Probably my last American experience this summer…

“Let’s go Mets, let’s go Mets”…I heard that a lot in NYC, not in DC LOL

My 2nd baseball game in the US…probably my last American experience this summer

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Wow I cannot believe I leave back home on Monday. It’s really crazy how time has gone so fast. As it is always said though “it is not the end, it is a new beginning”. I have really been so blessed I got to be part of this summer program Mandela Washington Fellowship…

Now that I am heading back to Madagascar very soon, I really wanted to enjoy my last few days to the fullest. I mean I always did but now that the D-Day is drawing near, my desire to enjoy my American life has grown way stronger. haha. Hard to explain but yeah it is true 😛

I heard about September 25 baseball game through Peace Corps.

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I was super excited I’d be going and guess what…I even made a request to bear the Malagasy flag and run in the field 😛 That could have been so coool, right? I am saying that could have been so cool because it unfortunately didn’t happen due to rain. I was not raining cats and dogs but it was just raining so the game was canceled for that night.

Good news is I came back with friends the day after and watched the game with them 🙂 A Malagasy lady (me) with 2 American friends (Crystal and Sam) watching a very American sport…INTERESTING 🙂 DSCN2541

New York Mets vs Washington Nationals…I don’t really have a favorite team…I mean not yet. I guess this is probably because I don’t get all the rules yet. Also, I haven’t seen them play enough so I can’t assume what team is better over the other one. It was a lot of fun, though.

You wanna know what made it fun to me?

  • The vibe…I thought of my Rutgers friends when I watched the game because my first baseball game experience was in New York City with them when we left New Jersey to head to NYC for a cultural visit. Thought of them so much that I even decided to wear my Rutgers hoody and my Rutgers top 🙂 The vibe was not similar to the Mets Game in NYC on July 4. It was certainly quieter and it was not that crowded I guess partly because the game was rescheduled. But I loved the vibe despite that. A lot of clappings and a ton of aaaaahhh’s. I wish we could have done the wave, though.

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  • Culture exchange…I have always been convinced that in order for someone to be 100% exposed with a culture, they have to love exploring anything related to this culture. It could be music, food, art, or whatever. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I went too. I was literally looking forward to experiencing a baseball game in live outside of the TV screen and the movies that I see. Trust me it is so fun to see how excited people are about the whole thing. The game was really great but let me share with you one of my takeaways…If you are not from America and if you are reading this, did you know that there is a baseball game that everybody knows? I actually did not know that exists. That was cool to me to see people sing it all together. Sounded like an old song to my ears. My camera was dead when it all happened but I looked it up and check out what I got:

Geez!!! I was right. It took us to the eighties…to be accurate it was sung in 1908. Last thing, there was also the presidents’ race. Honestly if I had not come to the game, there is no way I could have known about this because it is not the part of the baseball game they would show in the movies, is it?

  • The pride behind it…I normally don’t like too much pride. I do love humility instead. But here the pride that I saw was very okay. The folks who came to Nationals Park that night are very proud of Washington Nationals and I could tell. Why do you think they would have worn all RED (the team’s color) if they are not proud of that team? That would not make any sense. To me, that “pride” or whatever it might be called was awesome. It was such a great way to support the team. I actually wore a red top too…to be precise, I wore Rutgers hoody. Woooohoooo!!!! 🙂

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  • Knowledge…I know everything now is on-line and that being said you can look up “baseball” on the internet. Wikipedia can tell a whole thing about baseball (they are pretty good at that job) but honestly reading what Wikipedia says about baseball is not as knowledgeable as the live event. Wikipedia can definitely say what the rules are, what the names of the players are, what the baseball story is all about, etc but trust me they cannot tell how the game details are like for example…like how the seats look like or what you can see near the seat..that might be meaningless to you but to me it is not haha. What you see around during the game, what people are talking about related to the game is all about knowleadgale…don’t get me wrong I love wikipedia but I am sorry to tell you they don’t have that knowledge yet 😛

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At some point I was a little bit disappointed I could not go to Six Flags (I have always dreamed about going to a theme park in the US) but I am glad at least I went to a baseball game…so much fun! If one day you decide America to be your next stop, you should write baseball in your to-do list 🙂 So thankful to God for this amazing American experience!!!

