Bike Trip around Lac Alotra
After arriving in Ambatondrazaka from Tana, we slept at a friends house then biked to Amparafaravola, our first stop on the HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention bike trip. The first ride was 67km, our longest day and we arrived in the evening to practice for the next day.
Each festival consisted of 2 hours of the public being able to come up to our different booths and discuss various topics. I was mostly at the environment booth talking about diet, nutrition, and Moringa. We handed out tons of seeds for Moringa and hopefully will see a difference if we get back there. Other booths consisted of HIV/AIDS prevention (complete with condom demonstrations), general health (nutrition, malaria, STDS, family planning), family budgeting, “what is Peace Corps?” and a kids song booth.
The next 2 hours we were on and off the stage in each town. We did skits on how to treat friends and family who have HIV or AIDS, how HIV is transmitted and not transmitted, practicing safe sex, and how HIV/AIDS attacks the immune system. We also performed condom demonstrations, followed by group condom races and blindfolded condom races. We also sang songs that were adapted from Malagasy songs to be about AIDS and lowering the risk of transmission.
The last 2 hours were done by PSI, a local group who promotes awareness and prevention They played music videos and Malagasy made movies about being faithful.
After hours out in the sun and long bike rides, we were all generally exhausted. Speaking in a foreign language for hours on end, answer questions and giving speeches over and over, really wears out the mind. Early bike rides took care of any physical stamina we had left.
By several days of biking, festivals, and sleeping in tents we were wiped out. Thankfully Kelly and Sara came to give a much needed morale boost. We pushed through to the last of 9 towns to arrive back in Ambatondrazaka for a day of rest and preparation for our final festival. The last festival was complete with the arrival of Boda, the Health APCD and finally some much needed HIV testing on site. With the ever changing situation of Madagascar, HIV tests have become unavailable throughout the country, making the promotion of testing and prevention rather difficult. We kept having to tell people to go get tested when they change partners but there are no tests available…
Tested 34 people on the last day, none were positive =D
Doing condom demonstrations with gender reversals so the woman would hold the wooden phallus and the man would put on the condom. I did this multiple times to rather humorous reactions. Also realize this is in front of mixed crowds, aka children and old women included.
Some other PCVs struggled with certain parts of the condom demonstrations, just imagine while on stage and in front of hundreds of people, failing to open a condom wrapper or to tie a knot in it.
Having 8 and 9 year old children be able to answer questions about how to prevent AIDS in front of the very same crowd.
Teens and young adults having fun with the blindfolded condom races. One guy tried to put it in her pocket when it had been “used”, another girl was holding the wooden phallus the wrong end forward. Also the group condom races often were a battle of the sexes and the 65 year old woman winning the race to the trash can was often amazing to watch.
The general dialog of our group was one of the best things. Having to ask the group where they put the “wooden phalluses” is rather hilarious. Things kept getting moved around and we were always laughing.
At some point during the trip, there would be a couple of weird pauses in our on stage performances. In order to fill the gaps we implemented group dancing on stage, the official Malagasy “start the party” song, and a solo lip-syncing performance by Stephanie. The audience never knew it wasn’t planned. Since the lip-syncing was performed to a duet, an assortment of men filled the other role.
Someone pooped in a sleeping bag right before the trip (on accident, caused by extreme digestive illness). A sleeping bag that wasn’t theirs and the other person had to sleep with a blanket instead.
We ate rice and beans most nights as its cheap and has protein. We left places smelling like we had eaten beans.
Going to a dentist in a foreign country has to automatically be interesting. Since Peace Corps requires certain gum tests to be done, namely probing for depth, most volunteers bleed profusely from their gums. While that was unpleasant, the woman assistant who insisted on being a part of the action was extremely unnecessary. She was in charge of the suction and the water squirter. This ended up with my face being sprayed, the back of my throat being sprayed, and my lip being stuck to the suction nozzle. Imagine all that while the mirror and poking device are also in your mouth. At one point I demanded her to stop as she kept getting the suction nozzle either stuck to my lip or cheek.
I got to run over to the training site yesterday for a quick meeting with the new stage. I even got to meet the people who have been placed near to me =D Soon we’ll be welcoming 3 new people to my banking town. We were the first volunteers they met so it was a bit overwhelming. Mike and I tried to answer as many questions as possible in the very limited time we had and to quell some fears. They just got in a week and a half ago or so and hopefully I’ll get to greet them again during site visits.
New pictures up:
alisonthieme.shutterfly.com I’ll try to post as I have internet.