My very first blog post was on February 26, 2010, right before I started my staging for Peace Corps.  At that time I kind of thought that blogging was for IT nerds and narcissists. I guess I still think that, but I know that I don’t qualify as an IT nerd so I guess I’m forced into the latter. The title of my first blog was “Veloma,” which means goodbye in Malagasy and was fairly awkward and short. I faintly remember writing it and feeling embarrassed. I didn’t want to share anything with the public, let alone have it posted on the Internet. As we can all see, I got over that feeling and, looking back, I’m quite surprised at how much I’ve decided to share about my life (even though I’ve still omitted a lot). That all being said, I don’t really feel like my life warrants a blog, or ever, really. We’ll see where I end up in the next few months and if I decide to keep the blog going. I think if I stay in the United States I won’t do it, but if I continue to live overseas or travel then I might continue. Therefore, as this might be my last blog, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the blogs from the last four years:

Veloma – February 26, 2010

So, unless there is a military coup, natural disaster or some other disastrous event my service will last until the end of May 2012. Who knows what will happen after that…

Life in the Bucket – May 20, 2010

So i wrote this epic post and then the stupid french keyboard screwed up and all was lost… I was told by my environment tech trainer that life without problems is not life, so i will run with that.

I’m Gasy – November 12, 2010

I’m Gasy, I eat rice three times a day
I switch dialects more than I should
That’s right; I jump to the front of the line,
And that’s right; I’m never at your meetings on time
I’m Gasy!
I stroll extra slow in the sun
I watch people pass my house for fun
I ain’t scared cuz nobody owns a gun
I got no credit in the 261
Cuz I’m Gasy!

Starfish – February 8, 2011

So, a few weeks ago, when I was at a low point, I was working in the rice field with a friend of mine. I told her that I didn’t think I could help her as much the next time they planted because I would need to help other farmers. She responded without hesitation, “that’s okay. I understand that you need to help other people. I’m just happy that you’ve helped us and I’m always happy when I see you.” She’s one of my starfish.

STATS! You’re Damn Right – May 10, 2011

Number of days of documented rain: 201…Month with the most rain: June2010 (all but 3 days had rainfall)… Month with the least rain: December 2010…Amount of powder milk consumed: 4.7 kilograms…Number of times I considered myself sick: 5…The most parasites I’ve picked out of my foot in one sitting: 4…Number of Books read: 11…Estimated number of eggs consumed: 384…Estimated kilos of meat consumed: 24…Number of times that I’ve eaten cheese at site: 1…The latest I’ve ever woken up without an alarm and got out of bed: 6:20am…The earliest I’ve ever woken up without an alarm and got out of bed: 4:55am…Estimated number of doxycycline pills taken on time (in the past year): 361…Minimum number of kilometers I bike each week: 25…Days I’ve gone running: 0…Movies seen in a movie theatre: 1…Different kinds of beers that I’ve consumed: 4…Number of times I’ve watched TV: about 5…Number of Discos/Dances/Concerts I’ve attended: 7…Number of times that I’ve spoken to my parents: 52

The Slug and the Sock – July 26, 2011

I stepped on a slug a few nights ago. It stained my sock…That’s all for now. I’ll send another update in a few weeks (most likely unrelated to socks or slugs)!

Running – October 11, 2011

The rice farmers are kind of burnt out, so I’m letting them rest. We have already weeded four times, and so I told them to continue weeding when they would like (but still emphasized that they MUST continue to weed¬). One farmer in a community has kind of given up on taking care of the rice. It will be interesting to see what happens when it is time to harvest. It’s just annoying because I don’t want people to think that I don’t know what I’m doing, just because some people lie or are lazy when it comes to work. I think I enjoy working in the rice field because you really get what you put into it.

A January to Remember – January 3, 2012

That’s where my counterpart, RABARY Desiré comes in. I’ve had some trouble working with Desire, even though for the most part the work has been effortless. However, I was impressed that when I asked him to go with me, he didn’t hesitate to say yes, and when we arrived there, he didn’t hesitate to take action and interrogate the thief. He ended up spending an entire morning talking with the thief and then going with me to the Chef Fokontany (someone in a village who deals with small, local disputes) to do all of the paperwork (something I probably wouldn’t have known to do or done correctly). The whole time, working through lunch. For me. The next time that I get frustrated I’ll have to remember this. He’s a good person to be working with.

This Is My Life – March 29, 2012

RABARY walked up to me and simply said, “you might want to be a little farther away for this.” So I went farther away. He had a dried stick that spread into a broom like structure at the end (it was in fact their broom) and made sure he had a steady hold of the stick. He looked at the wasp nest, which was about waist height, and then swung. Yep, no prep, no way to calm the wasps, nothing magical, just a good ole swing. And that’s how it’s done. He finished the arc of his swing and ran (as one would find natural). The wasps swarmed around but didn’t chase him.

The Running Toilet – June 18, 2012

As my extension is based mostly on a major reforestation project, I’ve been getting more and more things in order. I’m still meeting with people, figuring out where we will get seeds, and making sure that everything is perfect (or as close as it can be) for when the time to plant comes.

The Oddity of Leisure – September 8, 2012

They had me sit in their living room and watch music videos. Out of all of the things she chose, she thought that the Backstreet Boys would be a good fit. So I sat and watched an hour’s worth of Backstreet Boys music videos. I have to say, it wasn’t really that bad. It was interesting to see how their videos and their looks changed over time; how they tried to get an ‘edge’ to them maybe? I don’t think it really worked. Also, I was so young when they came out that I never really realized how young they looked when they started! Finally, I thought that making a Backstreet Boys video has to be one of the most difficult things ever. Usually the songs are kind of dopy love songs or don’t really have too much meaning. How do you put a concept together for that? It’s really just like making something totally up and putting it to a song. I mean, you can only put in so many hand waves and star grabs before you have to actually have something happen. Or, maybe the idea was that they were pretty and girls would just swoon watching the video. Looking back to middle school, I’m pretty sure that’s just what happened.

War of the Keyboards – December 19, 2012

As we take a break for the holidays we’ve planted over 10,000 plastic pots worth of seeds between the three nurseries and should be able to exceed our original projection of 11,000 trees. Amazing that we have done everything so far on just about five hundred dollars and nobody seems to hate me or anything. I really hope that someone makes an effort to continue this project after I’m gone.

Dirt, Sweat and Food – January 27, 2013

After over two and a half years I finally had to replace the tires on my bicycle. The back tire was actually shredded from overuse and I had to have them place part of another tire inside while I was waiting for a replacement. I’ve been thinking about all of the biking that I’m doing lately and I think that TREK should put me in an add or a commercial. I’m always riding out in the country, sometimes with a machete sticking out of my backpack, rain or shine, visiting people, and working. I put together a rough estimate of the average number of kilometers that I bike each week and it comes to a minimum of 126 kilometers/week for the past month or so. If I were to average that for a year it put’s me over 6,000 km. That’s a lot of time on the bike.

One Year Older, But Not One Day Smarter (Maybe A Little Tougher) – April 7, 2013

My first thought was, ‘Shit. Now I’m going to have to fix the damn door.’ Then I looked at my knee and saw the white tendons staring back at me and realized, wow, that’s probably my first priority and fixing the door could be a close second. Thankfully, I had my friends around me and they helped cover the wounds and stop the blood flow. They also helped track down a taxi for me so we could go to the hospital.

The Walk – August 9, 2013

1 – The Air. No, it’s not fresh. It’s not clean. It’s not very pleasant about 85% of the time. I do notice that it is slightly better when it’s raining. For this reason, I’ve managed to slow my heart rate as much as possible. Sometimes, I wonder if I even breathe while I walk. I keep my mouth shut and just move my legs and I really don’t breathe at all, at least not hard. I like to think that it’s because my lungs are getting stronger. However, it could be that the pollution is slowly killing them.

What Color Would You Be? – November 28, 2013

However, I got to thinking about it a little more (I had lunch by myself that day) and I wondered what it would be like if humans could change their skin. Would we all look the same or would we still want to be different? Or would we all have the exact same idea of what it is to be attractive? It made me think about fashion because people still have their own fashion and not everyone decides to dress the same. However, dress is still something external. What if we could change our skin and eyes and hair? Would we all just become one race eventually over time? Then I thought about this with chameleons and thought if they have a general idea of what is ‘attractive’ to other chameleons. Is there something within their genes that they instinctually know what colors to choose in order to attract a mate? And what about the one in our garden that has lived almost two years in solitude? Does he still know what it is to be attractive, or has that changed in his chameleon mind? Or is it something that is never lost or confused, but forever changing depending on environment?

Office – February 6, 2014

Third, the people that work in my office are really cool. I spoke with people in the office beforehand, but having more time in Tana and seeing everyone each day has really improved my office relationships. All of the Malagasy people that work there are so nice, funny, and real. It’s actually quite amazing. Not only are they a smart group of people that seem to know what they are doing, but also they really are fun to work with. It’s nice to know that we can just talk to each other when staring at a computer screen gets to be too much.

45km – April 15, 2014

It was another year in Madagascar, and another birthday. It’s amazing to think that I’ve spent my last 5 birthdays in Madagascar. In 2010 I was outside of Moramanga coming back from our technical field trip during our Peace Corps training. In 2011, I was in Tana and had finished training the new group of volunteers on SRI. In 2012, I was in Tana again because of extension physicals and paperwork. In 2013, I was in Andapa, wondering if my knee was ever going to be functional again. And then finally, this year, I was in Tana yet again (but because I’m living here).

And then the blog today. Although I didn’t want to take the time (and still don’t) to read all of my blogs, it was nice to skim through them and recall this journey that I’ve had in Madagascar. I’m sure as the years go by I will be happy that I wrote them and that all of those wonderful moments aren’t lost. Besides, reading through most of the blogs it’s just me talking about rice, working in a rice field, telling people to work in a rice field, people happy about their rice field, other people talking about rice fields, changes in rice fields, how other work is similar to working in a rice field, how other work is different than working in a rice field, and so-on.

But back to the current blog! SOOOOOOO…It’s been about 6 weeks since I last posted a blog, and I feel obligated to talk a little bit about things that have happened in the last month and a half.   

I finished the UTOP race in early May. I had knee problems, and my knee is still bothering me now, but it’s not as bad. I think I’ll have to stop jumping rope, but I might stop once I’m in California and have more exercising opportunities.  The race was 31 km and had an elevation gain of over 900m. I knew that my knee was bothering me and probably would bother me during the race because it’s a trail run and filled with hills, so I decided on one of two options: 1) go slowly and see how the knee felt, if it got worse or hurt I could always keep going or stop; 2) go out fast and power through the pain as much as I could and when it really hurt I would at least be closer to the finish. I chose the latter option, mostly out of competitiveness and pride. After 25 minutes of running my knee began to bother me and after 1 hour it was difficult to even run down hill. However, I ran the first 13 km in 1 hour and 10 minutes and then the final portion in 1 hour and 55 minutes. I pretty much died at the end, but didn’t slow down too much. I remember walking up the last hill and having to take a break because I thought I might faint (I didn’t bring any food or water so I had to rely on the two checkpoints), but was able to keep moving. I should have practiced the last few miles of the course so that I knew where the finish line was because I really lacked motivation toward the end. But I finished just under 3 hours and 5 minutes and was 14th overall – so I was happy with that. Because of my knee and just wanting to relax and sleep in the mornings again, I haven’t really run since the UTOP, but still exercise, walk a lot and go to the hash runs.

I went to Andringitra National Park with friends for five days, which was gorgeous and freezing. It was nice to get out of Tana for a bit and I think I needed a vacation before making a last minute push for the rest of my work – it’s nice to get away from best practices for a while. Our guides, cooks, and porters were all great and they kept us smiling and engaged for most of the trip. There are some really quirky people in Madagascar and I never get tired of them (well, not never, but I do enjoy it). The park was really beautiful and reminded me a lot of home because of the dry grass, granite, and rolling hills landscapes. I think it was a nice place to go before I go back to California. It was also one of the last places on my list of places to visit in Madagascar. Although I might have made some errors I think I’ve visited or passed through 19 of the 22 regions of Madagascar. I think I can say that I’ve seen the country.

May was a busy month for work though – finalizing reports and trying to get everything finished. In addition, trying to figure out what I will do next. I had an interview with a Peace Corps Response position in South Africa, but I didn’t get it so now my plans are quite open for when I get home. I think I would have enjoyed the position, but I’m not heartbroken that I didn’t get it. Although I would consider coming back to Madagascar, it would have to be for a work experience that I really think I would enjoy and would help me in the future. Otherwise, I plan to go back to California and apply to graduate schools and find something to do for a year before going back to school in the Fall of 2015.

This month has just been preparing myself for the end of work and the beginning on whatever is next. Closing my bank account, starting to pack, saying goodbye to people, etc. Nothing that’s too much fun. However, seeing my workload get smaller and smaller has been exciting.