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What do you think the Americans think of us?

If you are an American and if you are reading this post, let me ask you this question: “What do you know about Africa?”…You do not have to give me the answer. Just try to reflect on that question quickly and I am going to ask you to be honest with yourself….Now after reflecting, do you think you know much about Africa? If your answer is YES then congratulations, that is really cool 🙂 If you said “NO I do not know much about Africa”, don’t worry, it is totally fine. That is partly what people like me are in the US for, right?

One of the things that I really enjoy when I introduce myself here in the United States of America is the “I am from Madagascar” part. You might wonder why.

         1. I love to see the weird faces people make when I say “Madagascar”. You never know what these faces mean actually. I normally just kind of make a guess. Either they have NEVER heard of Madagascar or another option they assume they know Madagascar because they have seen the movie…To name a few, some would be like: “Wow I have never met anyone from Madagascar.” I would also get “I didn’t even know Madagascar is a country”…Some would come up with something I have never thought of “So it is not your real hair, is it?”  

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         2. That gives me the opportunity to get the word out about my lovely country and my rich continent. Before I even knew I was selected to be part of this Young African Leaders Initiative Program (Mandela Washington Fellowship), I didn’t expect the Americans to know my country that much. That being said, it has not been a shock to me when I realized not many of them know my dear island. Instead, I have personally taken it as an opportunity to get the word out about Madagascar. Do you want to know the very cool challenge I have promised myself to do at least once a day here? Talking to at least one American person about Madagascar wherever I go. I didn’t set any rules, though. I would always find a way to get the word out. I do that on way back home from Peace Corps Headquarters where I am interning, I do that when I go to CVS, H&M, Marshall’s, Ross, Payless, Macy’s…you name it. I am actually trying to think outside of the box, go ahead and let people know about Madagascar in different ways (sometimes weirdly enough but it does work lol). The feedback has been pretty positive so far. Same thing…people here do not know much about Africa. Most of the time they would portrait Africa as South Africa, Nigeria, etc…I guess like the Africans in general portraying the US as NYC or LA. I guess this is a matter of education. We need to educate ourselves and know what is happening outside of our little bubble. I think that would be a great start for the American people too, educating themselves. TV news, movies, e-stuff can definitely tell us some accurate things about a specific country but believe me they do not say it all. So much to discover in this world.

You know what? I am VERY HOPEFUL about that issue. I do know that people in America in general do not seem to know much about Africa, the multiple countries in the African continent and really just any countries which are not in the US. Do you know why I seem so hopeful? Thanks to American people like Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) I can smile and hope that we are not alone in this advocacy process. Interacting with the American volunteers from Peace Corps during the Blog It Home event actually made me even more hopeful. http://www.peacecorps.gov/media/forpress/press/2426/ For those who have no idea what I am talking about. Blog It Home is an amazing blogging contest that Third Goal department at Peace Corps Headquarters organized to promote the third goal of Peace Corps which is to make a better understanding of the countries of service where the PCVs went to when they are back in America. I was really fortunate to get to hear from the inspiring winners who are current volunteers in Uganda, Democratic Republic, Senegal, Cameroon, China, Albania and Guinea. As winners, they were taken from their countries of service to Washington DC for a few days to get the word out about their countries of service in America. I was totally blown away by how they would share the world about their countries. (let me show you a couple of photos I took with them when we went to VOA to talk about their experiences). 

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What they mentioned during the broadcast actually touched me so much. I honestly got emotional at some point when I realized how much they care they care about their counterparts in their countries of service…they love their experiences as American volunteers. They love the countries where they serve. I loved it when one of them mentioned something like “Guinea is not just all about Ebola. It is a nice country with AMAZING people. I love it there SO MUCH. I wish I could have stayed there.” Feel free to check out the winners’ blogs on the website I wrote earlier.

