Nothin’ Like Puking in a Kabone to Make You Miss Home

Woohoo! I have cleared the one month mark at site! The good part is that I now have a feel for my community and therefore I feel relatively comfortable going about my daily activities in Andramasina. The bad part is now that I am settled I am actually supposed to get things accomplished. Bummer.

I have decided to create a running list of ways you know you are a Peace Corps Volunteer in Madagascar. The first item to be added to this list is as follows:

1) You know you are a PCV in Madagascar when you have to use a needle to dig a parasy out of your toe and your only thought is, “Again?”

Don’t know what a parasy is? Well, let me enlighten you. A parasy is actually a type of flea here. It bores into exposed, vulnerable skin (often on the feet due to easy access for the flea) and squats there like an unwanted houseguest getting fatter and uglier by the day. If you don’t dig them out, they can get very sore and infected. So the solution is to delicately take a needle to your foot and dig the sucker out while trying to avoid jabbing yourself. I have had the “pleasure” of hosting two of these little nasties already. See the picture of the latest extraction below (the squeamish have been warned…that means you, Pasha).

I would also like to add:

2) You know you are a PCV in Madagascar when you think you have a really intense sandal tan but then you realize it is just the red dirt thickly coating your feet. Seriously, the dust is suffocating.

3) You know you are a PCV in Madagascar when you have, in a moment of desperation, resorted to using crumpled up notebook paper when there is no toilet paper to be found in your entire town.

4) You know you are a PCV in Madagascar when you have been publicly praised for eating rice. Rice is the center of the universe here. No joke. Also, a favorite question of people in my town is, “Mihinan-bary ve ianao?” – Do you eat rice?

5) You know you are a PCV in Madagascar when the vast majority of your daily conversations are what Americans would refer to as “stating the obvious”. Example: “Manasa lamba?” “Eeeh, manasa lamba. Mitsangatsangana?” “Eeeh, mitsangatsangana.” “Mazotoa” “Misaotra…mazotoa” Translation: “Are you washing clothes?” “Yeah, I’m washing clothes. Are you going for a walk?” “Yeah, I’m going for a walk” “Enjoy” “Thank you…enjoy” I have had this exact conversation too many times to count.

More to be added later.

Oh! Exciting newsflash! Kennedy the cat has returned! My friend Vatsy found him skulking around the neighborhood and brought him back to me. He pouted and meowed like a heathen for awhile but then he ate some fish and promptly fell asleep on my bed. He is still a little skittish but not nearly as bad as he was the day I bought him at the market. Poor little guy. If I were him, I would be mistrustful of humans as well. I posted a much better picture of him below for you all to enjoy. Isn’t he handsome? Best of all, he doesn’t mind when I talk to him in English.

Let’s see…what else happened these past few weeks. Ah yes…I missed three days of work because I have been sick. I started feeling bad as I was giving a kabary at the health clinic one morning. What started out as a bad headache and some unsettling dizziness throughout the course of the day turned into a fever, uncontrollable shivering, and overall feeling like crap. I was never in any real fever never got above 101.6 degrees and I didn’t really have any other symptoms besides the shivering and night sweats. But I have discovered that when you are sick and living all alone in a foreign country, a developing country at that, you tend to think about the worst case scenario. Particularly as a health volunteer, I couldn’t stop myself from mentally running through the list of exotic diseases I might have contracted – malaria, dengue fever, typhoid, and of course, the plague. It doesn’t help that I have always had a rather active imagination. Every logical statement I came up with was easily countered by my ability to stretch reality. My mental dialogues while lying in bed recuperating often went something like this:

Imaginative me: “I have a fever, shivering, night sweats, and I was dizzy that first day. That is four out of the six common symptoms of malaria. That’s it. I have malaria. And I probably have falciparum – the most lethal kind.”
Logical me: “That’s just silly. Those symptoms are shared by a number of other illnesses including the flu and a simple virus. You live in the highlands, you idiot. Getting malaria there would be like finding a Malagasy person who has never eaten rice before. It ain’t happenin’”
Imaginative me: “Okay, fine. It isn’t malaria. It’s dengue fever. The Peace Corps Personal Health Handbook says dengue sufferers describe intense headaches centered around their eyes. Well my head is killing me and it feels like it is right in my eye sockets…ish.
Logical me: “Hypochondriac”
Imaginative me: “Plague! It’s the plague for sure!”