After four years you would think that I would have accumulated a lot more than I have.  Granted, I left a lot of things in Andapa and didn’t really have that much clothing until this past year when I needed an entirely different wardrobe to be seen in an office (and I still don’t have that many clothes). So, I’m mostly giving away shoes, pants, shirts, jackets, and hats to free space for the clothes I’d like to keep, electronics, books, journals, souvenirs, and everything else. The most amazing finding is that I almost perfectly rationed my shampoo over the past two years to last the entire time. Granted it helps that I have short hair, and it helped even more that for 7 months of field visits I only washed my hair with shampoo in Tana, but I was impressed when I thought about it in the shower.

Although I’m extremely happy to be going home and to see my family and friends, I have this overwhelming sadness for leaving Madagascar. In many ways I’ve felt that it was time and that I was ready, but in the last few weeks, when I’ve realized that I’m really leaving, it has become harder and harder.  My second to last day at work I only said goodbye to four people and I was already getting really sad. The next day was oddly a little easier, but still sad nonetheless. This past weekend I had some going away parties, lunches and dinners and packed. Although I gave a ton of stuff away I still think that I’m going to be over (our scale is broken so I don’t really know how much each bag weighs. Altogether it just feels very strange to be leaving Madagascar and I don’t think that it’s hit me yet.

There’s a Malagasy proverb that says, “Do not kick away the canoe which helped you to cross the river.” There couldn’t be a more appropriate saying for my life and family in the United States as well as Madagascar.

California – I’ll see you in a day and a half!

 

Since the last blog, I’ve kept up the running. I only have four days left before the race and I’m feeling confident that I should be able to produce a decent time, but I’m also having some knee trouble. I’ve been trying hard to train regularly, but not over-train. The weekend before I was still having some knee trouble, but not too much pain, and so I wanted to go for a long run and see how the knee would hold up. After the two hours of running it was a little sore, but not too much pain and I thought I was fine until I tried to run on Monday. Hopefully, my good friend ibuprofen can help me through the next five days.

As a result of all the running, I’m forced to eat breakfast. Well, actually, now that I’m running I’m usually starving by the time I finish stretching and showering in the mornings. I think I chose my food out of convenience, but it’s kind of weird nonetheless. I’ve been eating two eggs and then toast with peanut butter and bananas. It seems to be enough for me to last until 9:30am, when I eat more snacks at work J What’s weird is that I had been skipping breakfast altogether for about 2 months until I started running and I knew that I needed more calories.

I went to Mahajanga over Easter break. I was happy to finally make it out there because it’s a place that I’ve wanted to see over the past 4 years, but never had the opportunity. I can safely say that it is as hot as everyone says it is. Before leaving Tana, I asked my co-workers if I should bring my computer and they all adamantly told me “NO.” I was thankful for the confirmation and motivation to really just leave my work behind for a bit.  It was nice to get outside of Tana for a few days. The more time that I spend just living in the city the more I think that Tana isn’t really the best fit for me (even though all of my friends in Tana are pretty awesome). I just feel like every time I leave the city I see what Madagascar really has to offer. Everyone is so nice, the country is so beautiful; something I often forget when living in Tana.

We took an over-night taxi brousse to Ankarafantsika National Park, which is 2 hours before Mahajanga. I didn’t really think about the time calculations when we were leaving Tana, but we arrived at the park just before 5am. It was kind of a weird situation and the people at the park office seemed a little surprised that visitors were showing up (however, I’m sure we weren’t the first to have done something like this). So, we got a room for 3 hours and then went walking around a little dazed and out of it, but excited nonetheless.

It was nice to see a dry forest for a change, even though I still like rainforests so much better. I just feel like there are so many rainforest destinations in Madagascar that it’s nice to change things up a bit. I’m sure when I’m back in California I will be longing for any type of rain-anything. I was surprised to find out that iguanas do exist in this country; I didn’t think there were any. We saw a nice little canyon, walked around a savannah for a bit, saw lemurs and then had a pretty awesome lunch before hitching a ride to Mahajanga with some nice people who had some space in their car.

We got into Mahajanga and I felt like I was away from work and my daily routine. We stayed with our transporters for a while until our roommate showed up with her family and took us in their bus back to their house/bungalows. The location was awesome and right on the beach (although it was about 30 min from the city center).

The following days just consisted of beach time, wandering around and eating. I also ran. It’s cool that I’ve been running in hills, in polluted elevation so that when I get clean sea level air I am flying. When I came back to Tana and went running it wasn’t as fun of a transition.

What was interesting about Mahajanga is that although they speak Sakalava they all knew that I was speaking Tsimihety, something that the people from Tana never know – they just know that I’m not speaking their dialect. It’s always nice to be understood. As a result, it opened up some very interesting conversations with my roommate’s uncle about witchcraft and forest people. But I don’t really know what a vacation would be without either of the two.

I took the overnight bus back to Tana and so I arrived at 6am. All of the people on the street and taxi drivers that were bothering were graced by my wonderful sleep deprived personality full of hospitality, sociability and overall friendliness. I made it home, slept for a bit and then zombie-d my way to work barely staying awake during our afternoon Monday meeting.  It was a tough for recovery.  

Work has really taken a large part of my life the past few weeks, but it doesn’t seem to be much of a problem. I’m drafting and finishing reports, re-doing reports, attending workshops, and helping with the project photobook. All things that can be tiring and make me happy for the weekend, but don’t make me dread going to work, which I’m constantly thankful for. I also gave a short presentation of some of my finished reports and got positive feedback so that’s always nice and reassuring to know that I didn’t just waste the last 10 months of my life. It was really stressful preparing for the presentation because my computer tried to kill itself. Some piece broke and so it can’t read my hard drive. It turns out that I can run the hard drive as an external drive, so I’m doing that now. However, it’s kind of annoying and I’ll probably just end up ordering the part anyway. Mostly, I was scrambling around the day before the presentation trying to see if I would ever be able to access all of my files and trying to figure out what was actually backed up. I got it running and then learned that my Microsoft Word had removed my product key and the key I had wouldn’t work. I then spent a good solid hour thoroughly hating Microsoft, now I just have contempt for them, but maybe not so much hate. Needless to say, I got it figured out…no thanks to Microsoft.

My beard is still growing and I can’t wait to shave it on Sunday! Ok, I don’t really have to keep it, but I’ve kept it this long that it seems stupid to stop early. I think it was a wise decision to grow out a beard rather than just the mustache, as I don’t think it will be a good look for me. If nothing else I hope the embarrassment will motivate me to run faster. Besides, Pre had a mustache so I can just say that I am going for that look.

I haven’t been drinking for my last preparations of the race and I think that my body has been thankful for the detox and exercise. It feels good to be healthy, but I need so much sugar now! I’m always craving sweets and I think it might be a result of no alcohol. What I’m really impressed of is that I was able to go out until 5am and 3:30am the past two weekends to celebrate friends’ birthdays. It takes a lot of willpower to keep up with drunk people. People dance for a really long time. And I save a lot of money.

I went running on Saturday for my last long run before my race this coming Saturday. I wanted to run for an hour and a half, with no real distance in mind. However, I realized that it took me around 25 minutes to get out of town to the rice fields so I decided to increase it to two hours. I went at a comfortable pace, but my calves really hurt at the beginning of the run. However, they loosened up and then when I got to the rice fields the air was clean and clear my entire body found the rhythm. I ran alone, then ran with another guy who was either trying to get me to sprint or was doing an interval workout. Passed a dog that started attacking me, but seemed surprised when I yelled (quite angrily) at him in Malagasy. And then just kept moving along on the canals through rice fields. It wasn’t as beautiful as two weeks ago, but still nice.  I got to a town at one hour (perfect turn around point) and then came back. I was a little tired coming back and I felt my knee getting a little tired, but I wasn’t exhausted. I got home at 2 hours and 1 minute, which I thought was cool because it means that I kept pretty much the same pace for the whole run. I mapped it out and it was 17 miles (27.48) km in two hours, which was much faster than I would have guessed I was doing. So, my legs and knees are a little fatigued, but I think I’m ready for the race…although I’m worried my knee might be a problem with the hills.

The more time I spend in Tana and the closer it gets to my departure date (still to be decided, though I know it will before June 19th) the more I’m ready to leave Madagascar. What’s funny is although I’ve come to terms with this, it seems like my friends in Madagascar are more shocked than I am. I guess nobody really thought that I would ever leave (granted there were points when I thought I would never leave either). However, I think that I’m ready and that it’s something I need to embrace rather than wonder if it’s not the best decision. If I think I need to be in Madagascar again, then I’ll find a way back. As far as my plans for the last month and a half, I just hope to finish the UTOP race with a good time, finish all of my deliverables for work, visit Pic Boby near Ambalavao, and say goodbye to as many people as I can before I leave.

 

I came back from the SAVA region and the stomach problem that I brought with me seemed to be a little more serious than I had originally imagined (or hoped). It lingered on for a few weeks and I ended up going to the doctor and getting some tests done. I didn’t have any serious issues (according to the tests) and it was probably just a bacterial thing, but unpleasant nonetheless.

Because it didn’t go away very quickly, I decided to take some worm medication too (it had been a while since taking the medication, not so much time has passed since I’ve been eating questionable street food). So, my body is definitely detoxed and cleaned out and now it’s just trying to get back on track and back in sync.

Although I was still a little sick, I went to the Hash run after my week of ‘working from home’. It was nice because I hadn’t gone in a while and it was funny because it was an “April fools” costume hash. There wasn’t any specific theme, we just had to have a costume of some sorts. My roommate Daphne and I didn’t know what to do so we just put on hats and masks and capes. I don’t know what we were supposed to be, but we definitely looked odd.  To intensify that notion we were confused about what was going on because it was a surprise run for one of the hashers. They were setting up beer/alcohol stops for him along the way and we ended up going with those people rather than going to the start of the hash. Next thing we know, it’s just the two of us and another guy (who isn’t really in costume) walking around through the outskirts of Tana. At the time I was pretty sure that the people who saw us thought that we were pretty weird. When I saw photos I could confirm all of those feelings.

So, when we got to the station where we were supposed to wait for the runners, we were surrounded by a bunch of confused children and adults just trying to figure out what was happening. To kill the time we spoke with the people and played with the kids. Once again, I’ve learned that boys will always be entertained by fart noises and handstands. It’s just that simple. So we played around a bit and waited. Once the runners showed up we were able to surprise the one guy and give him his alcohol and then run the rest of the course.

Following the Hash, I went back to work, as my health was getting better (but by know means any better after the party that followed the Hash). I attended more workshops, which were nice, informative and good learning experiences for me, but difficult because they were all in French. Thankfully, when we break off into group discussions I just choose the all-Malagasy group and we speak in Malagasy. It’s difficult to attend these workshops though because I sometimes feel that it’s all ideas, but no actions. People give suggestions in a very general capacity, but never any specific suggestions or plans of action. It’s not my workshop, and I don’t really have enough of the technical vocabulary in Malagasy (and definitely not in French) to get this point across, but it is frustrating nonetheless. I just get tired of hearing about more training and building capacity rather than specifics on how we would carry out those things so that they are more useful than in previous projects or activities.  The biggest positive, for me, is that there is a snack and lunch provided…I guess that says a lot about me.

I finally got some followers for walking from work…even if it only lasted one day. There are two women that work at the office that live near me and they often say that they see me when they are in the bus. They talked about wanting to walk with me one day and I always said they were welcome to join me, but it never really happened. One afternoon, I left the office a little earlier than normal and that’s when they were leaving and they decided to walk! First of all, I was blown away by how nice they were, and second how good they spoke English! It’s funny because I never really had any long interactions with them, but over a 30-minute walk we were able to really have a good talk. I’m not sure if they have walked again, or if they ever will, but I was happy that they realized that the time it took them to walk was the same amount of time as the bus and they could save money if they didn’t pay for bus fares everyday…

It was another year in Madagascar, and another birthday. It’s amazing to think that I’ve spent my last 5 birthdays in Madagascar. In 2010 I was outside of Moramanga coming back from our technical field trip during our Peace Corps training. In 2011, I was in Tana and had finished training the new group of volunteers on SRI. In 2012, I was in Tana again because of extension physicals and paperwork. In 2013, I was in Andapa, wondering if my knee was ever going to be functional again. And then finally, this year, I was in Tana yet again (but because I’m living here). It wasn’t until I thought about all of the birthdays that I realized that I’ve spent three of them in Tana and that I only had one with Malagasy people. In some ways it makes me a little sad, but in other ways I think that it might have been for the better sharing my cultural event with people who understood the culture.  We had a nice party at our house the Saturday after my birthday and we actually celebrated four birthdays in our house. As always, there was a theme and this time it was: “In 10 years I’ll be…” Of course, I was a French rapper…because that’s what I’ll be in 10 years.

