a limited understanding of the language, culture, etc., and I made a life for myself, helped a few people along the way, and made some fantastic friends. I learned that I could do it. I gained confidence. I gained perspective. I gained a broader understanding of the world. I gained the ability to empathize, and learned the skill of forgiveness. Mostly, though, I learned that all people are beautiful and worthy (even if frustrating lol) myself included. None of this has been an easy lesson to learn. Peace Corps is hard. Point blank. This is not a comfortable experience to go through. I left behind family, friends, my life, my language, my culture, creature comforts, etc., to come to one of the poorest countries in the world and do (mostly) thankless work. That being said, I have gained the world. This experience was the best thing to ever happen to me. I struggled for two years between very high highs and very low lows to come out of this a more complete version of myself and a more compassionate individual. Did I do this all on my own? Hell no. I had so much support, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them.
To my Friends in America who wrote to me and supported me and kept in contact with me, thank you so much. I know you are all busy creating your own lives, but it meant so much to me that you took time out of your busy schedules to write to me. Without you guys, this experience would have been unbearably lonely and exponentially more difficult. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Even if we no longer are in contact, you’ve made an impact on my service. I can’t say it enough to Katie B., Timmy L., Kate B., Karly S., Chelsea A., Kristen T., K.B., April W., Miguel F., Jaclyn B., Mike P., and finally:
Ben P. who wrote to me often and sent me a care package (which is a very, very expensive endeavor) containing a disc-man, three mix cds, a lined notebook, and some reading material. It was one of the most heartfelt and thoughtful gifts I’d ever gotten. Also, he has motivated me each and every day by having his own adventures and letting me be a part of them. Hopefully, I’ll be adventuring with him in a few months in the traveling circus.
Also, Thanks to my fellow PCVs who listened to me and ranted with me and partied with me (especially those of you in my region and in my stage). It has been a pleasure to have this crazy experience with you guys, and I hope to see you all back in the States. You are some of the most uniquely wonderful individuals I have ever had to opportunity of getting to know. The Peace Corps staff and administration as well, Thank you.
To my family. Without you, absolutely none of this would be possible. I can’t fathom how much different and how impossible this would have been without the love and support from my mom and stepdad who called me twice a week and sent me monthly care packages (not to mention occasionally funded me for a few vacations and made sure all my loans and such were in order), my dad who called me weekly and never missed sending me a card on a holiday, birthday, etc., my grandma who sent me weekly letters and the occasional package filled with candy to give to the kids in my village, my siblings for the great conversations and support, my aunts who have always supported me (and even given me a place to live at multiple times of my life).
And Finally, to my village, Alakamisy Ambohimaha. Thank you for accepting me and embracing me as one of your own. Thank you for all the times you referred to me as Malagasy Fotsy (White Malagasy) and corrected people who called me vazaha (foreigner). Thank you Lanto, Sahondra, and Iandry who kept me fed, caffeinated, happy, and considered me a part of their family. Thank you Vonjy, my best friend here, for being so kind and understanding, for getting drunk with me and having deep conversations about life and love, and for all around just being a phenomenal and hard working guy. Tea and Talk (my university English club) for having candid discussions, being so passionate about the English language, and giving me faith in the future leaders (you guys and girls) of Madagascar. The teachers at my Lycee, Tsarahary, Felix, and Sarindra for helping me with my teaching practice and for being great friends. To my two LGBT friends who had the courage to come with me and speak to many stages of PCVs about being gay in Madagascar, a place where it isn’t accepted. I will refrain from using their names due to the very small chance that someone will read this and recognize them, but your contribution to the cause and your fearlessness are so appreciated and admired! And last, but CERTAINLY not least:
Raphaeline, my counterpart and host mother. This 40 some year old woman took me in and changed my life forever. Raphaeline is by far the happiest and most caring woman I have EVER had the privilege of meeting, and I was lucky enough to have her live in the house attached to mine. She held me when I cried (on multiple occasions) and cooked for me on my birthdays. She informed me on the school’s program and provided me with countless bouts of laughter. One experience in particular, showed me how great of a human she is, and gave me a bit more faith in humanity. So, there is a running joke among my village that I am “mitovy lehilahy” (the same as a boy), because of my voice, my clothes, the way I walk, etc. So I was talking to Raph at the time about my “sipa” (boyfriend/girlfriend, the word isn’t gender specific), and Raph asked me, jokingly, if my sipa was a boy or a girl. I froze. Then, Raph started laughing, and we moved on. A few days later, we were reading the Bible together. Her, in Malagasy, and I, in English. (she is a devote Catholic, and I was trying to learn the language). I asked her why she asked that question about my sipa, and she laughed and said because I’m the same as a boy, but it’s not okay for me to have a girlfriend. I asked why, and she said because Jesus said so. Well, since we were reading the Bible, we looked for instances where Jesus talked about homosexuality, and low and behold, he didn’t. She accepted this pretty easily. After that, I told her that my sipa was a girl. She looked at me for a second, and then thanked me for trusting her and said it was okay and she still loved me. She gave me a hug and then asked me if she could ask me questions. I said of course. She asked me if it was real love, if I thought God still loved me, if I could date an effeminate man instead, etc. etc., but she was just genuinely curious. We ended up talking about same-sex adoption among other things. But she stayed true to her word, our relationship never changed. She hugged me every day, we talked about my girl friend casually, and she occasionally ribbed me about dating girls, but it was so easy. Raphaeline listened to me and hugged me when my girlfriend and I broke up and told me that I’m beautiful and will find a new girl. “Aza ampina malahelo” was what she said (Don’t add sadness). When I eventually did meet a new girl, she met her and said she was happy for me and asked about her often. All of this has never ceased to amaze me. Here is a woman in her mid to late forties, very religious, raised in a culture where homosexuality is seen either as non-existent or disgusting, and with one conversation, she was willing to accept me for exactly who I was. I will forever be grateful for having met her and had her in my life.
^^^ Thank you all. so much. You all mean the world to me.
As I said before, this has been the most life changing experience I have had, and I venture to say will ever have. I am so blessed to come from a country where things like this are possible for its citizens. I am blessed to come from a country where I can get an (albeit expensive) education, and have a zillion opportunities. I am blessed to have been able to live in Madagascar for the past two years, so I can compare and contrast the two and derive the best attributes from both. All-in-all, Sambatra Aho. (I am blessed).