Well, I recuperated relatively well but exactly a week after I fell ill the first time I was struck down once again. This time it was stomach cramps, headache, nausea, and diarrhea (too much information, I know). I was weathering it all pretty well until I had to sprint outside in the middle of the night to the kabone (outhouse) and vomit. There is nothing quite like emptying the contents of your stomach into a hole in the ground outside to make you miss the simple comforts of life in the US. Since that unpleasant incident, my diet has consisted mainly of Pepto-Bismol tablets and crackers bought at the local epicerie. Just goes to show that even with the precautions of boiling water, using filters, and cooking vegetables, illness can and does still occur. Hopefully, my body will remember the Malagasy microbes and be able to mount a better defense in the future.

As far as work goes, I am still trying to figure that one out. At one month in, my Malagasy skills are still relatively weak compared to a native speaker. I am very limited in what I am able to communicate. I still go to the local health clinic every morning and give health talks to the people waiting to see the doctor. This past week was Mother and Child Health Week so I got to help give kids Vitamin A supplements and “ody kankana” (deworming pills). It helps that the supplements and pills are sweet tasting. I have also started doing a Community Diagnostic Survey – something the Peace Corps requires that we do during the first three months of service to get to know our site better. My strategy has been interviewing key people in the community about topics relevant to their area of expertise. For example, I have talked with the heads of the schools about education here in Andramasina and I have talked with the doctors and Medicin Inspecteur about the health situation. The goal is to get to know what resources are already available, what things the community still needs, what are the pressing issues or problems the people face, and what might be possible solutions. When all of the interviews are done I have to type a formal report and submit it to the supervisor of the health volunteers, Tovo. In December, when all the volunteers from the July 2011 stage meet for In-Service Training (IST) we will give brief presentations about the results of our surveys to the group. Eventually, I will have to translate it into Malagasy and present it to my community leaders. That should be fun (oozing sarcasm).

Well, that’s all for now. I love and miss you all! I dream about the US almost every night (my current food daydream obsession involves Cookies n’ Cream ice cream). Veloma!

Parasy Extraction!


Kennedy is "tamana" (well settled)


Me and the "rasazy" (nurses) I work with, Patrick and Marco


My Malagasy counterpart, Dr. Ninah



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ellen Morales
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 16:38:30

    My dear Kim,
    You are one brave, selfless soul. How you inspire me! I can only think that your wonderful outlook and optimism will serve you well. Thanks so much for keeping us posted on your life in Madagascar.

    Are you looking forward to the December IST? Will that be a respite for you?

    Love always,

    P.S. We still are not back at Yost. Now it looks like it will be mid-December before we return.


  2. khconner
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 16:45:08

    Ellen! How I miss the Morales family in my life! I am so glad I am able to share my trials and tribulations with you! I hope you are still having Gray’s Anatomy nights and eating enough popcorn for me too!

    I am definitely looking forward to IST because it will be a chance to reunite with all the wonderful people in my training group (and probably vent about life at site to one another) 😉

    ❤ lots,


  3. Cara
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 04:04:34

    Kim! I love reading your blog…it makes me nostalgic for Mada–here’s one reader who knows far too much about parasys.

    And I enjoy this Twain reunion comment list. 🙂 Email to follow soon…

    <3, Cara


  4. Steve
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 10:30:53

    Hi Kimmie! Very impressed with your blog. Interesting and very well written. You are having an incredible adventure : enjoy!


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