I’m not really sure how it happened, or why I agreed to it, but I’m growing a mustache for the UTOP run that I’m doing in early May. Well, I know that it was related to other people that had mustaches for a friend’s going away party (that I didn’t go to) and then I was suggested to get one for the UTOP. Although I agreed, I know that a mustache is not a good look for me. So, I’ve just quit shaving and will have my sparse beard until the night before the race, when I’ll take care of everything. Thankfully, I only have about 3 weeks left and then I can shave. The other positive is that it has started to get cold in Tana and so my facial blanket is actually kind of nice.

What’s interesting about the facial hair, and I noticed this in Andapa as well, is that, at first, people don’t really catch on that you’re the same person as when you’re clean-shaven. When I first started growing the facial hair a lot more people started saying things to me on the street. More people harassed me walking and running and it was like I was entering the neighborhood all over again.  When it first became clear that I had a beard and wasn’t shaving about 5 random people said “bonjour” to me on the street, something that hadn’t happened…ever. However, after a few days/ a week they seemed to know who I was and they didn’t find any reason to go out of their way to say hello, to be courteous, or, conversely, to be an epic asshole to me.

As the UTOP race (30 km) gets closer, I’ve been running a lot more and trying to really train because I know that I was really late to start training. After the birthday party I decided to stop drinking so that my body doesn’t get too tired and I think it’s a good decision because waking up at 4:45am is not fun. And yes, it is dark at that time. However, there aren’t a lot of people or cars and I like the feeling of being alone on the road in the morning, amongst the dim lights and shadows. I don’t find any fear in it, but rather find a lot of comfort as I just listen to my breathing and slowly climb the hills. It’s like a world with no distractions.

The thing about running in the dark, quite obviously, is that you can’t see too well. I think a mixture of it being dark, me being a little sleepy, and then being tired from running straight up a hill, tends to transform street dogs into the weirdest things. There was a dog on top of a trash pile one morning and from a distance I swore it was a giant turkey. Now, I don’t know why anyone in Tana would just let a turkey wander around, but that’s definitely what it looked like. Another morning, there was a dog sitting in the middle of the road and it looked so much like a little toddler trying to do a headstand that I honestly slowed down a bit to wonder why this kid was out in the middle of the road at 5am. With my new run, I have to run down a bunch of stairs and I think this has helped my night vision because I haven’t fallen to my death yet.

The other nice thing about the morning run is that each morning is different from the last. There are mornings where it is all darkness and clouds and viewpoints only provide blurry lights along the hillsides. There are clear mornings with the stars still out and everything is crisp and cool. There are mornings that mix the two, and runs when the sun decides to join me. The other day it was clear above me and bright blue, but around Tana the entire area was surrounded by low lying, black, ominous clouds. It’s amazing what the world has to offer when one takes the time to wake up and see it.

So, I’ve been running about 10-11km each day with a lot of hills and then walking to and from work with all of my things for another 7.5-8km. After work I jump rope and then lift some weights. I knew that all these things contributed to me being in shape (and being skinny), but I had no idea just how much they really benefited me until last Saturday.

There are multiple “rova,” or old palaces in Tana that are on 12 of the hills surrounding the city. A roommate suggested that we run to the one in Ambohimanga, which is about 20-25km from our house. I thought it would be a good idea, so I followed through with it and we made plans to actually do it.

He had gone before by bicycle and so he kind of knew the way, but after a while it became apparent that there were some lapses in his memory. We ran about 5km or more in the wrong direction before we got on track and even then we still needed to stop every once and a while to make sure we were going in the right direction.

It always amazes me how beautiful Tana is once you get out of the city. We left early in the morning and the sunlight, clouds, rice fields, and mountains were quite amazing. The people yelling stupid/obvious things are never that beautiful, but it doesn’t ruin the landscape. We didn’t go very fast and it took us about 2.5-3hours to get there. I waited for a bit for my friend to arrive because I got there first so I had some water (I didn’t bring any) and ate some crackers (I didn’t eat breakfast). My friend arrived and we walked down to the bus station and he got some food. When the bus was about to leave I decided that I wanted to run back to the house.

I don’t know if it was a good idea or not, but I felt like I wanted to try. I knew that I needed to try to push myself to run a long distance just so that I knew what the pain, fatigue and discomfort would feel like during the race. I started running, and, surprisingly, it didn’t feel too bad. I don’t have a watch and I don’t know the exact kilometer range, but after a while I did start to get tired. Then I slowed down in pace. Then it got a little uncomfortable. Then I told myself to just keep moving. This was right before entering town and then after about 2km into town (maybe 3-4km from home) I just decided that I was going to fall over if I kept running (this was somewhere between 40-45km in total).

I stopped running and my legs just went straight to Jell-O. I kept moving – oddly my breathing wasn’t too bad – and just walked through the weird feeling. It was a very tiring and uncomfortable walk that felt like I was moving extremely slow. After a while, I felt like I might faint, so I knew that I needed to get something into my system. One of the many things that I love about Madagascar is that there is food stands EVERYWHERE. I found a place and ordered some juice. I had a cup. Asked for another. Tried a different kind. Then asked for another. The lady selling the juice kept making sure that she knew how many glasses I had because I don’t think she’s used to this kind of customer. I ate some bread and drank another glass and then went on my way. I knew that I wasn’t going to faint at this point, but I didn’t really feel great. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I stopped at another place and got a Fanta and a yogurt. Now, why in my right mind I really thought that a Fanta and a yogurt were going to help my situation, I’m not really sure. I needed food, so it helped in that regard, but the carbonation and the dairy was not the greatest for my empty stomach that had just endured about 4.5 hours of running. I finally made it home and realized that it took me 2.5 hours to come back. That means that I probably ran for about 2 hours and then walked for about a half an hour.

I was exhausted and felt like shit, but at the same time, my legs didn’t feel destroyed, my ankles were sore, but working, and my knees were tight, but not painful. I showered, stretched, and then laid down. It was at this moment of lying down that I don’t really know how much time passed, but I just spaced out. I started listening to music and thought about going to sleep, but just kind of stayed in nothingness. It’s kind of cool to think about it in retrospect, but I was pretty tired at the time.

In the afternoon, I played poker with some friends and people that I just met. It had been a long time since I had played, but I didn’t do too bad and I managed to come in third place and make a little bit of money. It was good to have something to go to so that my muscles could keep moving a little bit. More than anything, it was my first week of not drinking until after the race. It amazes me how often people drink alcohol. It isn’t until you step back from it that you realize how common it is. It’s not that they’re getting wasted, but it is such a part of life, especially here in Tana. I’m happy to have my detox and I think my body might survive this week because of it.

As for work, I’m just writing reports, editing reports, asking people for information that I need for a report, getting statistics for reports, thinking about how much I hate reports, feeling happy when I finish a report, and then doing other things as well because the intern left and so I’m the next guy to ask to get things done. Altogether, it really isn’t too bad.

What will I do in the future? I don’t know. I still haven’t decided anything, but I know that I will be home around the middle of June. I would be very surprised if I were to come back to Madagascar and I think at this point that I need to get off of the island for a bit and see something else. I don’t know how long I’ll be in California or the United States, but I just know that I want to be home for a bit and that if I don’t leave Madagascar now, I might never leave. It’s better knowing that I can always come back rather than staying here and thinking about what else could be out there. That being said, I still haven’t bought my flight home. I’m waiting until the end of the tourism fair in May because I might win the drawing for a free flight to France…yeah; I’m still that cheap, and not in any real rush. 

It’s been almost 2 months since I last posted a blog. I suppose a lot of things happened in that time. Of course life moves on and everyday brings about new events, but I think I sometimes question whether anyone would want to read it. Or do I want to take the time to write it? Maybe it’s because I’ve been writing so much for work that I didn’t have the motivation to write a blog; nothing exciting seemed to be happening. However, this past week I traveled to the SAVA region in the Northeast to visit my old Peace Corps site in Andapa. My visit was interesting enough as far as travels go and therefore, I thought that it warranted a blog. Besides, it’s good to remind all of you that do happen to read this thing that I am in fact still alive.  

As always, I prefer to think linearly and so I’ll start with what happened before I visited Andapa. My last blog post was on February 6th…shit…so I guess here we go.

Most of February consisted of writing reports. I was finishing up on drafts of regional reports and then drafted activity reports. I only have a few more activity reports until I’ll need to figure out what I’ll do for dissemination. I’ve continued running at the hash, although I’ve missed the last two times. I had a blister on my foot as a result of a burnt wart so I stopped running. I hurt my back, so I stopped running. I haven’t been running that much so I decided to only do the 30 km race in May rather than the 65 km. I went to an African Swag party. I went to a Movie Character party. I’ve attended workshops and presentations for work. I had a close friend and colleague leave Madagascar. We got a new guard for our house. I continued writing reports, but not writing a blog. I’ve been looking into graduate school programs and schools. I’ve been looking into Peace Corps response opportunities.  I’ll probably be home sometime in the middle of June. For how long, I still don’t know. My dad turned 67 years old. I had my 4-year anniversary of living in Madagascar. Bus stops and roads were renovated. I still battle the cars each day as they threaten me with the puddles that they pass. I still eat sandwiches on my walk home. It was raining so I took the bus. It was dry so I washed clothes. There were nights that I went to sleep at 7:30pm. There were nights that I went to sleep at 6:00am.  I’ve spent time with friends; I’ve spent time alone. I’ve been cheap and I’ve been extravagant. I still have a planner that I write everything in because the NSA will never be able to steal that. They’ll steal my blog instead.  More than anything, in the past two months, I’ve simply lived my life and thoroughly enjoyed it even though I haven’t wrote about it.

Which brings us now to the last week and more current affairs. Two months of no travel and living in Tana motivated me to take a trip back up to Andapa. It was encouraged by the fact that almost everyone from our Project was traveling to mainland Africa and that I didn’t really feel the need to be working alone in the office. Also, it had been about 10 months since I took a real vacation so I thought it was about time. 

Once I arrived in Sambava I was greeted by the heat and humidity. I forgot how tropical it was! In many ways it felt refreshing although you would have never guessed judging by how much I was sweating. It was delightful to hear the buzzing of the beautiful coastal dialects as I walked by the people.  Not only did I feel that I could express myself so much more clearly to other people, but I feel like the people in the north are so much more expressive than the people in Tana. The people just seem happier, and if you ever have a chance to see where they are living then I think you would understand why.

I got a taxi brouse to Andapa the same day that I arrived, which seemed good until I remembered taxi brouses in the north like to be full. Nobody has a seat in a SAVA region taxi brouse. There are 4 rows and it’s expected that you seat 6-7 people in each row where there are only 4 places. To make things even more interesting, we decided to fill her up a bit more and have 2-3 people standing on the sides with the door open. The positive of it all was that most of the people were going to Andapa or close by and so we didn’t need to stop so often. The down side was that I was jammed in the middle of a little van with my knees nestled against my chin accompanied by about 30 people in 80% humidity for a little over 3 hours. I wouldn’t say that it was entirely pleasant. It wasn’t until we were getting closer to Andapa and people had to get out that the real fun began. It turns out that the clutch for the car wasn’t in the best shape. And by ‘best shape’ I really mean that it wouldn’t always catch. Now, anyone that has gone from Sambava to Andapa knows that for most of that road you are going up. When you have a car over capacity and you’re trying to go uphill, things can get a little dicey if the clutch doesn’t work. However, after a few pushes, starting the car sideways into the road and a whole lot of hope, we managed to keep moving along. It was when we made the final turn over the ridge that I saw down into the Andapa basin and a smile just flooded my face.

Getting out of the taxi I was surprised to see that Andapa now has bicycle taxis. It makes sense as everyone has bikes and it’s relatively flat in the area. I wasn’t about to take one, as I wasn’t traveling too far, but it seemed like a good enterprise. Walking to the hotel and during the first few days I would see a lot of old friends and a lot of changes in the area. It was strange because in many ways I felt like I never left and in some ways I felt like I was a total stranger. 

There is a new casino in Andapa, also many new houses and construction all over the basin, which makes me think that things are okay overall in the area (although many people don’t have money in March). There were new places to eat rice and soup, which I took advantage of over my week vacation and I still managed to visit places that have existed for years but that I hadn’t seen in my three years of living there. There are new people and new businesses all over town and nothing really stood out as being shocking. I don’t really know if this is true or if I’m just comparing it to all of my field visits where I visited some of the poorest communities in Madagascar.

It was both embarrassing and endearing to see how many people remembered me and wanted to talk to me; I don’t really like the attention. It reminded me of the generally good-hearted souls that live in Andapa and why I fell in love with the place to begin with.

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My trip into the countryside took much more time than I ever would have imagined and in retrospect it was a great decision to not plan anything. I borrowed a bicycle and left Andapa around 6:30am. I traveled about 28 km and I didn’t get home until around 6:30pm. All I did was say hello…for 12 hours. Granted I talked more than that, but that was the general idea. I also had my fill of street food. I had soy tea, rice flour cakes, corn, bread, bananas (which are oh so amazing compared to the sorry excuse of a fruit they call a banana in Tana), and of course a glass or two of betsa (sugar cane alcohol similar to a wine).

