I know there is the saying of live and let go. For most of my life I’ve been terrible at adopting this mantra, but I feel like I’ve somehow progressed to this from my frustrations and blog entry of last week. As I reread the blog I was slightly shocked at how negative it read (yes, I know, I wrote it). Also, I most apologize because it was overgeneralized and obviously I couldn’t possibly be talking about the entire country as a whole. However, when one works in rural development, you sometimes get lost in your world and it becomes hard to believe that there is anything different. But I was also very happy, because sometimes I try to be so positive that I lose sight of my true feelings and by writing the blog it helped me figure out what was really happening in my mind. To let go of the negativity and figure out realistic solutions and steps for moving forward. I’m just as high strung as ever, but I’m letting go of what’s done and moving forward with what still exists and is malleable.

I need to do a better job of choosing my battles and more willing to sacrifice certain ideas, concepts, or projects regardless of interest, quality, or necessity. As I reread the blog a few times I think I noticed that the cause of my frustrations were that I felt people weren’t meeting their potential. And that’s hard for me. The government here is stable and has countrywide programs in place. Although the income inequality is ever looming throughout the country, there are a lot of resources and money to do good things. On the surface, it’s set up to succeed. Similarly, with my work I get frustrated because I see people that could be doing so much more than they are, people who aren’t reaching their full potential. I guess that’s why I’m here and just another reason why it helped to write my negative thoughts. So I’m letting go of last week and the frustrations of before, trying to breathe a bit more, and realizing that I can only do what people are willing to let me do and nothing more.

Having said that, I’ve noticed that people don’t really like the physical labor here, which can be a problem in agriculture, but I’ll leave that discussion for another day. So it’s not really that they don’t want to work, it’s just that they don’t enjoy using their bodies. I think I struggle with this because in rural Madagascar it was a completely different dynamic. However, the feeling here are much like that in the U.S., not many people want to be working in a garden or a farm, especially when they’re working in a structure and line of work that doesn’t guarantee anything. As a result, I’ve decided that since I enjoy the work and it needs to be done, that I will do what I can for the physical labor and for the set-up of projects and then ease the workers into it once it’s running and much more manageable. A good example of this would be with the seedling nursery.

Nobody wants to dig the holes for the poles and level the ground. My asking them to do so will upset them, make me the guy who’s forcing everyone to work, and shape a negative attitude for the nursery. However, if I work my ass off and then invite them to partake in the easier activities then they see me as initiating a team dynamic and wanting to share my knowledge – I know it’s complicated, but I really do feel like that’s the way things are going.

During my orientation we talked a little about positive deviance and how it can affect work. If I do everything then it’s not sustainable. It looks good on a resumé, but it doesn’t mean anything when I’m gone and no one else cares. I have to walk a fine line with the positive deviance because not everyone actually appreciates the model worker. Some view it as over zealous, others like I’m trying to show off, or to prove how ‘little’ they’re doing. I work hard and I’m aware of this, and I’m always pushing everyone (including myself) to work harder, so I can understand the feeling, but I’ll never stop, I’ll just slow down. That being said, a day after I spent a day sorting fencing, hurling the bales of fencing, measuring, separating and re-rolling for distribution to home gardens, I had a few of the students tell me that next year they want to volunteer to help the garden. I was quite clear that I can’t pay them and neither can the organization, but that didn’t stop them. Clearly, some people have been watching me work and their not afraid to take advantage of it in a good way. Later that day, more people at the Center expressed interest in learning about the nursery and planting. It’s coming around, even if it’s not as fast as I want it.

And what’s even more interesting, is that after about two days of non-stop physical work more people have said that they want to learn things from me and help out. It just took two days of hard labor (and a killer workout at that) to get things going. My boss here once told me that you couldn’t tell people what to do around here even if it’s good and it will help them. They have to think about it on their own and tell themselves before they become interested. I’m realizing that she was right and that one of the main ways I can get people motivated to work is by working hard and keeping the motivation within myself. Similarly, at the farm the people were much more motivated to work when they saw that I was still working hard and friendly even after I got so upset last week. When some of the women who I work with joined us at the Farm I was surprised at their work ethic compared to others. I might not have been noticing it over time when I see them each day, but it was clear that they were motivated, organized, and disciplined on what needed to be done. I think they’re all starting to realize that I really do care.

So you might be asking yourself at this point, “What does Nick look like when he’s working hard?” One co-worker of mine (and friend) stated quite plainly, “You’re like a zombie. You never get tired.”

