Perceptions

Perceptions are such intense ideas that mold the way you react in situations and to people. I have found from past experiences that once someone tells me something about a certain person or a generalization or how certain events happened to them, I tend to use that to form my own perception of the person. It has also become obvious to me that once I get to know certain people or live through similar events and can form my own opinions, my perceptions change, sometimes quite drastically and I kick myself for letting myself believe that I could feel or view things the same as the next person.

 

This is especially true and something I’ve known about myself for quite a while, and because of this, I know myself well enough to know to take what people say about others with a block of salt and to try to keep an open mind. However, these views on perceptions have become much more relevant and obvious since I’ve joined the Peace Corps. You’re told to join without any expectations and yet they encourage you to read blogs and books and articles about other volunteers that are already living where you’ll be going. It is encouraged to learn the most you can about the country where you’ll be going before you go. True, the information obtained from these resources could prove to be very helpful, but I have learned that reading and researching such things will just put expectations in your head that may be very hard to quit.

 

As a trainee, you arrive to your country and will spend the next 3 months or so in training to prepare you for your next 2 years of service. The training is given by host country natives and current volunteers in your country. It’s crucial. It’s very helpful and you learn so much, but yet at the same time as they give all of these generalizations-they emphasize that it’s very different in each town, school, situation, for how each person may deal with certain situations. So many variables go into each experience that while you may be living in the same country-your experience will not even be remotely similar (minus that you’re an English teacher, speaking a new language, some of those huge generalizations) to that of someone else. After all, you’re a different person and react to and deal with situations differently.

 

Even the host country trainers may have completely different experiences than yours, maybe they grew up in the city and you’ll be based in the countryside, or maybe they tend to be able to shrug off negative emotions quicker than you, who knows, but this just goes to say that there are many factors that go into this. Volunteer trainers are an even more different story. The pictures they paint in the trainees’ minds seem to stick longest and hardest, after all, these are your peers telling you what you’ll be experiencing. You’ve just arrived in the country you’ll be living in for the next 27 months and you’re desperate for any information because the unknown and the future task seem exciting and yet daunting and gleaming any bit of information you can will help you form your perception and create expectations.

 

I remember throughout training reminding myself to not create my perceptions based on these stories, but it was nearly impossible to do and I was clinging on to every word of every story our trainers ever shared. At the time, I obviously didn’t see the danger in that. However, as I’m closing up my service soon I’ve been evaluating my time and realize that so many of my perceptions were so wrong. Disclaimer: I’m not blaming the trainers, that’s just what happens when stories are shared about anyone or anything at anytime, also, these perceptions came from how I interpreted the stories and not necessarily the stories themselves.

 

In particular, I remember our trainers talking and telling stories about cheating in schools. Having 80+ students in one classroom makes it nearly impossible to catch all the cheaters/eradicate cheating. I also remember them stating things like, “they just don’t know it’s wrong,” “the other teachers don’t care, so why bother stopping it,” “they’ve always done it and that’s just what they know.” These are just a few of the statements that stuck in my mind and contributed to my own expectations and perceptions being formed.

 

I spent my whole first year of teaching struggling with the cheating problem, especially with this idea that “they don’t know it’s wrong.” It wasn’t until this year that I realized that was half the difference between my first and second year of teaching; I was able to finally form my own opinions and perceptions the second year based on my own experience in my own situation. My students knew full well that cheating was wrong, otherwise they wouldn’t try to hide it when I walked by, or wouldn’t look at me so much to make sure I wasn’t looking before they cheated (and there I go, interpreting my own experiences to form my very strong opinion). It’s true that it is something they have always done because some teachers are not sticklers on stopping it, but that doesn’t mean that the teachers don’t care. The conversations I’ve had with some of the teachers at my school and by that I mostly mean, conversations I’ve listened in on amongst the teachers at my school is that they don’t like cheating. It’s just one of those problems that is really difficult to stop and will probably result in students disliking you as a teacher. Respect from the students is already such a hard trait to earn that adding one more strike on yourself, is not ideal. Also, it seems to be part of the culture to avoid conflict and confrontation if at all necessary, which also explains the cheating problem.

 

Anyway, that is just one example that is clear to see how destructive taking perceptions from others as a reality for your own perceptions can be. It’s also been especially relevant as we just had a few new PCVs move in the area a few months ago and I want to be careful with my statements and suggestions/stories because I don’t want to paint false pictures in their heads about experiences I may have interpreted completely differently than they will. I also am struggling with how much to actually tell my replacement. I want to tell them everything-who’s cool, who to stay away from, what to do, what not to do, but then I realize that I would just be contributing to those false perceptions. Perhaps my replacement has a completely different personality than me and will get along perfectly fine with those that I have struggled with and who am I to put negative ideas in their minds about people or experiences?

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Growth

As you may know, I have no younger siblings and aside from my younger cousins, I never really had much interaction with babies and toddlers. They always kind of scared me, I didn’t want to drop them or didn’t know how to play with them.

Well, that hasn’t changed, they still scare me most of the time, but I have come to realize the beauty and the incredibleness that is a growing child.