I had a chance to visit the old fish farm and talk to the guard about everything. The fish are growing and the ducks are doing great. They planted tarot and yams that they will likely start harvesting in August or September. It looked like it was in really good shape. I asked people about rice and found that a little more than half are still doing some SRI, which was nice to hear. I also found out that the pink rice that I gave people either grew extremely well or failed miserably even before transplanting. Discussing with them I think it might have been an issue with water and soil quality, and possibly pests.  And I got to visit the library and my old Peace Corps house. Puppy was still alive and kicking although he isn’t the guard dog that he used to be and I was blown away to see all of the changes that they’ve made because of help from outside funding.

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They have new toilet facilities and a water pump. They built a kitchen, which is basically a house. And they have started raising pigs (8 of them). In many ways the yard was still the same and except for the vanilla that died in the flooding this year, the pineapples, avocados and other trees that I planted seemed to be doing well.  Of course it wouldn’t be a trip to the country if I didn’t get my hands a little dirty, so I helped them get three new pigs into a pen. Nope, I don’t have any desire to raise pigs and I still don’t find piglets cute.

I said hello to my old counterpart and we had a long discussion. I don’t know if the realization has set in that he wont have a new Peace Corps Volunteer this year and they he’ll need to do a lot more on his own. He was trying to encourage me to take a career in tourism, but I think that could only make me more suicidal than teaching.

I saw once again the discipline of the teachers in the schools out in the country. Kids were deemed as having hair that was too long and so the teacher took the liberty of cutting small sections of hair off of their head to encourage the children to cut their hair that evening. Apparently, 10 children went home with some very interesting haircuts that needed to be cleaned up. Although it made me laugh, I thought it was a bit much and how they would probably be put in jail if they did something like that in the States.

I went to Antanetiambo. It just seemed natural to put my bike on my shoulder, raise my shorts and wade across the water and mud. Walking to the reserve I noticed that a bull didn’t seem too happy in my presence but I made it farther than his rope to get by. Entering the forest, the guard wasn’t there, but I still walked around for a little bit. It’s amazing to see how many little things have changed in 10 months. More importantly, I was very aware at how unaware (known unknowns???) I was after not walking in the forest for 10 months. I used to see and hear everything as I walked through the forest. Now, it felt like my first time in Antanetiambo and I felt clumsy, clueless and removed.

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I walked barefoot, of course, as my sandals were thin and probably would have done more harm than good. I forgot how nice it was to walk barefoot. The natural pressure of the body seemed strengthening in many ways. Feeling the mud and soil sink around my feet and occasionally feeling a sharp bit of pain from a rock or branch reminded me of the years past. I definitely don’t have the calluses that I used to, but it was nice nonetheless to free myself from the restrictive shoes. After walking for a bit, 2I didn’t see the guard so I just decided to leave and would come back the next day when I had more time and really planned to walk around.  As I was leaving the Reserve I noticed that the bull was waiting for me and that my exit wasn’t going to be as clean as my entry.

I waded through knee high water to discover the bull shaking his horns from side to side and stamping his hooves. Now, I’m no bovine expert, I think that I can safely admit that, but I took these as signs of aggression and that he didn’t really feel welcome at my presence. However, my lazy ass was not about to go down some rice field walkway maze through more mud and water just because some bull didn’t want me to walk in his little grazing area (mind you he was on a rope, so it wasn’t like he could charge me from everywhere). I shifted my sandals to the same hand that was carrying my bike and looked for something to aid me in battle.

Of course, nothing in my life ever gravitates toward moderation and I was stuck with either going big or going home. So that’s what I did. There was a large Raffia branch near me that was about 10 ft long. Now, Raffia isn’t heavy so it wasn’t hard to lift, but it was just kind of awkward to carry, especially because I was already carrying a bike. The bull kept doing its thing until I looked at it and started walking directly at him swinging the branch and yelling Malagasy cattle terms in an angry voice. The bull backed down (I’m quite deadly with a branch) and I made my passage to the next row of mud and water between the rice fields. The people walking on the road seemed thoroughly amused by my triumphant victory. I arrived at the road and road off into the sunset…

Overall, my relaxing vacation with no set plans really just ended up as a jam-packed week of me visiting old friends and saying hello. Although I really loved it, it was actually quite exhausting!  There were a few nights that I just wanted to go to sleep (although most nights I had a beer or two with a friend).  As always, people are quick to give gifts such as meals, bananas or beans, which I graciously accepted. I had lunch most days at the homes of friends and a few dinners with friends as well. I bought vanilla for friends in Tana and a little bit for myself.  Over the course of the week I got sunburnt because I’m a distant relative of Casper since I’ve been working in an office. It’s just a friendly reminder how ghostly we become when we spend all of our time within the confines of an office.

Riding my bike into the countryside really made me miss my life back in Andapa. As I rode my bike I had a quick flash, a thought or dream that pierced my mind and made me realize that I had enough money to live there. I could buy some land and a rice field and simply become a subsistence farmer. I could start a small business and become involved in vanilla, coffee, and rice trades. I thought about all of this as the sweat dripped down my forehead and I stared down the dirt road into small villages and people weeding in the rice fields.  The wind stopped and I could feel the heat where my backpack struck through my shirt and joined with my skin. Feeling my lungs filled with clear, clean air and a slight burn in my thigh muscles from never riding a bike, I felt like this is what life is supposed to be like. And, in many ways, it’s something that I think I would like to have, but just not now.

Seeing how much I enjoyed the simple life in Andapa just reminded me that it would be selfishness that would make me settle down there. I saw more new children than I expected and although everything is green, March is a time when people don’t really have a lot of food and the cost of living is expensive. People ration out their rice and in some cases people are already cooking green bananas to deal with the shortage. I truly love the people and the place of Andapa. I hope that one day I can return to Andapa, with more education and experience. I hope that I can return to this life of simplicity and goodness with a real contribution to the community rather than just my own needs. My week vacation reaffirmed my decision that I should go back to school and get a master’s degree so that I can gain the experience and money necessary to make real changes for the community rather than superficial changes that make me feel good but have no real use.  

My last night in Andapa consisted of beers, karaoke and celebrating a friend’s 31st birthday. My ride back to Sambava was relatively uneventful, although I was definitely in the hot seat as the motor was right below me, but we weren’t too full and the clutch worked fine.

I saw more old friends and ate more food in Sambava. I met up with Peace Corps volunteers in the region and saw how much I’m removed from their social circle and lives, but that the Peace Corps family is always so cool and welcoming regardless of who you are or where you are. I said goodbye to more people and even more so to a region of Madagascar that I hope will change relatively little in the next few years.

My return to Tana was simple enough. I brought plantains and oranges in a basket that I checked on the plane (yes, I’m Malagasy) and braved the cold weather and smog once again. My first day back I was struck with stomach issues that I will spare the details. Maybe it’s just one last little souvenir from the North. Image

Since my last blog I’ve spent my entire time in Tana and by the end of this week it will be the longest I’ve spent in one place since June 2013.  As worried as I was about staying in one place for a long time, it seems to have been a fairly welcoming and smooth transition. I’m burning out a little bit on work and writing reports, but it’s also a good learning experience for me. I’m remembering that office life is a little more redundant and boring and that it’s important to plan my daily work and tasks appropriately so that I’m not just doing the exact same thing everyday. Needless to say, I’m about to survive my first full month in Tana, in a really long time, and I think that if  I don’t have any more missions I’ll still manage. 

But life in the office isn’t just me sitting at my desk writing reports, sending emails and staring at facebook to take a break. It’s quite interesting to think about this whole life that I never really integrated into the past seven months and just now am starting to realize.

First, I figured out the donuts in the office. Well, sometimes there are other foods too, but the donuts are the best bang for your buck. There is food on our floor of the office and we use the honor system for taking food and then writing how much you took. Of course, it took me a few days of seeing the food until I finally asked, and once I did, I was hooked. Needless to say, I’ve been pretty regular on eating a donut each morning and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a snack free morning.

Second, I’m on a schedule for lunch now as well (don’t worry, I think about other things other than food). It’s kind of nice to go to lunch around the same time, with the same group of people and just have a nice relaxing conversation. When I was traveling in the field I never knew when I would eat lunch, what would be available, or if I was going to have to skip lunch. Not to mention that my water drinking habits were piss poor (pun intended) and the nutritional quality of the food was often lacking. Don’t get me wrong, I’d go on another field visit in a heartbeat, but I am enjoying the regular eating habits for the moments. If nothing else, lunchtime is glorified because it’s 30 minutes in the middle of the day that I’m not in the office typing away.

Third, the people that work in my office are really cool. I spoke with people in the office beforehand, but having more time in Tana and seeing everyone each day has really improved my office relationships. All of the Malagasy people that work there are so nice, funny, and real. It’s actually quite amazing. Not only are they a smart group of people that seem to know what they are doing, but also they really are fun to work with. It’s nice to know that we can just talk to each other when staring at a computer screen gets to be too much.

But to work in the office, one has to get to the office. I finally did the calculation, and I walk around 3.2 kilometers to work each day. I walk home too, which means that I walk 6.4 kilometers or around 4 miles everyday. Now, for whatever reason, I didn’t realize this the past 6 months. I don’t know why I thought it was closer or why I thought I walked a shorter distance (I know how fast I walk), but this kind of shocked me. I think it’s good that I’m walking this much and it makes me wonder how many Americans walk 4 miles a day, let alone 4 miles a day to get to and from work. I’m just happy that it works out.

But the walk isn’t always great – as I’ve stated in other posts – and sometimes it can be problematic. With the weather, sometimes I just take the bus because I’d rather not be soaked in the rain or splashed by muddy puddles as the cars go by. But on a daily basis I seem to come across a few things that don’t change too much.

1. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again: people just walk into me. Now there is a wide range of possibilities for this encounter. The person sometimes doesn’t look where they are going and so they are just bulldozing everything they don’t see. Sometimes, the person is looking directly at me and forgets that they are in fact walking and in fact walking into me. Then there are all those tough guys that have to prove their manhood by taking up half of a sidewalk even though they weigh around 100 pounds and have the frame of a wood elf.  Also, the groups of people that think they are playing red rover. And you don’t want to forget the people that have in their head that I will want to pass them on the opposite side so they cross the sidewalk to walk directly into me. Makes sense, right? I seem to come into contact with all of these people on a daily basis and I have to admit that it doesn’t get any less frustrating as time goes by.

2. Students. Walking at the same time as the school gets out is like punching yourself in the face. Not only do they spread out so that even cars have to avoid them, but I’m pretty sure there are rocks in Death Valley that move faster than these children. As to whether the rocks are more aware of their surroundings than the students that just got out of school… I think would be an unfair insult, but there are days when I do pose the question to myself. Thankfully, because they move so slow I just have to jump over a few moving cars, avoid puddles, skip past some beggars and crazy people, and basically cheat death so that I can get around them and once again walk at a normal pace.

3.Right of way doesn’t really apply to anything in this country. Thinking in relation to cars as well as people walking, I don’t think there are any rules about who has ‘the right’ to go first. I think it’s pretty much always just up for grabs. Although there will be an occasional walker who will let me pass, most just keep on moving. This is only problematic in tight traffic situations where you have to walk on the inside of the sidewalk between a wall and a parked car.  Most of the time, I see someone enter this space and I let him or her get through before going in so as to avoid an awkward situation where we both need to go into violent convulsions just so we can get past each other. However, to my fellow walkers this isn’t always a rule of thumb. Numerous times I get almost all the way past a car and someone just decides to enter the small space face one. Now it’s go time. They kind of look at me surprised and I just shoot a look like – what did you expect? We shimmy, shake, twist, bend, do the convulsion dance and then pass each other. I really do think that it would be easier if they just waited one second and let me finish passing them. Even more confusing is that they usually aren’t moving too fast and very few people here are ever in a ‘hurry’.

4. The talkers. I’ve said it for the past three years and I don’t know what it is, but it’s the season for people to open their mouths. Maybe people have resolutions to be more open rather than being quiet and conservative, but they can’t do it more than a few months. Regardless, I’ve heard more harassment and annoying comments in my walks over the past month than I have over the course of the previous seven. And it really does happen every rainy season.

One night, as I was late leaving the office, some guys pretty much shoulder charged me. It was a cool evening; I was in the middle of my walk and moving at a rather grueling pace and just walked through the bump, but definitely noticed it. We both ended up turning around (I think he expected me to jump into the middle of the street to avoid him of course) and looked at each other. He said something to me in French in a rather antagonistic voice that I quickly responded with a what/why in Malagasy. When he didn’t respond I simply asked if he didn’t have any eyes or if there was something else that was the reason he walked into me. He immediately looked at the ground and then kept walking. That made me realize that he was ashamed (I don’t think I intimidated him) because he just thought I was some foreigner that he could be rude to. I think it helped that it was kind of dark and that he couldn’t tell if I was just a light skinned Malagasy, or in fact a full bred vazaha. Regardless, I wonder how all of my ‘problematic’ walkers walk next to other Malagasy people and not the vazaha.