Getting to know a country and its people is just a matter of choice. It is never too late if you don’t know who we are, what we wear, what we look like, what we eat, what our language sounds like, what the color of our flag is…it is totally okay not to know…Planet Earth is huge so you can never assume “you know it all” because there is always some things to learn. You do not know anything about Africa? You have no idea where in the map Madagascar is located? It is totally fine too. It is never too late to change that. Look it up on Google, read articles, save up money and think of travel as an option to spend your bucks on, talk to as many foreigners as possible, try to know them and do not assume they are the spokesmen of the entire population in their countries…Try not to make things general. When I am back in Madagascar next week, do you think I am not going to say “In the US, you pay a lot of money to park your car”…I would lie if I said so because that is certainly what I saw in Washington DC but when I went to some places in Virginia and Maryland, I just didn’t see that anymore. Now you know what I am talking about, right? 🙂

…I am going to stop here for now. Now to give you a taste of what you can see in my beautiful island Madagascar, I advise you to go to Smithsonian – Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater and watch the Island of Lemurs: Madagascar: An IMAX 3D Experience…and hey guys after you watch this video please do not assume that wherever you go in Madagascar lemurs would jump on your shoulders…I am from the capital Antananarivo and you would not see them in the street. I wish though because they are sooo cuuuuute 🙂 I am sure you will love them as much as I do.

This video is a bonus…it is the trailer of the documentary I am inviting you guys to see. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_7cVyM8Efg It is narrated by Morgan Freeman. Enjoy and let me know if you want Madagascar to be your next stop 🙂

YALI program…what is that?

“Young African Leaders Initiative? hum…what is that?” (frowning)


 At home, where I am from in Madagascar, most people know what YALI program is. The US Embassy did such a great work to get the word out. As a result, people would hear about the program on the radio; people would see what it is all about on TV; I even happened to come across YALI posters at school, in the bus, on the papers…on Facebook. I even shared it on my Facebook timeline so that those who are interested may apply as well.

Now the interesting question is: do people know what YALI program is here in the US? The answer is NO they don’t. You may wonder why.

  1. Maybe it is because there are a ton of programs in the US?!?  To name a few, I would mention Humphrey and Fulbright. Quite a few know Fulbright or at least have heard of it. I guess it is maybe because Fulbright recipients are way more numerous than YALI fellowship recipients?! Americans and international students can all apply for Fulbright and A LOT of Fulbright scholarships are given all around the world…at least as far as I know. http://us.fulbrightonline.org/ But it is not the case of YALI just yet.
  2. Maybe because it is still a very recent program?! YALI (Young African Leaders Initiative), recently called Mandela Washington Fellowship is such a new program. President Obama initiated it in 2010 and even by then the process was pretty different insofar as the fellows did not have to go through a very long application. They were nominated. Aside from their being nominated, they didn’t get to attend a 6-week academic institute. Theirs was shorter than ours but certainly was as fruitful as ours too. Just so you know, YALI 2014 brought 500 out of the African 50,000 young leaders who applied to be part of the program. https://youngafricanleaders.state.gov/ All 50,000 applied  and only 500 made it to the US for a 6-week academic institute, a 3-day presidental summit and a 2-month internship for those who were selected to do so. I cannot speak on behalf of all the African fellows but in my country Madagascar 500 AMAZING young leaders applied to be part of this summer program but God decided only 7 of us would make it here. Also, it is such a blessing that I get to intern at one of the agencies which inspires me the most in the States, Peace Corps headquarters. FYI, only 100 out of the 500 fellows are selected to intern in a US non-profit or organization.
  3. Maybe not many Americans care about our continent… I don’t know if “care” is the right word here. I am not totally sure if I should say “know” or “think about” our dear continent either. But one thing is sure, to me it is very unfortunate how Africa is portrayed here in United States of America. Some people, not everybody though, picture Africa more like a country than a continent with a lot of different and unique countries in it. So instead of saying: “People in X country do not wear shoes”, they would say “People in Africa do not wear shoes.” First of all, even for the 1st sentence “People in X country do not wear shoes”. Maybe they read an article about people going barefoot in a specific place in that X country and then they ended up making that assumption for all Africans. I mean I do not blame them for not knowing much about Africa. That is partly why I am here right? Raising awareness of what Africa and of course what Madagascar is like has been super challenging but certainly interesting to me. Every time I introduce myself, a bunch of people would go “MADAGASCAR”?????? (frowning) after the “I am from Madagascar” part of my small introduction. haha I will devote a post to telling you guys about that chapter but for now just know that the Americans’ not knowing much about Africa should make us challenged to get the word out about our FABULOUS continent Africa. We know how AMAZING and BEAUTIFUL their country is. It is now our turn to make the Americans aware how AMAZING ours is too. 

