Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Zaza kely

If there's one commonality among all Peace Corps volunteers around the world, it's the frequency of our interactions with kids. Children, in their natural openness and curiosity, tend to glom on to Peace Corps volunteers in any town-- visiting our houses, saying emphatic hellos, and wanting to help us with daily tasks. I often find myself acting as a sort of combination Pied Piper/court jester for the under-10 set in my neighborhood of Vangaindrano. On days when I am feeling just "over it" and sick of my town and Peace Corps life, I can always count on my little kid (zaza kely, in Malagasy) crew to cheer me up. Here are some photos of some of my favorite little ones:

These are 4 of my favorite girls, and I just love this photo of them. From left to right it's Prisca, Marinah, Rojo (pronounced "rood-zoo"), and Lanisa. I just love Lanisa's little hand-on-hip pose, and the fact that my cat Harry wandered into the picture. Sadly, Rojo and the rest of her family (including her little sister Fenitra who was my absolute favorite) moved to Tana back in October, so I will probably never see her again.
One thing that irks me about this country is that it's bad luck to say that a kid is cute, because there is a superstition that cute kids will be snatched away by some evil spirit. So to 'protect' a kid, you're not ever supposed to comment on his or her adorableness. And since there is also a widely-circulated myth that vazahas (white foreigners) steal babies, I REALLY can't ever say a kid is cute. The problem with this is that there are so many absolutely adorable children, and not being able to say something kills me! So to get around it I say that they are really good at smiling, or something similar.

This little girl, Sarobidy ("precious" in Malagasy) was one of the best parts of my homestay experience during my training in Mantasoa. She came to stay with my host family about a week after I arrived-- I think she was a cousin-- and she just brightened my life whenever I saw her. She loved posing like this for photos and she always had a smile on her face when she saw me and would exclaim "AIM-LEEEEE!" My favorite memory of her is when I was going to fetch water with her and my host sisters Eva and Tanya, and I was wearing my sunglasses (as I always have to in this intense sunlight). Suddnely Sarobidy decided that she absolutely had to wear sunglasses too, and refused to go with us unless she had a pair on like me. So after a mini (comical) tantrum, Eva lent her a pair of hers. Watching this little toddler wearing oversize sunglasses while walking to the water pump was one of the cutest things I have ever seen.

This photo captures one of my favorite Peace Corps memories, one which really epitomized the barrier-breaking cultural interactions you can have when you embrace openness and spontaneity. I took this on the beach in Manakara back in August 2012, when I was hanging out with my friends Matt, Emily, and Nick. We were just chilling on the beach when a bunch of kids came over and started flying their homemade kite next to us. We asked them if we could help/play along, and then Matt asked them if they wanted us to bury them in the sand. Naturally, to a kid, this sounds awesome-- why NOT get buried in the sand? So we got to work, and the kids screamed and laughed and generally had a silly, fun time. I love the combined look of joy and terror on their faces in this picture.

This little ham--  he of the funny faces-- is Fanomeja ("gift" in Malagasy). He's really become one of my favorites, and unlike some of the other kids who decided it was no longer cool to hang out with me after a while, has stuck by my side. He loves to come over and color and has also been helping me in my garden lately. He is definitely one of the poorest kids in my neighborhood, and usually only has one threadbare set of clothes that he wears. So I decided that for Vingt-Six (Malagasy independence day), I would buy him a shirt and pair of pants at a frip (used clothing) seller so that he would have a nice outfit to wear on the holiday like all of the other kids. I told him to come over to my house (so that I could give it to him without all the other kids knowing), and he was so excited to have a nice set of clothes that he changed into them right then and there. Usually I'm kind of against just buying stuff for people, but he is such a genuinely sweet kid that I wanted to do something nice for him.
Here I am (looking extremely unglamorous) with my little neighbor friend, who is also named Sarobidy. I've watched him grow up into a toddler who knows how to say my name, and without fail, he'll squeak out "'kor ab' Ay-ee" (his best attempt at saying "Akory aby Emily") every time I pass by his house. Woe to me if I forget to say hi to him back! Lately I've been indulging him by giving him little rides on the back of my bike (while I walk my bike and hold on to him), and much to his constant delight, giving him piggyback rides as well.
Finally, no blog post about kids would be complete without a picture of them coloring at my house. One of the best things I did was get a set of colored pencils from a volunteer who COSed (finished his service) and invite the neighborhood kids to come over and draw pictures or color in coloring books (which my mom has been sending in care packages). In the beginning, I had them sign all of their pictures, which really helped me learn all of their names. Now they're all extremely zatra (accustomed to) coming over and using the pencils, paper, and books. In the process, they get to practice sharing and picking up after themselves. And, I love that they get to have an outlet for creative expression, which is something these kids rarely have a chance to do.




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