5. The smiles. It’s not all negative on the road. Yeah, some walks are better than others, but there are the days when I’m genuinely happy to be walking on the street.  First, on my walk home I can almost always eat my emotions. I’m usually tired and kind of hungry when I leave the office and I always stop to get a little sandwich on my way home. I’ve also mastered eating and walking at the same time so as to not let those students catch up with me. Second, the motorcyclists; they make the funniest faces as they are swerving in and out of traffic illegally. The other day I saw a guy with his tongue out and it reminded me of Michael Jordan playing basketball. The guys pushing the carts tend to crack me up too. The other day I was walking in the opposite direction of one and I hear the two guys joking that they should go into the gas station to get some gas (for the wooden cart/rickshaw that they were pushing and pulling) because they were tired. I couldn’t help but laugh. Finally, I always tend to smile when a car almost hits me because the driver is checking out some girl that is walking by. I hope that I don’t die one day because some girl on the other side of the street had a nice ass. I feel I deserve better than that.

Finally, I’ve noticed over the past few months that they’ve been renovating all of the bus stops, which I think is really great. However, as all of these bus stops are renovated I can’t help but notice that the road seems to be getting worse and that cars are either crawling or driving on the wrong side of the road in certain sections.. I’m not sure how much good these nice bus stops will do if the buses can’t even make it down the street.

Also, now that I’m back in Tana, I’ve had a chance to take care of a few things that have been lingering over the past few months that I just didn’t have any time for. I had been meaning to go to the doctor forever and so I finally got my warts on my hand and foot burned off as well as antibiotics for the strep throat that I seemed to have been battling on and off for the past 6 months. So it felt good to have that taken care of. It’s also nice that healthcare is so cheap here that I don’t need to stress about seeing a doctor.

I also finally got some new clothes. I have to say; I don’t know how many westerners would feel comfortable buying pants in Tana. It’s real simple; there aren’t any dressing rooms. So, you walk around the market, you look at pants, kind of know your size and then you have to try them on. So that involves taking your pants off and putting the new(er) ones on and seeing if they fit more or less in the open. I wonder what would happen if there were clothing stores in the U.S. that just opted out of dressing rooms? I needed some pants, so I showed my white legs to all and finally have enough pants to last a workweek!

I’m still learning a little bit of French, but I’m slowing down a little bit. I’m managing to make words each week, so as long as I keep that up I think I’ll be fine. I’m practicing a tiny bit more with people, which I think will actually be more beneficial than anything else. What’s funny, is that I’ve recently had a lot more Malagasy people tell me that my Malagasy is really clear, so I guess I’ll take that as a sign that I need to focus on the French.

Now that I’ve talked about walking and working in an office, I really hope something exciting happens in the next few weeks so I have something else to write about…

 

 

For whatever reason, this year I’ve thought more about the past than any other “new” year. This year really feels like a ‘new year’ or that I’m coming to some turning point in my life, making the next step towards something.

Thinking back, 2013 wasn’t a really good year for me. I had a lot of work issues, health issues, and then a few personal issues. There were a lot of negative experiences that I guess could be coined as learning experiences that give us a chance to grow (but sometimes I get a little tired of growth). But growth is inevitable and so is change and all we can do is keep on keeping on and see what the future holds. The negative is often as important as the positive.

So…with a statement like that I’m sure you’re thinking that I’ve made some big decision or experienced some major event. Nope; and I don’t think I need to have. I’ve thought a lot more about work and my future, but nothing is set in stone and as I get older I’m actually becoming okay with that. I’ve jumped around through so many different kinds of work and been happy in most cases that I’m not worried about the future. What I think I want might not really be what’s best and the best thing to do is to just go with the natural flow of things; the future doesn’t freak me out.

That being said, I’m hoping to do two things for 2014. I want to learn French and I want to keep in better touch with friends and family from the United States. Both are related to the fact that I think a life oversees is still appealing and that I should take advantage of it for as long as I can. In many ways, I think I’ve fallen in love with Africa and Madagascar especially. There is just something about this country that I find appealing, real and comforting (I know, I’m crazy. How can anyone find this place comforting???). Therefore, I’m thinking that if I want to work here, or anywhere in Africa, I need to be able to speak French.  I don’t need to be perfect by the end of my contract or even perfect by the end of the year, but I NEED to be more proficient in the language than I am right now. And, if I can speak French and English I can go most places in Africa. Besides, I live with a bunch of French speakers; I should take advantage of the situation.

The second goal for the year is to be in better contact with friends and family from the United States. Looking back on 2013 I realize that I kind of fell off of the face of the Earth. I quit keeping in touch with a lot of people and in many ways quit caring. I don’t think that is necessarily bad that I don’t need to go on Facebook and stalk my friends’ lives every second, but I do need to find a middle ground. There are so many people back in the States that have been such an important part of my life and I really am interested in what they are doing. That being said, maybe they don’t care and don’t really want to keep in touch, but I’d rather make the effort and try rather than just giving up. Let it be noted that I planned to post this blog at the beginning of January and then fell behind, so we’ll see how things go.

Let me rewind a little and talk about the holidays (I meant to send this blog at least 4 different times). I had a good Christmas and New Years. I caught up on A LOT of work, which is really a big relief and was all I could have asked for. I spent Christmas with friends in Tana and then went to Mantasoa for New Years. New Years was a lot of fun and super relaxing until the end. It was cool because the holidays were spent with people that I didn’t know at all before I moved to Tana.

We went to a place called Mantasoa Tour, which was really nice at first, but the owner was not a nice person. We had too many people sit in a bamboo chair and so the bottom of the chair broke. Bamboo is really cheap here, so we thought it would cost 20,000 Ariary at the most to fix the chair. Because of the inconvenience, we also thought that charging 50,000-60,000 Ariary would be appropriate. When they told us that it would be 150,000 Ariary that just seemed absurd and we voiced that we didn’t think it should cost that much.

It turns out the owner was mad that we didn’t want to desecrate Lake Mantasoa everyday by renting his speedboat for an obnoxious price and so he already hated us. He also didn’t like that we wanted to cook for ourselves rather than buy his food (why else would we rent a house?). So, in his great sense as a person and business owner, he said if we didn’t pay for the chair that he was going to get his shotgun so that we couldn’t leave – and of course the whole time he was yelling. Real stand up guy. I think I know why his business might be failing…

However, the worst part about all of this was that I’m pretty sure at some point one of the workers or the driver of the van stole my camera. I was paranoid about losing it the entire weekend and I made sure to put it with other electronics in a small backpack. But, I didn’t make sure to close the backpack really well. Looking back, the driver unpacked and packed our things way too many times, one of the workers was looking odd behind the van at one point during all of these conversations and arguments, and then the driver seemed to send me off rather quickly when he dropped me off in Tana. I really don’t think I just lost the camera.

What’s interesting is that I seemed to get over it rather quickly. For about two days I was really pissed, mostly because of the feeling of someone going through my things and just taking something. Also, it is annoying living here in Mada, because you can’t always just buy a decent replacement.  However, I am talking with people coming and going from the States and should have a replacement sometime soon-ish (maybe February). It’s mostly good that the field visits are over and maybe I’ll wait to travel until I have another camera.  Until then, my life will be undocumented.

Long story short: if you ever come to Madagascar, and then while in Madagascar you decide to go to Mantasoa, I would not suggest that you go to Mantasoa Tour. There are better places and better ways to spend your vacation.

Although there haven’t been any major problems, I still have some concerns about the election results and proclamations that are coming out. Madagascar has a new president, and it seems like everyone agrees for the most part, but we’ll see what happens. I really hope that whatever the results may be that the people don’t fight and just try to move on peacefully.  Besides, I’d really rather not be evacuated from Madagascar.

Two weeks ago I was in Ambositra, on what could have been my last mission for the next 6 months. I’m a little tired with the field visits and I am happy to be taking a break. I’d like to travel on vacation, not travel for work.  However, my visit was combined with another visitor and so the planning was an issue and I wasn’t able to speak with as many technicians as I would have liked.

I know it’s the same old story, but the language is so weird in this country. That combined with culture and social dynamics makes it near impossible to really predict how any of my visits will go. I really didn’t expect for it to be easier to speak to people in the South rather than people who live four hours south of Tana. What’s odd is I felt that they just didn’t want to make the effort in a lot of instances. They didn’t want to try to understand me and so they didn’t. In some instances I even thought that they were afraid of me.

That brings up the issue of validity. I sometimes wonder how accurate or correct are the responses that I’m receiving. Combining language, cultural, contextual, and giving satisfactory answers I wonder how much is really lost between truth and fiction.  However, someone explained to me that regardless of what they say, and in some ways how I ask, whatever their response is, is probably their reality. It doesn’t really matter if it is correct or not, that’s what’s in their mind and we can still work with that. As long as we know the general idea we can make improvements.

Now, for the past week, I’ve been back in Tana and should be here for a while. It’s kind of nice to not have to think about anymore planning and maybe even get into a routine for a little while. I am still compiling info for all of my reports, which should keep me really busy for the next month or so, but I’m hoping that I can relax a little bit after that.

I was going to get back into exercising last week, but I got sick. I don’t think it was anything too serious, just a sore throat that managed to clear up on its own. I’m hoping to start exercising more this week though and force myself to run again in the mornings. I would like to get back into running shape, especially if I plan to do the distance run May.

What might be difficult though, (sorry mom) is keeping the blog posts each month. I enjoy my life in Tana, and I think I’m happy, but I need to think a little bit harder about what I want to write about. I will always remember my creative writing class during my sophomore year of college. My professor asked me what made me angry or upset in life. My response was somewhere along the lines of I’m generally pretty happy and not too upset about anything. His response: “That’s a horrible quality in a writer.”

Only time will tell.

 

 

 

I spent my 4th Thanksgiving in Madagascar (woot woot!). I have to say at this point I’m pretty much used to being away from my family for the holiday. It doesn’t mean that I don’t think about them any less or that it isn’t difficult at times, but I think, now, I’ve just accepted that this is the life that I’ve chosen. And, in many ways, when one spends time away from their family, they have a chance to meet other people and improve the relationships with those that are around you. 

I had Thanksgiving with people from work and it was the first time that I had a real ‘vazaha’ Thanksgiving since I’ve been in Madagascar. It was really good food, and I of course did my part to over eat. It really made me think about my life now and compare it to where I was 8 months ago. In many ways I think the change is positive, but in some other ways I feel a little depressed.

It’s difficult to integrate with the Malagasy people in Tana. I don’t know if it is because there are so many foreigners or if it is the culture of the local people. Regardless, I’ve noticed that with my social groups I’m no longer spending time with Malagasy people, but only foreigners. The counter to this is that I really do enjoy all of my friends in Tana, regardless of nationality, and I couldn’t be happier to have found the social network that I’ve fallen into. However, I sometimes wonder if I should be making a stronger effort to hang out with the Malagasy people that I know from work or could meet everyday. I’m still in Madagascar and sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. As we enter the holiday season I will constantly be thinking about my family back in the United States, but I think I need to be taking a closer look at the family that I’m creating for myself here in Madagascar and making sure that when I look back at it in 5 years I don’t feel like I squandered my time in Tana and didn’t make the most of an opportunity that was so readily available (granted I’m learned so much with work that I don’t think I could ever justify that I’ve wasted the last 6 months).

So as I left Tana thinking about this, I made my way to the deep south. It had been a long time since I had been in the domestic airport and I was really surprised at the security changes! I don’t know how long they have been like this, but the security has really been upgraded and I felt like I was almost in a real airport. I wasn’t even upset when they told me I had to pour out my water! Granted I drank half of it before pouring out the rest. What I thought was really cool was that the guys told me that I could just pour it out in a plant. Everywhere else they freak out like I’m trying to terrorize the airport by keeping hydrated or aiding the life of a plant. It was nice to see people follow the rules, but not be ridiculous and rigid in their implementation.

My mission this time was in the Androy region and so I had to go to Ambovombe. I hadn’t heard a whole lot of ‘nice’ things explaining the area. Everyone is poor. There isn’t water. The language is difficult. There isn’t food. There is a lot of dust and wind. There are no nice hotels. Working in the region is difficult. So yeah, I thought this was going to be a vacation.

I got into Ambovombe and it wasn’t too far from Amboasary, where I went in July. I kind of knew what to expect and I thought nothing of my arrival. However, I did notice that the dialect was extremely different and I had to pay much more attention when trying to communicate.

I got to the office and nothing was set like it was supposed to be, but I’m used to that by now and no longer expect people to actually do what I ask. I was pleasantly surprised to see that their wireless was better than the Internet in Tana so I checked email and worked on things before I had to be pushy to meet with people. I finally did get to meet with people and I had a good session of explaining what a best practice, innovation and lesson learned is so that people could maybe help me collect the data or give me their findings. It would have been nice if they grasped this before I arrived, but we can’t have it all!