 

I personally applied for YALI program because like you I have a ton of dreams and I wanted to make them come into reality.

  •  I have always dreamed of pursuing my education in the US. To implement my projects, I have always thought applying for the Fulbright Program or Atlas Corps would be the RIGHT thing to do…which was not God’s plan for me then because I have never been eligible. We have to have a Bachelor’s degree to be eligible and I still do not hold a Bachelor’s degree. Guess what? No need to hold a Bachelor’s degree to be eligible for YALI Program. YALI team will be more interested in you as person; they will be willing to know what you have been doing in your community; they are more interested in knowing what you have done as a leader…etc. I thank God He made one of my dreams come true when He sent me to Rutgers University as part of this AWESOME program.
  • I have always wanted to create an NGO. Initially my thought was to create an NGO aimed to empowering street children, orphaned and children with disabilities by utilizing camps as an educational system but thanks to YALI Program that dream gave birth to another dream…YALI opened up my eyes on how I can make it all happen and what also needs to be done. Very challenging, still but God will make a way, right? 🙂
  • I have always wanted to contribute in developing Madagascar my own way …I cannot change Madagascar and I cannot change the world but I can definitely contribute in changing it with God’s help. Madagascar is not a poor country. We have a lot of gifted and nice people, amazing nature, worth-listening history, great values (I can make a LONG list about our riches) in our beautiful island but we, the Malagasy people in general, just do not know how to make good use of these treasures. Being part of YALI Program made me aware of what I can do to be the change I want to see in Madagascar. I truly believe in what Mahatma Gandhi said — ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ We should stop blaming people for what is happening around. We should just go ahead and change our own way what we do not like. I know Madagascar is not doomed to failure and I know Africa is not condemned to be labelled “poor continent” forever. Guys let’s do this together as a team!!!!!

If there is an African person reading this post, think of that opportunity if you feel like being part of this change-making process in our lovely continent. Apply for YALI…oops now it is called Mandela Washington Fellowship 🙂

https://youngafricanleaders.state.gov/washington-fellowship/

 

Just feel like showing you one of my favorite photos of my fellows at Rutgers University during the 1st 6-week academic institute.

 

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Unexpected tour of the White House…

God never fails to amaze me everyday


Lord Jesus always blows me away. He definitely surprises me when I expect it the least. When I was in Madagascar prior my being selected to be part of this Mandela Washington fellowship 2014, I’d heard so many people say something like “After the 6-week academic institute in different US universities, all the 500 Young African Leaders Initiative fellows will attend a 3-day summit with President Obama at the White House.” Of course I didn’t apply for that reason but honestly who wouldn’t be thrilled to enter the White House? 😛

Big surprise: God just decided I’d be among the selected 500 fellows out of the 50,000 applicants all around Africa. Ii went to Rutgers University during the very first 6 weeks and now it turns out that the summit took place in the hotel where we, all the fellows, were staying. It was a terrific summit. I LOVED it so much and I am still thankful for it but like honestly the White House thing still didn’t get out of my mind. haha. My fellows were quite disappointed at some point…but guess what? 2 weeks prior the end of our 2-month internship in the States, I read my email inbox and i just get aware the White House sent us an invitation to take a tour of the White House. Who do you think wouldn’t be excited about that? I did not necessarily jump like I always do but I was super happy 🙂

We actually were not allowed to bring cameras, video recorders, handbags, bookbags, backpags or purses, food or beverages, personal grooming items (i.e. makeup, lotion, etc.) That being said, I actually only took my room key, my phone and my passport with me. Also, I brought along my umbrella because it was starting to rain.

