First Day at My Host Home!!!

Today was probably the most nervous day, so far, for all of the volunteers.  At noon today we went to our host home for Community Based Training!  Everyone undoubtedly had an array of different fears to contend with, but what was on everyone’s mind was the lack of communication capabilities.  We had only three half days of language training and most of it we could not reliably remember.  So we were off with what we thought we would need for a week and the very little language skills we had acquired to meet our host family.   
Arriving at the Commune we all piled out of the vans and stood around waiting to be adopted by our new family.  The Commune is a small compound which is the equivalent of a town hall and major’s office.  It consists of three one-story cement buildings making a U shape and faced by a cement wall with yellow iron gates; all of this is centered with a flag pole in a dirt courtyard.  As the families started to arrive and find their volunteer we were faced with our first real language challenge, to introduce ourselves.  This for me was partially a failure.  When introducing myself to my Neny (mom) I made it through “Hello. My name is Justin,” but when it came to “It’s nice to meet you” I was at a loss on how to pronounce mahafantatra.  So half way through failing I just stopped, smiled, and shrugged.  This would become one of my four go to expressions when at a loss of how to answer whatever it was that people were trying to say to me.  This was followed by “tsara (good),” “eny (yes),” and “masaotra (thank you).”  
host family house mantasoa peace corps madagascar
Street view of my host family's house.

We walked towards her house down a red dirt, pothole filed road, in complete silence.  I had already used the majority of my Malagasy, having mostly only single word vocabulary left, and I had failed at that.  Arriving at her house I was amazed at the size of it.  It was faced by red folding metal gates with a cement courtyard.  The house itself is made up of different parts being added on over time.  The house is a reddish/purple color with light blue doors and shutters and the balcony of the 2nd floor is covered in plants.  The first part of the house, on the left of the courtyard is three stories made up of, from bottom to top, a store, large living room, and the grandparents housing.  Connected to this and facing the street is the original two story house.  On the first floor facing the street is a “rice shifting” machine.  Walking up a flight of stairs you reach a walkway with three blue doors.  The first I am not sure where it goes, the second is my room, and the third leads into the living room and the stairwell to the grandparents housing.  
view out window host family house mantasoa peace corps madagascar
View from my bedroom window at my host family's house.

Walking into my room I was surprised to see the size of it.  It measures about 12’ X 10’ with three doors and a window, with an awesome view.  Inside my room I have a table and chair, two more chairs, a couch, a big mirror, and a bed.  The Peace Corps also provided in my room a big green metal chest and lock to keep my valuables, a water filter with Sûr’Eau (chlorine), a water bucket with cup, mosquito net, and a pô bucket (a night time toilet…its just a bucket with a lid).   
hoat family house kitchen mantasoa peace corps madagascar
My host mother was always cheerful, especially when she was cooking.

Walking through my room another door leads into the rest of the house.  Through the hall there are many doorways and stairwells that I have no clue where they go.  Once I fell that my language skills are proficient enough and the host family gets to know me better I will ask for a tour of the house, but at this time it would be useless, if even doable.  At the end of the hall you reach the kitchen and again I was amazed at the size of it.  There is a long table that seats ten in the “dining area” as soon as you walk into the kitchen area.  Following this is a full kitchen, although not a full kitchen to western standards.  There are all the cooking utensils and pots you would ever need hanging on the walls.  There is a sink for washing your hands (no running water); the dishes are washed in basins.  The cooking area itself is a huge fireplace in which there are two small fires on which pots are put on top of.   
Walking though the kitchen is a small wooden door that leads outside to the back “yard.”  Through the door you must walk down a fairly steep stairway to get to the ground level.  From here there is the kabone (toilet) to the left which is in its own little room and has a western style toilet (this is not completely true, it has no toilet seat, running water, or a bottom).  In front of the steps is where all of the animals are kept.  From what I saw there was one pig, a bunch of geese, and a bunch of chickens.  Making a U-turn from the stairs is a hallway under the house.  The only doors I know in this hallway are the ladosy, which is a “indoor” shower room with no running water, and the water well, which is the traditional bucket and rope down the hole style.  I am very lucky to have a well in my house, as all of the other trainees have to walk to a well or pump to get there water.  I also have electricity, but here in Mantasoa all of the trainees but two have electricity.
dining room host family house mantasoa peace corps madagascar
The dining room at my host family's house.

After what I will call “the essentials” tour, my Neny and brother tried to have a conversation with me to find out more about who I was and where I was from.  This was very hard and confusing, I think, for all of us, but we managed through it.  This was done mostly through sign language and picture drawing.  I have come to realize that I can not draw the U.S. or Texas very well, but it was well enough to get the idea across.  They finally decided to let me settle in and unpack, which was most likely just a realization that my conversational skills had been exhausted.  Once I had unpacked, wanting to just hide out in the room but feeling bad for doing so, I went back into the kitchen where Neny was preparing dinner.  She asked me to sit down at the table and then began pointing and picking up items in the kitchen and telling me their names in Malagasy.  This worked for the first few items, but realizing that she was starting to overwhelm me she began to draw them out on a piece of paper and write the name next to the picture.  This was greatly helpful and appreciated and will serve as a study guide at a later time.  Once dinner was ready, the family all came into the kitchen to eat and we began, again, a failure to communicate.  

 Tour of my Host Family's Home


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