It’s funny because I sometimes forget how much people need pictures. I don’t like diagrams. I feel like that don’t really explain anything any better than a list could. I list is straightforward. A list is about as clear as anything can get for me. But a list isn’t for everyone. So I made a sideways list and made circles around the word so that people would understand my improved list. It doesn’t really matter because it seemed to work.

After the office it was time to go into the field. This was an interesting trip because I had two people to go with me the entire first week (plus the driver) and then one person and driver with me the second week. It made for a much more social environment in the car…even though I slept almost every afternoon.

What was strange was that I didn’t think the area was that bad. Maybe I’ve been in the field so much lately that I’m desensitized. Maybe I was expecting it to be completely awful and when it wasn’t it didn’t seem bad at all. Or maybe this is just a good time of year (not likely since they’ve been eating the red cactus fruit for three meals a day in some places).

When I visited the Anosy region I thought it was humbling. However, I was coming from the rainforest of Andapa and the agricultural wealth of the Northeast. Now, I’ve been visiting poor communities for the past 6 months. There are definitely a lot of problems and hardships in the area, but to say that they are suffering or that life is any more difficult, I have trouble really saying that the south is that bad or at least as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Before I say much more, I will admit there are crazy high malnutrition rates in the area, water shortages, long hunger periods and security issues (I know, your thinking I’ve lost it now. How can these not make the area worse than everywhere else?).

What I think it comes down to is the culture. During my mission I got frustrated a lot with people just telling me that this is the way it is down here. This is how the people work and act and you have to deal with it. I am all for being culturally sensitive, but if an organization is going to ‘develop’ livelihoods so that people can be like the ‘foreigners’ then I think something in their culture is going to need to change. I really don’t know what they should do and I don’t think that they know either, but it is a strange dichotomy with development and cultural preservation.

Similar to that, what really frustrated me during my time in the south is how rude I thought a lot of the people were to me, or just in general. It was interesting because everyone was always talking about how much they respect people and how strong it is that even the language can shift to be more respectful in the way that you are supposed to treat someone. I think this only intensifies my unhappiness because a lot of people that spoke to me in passing didn’t seem to think that I deserved the slightest bit of respect (all of the beneficiaries were really nice though). What is even more saddening is that this might be the direction of the youth and although older generations were very courteous there could be a shift in the other direction (from my very short time and very small sample size of people of course).

The negative aside, there are always positives and things that make me smile. First, (and this isn’t a positive in a lot of people’s eyes I’m sure) was the place that we met in the towns were always outside. It was always on a mat and it didn’t take into account the wind direction, but only shade coverage. I had a good laugh during my first field interview when after about 20 minutes I looked like I was about to become a sand dune. Second, I was blown away by the generosity of many of the people in the villages. People that don’t have money or a lot of food would just give us things – either to be thankful for the help or just to be polite. We got mangoes twice and a chicken once.

Some of the mangoes that we were given to us were cooked unripe mangoes. I didn’t think it was going to be that good and because the people are often eating them three meals a day they didn’t really seem to give them the best sale. However, I bit into one and I thought it was great. It reminded me of applesauce. Instantly I thought, this is pretty good! If I’m going to have to be on a minimal diet this wouldn’t be too bad at all. It was when I ate the second cooked mango that I realized apple sauce three times a day would get old very fast.

The language is always a problem, but I’ve seem to come to some middle ground with my questions and rephrasing questions (and I always get help) so that it wasn’t as bad as I remembered when I was in the south in July. However, when they talk amongst themselves I really have no idea what they are saying, it’s only in the context of the questions that I really understood. Which was another issue, because I couldn’t really tell if they were giving me real responses or if they were just telling me what they thought that I wanted to hear. It made questions hard to ask and validity very questionable. Also, it didn’t help when we arrived in a village and people would say they weren’t a part of the project until I told them that I just wanted to talk and they weren’t being evaluated.

Overall, this trip gave me the most ups and downs that I’ve had in a long time. I’m not sure if it is because I’m tired of the field, if it’s the region or if I’m just getting more used to Tana and that being away isn’t as appealing as it was six month ago. I had some serious issues working with other people and getting conversations going, but as a fellow worker stated: “This is rural development!”

Life in the field and the country seems to be catching up on me. I was in the field 4 weeks out of 5 and I began to forget the days of the week. Thankfully, I have a planner, otherwise I would really be lost. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I become old and senile. I’ll be a real mess then.  My hotels were minimalistic and broken down. The nice hotel didn’t have a working toilet at times, the electricity was shotty and the cockroaches were out of control! I spent one night just doing rounds in my hotel room creating a massive graveyard of cockroaches. It seemed to satisfy me for a few minutes. Other than that traveling in the field the houses were small and water was scarce. I stayed in one room that seemed like a bunker. What really gets me is toilets. I can’t imagine why anyone would choose a real toilet that doesn’t flush over a pit latrine. I’d rather the nasty stuff be a few feet down rather than still in the bowl. Am I right?

One day we were driving around looking for a village (yes, looking) and we had to ask a ton of people and were completely lost! I wasn’t really scared, but it was annoying to lose a day and it wasn’t the best of places in regards to security. We would ask people and they would freak out. They would tell us wrong directions or they would tell us the right direction but on a foot path. No, our vehicle can’t travel down a trail that is one foot thick and lined with cactus, sorry. However, we finally managed to find the village. It’s just so flat and no real roads so it is easy to get lost. Of course, when we finally arrived in the village we found out it was market day and none of the beneficiaries were there. PALM TO FACE!

Life on the road and getting older might be catching up on me. I’m not fat yet, but I’ve noticed that I’m not staying slim as easily as I did before. I made a point to continue doing exercises at night and then jumping rope a few times. I’m just sitting so much when I’m in the field, at least when I am in Tana I am walking a lot. Now that I’m back in Tana over the Christmas break I hope to get back into a routine because it will really help to get a good base (but who really cares, right?). The only reason that it is kind of important is because I might run a 65km race in May, which I would need to train for.

Interestingly, thinking about the South and the people I spoke to down there, I decided that education should be the main priority. Building capacity needs to come first, before we can implement food security successfully. Many of the beneficiaries can’t read or write and even the people governing them can have trouble with this. Furthermore, just the concepts of thinking about things in a different context is sometimes completely lost. But I think the problem from a development standpoint is that people don’t want to fund big education programs. What’s strange is that people are already giving out so much food I don’t know why they couldn’t just give families food if their child attended school. I’m sure there are all kinds of problems with it, but I still think that it is something that could be thought about.  

Getting back to Tana was quick. I said goodbye to one of my housemates that was moving out and had a nice brunch. This past week we were in a workshop related to best practices, lessons learned, innovations and recommendations so it actually applied to my work! It was great to give a presentation and show my findings, but it means that I have a ton of work to catch up on. Looks like this Christmas vacation I will be working more than I usually do during the week. At least I don’t have to go to the office!

*Madagascar votes again today. I hope that they accept whomever they choose (whether they like him or not) and that this country can get back on track.

 

I feel like I’m always saying the same things about Tana, but I guess my life is more or less the same when I’m here. I’m being more social and getting more friends as the weeks go by and I feel like I’m finally at a good point where I know a lot of people and don’t have to worry how to spend my time or what I will be doing or if I will feel comfortable. Also, I have a lot more work to do now and so I can always spend my time looking over something or typing something up because I’m always behind on everything for work.

We planted some things in our garden and the squash is growing, but I’m not sure if anything else will grow or if it just takes a little longer. I think it will be cool to actually have some food from the house rather than having to go to the market all of the time, especially because I will be in Tana all of the time starting in February (unless I go on vacation) and will have to go to the market much more often than I am now.

Work is going well too. I think my transition from Peace Corps to office is complete. Although I don’t necessarily enjoy it, I can withstand 10-hour days in an office no problem. I think I’m becoming a professional at sitting, but as long as I still walk to work and exercise it doesn’t seem to be too big of an issue.  I still notice funny things in the office all of the time too. A few weeks ago an Intern noticed that they left the plastic on the white board. People thought that the board just didn’t work and probably hadn’t used it in over 4 years. Kind of funny it took him sitting next to the board in the final year of the project to realize that someone just needed to take the plastic off. Also the other day I saw a calendar that had a very interesting picture choice of a child half naked on the beach. It almost seemed like a parody of a swimsuit calendar and I wondered why they had chosen that picture to capture the month of November.

I was a tourist a little bit before I went into the field. I went on an organized tour to Mandraka Park, which is about 60 km out of Tana. It wasn’t really that beautiful, but it was really nice to get out of the city and walk around for a while. It was also nice to hang out with some other friends that I hadn’t spent too much time with. Along with being a tourist, I guess some of the people in Tana thought the same thing because I almost got robbed the week before I went into the field. I was trying to get into a bus one morning in a new area and all of the buses were full and so we all had to rush and cram to get into the bus. I didn’t get in on the first attempt and someone pointed out that my bag was open, which was really nice and I closed my bag and realized that I needed to be more careful. Then when I tried to get into the bus a second time, I spun by backpack around and noticed that someone was in the processes of opening my bag and taking things! He saw me see and so he stopped and I was able to close everything up and make sure nothing was missing and he walked off (at the time I wasn’t sure if it was him so I didn’t accuse him). As more buses passed that were full, I finally decided to just take a taxi.

Going into the field was an interesting experience. I was excited because it was the closest thing to the Northeast that I was going to get. The weather, landscape, and language are pretty close to Andapa.  However, early on, as always, I had some serious issues.

First problem, and I knew this would happen eventually, I got a driver that I didn’t really like. He kept complaining about everything and was just hard to talk to and seemed over protective and afraid at the same time. We had a big argument a few times about something that neither of us could control (and as I expected and confirmed now that the trip is finished, wasn’t an issue to begin with). I eventually just called him Sergeant Stick Up His Butt (in my head of course – I still have some manners) just because he was so hard to work with. However, even though we had an argument, he did want to talk about it and figure out why I was mad in order to improve, so I did respect that.

As for the planning, I’m not sure this will ever work itself out. Not only did people not do what I asked them to do, but also they lied and didn’t do what they said they would. The first few days were a mess and then I just quit caring. I realized that they didn’t respect my time with them and that I had no reason to try and change or improve the poor schedule that was created. I planned and confirmed as much as I could while I was around the office and then the rest of the trip went as well as it could go.

I spent two weeks in one region with one NGO and I got a ton of information! I have been only spending a week or so with other NGO’s and so I didn’t realize how much information I could get now that I know what I’m doing. Being able to speak the language (the dialect was almost the same as Andapa) and knowing what questions to ask really helped me out to not waste too much time and just get what I needed. Plus, I’ve been doing this for the past 4 months so it really seems good now. I even made a diagram at the office that might be able to explain what a best practice and lesson learned is to other people in the future. One of the days I spoke for 4.5 hours straight with beneficiaries (because of poor planning) and I was impressed that I was able to make it through without spacing out. Everyone seemed really tired (the beneficiaries were exchanging times to talk depending on the activity that they are involved in) and so they held up fine, but field agents were getting tired and I was fading by the very end.

It was also my first time back in a “real” village, as I like to call it. Often, I’m visiting places that have experienced multiple projects and organizations. Being helped is a way of life; some of them were born into it. I had the real pleasure of going to a community that never had a previous NGO or project help them and they only started in 2012 (late for the project). It was really nice to see how genuine and hard working the people could be. How happy they were to show me and talk to me what they’ve done and how little they just asked for things. Although it was a very positive experience, it was kind of sad when I thought about the comparison. There are a lot of people here in Madagascar that just expect continual foreign aid. In their mind the project never ends because someone is always going to be helping them. I think they no longer think about bettering themselves for their own sake, but more of taking advantage of the opportunity. It’s always good to ask because eventually someone will give it. That being said, it was nice to experience some real people for a while.

Interestingly, that same day I came to a small realization that I’m representing quite a lot when I go to these remote locations. Of course I’m representing myself, that’s quite obvious. But also I’m representing the project, the NGO in the area and then the NGO in Tana. On a bigger scale, I’m representing all American males. And then, in some ways, I’m representing all foreigners. It’s kind of scary to think about this and the responsibility that comes with it. I am the Vazaha and everything is stands for when I visit a place that might not see a lot of foreigners.  My 5-second interaction with someone on the road or how I phrase a question during an interview can really influence how a community will view me and all others with a similar background to mine on a much larger scale. Needless to say, when I thought about this I tried to be a little bit nicer (not that I was mean before).

I spent a lot of time in the car. It was interesting to think that I had a 14-hour car ride day that didn’t seem that bad and then there were days that were 8-9 hours in the car that seemed short. I think I’m getting used to the traveling and I’ve been using the time to think. Sergeant had a USB stick so I put some songs on that and we listened to American music and spaced out as we went up North to Mananara.