Taking a tour of the White House was pretty exciting to me. We got in a couple of rooms; to name a few we entered the Blue Room, the Red Room, the Green Room, the Dining Room…We got to see old pictures of US presidents and their First Ladies everywhere. Those are probably things that you could see on the internet but the fact that you actually made it there instead makes the whole thing different. You get to see on live where they are having dinner, where the important events at the White House are happening, etc. I also loved to see the family pictures on the walls. One of the photos that struck me was a photo where President Obama was playing on the yard with Malia, Sasha and their dog. It might not mean anything to people but it does mean a lot to me because I love my dad and I am among those people who are convinced that fathers can influence their children’s lives forever. Fathers should resolve to live by as the leader all along mothers. That is what the photo showed to me. He devoted time to playing with his kids and sharing a moment of joy with them. That is just fabulous. That also made me aware that if you are a president it doesn’t mean that you neglect your responsibility as a parent. I would personally judge a president’s leadership by seeing how well he is within his own family.

I am not going to make any comments on my photos but I will let you make them speak 🙂 Just feel like sharing how grateful and thankful to God I am for this opportunity to enter the White House and to be invited to see what it is in there. I really love to say “God is great” because to me He really is 🙂

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How would I describe my experience here in 10 minutes?

10 minutes would obviously be not enough to describe my experience here in the States. Honestly I could write a whole book about that but for the sake of time I know I would not have enough time to do so even if I wanted to….maybe one day 🙂

I actually devoted 10 minutes of my time to making this video in the hope of giving you guys a quick overview of my experience here. This is not the best description ever, YET but I will get there when I have time.

 

How does it feel to be far away from home?

“If you read all my posts, you would know this stay in the US is my very first experience abroad. If you read all my posts you would also know that I am more than thankful to God”

“Do you miss home?” Friends, colleagues, random people and family ask me that question very often here. What do you think I say? Well I always come up with the same answer: “I miss people but I do not miss home yet” haha. You might say “Hold on Gaëlle! What the heck are you saying? That does not make any sense at all.” You know what? I think people are right at some point but I guess I am not totally wrong either.

I only have 3 weeks to go now before flying back to Madagascar and my feeling is very hard to explain. So from today on, if people keep asking me the “how-does-it-feel-to-be-far-away-from-home-like question” then I would probably say: “how much time do you have”? because I am going to come up with 4 bullets. haha

  • I miss what is in that house

Our house is nothing like a 4-star hotel but I love it there because the love of my life after Jesus is in there (my lovely dad), the loveliest people I can share my craziest thoughts with are also in there (my 2 sisters), the most caring stepmother I’d ever had stops by there every Sunday and the sweetest stepsister God has blessed me with is probably giggling and thinking about me now that I am not over there.

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  • I miss these smiling faces 

I feel very far away from my family. Sometimes my sister and I make jokes about swimming across the Atlantic Ocean but sometimes I kind of mean it and wish she could do it and come see me here in the States. haha. I don’t want her to die so forget about it. lol Honestly sometimes it is hard to see their smiling faces in the photos when you know these are only photos.Sometimes you wish they could get access to internet 24/7 and skype call with you after work, when you are doing cool stuff during the weekends or when you are eating yummy food…I wish. Internet connection is still out of reach for them. I hope and I am praying my dear Madagascar will figure that out soon because I know I am not the only one who wants to be connected with their peers badly.

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  • I miss expressing love 

After my dad left the hospital last October, I got aware even more that God wanted me to be as close to my dad as I’d ever been before. Dad would always be the one who goes: “I love you” and I would always be the wise daughter who says back: “me too”. Things have changed ever since. From this moment on, I feel very comfortable with saying first: “Dad, I love you so much” without getting goose bumps. haha. Now I honestly miss hugging my dad, kissing my dad, and saying : “Je t’aime fiston” (literally meaning :I love you son haha)

love my dad with all my heart

I have been in the United States of America now for over 2 months. I love my experience and I cherish every single moment I got to spend in New Jersey, Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, Philadelphia and New York City. This program Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) recently called Mandela Washington Fellowship is definitely my prayers being answered. Believe it or not but Rutgers University is truly the BEST academic institution I’d ever been to in my entire life and Peace Corps headquarters is definitely the work environment I’d always dreamed of. God blessed me this amazing opportunity and I am so grateful and thankful for that.

I just guess missing your loved ones from home is part of the experience. It is not necessarily a bad thing. It actually is a good sign. I guess it means I am normal 🙂

“That’s how you know you love someone, I guess, when you can’t experience anything without wishing the other person were there to see it, too.”
Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Descendants

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What is it like to go shopping in the US?