I just laughed because I can see it. To say I never get tired would be a lie, I actually get tired quickly, it’s just that I deal with being tired for a long time without becoming exhausted. In some ways I enter into a meditation state where I’m lost in thought and thinking about life, work, and random things. Other times I wonder if I’m thinking at all and I feel like I’m in a trance. However, we decided that a zombie doesn’t think, so my transformation is complete yet. I’m sure it’s also a big reason that I enjoy this work because I’m not thinking about the job or being tired, but thinking about things that interest me while my body does the work. The other day at the farm I was squatting staring off into space as we were waiting for our transport. Someone asked me what I was thinking about and it caught me off guard. I had to search for what I was really thinking about, but I knew I was thinking about something! So I suppose that I’ve transformed from Mzamani to Mzombie.

Although each day has its ups and downs, I do feel more comfortable with my social life as time goes by. I feel like each day I’m breaking down the social barriers. I’m still unsure if it’s race, class, or language that separates me, but I’m slowly getting through. I think that many people, when they see me here, have a lot of tension. Tension from the past times of apartheid. Tension from speaking a different language (some people think I’m speaking Afrikaans). Tension from being the only white guy in the area. Tension from thinking that I’m a boss. Tension from thinking that I’m judging them. Tension from wondering what I really think of them. Aside from those people who work with me directly in agriculture, I’m not a very tense person and they are beginning to realize that I like to have fun and be normal (-ish)! Some volunteers said that I was already integrated because I was spending so much time in my village. In my mind I’m not integrated, but spending time in the village is the reason I’m here.

Going back to my first Peace Corps experience I just wanted to travel all over Madagascar (and I did…over the span of four years). Maybe it’s because I’ve been to South Africa before, but I don’t really feel the urge to travel and see the things that I didn’t have a chance to see before. What I didn’t have a chance to really see and experience was the life of many rural South Africans. I didn’t spend time in a village. The University of Cape Town was fairly posh in and of itself and even a large portion of the student body was white and living a completely different lifestyle from those in the village. Sadly, when I was in South Africa in 2007 I don’t think I cared enough about the culture and integrating myself with locals and I have to remember that that attitude is rather common. The attitude that I have this time around is different and I’m just thankful for the second chance.

Now, as much as I love the village, the power has been going out almost every night from 6pm – 8pm and I don’t enjoy that one bit. Not really sure of the reason, but it’s happening and so one has to deal with it. I’m a slow learner and so it took me a while to figure out that I need to cook really early and then eat later (it’s an electric stove, which means no cooking if there’s no power). It’s just nice to know that the power will come back so that I don’t freak out about electronics and go into crazy energy conservation mode.

On a social note, anyone who knows me knows that I don’t really care for children. Honestly, I don’t know how I’ve made it through 28 years without really liking children. What I continue to be amazed by is that children seem to like me. I’ve struggled with this for a while and it is only now becoming clearer. Kids like me because I pay attention to them. I don’t know what to say or what to do, but I acknowledge their existence, I provide someone to share their experiences with. The other day I was playing with some kids and a guy told me that I really like playing with kids. I responded with a long, “Uuuuuuuuuhhhhhhh.” Truth be told not always, and most likely not usually. However, I just view it as something that needs to be done here because many of the children lack family support. Sometimes it’s frustrating, sometimes awkward, and sometimes I thoroughly enjoy myself. Either way I just do it. I’m happy that I do it here because so many children seem neglected by adults and really enjoy the added attention. Don’t worry though; I’m still terrified of babies.

Because my keyhole garden is coming along and should be finished soon I’ll need a new creative activity. As I was burning my trash I noticed that I have been eating a lot of candy, especially lollypops or suckers. Amidst the flames I noticed all these sucker sticks and I felt like I was wasting. Not sure what I’ll do with them yet, but I plan to start saving them and hopefully I’ll have an epiphany at some point. On another note – the no rip floss that I bought might be fire proof, which is kind of amazing…although I don’t envision buying enough floss to make a flame suit any time soon.

Getting back to suckers I’m starting to understand the South African cost of living and it blows my mind on what people (including myself) blow our money on each week. For starters, I’ll buy my candy for about 1 rand a piece. An egg is only 40 cents more. So basically, I can have a solid source of protein or a piece of sugar for the same price. Similarly, a can of soda is 10 rand. A loaf of sliced bread is 9 rand. A bag of tomatoes might be 5-10 rand and you get 6 bananas for 6 rand, or a box with probably 15 bananas for 10 rand. At first, it didn’t make sense to me how these prices all worked out until I realized that many people don’t eat healthy food and they probably don’t think about the cost differences. During my first service I think I was mentally tougher and probably would have bought the eggs. This time around I don’t feel that guilty eating my sweets, but I’ll try to keep a healthy balance.