It was my first time in Mananara Nord and my first time on the famous road. It is a really bad road, but I didn’t think it was the worst. It’s mostly just bad because it’s so far and you have 5 ferry crossings that don’t go as smoothly as one would hope to have. Granted, a few places near Mananara Nord could be really bad, but we were lucky to have relatively dry weather and so we didn’t have too many difficulties. In addition, the road was along the coast and was extremely beautiful! There were a few times that I wanted to stop the car to take pictures, but just settled for taking them from the car. It is definitely a very splendid coastline.

My trip ended in the same disorganized fashion that it began, but I didn’t really care. I was really happy with all of my findings and ready to go back to Tana. Since I was on the East coast I brought back bananas, plantains and litchis.

It’s so nice to eat good fruit! Tana really doesn’t have that many good options for fruit and it is really sad. They could ship the good fruit in, but it’s like they prefer to just sell the bad stuff all of the time.  So I was able to bring good bananas to work, cook plantains for breakfast and eat litchis at all waking hours of the day! I think it’s good that litchi season only lasts about a month. It keeps the appeal of the fruit and I honestly don’t think that my body could handle 12 months of litchi consumption – no self-control. Also, now that I have a freezer, frozen litchis are pretty much the most phenomenal food on the planet. 

Back in Tana meant back to work and back to being social. The rainy season has arrived so every afternoon is a wildcard. I have realized that my schedule of 7:30am – 4:30pm or 5pm is really good because it allows me to do everything. First, I’m much more of a morning person, so starting work early is really good for me. Second, I’m in the office during the time that most people get things done or need to contact me. Third, I’m home before it rains and I’m home while it is still light so that I can exercise if I want to. I seem to have found my routine.

Finally, I was jumping rope the other day and I noticed something strange on the tree. You can imagine my excitement at the time because usually I jump rope and nothing changes. It’s actually kind of nice to just listen to my iPod, but also be aware of the sound of the rope and the muscles in my feet, calves, shoulders and forearms.  The object looked almost like a branch or dead leaf, but was a strange shape and didn’t quite fit with the tree. I wasn’t going anywhere so I just kept jumping and staring at the object. Eventually, it moved and I realized it was a chameleon! This really blew my mind at first as to how a chameleon ended up in our garden/in our neighborhood, but then I heard that a previous roommate had brought the chameleon to the garden. So I watched him as I did my workout and then when I finished jumping, I decided to take a picture.  It was amazing how instantly he changed colors! He was a very dark brown or black color and as soon as I got close he immediately changed to green. The more I moved him and got close the greener he became. I let him go and then he moved to a more yellowish color. Finally, after I left him alone for a bit he was back to the dark color. However, I could never get a picture because every time I got close he would change. A really cool animal.

It was funny because I posted the pictures on facebook and then made some comment as to whether there is racism in the chameleon community. However, I got to thinking about it a little more (I had lunch by myself that day) and I wondered what it would be like if humans could change their skin. Would we all look the same or would we still want to be different? Or would we all have the exact same idea of what it is to be attractive? It made me think about fashion because people still have their own fashion and not everyone decides to dress the same. However, dress is still something external. What if we could change our skin and eyes and hair? Would we all just become one race eventually over time? Then I thought about this with chameleons and thought if they have a general idea of what is ‘attractive’ to other chameleons. Is there something within their genes that they instinctually know what colors to choose in order to attract a mate? And what about the one in our garden that has lived almost two years in solitude? Does he still know what it is to be attractive, or has that changed in his chameleon mind? Or is it something that is never lost or confused, but forever changing depending on environment?

 On that note, happy Thanksgiving! To all my American friends: please over-eat for me!!!

 

 

 

 

Another trip, another two weeks in the car another few weeks in Tana. Sad to say, but I don’t think my life has really been that interesting of late – nothing out of the ordinary. I’ve seem to have become used to my work, used to life in Tana and used to traveling in the car every month that there doesn’t seem to be that much to talk about. That being said, let’s see where I end up with this thing and maybe I’ll change my mind.  

When my trip to the southeast started I was a little worried. My driver wasn’t really the best of drivers in his ability to drive a car. I wouldn’t necessarily say that he was reckless, but he definitely doesn’t care too much about his job and I wouldn’t say that it was the smoothest ride that I’ve ever been on. In addition, it seemed like he didn’t really want to talk and wasn’t that sociable either. I was thinking: great, for one of my longest, if not longest trip, I got the driver that doesn’t want to help me out and can’t drive…this is going to be fun. To top it all off the first day we had car problems and that slowed us down and was annoying. Nothing quite like stopping on the side of the road in a town and having every crazy person within a 2 km radius come and bother you as well as look at the engine like they knew what they were doing (ok, the latter was kind of entertaining).

However, like all things, and all people, given time and chances they can surprise you and so did my driver. Before I really delve into the time I spent with my driver I have to discuss one factor that could have influenced the success of the trip – music. My first solo trip consisted of a temperamental radio/cd player that didn’t play to often or that well. My second trip was in a new vehicle that oddly enough didn’t have a radio, just an empty slot of sadness. Granted my driver played music on his phone and that lasted part of the trip, but it still wasn’t the same and a battery only has a life that is so long. This time, we had a real radio and flash drives to play music. I think this really helps because with music you don’t feel obligated to have a conversation with the person sitting next to you (sounds bad, right?). You can still talk, still interact and be friendly, but when you want to shut it down, all (or at least most) of the impoliteness goes away. There’s a sense of conversational freedom when music is involved; you can tune in and tune out all at the same time.

That being said, the driver and me did our thing and talked when necessary at the beginning. I think we were both trying to size each other up and figure out what was going on. It’s kind of strange to be on a two-week trip with a total stranger. However, he started to realize that I could actually speak Malagasy and that definitely helped with communication. He also seemed to enjoy that I don’t get offended easily and don’t want any handholding. And I realized that he didn’t need to talk to me when I was tired of talking with people. He was happy to talk, but he wasn’t going to chat my ear off after I just spent the last 6 hours asking a billion questions. It actually worked out great. And with the music, there was no silence and no mandatory conversation.

On the second day of the trip I had already noticed that he was rocking out behind the wheel. Then, it became more and more apparent that he would clap and honk the horn occasionally with the beat of the song. I didn’t feel that it was unsafe and it really made me smile. Then he started singing in the car and I realized that this guy was in his element. It wasn’t until about a week in that we were driving around a village in the middle of nowhere in the Southeast and “Hey Jude” came on that we both just enjoyed the music. I don’t know why, but we both just started singing with the song as we went down through this village and I think we both realized that it was going to be a relaxed and easy trip. The people in the village were a little off guard to see us both singing, but that could be for a lot of reasons.

What I find interesting is that a lot of people in the office don’t like this guy. Yeah, he is kind of a jerk, not the best driver and doesn’t really want to help people (I guess those are good points). But really, that didn’t matter to me. He left me alone after I was tired of talking with people, he joked around all of the time (I don’t like being serious for too long) and he did his job. What was amazing is that there were multiple days that we were leaving at 5am or 6am and he didn’t complain. We would come back on those same days at 6pm or so. He didn’t complain about leaving early, we were back before it got too dark so he was fine with that. I appreciated that despite his personal social shortcomings, he drove the car and that was what I needed. And I think he liked that I did my job because it was my job too. I’d much rather be in a car with a guy that’s going to tell me like it is rather than the guy that is super nice and afraid to speak his mind and that you can’t just have a normal conversation.

Now the places we stayed in were slightly interesting as well. In Manakara the room, which was apparently one of the nice rooms, was decked out with red everything and flowers all over the place. It was something straight out of an 80’s prom date high school movie. I kept wondering when Christian Slater was going to walk in. Continuing with the movie theme, the guard that was walking around the hotel reminded me of the guy in the movie Sling Blade; he seemed to be humming or grunting or just making weird noises as he made his rounds and had a very similar facial expression. There you have it; Manakara is the Hollywood of Madagascar.  Weird. Then when I got to Farafangana, I was staying in a hotel that had the worst central lighting that I’ve ever had. I couldn’t work at night because it was so dark (I didn’t even attempt). It was crazy how bad it was. I’m still quite shocked as to how a hotel could really think that it was adequately lit. Then again, I’m sure the majority of their clients aren’t trying to read cryptic notes during their night stay. In Vangaindrano I had a spaceship shower. I’ll just let you think about that on your own. And then I’d been to the hotel in Mananjary before so there wasn’t really anything to comment on. I was downgraded from a bungalow to a regular room (because the bungalows were already booked), which just means that I had a smaller desk and shower. Which really means, that I hit my head in the shower a few times and that I had to fold in half in order to work at the desk. But then again, that sounds like a first world problem so I don’t think I should be freaking out about that.

I realized that I’m turning into my dad with all of my travel items. I keep my laptop in a shirt and my sunglasses in a sock. Don’t know how it happened, it kind of just snuck up on me (scary). I don’t think I have too much to worry about unless I start putting my iPod in a hat and my kindle in some underwear.

As far as planning for the trip, it was kind of a mess again and I’m starting to think that I’m not being clear in my explanations, which I’m really working on so that the future trips don’t have any issues (I only had one week in Tana in between the last two trips). However, my language is getting much stronger in the group discussion settings and I’m really starting to understand the project. Interestingly, there will be a village where I understand everything and the people all understand me and I’m thinking what a wonderful job and then I go 10 kilometers to another village and it’s like we are both speaking a foreign language to each other and I have a headache and wonder why I even bothered to show up. Not entirely sure what brings these changes – it could be actual dialect and accent, how good I’m feeling, or how comfortable they are with visitors or foreigners – but it makes it hard to know where I’ll find something of substance. Interestingly, it doesn’t necessarily dictate whether I find a best practice, lesson learned or recommendation. There have been some struggles that gave me some good findings and then there have also been smooth conversations where I didn’t find a lot of useful information. In many ways, I’m feeling much more comfortable with my job, which also means that I’m busier, and that has freed me from some of the earlier anxiety that I was experiencing. It was clear when I found more findings in 3 days with one NGO (in the same area and with poor planning) than I did on my first visit with a different NGO for two weeks (and better planning) that I had figured things out.

I came back to Tana and got right back into the hash. It was fun to run again, but this time really kicked my ass. I didn’t do any running or jump rope during my last trip and so I wasn’t in the greatest of shape. On top of that I hadn’t been drinking that much water and it was a really hot day with bad air. Now, that I got all of my excuses out of the way, I managed to run and walk the 11 km (more like 12+ after all of my running in the wrong direction and getting lost on part of the course), but it was good to have it over with, fun to relax with beers and friends afterwards and get back into my social life in Tana. What’s funny though is that after the Hash, I’m always dead. I just go home and go right to sleep. But I’m not tired on the Monday after, which is really nice.  

I also noticed that my first few days of being back in town it’s hard for me to turn off work mode. I’m kind of stuck in my 20 questions mentality and I seem to be evaluating everything and asking questions about everything and everyone. I want to know the how and the why and the recommendations for every little thing that people are doing. I think it’s good to engage with people, and to think critically, but even I can realize that I need to shut off (for my sake and for others’). After a few days I usually manage to chill out and become a little less inquisitive.

Back in the office I’ve been writing a ton (that’s why I’m not really into this blog entry even though it has managed to get pretty long) and just trying to get everything onto paper for consultants, my boss and myself. It’s good to write down all of the important things that I’m finding and making connections between different villages and regions and just how everything is functioning, but it’s a lot of work. To add to this stress, I had to go to some meetings last week that were all in French. I think it did some good for my subconscious learning, but for the most part of I didn’t really follow and just ended up writing and paying attention occasionally. It didn’t really matter because I wasn’t the target audience, but I did pick up some useful information that should help me with my future travels.

My walk to work got a new excitement – I’m comparing people to animals. It all started one day when I was walking home and I saw an old women running across the road. For whatever reason, she reminded me of an owl. And once that started, I haven’t been able to stop. I never tell people any of these connections but I’ve seen an entire zoo this past week and it really keeps me smiling. * Let me be quite clear that I don’t mean any of this to be offensive or degrading; it’s just an interesting connection between us humans and our animal brethren*

One of my roommates recently left. We had a going away dinner and night out to celebrate for her and it was really fun because we did a zombie vs. vampires theme. Everyone dressed up and it was super cool because the restaurant accommodated our theme and really helped out. The costumes and the people involved really made the night. It’s nights like that that remind me of how lucky I am to know my current social group and really happy to be where I am.  Halloween might just be the greatest holiday, but people are too scared to admit it (pun intended). I had so much fun that I think I might just dress up like a zombie once every few months just to keep the nightlife of Tana guessing.

Madagascar had elections this past Friday. I guess I should be thrilled, excited, positive and writing a blog about that. I suppose I could even connect it with Russel Brand’s whole political view or movement or whatever it’s called that seems to be flooding the Internet; but really, neither of them warrants much of anything at the moment.

The elections in Madagascar are great and I’m very happy for the country, but it’s still a long way to go. Not only are most of the votes still to be counted, but also no real results have come out so of course there aren’t going to be problems yet. There’s still a chance for people to get mad, to cheat, for something to go wrong. It’s only something that can be applauded in hindsight. I’ll be excited once an elected government is in place and this country has the chance to get back on track. But I’ll believe it when I see it. Oddly, I feel somewhat similarly about Brand’s comments as well.