 

My neighbors have youngsters. One boy, Ezio, is about 2.5 years and the other two are twin boys, Mamy and Tantelly (translated to Sweet and Honey), are almost 2. As I have nearly reached nearly 2 years of Mamy sy Tantellyliving in Ampasina, I’ve been able to watch them grow for the majority of their lives’. When I first arrived, my interactions with them were limited due to my own concerns and uncertainty of children. As they have grown older, I can often enjoy their company, but what I have really enjoyed is just watching them. I see them day in and day out. I have been around watching them learn how to crawl, stand up, walk, start speaking. That may sound a little creepy, but really, sometimes I just sit on my porch and watch them. I am so amazed at how quickly they learn and catch on to things. The three of them have become best friends and it’s intriguing to watch how they talk and how they care for each other. Out of the 3 kids, Tantelly, is the smallest and a little behind Mamy in learning. So many times, when Tantelly was learning to walk and fell down and would start crying, I watched Mamy go and reach his hand down for Tantelly to grab, to stand up, and for them to walk together, this was paired with mutterings that meant “Come on, let’s go.” Immediately the crying would cease and they would continue on their happy little way. Now they are much more talkative and talk to each other so much and even holler for each other from across the school grounds. They have been learning so quick and picking up on so many things.

 

EzioIt just amazes how quick and hard their little brains and minds are working every minute and to see that growth over time has been an eye-opening experience for me. These little boys have become my little sunshines everyday and I love when I immediately come onto the school grounds after going to the market and hearing “Dabi-o” repeated over and over. Ezio has also been going to school and can now practice counting in English as well as greet me every morning at my door with a “good morning Dabi.”

 

Child-rearing is somewhat of a community responsibility here and at first it was weird for me to get them in trouble and tell them not to do things when I didn’t know how their parents would react. Since then, I’ve grown accustomed to contributing to their discipline and feeding them and entertaining them and talking with them. In fact, one day in particular I was laying on my stomach on my floor, reading a magazine (thanks to my Uncle’s care packages) and before I knew it all three of them were imitating me and we were all looking through the National Geographic together. That moment in particular just made me realize how much I care for these little tikes.

 Malagasy Children

I now understand a little better how much parents love their children and the attachment that grows along with all the memories of watching them grow and raising them. Watching human beings that I’m close to grow every day has filled me with awe throughout my time here.

Picture This…

Scenario 1:

Every Wednesday I run hill repeats not too far down the road. Since winter is here (or nearly) it is actually getting pretty chilly here. However, this particular Wednesday I  decided to wear a tank top and my running shorts (which are mid-thigh at best) because it was a rather warm morning. That is my usual attire for when I go running and my community are efa zatra (already used to) seeing me like this.

Ok, so I run to the bottom of the hill to warm-up and this day, I had to really push myself out the door. Knowing that I would need some extra motivation, I brought my iPod, which is something I never do when I run.

Made it to the bottom of the hill and I look up and already dread the ascent. I hear several men’s voices , which I thought odd, because even though there are a few houses at the top, there usually aren’t too many people-especially not men gathered. Thinking nothing else of it, I press play, take a deep breath and start running up. As I run, I look down to watch my footing. I finally made it to the top huffing and puffing, I start to turn around to go back down, but I look up briefly enough to see 40-50 men and women gathered, sitting around.

I realized immediately someone must have died (I’ll explain that more in-depth in another post), but I clearly wasn’t dressed appropriately. Within 10 seconds I turned back around to face the people and decided instead of being completely rude and leaving right away, I was going to sit for a few minutes to pay my respects (even though I have no idea who it was). Some women invite me to their tsihy (woven mat). I sat.

Not more than 30 seconds later, one of my mofo (bread) ladies comes over and asks if I have money to give to the family, as is culturally expected. I knew this, but I explained that I never carry anything when I run and I had no idea of this before (obviously, otherwise I would’ve changed my workout plan).

Anyway, this woman says “let’s go, you need to change into a lambahoany and get some money and then we’ll come back and sit for a few hours.” Everytime I’ve done this before I always sit/stand around no more than 30 minutes because I’ve gone with other teachers, but this time was different. We walked home, I changed into the culture dress, put some money in an envelope and returned.

After entering the house and giving the envelope to the family, we sat for about 3 hours. And that was how my morning plans changed.

 

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Scenario 2:

My PCV friend and I just finished a conversation talking about most of the white men that live in Madagascar and marry Malagasy women for maybe questionable motives. Anyway, there seems to be a general lack of interest in these men and their intentions by most other people, especially PCVs.

 

I had just gotten into a bush taxi to go home from Fenerive, when I saw this old vazaha (foreigner/white person) wearing a KU 2015 Veterans Run t-shirt. Being the first shirt I’ve seen in country from KU, I got incredibly excited.

I was sitting in the middle of the car, so I had the 2 girls by the window call to the vazaha.. I myself was confused whether I should holler ‘hey you’ or ‘anio’ (come here) or what. The guy waved at first but wasn’t coming by the sight of the girls . I stuck my head out far enough so he could see. I had this huge, silly smile plastered all over my face. He didn’t seem to share my excitement and reluctantly crossed the street to come to the window.

I had already assumed that because he was wearing a KU shirt he must be working with an NGO or researching or doing something reputable as such.

He came over and I instinctively said bonjour and then asked in English if you went to KU?!!

Yeah…he didn’t smile and continued talking in French. It took about 2 minutes of him blabbing very quickly, me stumbling with a French, Gasy, and English mix to say  that I was only interested in his shirt. He said something about Le Reunion and how it was just a t-shirt. My heart was crushed. Sigh.