With a new group of volunteers arriving in Madagascar soon here is a list of things you should know before you joining Peace Corps Madagascar.
- You might freeze – I know that Madagascar is a tropical island, but no one seems to have informed the highlands of this fact. The winter months are freezing and the training center seems to sit in the coldest part. I never realized how much I love central heating.
- Or sweat to death – However, as soon as you move towards the coast or to the north or south, the country can become an oven. When volunteers in the highlands are freezing those are the coast are comfortable and when those in the highlands are comfortable those on the coast are sweating before 8 am just sitting in the shade.
- Talk to volunteers in country – Every volunteer has a different experience, but it’s nice to talk to volunteers to get a sense of what it’s like to live in Madagascar. You can learn about cultural experiences, what foods are available where and when, and how to handle the highs and lows. While you might think that Peace Corps is right for you, but it helps to know a bit more about you’re getting into.
- External hard drives are life – Even if you don’t have electricity at site you may have solar panels or access to it in your banking town. Even if you don’t have any media to put on your hard drive before coming to country you can swap with other volunteers in the country. Sometimes days are hard and watching your favorite movie or show is a good way to cheer yourself up.
- Vegetarians and vegans welcome – While you will meet very few Malagasy who are vegetarians it easy to remain vegetarian or vegan and still be healthy. The one struggle can be eating while traveling, so stock up on snacks before you leave.
- Eat all the food – make a list of your favorite foods in America and then make sure you eat them! Then maybe eat them all again just to make sure.
- Try not to worry about packing – despite my warnings about the variable climate try not to worry too much about what you bring. You can find everything you need here, clothes included. My advice is to bring what makes you happy. If there’s a tea you can’t live without, bring it. If your yoga mat keeps you sane, bring it. Remember that you’re not camping for two years, you’re living here. quick dry is nice, but you don’t need to look like you’re going on a safari everyday.
- Bring a laptop – I know that tablets are great, and things like iPads have great battery life without needing to be charged as much, but Peace Corps requires you to submit quarterly reports that require an actual laptop. There are computers volunteers can use at the two regional houses and the house and office in Tana. However, there is no guarantee that you will live anywhere close to them. Bringing a cheap laptop or an older laptop is an easier option.
- The almighty Apple isn’t the best – I know people feel strongly about iPhones, either for or against, but they aren’t the best option in country. For some reason they have a harder time getting cell service and the app used to do data collection at your site is only available for android phones. If you don’t want to spend money on a new phone before you leave, you can buy one here for fairly cheap. Regardless of what phone you bring make sure it’s unlocked.
- Kindles are king – I love books, they have weight and smell and you don’t have to charge them. I also read books like there is no tomorrow. If I had all the books I’ve read on my kindle in physical form I would have collapsed the floor of my house.
- Throw out your expectations – I know this is a hard one. You’ve done your research, you’ve read blogs, and you’ve talked to other volunteers. No matter what you do can prepare you for the Peace Corps. The less expectations you come to country with the better you’ll do at adjusting to life in Madagascar and life in the Peace Corps.
- Practice your stump speech – when you come here you are an employee of the American government. You are likely to be the main source of information on America for the people in your community. How you feel about American politics is no longer an opinion you can share with everyone you meet. You don’t have to agree with everything America does, but you do have to qualify things. Getting involved in Malagasy politics is also a big no no. Like I said before you are a representative of the American government and can’t be seen to be influencing elections.
- You’ll learn the language – A lot of volunteers worry about speaking a new language. I know that it’s harder for some than for others, but everyone gets through it. Peace Corps helps you in every way they can, they don’t want you to fail. It’s ok if you don’t know a single word before you arrive in Madagascar. Malagasy people are extremely understanding and really appreciate your efforts.
- It’s not like the movie – We do not have boats with zoo animals that wash up on shore. We don’t have lions or tigers or bears, oh my! We do have lemurs, but you won’t often find them outside of national parks. Unfortunately if you do see a lemur outside of a park it might be because your neighbors plan to eat it.
- Get excited and get on the plane!