I’m not sure how this blog looks because I wrote it on my computer and then posted with my phone!

This blog has been in the making for the past couple weeks and it’s taken so long to sit down and actually write it because I didn’t know what I wanted to say; I still don’t. In Madagascar, I felt more open in my writing because a limited few had Internet access and even if they did visit my blog, they weren’t going to take the time to try and read all the English. My writing about work and the people was, in many ways, uncensored. This time around, the information is much more accessible and easily understood and I need to figure out how much I really want to share. So the struggle from the past few weeks has been exactly that – how much do I want to share? How much can I share? And how much is just me being the angry white guy who complains? I constantly shifted from focusing on the positive or non-work related events, telling everything flat out as I see it, or trying to meet somewhere in between. I think the word to note is “trying,” as I can’t help but feel that this blog is very negative. So if you’re feeling good don’t read this one, at least not now. Wait until someone cut you off on the free way, someone flaked on your plans, a person lied to you, you had a bad day at work, you went through a break up, someone harassed you, or when you woke up and just knew that today was going to suck. That’s when I want you to read this and I want you to join my negativity. We can hate the world together.

I’ve been running around like mad the past month trying to figure out everything that’s going on and all the things that I can do to help. That might seem admirable, but to many people here it’s not. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized that none of my knowledge, expertise, or advice is really wanted, or if it is, they are reluctant to accept it for reasons either personal or cultural. The situation I find myself in is one in which it seems that nobody is happy that I actually want to work, that I want them to work, that I suggest new ideas, that I want people to think, and that we all need to be held accountable for our actions. Maybe it’s too much to ask and it’s just my high expectations being unrealistic for everyone, including myself. Regardless I feel like I fall on deaf ears on a daily basis and in many cases people purposefully try to make my work difficult. People don’t want to work or to learn. It’s almost like they are afraid of actually enjoying what they do. I’m not their boss and I’m reminded of it every day. They lack motivation, interest, and thought.

I’ve found many of the people to be lazy, selfish, superficial, greedy, and deceptive. They don’t want to work for a multitude of reasons. They don’t want to help others. They care more about how something looks or appears rather than how it functions. They try to save money to the point that it becomes a problem or the allocation of funds becomes unclear. I hear everything second hand and so I wonder whom I can trust, if anyone. It’s times like these that I realize why people think that I’m making a sacrifice to do this work. Why we make the mistake that development is saving the world, that we’re fighting the good fight. My job is watching stagnation and dysfunction, Monday through Friday. It’s watching people that obviously don’t care and might never care. What’s worse is that I arrived under the impression that they might care, that they might want to improve, that they might want to learn something. They might care now and I’ve misinterpreted it, they might in the future. But today I just don’t see it.

At least the Malagasy people had a solid work ethic that I could respect and help in a rice field. People that did back breaking work because it needed to be done and it’s what they did. Regardless of weather or health, they suppressed their pain and kept pushing. Here, people search for ways to get out of work. They get paid a salary and so they don’t care if they fail on a daily basis. In Madagascar, if their crop failed they didn’t eat for 6 months. That’s the difference. The stakes were higher and the people knew it. Farming was a means of survival not just a paycheck for a new hairstyle or a round at the bar. The farmers here are the guys sitting behind the counter of an office, who stare at their blank computer screen, doing nothing, while you and 20 other people wait in line; just to reduce their work load and to make it to clock out. For this reason I’ll try to get some sort of monetary incentive going for the farmers that will be affected by how much they sell from the gardens or farms. Then they might actually care what happens because they will see a direct benefit.

So I’ve found a solution, right?!? That would seem great; except that the manager doesn’t really have the time or doesn’t want to listen to me, and neither do the workers. Or maybe the manager does find it helpful, but doesn’t take the time to follow through with anything, to make a plan, and chooses the life of constant chaos and indecision. Not to mention that if I even bring up the slightest suggestion or considering deviating from the original plan that the farm workers go crazy and say that it’s not the plan and that I’m not their manager. All I can do is talk with the manager and ask – what does he want from me?

I had a somewhat major meltdown with the two women that I work with at the garden in the center and finally told them to do it on their own – at least what they should already know. I was trying to do too much with them and so they just reacted negatively because they thought that I was telling them what to do or thought they were incompetent. After I took a step back, it became clear that they don’t mind working if they know what needs to be done (hopefully, by August they will be finding things to do, but maybe I’m dreaming). Granted, the day of the week and weather can affect this mentality, but I just hope for the best. We’ll see how things play out and what they are capable of but they are thinking more, gaining more confidence, and showing signs of improvement, which keeps me positive and hopeful for the future.

