Poop River, Nudity, and Lemurs – Jennifer Nguyen and Christopher Southard, Madagascar 2014-2017
Jennifer and Christopher met while serving as Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar. Apart from serving in different Peace Corps sectors, they had very different experiences. Hear about their time a Peace Corps Madagascar volunteers in the land of mischevious lemurs and fat baobabs.
Photos from Jennifer and Christopher’s Story
Jennifer Nguyen and Christopher Southard’s Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
Jennifer – “I served as a health volunteer on the east coast of Madagascar from February 2015 to March 2017. I had two grant projects – a CLTS latrine project and built a learning center. I helped form the food security committee in Madagascar, participated in the first national GLOW camp, translated for Operation Smile, worked with the Madagascar Water Project to build water pumps in my area, was the VAC rep, taught Zumba classes with another volunteer. On the other hand, I did a ton of traveling – went swimming with whale sharks twice, did a 4-day hike over Andringitra mountain, scuba dived all over, etc.”
Christopher – “I served in Madagascar from 2014-2016 as an education volunteer.”
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
Jennifer – “My mom came to visit me and we were washing my clothes in the river with the rest of the village women and my mom felt uncomfortable with how unsanitary the water was (there were cows walking through and dropping mudpies, men and women were bathing around us, washing their clothes, using the bathroom, washing their food and plates) but it’s what the villagers did and I did what my village did. As we were washing our clothes, my mom was dunking the soapy clothes into the river to get the soap out and a human turd floated right in the spot my shirt was being dunked. She took a moment to process if what she was seeing was right, then she stormed out of the river and said that we were going to fetch water from the well and wash these from the hut no matter how many buckets we needed to wash.”
Christopher – “My first big vacation to Morondava.”
What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?
Jennifer – “Harassment. People trying to break into my hut at night. All of the violent stories that happened in my area. Getting waterboarded by my own sweat each night when I did yoga if I didn’t remember to wrap a towel around my neck when getting into the downward dog position.”
Christopher – “Probably getting mugged in the Capitol.”
What do you miss about Peace Corps?
Jennifer – “I miss the freedom. I miss being able to have a beautiful work-life balance and connection with my community without the external pressures of the western life telling me how I should do things. I miss the happiness of the people around me all the time when they didn’t have reason to be happy by western standards. I miss the crazy things that would happen daily that made all of us laugh and see the treasures in life.
“Christopher – “The PCV community.”
What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?
Jennifer – “How to go with the flow, to not worry about all of the logistics because we would get there and it would all work out. I think the biggest personal thing I learned was that I was so much more capable of many things that I ever expected. Like performing, I would come home to my village after a month of not being there and they would be like “oh, there’s a performance tonight and we put you on the schedule” and I would just do it. I would have never done it in the states but something about the lack of judgment there and that it wouldn’t follow me gave me the confidence to go through with it.”
Christopher – “I learned how to better communicate with a wider range of people. There are so many different personalities and characters that you come across in the peace corps and it was a huge learning experience for me.”
Do you have a favorite quote or local saying?
Jennifer – “Aiza ny volandalana? – Where is my gift? Which was said EVERYYYY SINGLEEE TIMEEEE you left your hut. If there was a phrase that could make a person from 60-0 in an instant, it was that phrase.”
Christopher – “Misy fa lany. It’s a vague statement that means usually we have this thing you want. But we don’t have it right now.”