Yes, he has no credentials. Yes he is wacky. Yes he is an actor and that’s the only reason that anyone is listening to him right now. Yes, he doesn’t have a plan of action. He doesn’t have a road from theory to application and so everyone who is educated and endorsing the current political systems of democracy are in complete disagreement with his statements. However, what I do admire in all of this is that Brand will probably reach a large population that never thought about the issues that he’s bringing up. He will probably reach many of the people that he is supposedly fighting for. People that didn’t know they are being exploited. People that never cared before, but might actually care a little more about the economic, social and political systems they are a part of. I think voting in a government is our best option, but I know that getting a population to think about what they are doing is even better. It is the ideal.

But once again, there is no looking into the future for this one as well. Madagascar might have a new president soon. Western politics could change if the majority of the people believe in a celebrity rather than tradition and history. Who knows. Sometimes we get stuck in our caves and it’s hard for us to see the necessary lights towards change. Regardless, I hope that Madagascar and humanity keep moving forward so that we can all look back and say we did something right, rather than we did something ridiculously wrong.

 

This blog post seems to mix my two worlds: my life in Tana as well as life on the road. As I spent a little over a week in Tana before hitting the road again, it seems only fitting that I speak a little bit about the big city that is becoming more and more my home.

First, it helps that I’m starting to meet more new people every week. Just coming back from the field I managed to meet a group of new Americans at work that either just started or came back from vacation when I first started working in Tana.  It has been nice to have a stronger social network at work for many reasons, primarily because now I have a reason to eat more slowly. I use to go to lunch by myself and because nobody was with me I just ate and shoveled away the food. Now that I have company I eat a little slower and have people to talk to, which I think could be a good thing. In addition, to the people at work I’m meeting new people every week (thanks to my awesome roommates) and getting more and more comfortable going out in Tana and other social events because I’m no longer new.

I have been trying to get into a more regular work out routine or, something, if nothing else, that I can just stick to and give some regularity to my exercise. In this regard I managed to find a guy who can make weights. I originally looked in some shops but to buy dumbbells it is really expensive! I found a guy that could make weights with cement so I ordered them for about a fifth of the price. However, on the day that they brought the weights over they weren’t completely dry and one broke while I was lifting it. I even brought a scale out and showed them that they were much lighter than I had requested. However, I nicely and firmly stated that they could make them again at the proper weight and could make them at our house if that was easier. They complied, used our scale, and I got the weights that I requested. They weren’t completely dry before I left, but they seemed ok. Sadly, upon returning, they still weren’t completely dry so maybe there was a problem in the mixture, but I have faith that they will come around. Regardless, I was able to use them the other day to work out and nothing disastrous happened.

I’ve continued doing jump rope, but I’m getting tired of all the jumping and to make matters worse I think it is stressing my already tense shoulders from typing all day. The swinging of the rope for 22 minutes doesn’t tire my legs as much as it does my shoulders. So, I forced myself to wake up early and start running. I’ve only gone a few times and it’s not very far, but it’s better than nothing. I leave around 5:15am and run up (pretty steep in some places) the streets for about 3.5km and then come back down. It only takes about 32 minutes or less, but it’s good to have the increased movement in addition to walking. I’m hoping to start a new regime that will mix the weights, running and jump rope evenly so as to not stress my body too much.

I know it’s weird, but I really do appreciate laundry; laundry that is done without effort or thinking is pretty awesome. I’ve had enough laundry situations in the past that when something really goes well, I seem to take some small joy in it. The week before leaving I was home with only one other roommate and so I didn’t really need to worry about other roommates doing laundry. Then, to add to this joy, Tana has no humidity and so I can wash clothes at night and set them out to dry – something that was near impossible to accomplish in Andapa. Clean clothes is definitely one of life’s small victories.

I finished reading A walk in the Woods, which I can only say that my opinion of it never improved.  Don’t read it. I started reading Moby Dick, but managed to get de-railed because I was still in the middle of Breaking Bad and haven’t been reading that much lately. I thought the end of season 3 was great, but the beginning of season 4 was disappointing. However, as the season progressed it picked up a lot and was really good. But what I don’t understand is that it didn’t really end on a cliffhanger. I know that I’m addicted to the TV show and because I feel that it is at a comfortable breaking point, I feel comfortable taking a break from it all for a bit and maybe get into reading again. I keep on thinking that I’m spending too much time on the computer and that I need to find a hobby, but I haven’t decided what that might be.  Suggestions would be appreciated, but might not be adopted J

Which brings me to the field. I got a new driver, a new car (literally a new car, it was fresh off the port from Tamatave and didn’t have any decals yet) and a new mission. For the past two weeks I spent my time, more or less equally, between communities near Vatomandry and Mahanoro along the East coast of Madagascar.

The first thing that I remembered is that I love the middle to northern section of the East coast. The climate and landscape is slightly different from Andapa, but the culture and language has many similarities. I definitely felt like I could speak more freely and be understood more easily by the beneficiaries during the visits.

However, I had some serious planning issues that came up with this trip.  First, this group of NGO’s should have been the most prepared out of all my visits so far; they sent me my schedule, they had supposedly already collected best practices, the sites weren’t that far, and the language was similar to the dialect I knew. Only the dialect seemed to work out as well as I had hoped. Second, I had some people who got to see me a little upset because of ignoring me as well as giving me the information too late. I’m happy that I was able to express myself and get the information that I needed, but I don’t like that I had to be upset in order to get everything that I needed.

For the most part, they didn’t really understand why I was coming to visit them. They weren’t sure of the schedule themselves. And then, I was unclear in explaining the purpose of my visit or they didn’t understand so that after my visit they decided to share their best practices that they’ve found rather than telling me before the visit. A real headache, but a great learning experience, and what is most important is that I was able to collect the best practices and lessons learned and recommendations on my trip.

With all of this confusion, I went to Mahanoro from Vatomandry a little earlier than planned in order to clarify my schedule and  further explain what I was doing, which turned out to be a good idea. They had given me the schedule, but nobody seemed to know that I was coming and nobody seemed prepared for my visit the following week. However, I was able to meet with a few agents and then clarify what my plan would be. It conflicted with some meetings, so I just ended up going solo (with my driver) out into the countryside to meet these beneficiaries that were told that I would be coming to visit them.

It actually  went pretty well. I was able to talk with some people for a long time (over 3 hours in a sitting) and get a lot of questions answered. I think they liked getting a visitor and once again the dialect similarity really helped to get my questions across, ask further questions and understand their responses. The lack of efficiency at times did bother me a little bit, but I was happy to know that I didn’t require any help during the visits in order to do my job. It was nice to meet some communities that don’t get a lot of visitors either as well as speak with community members that were really excited about what they’ve been doing over the past few years. I did have one day with the whole team and we were able to see a community celebration of the integration of the activities within the project.

Some odd things to note about the trip was that the Malagasy food in Vatomandry was a lot better than in Mahanoro. I’m not talking about a small difference, but I’m talking about really good food in Vatomandry and really bad food in Mahanoro (granted after a while we did find a better place to eat). I don’t really know how two cities that are only an hour and half apart could be so different in food (they’re both on the coast), but they were a world apart.  In Vatomandry I didn’t know which choice I should choose, in Mahanoro I didn’t know which of the three choices would be the worst. I was in the sun a bit more than usual and for the first time in about 3 years I realized that I really don’t burn that easily, it was just the doxycycline that I was taking that was making my skin so sensitive. I am actually quite happy to be able to walk around a little bit without having to cake on the 50 proof sunscreen, looking like a mix between an alien and Casper. Also, the driver that I had this time seemed to be a better fit for my personality and we didn’t really have any problems. He was practicing his English, but French seemed to come out a bit too much; and what was annoying is that he knew that he was speaking French, knew that I didn’t, and for some reason thought that his little exercise was going to help somehow. He found out very quick that I didn’t care much for it and so he stopped. In general, we seemed much more alike than my other driver and it went well to be stuck in the car with him for two weeks. Figured that towards the end of the trip he found out that he would be transferred and so I probably won’t see him too much in the future.

In addition, my trip out into the country reminded me of a lot of little things that happen with Malagasy people that really make me smile and enjoy my time here. First, going back to my driver, we were waiting for lunch and I saw him staring at a tree. He was smiling and then walked up to the tree he stood under a branch and laughed. He looked at me and said that the branch was the same height as him and just laughed (quite impressive that he thought he was that tall from a shot distance). When he walked back to me he looked at the branch again and simply said, “I’m short”. Second, I was walking around with a women’s farming group to go look at their garden when one of the women got a stick stuck in her dress. She walked for a while with it clinging on and then had a short little battle removing the stick. At some point all of the old women just thought it was so amusing and started cracking up and talked about it for a good minute. I couldn’t help but smile and enjoy it as well.  

But the biggest revelation that came out of this last trip was that I might have found some clarity or a direction for the future. I spent the first week of travels sitting all day. I would go to sit at meals, sit in offices, sit in the car, sit during interviews and discussions, and then sit in my hotel room before going to sleep and then proceeded to continue sitting the following day.  I began to realize that with all my moving I wasn’t really moving at all.

It made me think of my time back in California before I went into the Peace Corps. I had thoughts of going to law school and I got a job as a legal assistant for a year. The  job gave me great experience, but it didn’t pay too well and so I continued doing landscaping work on Saturdays. In that time I soon realized that a job as a lawyer didn’t really interest me and that I didn’t enjoy going to work Monday through Friday, but I noticed that the Saturdays were never a problem. The physical labor was nice, that using my body and hands was both calming and energizing; it didn’t feel like work.

I came to Peace Corps and had the blessing to live in a loving community that gave me the opportunity to farm rice, plant trees, build cook stoves, help watch over a Private Reserve and more importantly keep moving every day. I had a few people tell me that I was working a lot while I was in Andapa, and in some ways, I guess I often worked seven days a week quite regularly. But for me, it wasn’t work, it was something that I enjoyed.

In some ways maybe my love of Madagascar might have got confused with this previous knowledge of my love of exercise, physical activity and being outside. I took the job that I have now because I thought (and still think) that it’s interesting and worthwhile and I would still be in Madagascar. On an intellectual level, the job is great and don’t get me wrong, I don’t at all want to become a grunt of sorts, but would be very happy to continue thinking – critically or creatively – on a regular basis. The job I have now I do enjoy, but I’m just not sure if it’s the path I want to take.

After one week of sitting I woke up early on Saturday and ran on the beach of Mahanoro on the East coast. As the sun brightened up the clouds over the ocean I joined the few other people strung out along the sand and ran north with no course in mind. Instantly, once I started moving I started feeling better; the cool morning breeze flowing in my lungs, the light perspiration drip from my forehead and rest on my temples, sand lightly massaging my feet and the burn in my calves as I pushed off the uneven surface further along the coast. I realized that this is what l want. Not necessarily to be perpetually running, but to be using my body. I don’t need money or prestige. I don’t need to build up a network or rise in the ranks, to a certain extent I wonder if I even care if I’m successful (which is quite a difficult word to identify/classify). I don’t really know what this means at the moment, I don’t know if this renewed affirmation will keep me in Madagascar, send me back to California, or lead me to some other part of the world. I guess only time will tell.  

That being said, I returned to Tana tired and with a cough. Too many long days of speaking Malagasy and breathing in dust (I know I make it sound so attractive – but I do enjoy it).  So I went back to the doctor and got some medicine. I figured that I might as well use my time wisely and so I managed to get all of my health questions/issues dealt with. I had a wart on my finger that didn’t seem to be responding to the medicine Peace Corps gave me. However, I was prescribed an essential oil that seems to be doing the trick and after 5 days it already looks a lot better. My eyes have been feeling tired and I’ve had light headaches. It turns out I need glasses. I didn’t make any mistakes on the eye exam, but once the doctor put some lenses in front of my eyes the world became so clear! I was really amazed at how fuzzy of a world I’ve been living in. So, I don’t think I’ll be wearing glasses all the time (and I’m not ready to be sticking contacts on my eyes), but it will be good to have them while I’m writing and reading notes or on the computer.

Other than that, I’ve been in Tana for a week and then leave for Manakara on Saturday. We had meetings and I’ve had a ton of work to do so it’s good to be busy, but I need to be conscious of all that I’m doing and plan a little better to figure out how I will spend my time. In the next few months I’ll need to complete more reports and give a few presentations, which is all part of the office life I guess.

One thing that I started (to help de-stress) was attending the Hash run in Tana. It was my first time every attending and I had a lot of fun.  It was great to meet more people and expand my social network, but also to get outside and run a bit and see some other places just outside of Tana. And…you can’t complain about having all the beer afterwards. I’ll try to go as often as I can while I’m in Tana and not on the road; and definitely when I’m just around Tana from February until June. I guess I might be a drinker with a running problem…On, on! 

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