I have always been a super big fan of shopping. Back home my favorite shopping spot is called “Tsenan’ny Mahamasina”. It is like a flea market where they sell second-hand stuff. One more thing you should know about me: I am crazy about dresses and board games so these are always on top of my list every time I go shopping 🙂

The United States of America just drove me even crazier about shopping. If my VISA card could speak it would probably say “Shoot!! Gaëlle, why do you get rid of me that way! You will end up broke” haha

I know I still have 6 weeks to go before I head back to Madagascar but you know….everything here is just so tempting. Great packaging, decoration is not to blame, food smells good, everything is well displayed, customer service is amazingly amazing….so believe me or not, you always wanna spend your money lol

Let me tell you what the shopping culture in the States is like. Don’t get me wrong! Just saying my point of view…People love to go to the malls.  and yeaaaah I understand why. Malls are amazing places to be. When I was in New Jersey I got lost in the mall. I felt so stupid at some point because I had a very big map on but still it did not help much. The mall was so huge. You would see literally everything you need in there. You can spend a whole day in a mall in the US. Just make sure you have enough money. lol

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My 3 top coolest things about going shopping in the US…


  1. You can try everything on

 This photo below was taken when I went to Buffalo Exchange http://www.buffaloexchange.com/location-details/washingtondc Bought a very trendy pair of shoes at only 23 bucks.  I am sure you would love that Ralph Lauren high-heeled shoes I bought if you saw it 🙂

In that pic, I was in the changing room taking selfies lol Can you believe this? In the States, thrift stores have changing rooms? The Americans are such great marketers, aren’t they? I was like “wooooow!!! really?” I wish we had that in the “frip places” in Madagascar haha…one day, for sure 🙂

What makes it even more special? You can try as many clothes/shoes or whatever as you want. When you go to the changing room, they would give you that “thing” with a number on it. Say you wanna try on 2 dresses, 1 skirt and a hat. Let’s say in total you wanna try on 4 items. If you don’t fit in any of them or if you just decided that you do not want them anymore or if you just figured out you are broke for example, you can just leave the items and go.

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 People do not get offended. They would still smile at you and come up with the same but very kind words “have a good one!!” 🙂 

    2. You can buy and give back

Okay so I bought this smartphone last week. FYI it is very practical in the US to have a smartphone because you can have internet wherever you go. I personally bought it because I love to walk around after work and on the weekends but since I always get lost (lol), I just got aware what I needed is either a person who can constantly show me the way or a smartphone. I am sure no one is willing to follow me everywhere so I ended up buying the simplest smartphone I saw on Amazone.

With smartphone you can check out what the GPS says. Reminded me of Gad Elmaleh haha. Google map, very intelligent, will tell you where to go too. It will tell you the time it will take you to walk, to bike or to drive to your very destination….very coool hum!! 🙂

So this smartphone is acting up already so I am going to return it this week. Bought it on Amazone and it is all fine. They will not be upset or whatever when I return it. That is part of the customer service. Isn’t that so cool? Back home some people would swear you if you did that. Wish that changed! Some shops do allow you to return what you bought but not all shops though. Hopefully one day….hopeful 🙂

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    3. You can check out on your own

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In some places in the US you will get to do what I am doing in that photo. You check out on your own. I had trouble doing it at first because I did not know how to check out the vegetables and fruits so I took them piece by piece; which was so funny. haha

It is only later I got aware that I actually had to weigh them all and click on the sign on the screen which matches the item that I am weighing. Great experience!!!!! Funny but fun too 🙂 Hats off to America! They think outside of the box a lot! I also know there are a ton of smart Malagasy people who can work on things like that. Time to wake up, people!!!!!!! 🙂 We can do it too! We are not dumb. God blessed us with so many gifted people so why wouldn’t we make it?

Many things you see here in the States like this machine will make you realize how time-conscious the Americans are. They want everything to be done very quickly.

Lesson learned…


Customer service is key. Customer service blew me away here in the States. The Americans are such great marketers. Not only do they want you to buy whatever they are selling but they really want to come back and buy so more as well. 

No one is born a marketer…it is a long process…but feasible for us to Malagasy people!!!!