I’d be more hopeful, except that I have to deal with all of these office procedures and rules that make everything harder than it should and more than anything make work near impossible. This rule and that rule that doesn’t benefit anyone and has no purpose other than to make our lives miserable. All topped with the fact that they don’t even want to take the time to meet with me (because I ask that they do their job) so that things can move along. The hierarchy is complicated, problematic and self-limiting. They don’t want me to do things and then they forget to do them. They change plans routinely, and refuse to allocate the work to someone else even though they are unable to complete the work on their own. No solutions for this at the moment other than I just need to keep pressing. Thankfully, for the two women working with me, I’m not easily discouraged or afraid of people and so I just keep coming back!

The home garden women are showing progress, but it’s hard to say what motivation they have. We’re just trying to finish up everything now and then next year we’ll assess how much they are really willing to do and how much they are just relying on the organization to help. If they just rely on our assistance then we’ll say goodbye and find someone else.

Maybe we’ll build a nursery, I don’t think we’ll ever get the material so I seem skeptical. We can’t even get a tractor to plow, so we’ll see if anything ever happens. No wonder people are discouraged.

Of all the things, the after school kids seem pretty cool and interested in farming and so that might actually be fun next year, but we’ll see what happens. I never think they enjoy the sessions, but after every class people always tell me that the kids loved it! I guess I’ll take their word for it, as I have no idea.

I’m helping with the Fit For Life Fit For Work students and those sessions are just kamikaze style, hoping that I get through to someone. It’s definitely good practice for their English and so that will benefit them, but I don’t know how many of them really hear and understand my lessons or advice. As long as they take something useful from the lessons I’ll know it was worth my time.

I walked around Tzaneen a few weeks ago and I think some guy wanted to mug me. He was bumping into me from behind and saying something about me beating him or him beating me. This interaction continued as I walked through a tunnel and at one point he even grabbed my pants as he continued his nonsensical speaking. But I just kept walking and removed his hands and he noticed people were watching him and so he stopped. I also never carry my wallet in my back pocket so maybe his accomplice said it wasn’t worth it.

I’m trying to be social on the weekends and each outing provides a new learning experience. It’s interesting to see their expected alcohol consumption, how they talk to girls, where they go on the weekends, how they expect to hook up, dancing, and everything else that happens in their free time. It’s actually quite interesting and I enjoy the small amount of social time that I have on the weekends to just go out, watch, and absorb everything that I see. I haven’t felt unsafe and I’m quite aware of how protective and helpful my friends are who invite me places. It’s nice to know that they’re watching out for me and in many ways I trust them, as they’re my main connection to their world, as it really exists. I feel like there is hesitation to inviting me places within the community and I haven’t discovered if this hesitation is race or language based.

Although I’m not including the drunk people that are around me when I might have a drink with friends over the weekend, I’ve noticed that the drunk people at the tavern near my house are the nicest, most respectful people in my village! Mostly the problems I have come from sober women. Women here don’t have any kind of status or say when compared to men and so when they see the white guy they quickly jump on these power trips because they think they can control me in a disrespectful manner, which is similar to how they are treated (and NO! it’s not all of the women! It’s only that the few problems I’ve had have been with women). Little do they know that although I try to be nice as much as possible, I will meet them punch for punch (figuratively) and I’m not trying to be their friends. I’ll speak my mind to anyone and I think South Africans are slowly learning this. But the drunk guys, they love to joke, talk, say hello, and occasionally do some gymnastics. I never drink with them or buy anything for them so I think that helps the relationship, but I never would have guessed our interactions would have played out like this.

Maybe it’s because I have electricity, but this time around I’m listening to a lot more music and in many ways I think it helps keep me slightly sane…although this mental state might fade. Maybe I just need more Xitsonga music to get me back in stride! It seems I’d rather stare off into space and listen to music to pass the time. Sometimes, just lost in thought or a lack there of. I would like to think of it as meditation, but somehow me half clothed, sitting in my oven box house, staring at a wall, with a slack jawed and slightly dazed expression doesn’t really fit the image in my mind of meditation. Regardless, my mind goes somewhere and the nights seem to pass rather quickly.

My language skills are improving very slowly, but I’m noticing small improvements. I understand more and more how the French people felt in Madagascar with the Malagasy people’s knowledge of French. It’s so strange to struggle to speak your native tongue to someone speaking the same language just because they don’t fully understand the language or the accent. The problem lies in falsely thinking that you can communicate in the language. I speak English and I’m not sure I’ll be understood. I speak Xitsonga and chances are I’m not going to be understood either. So I choose to fail in both and then walk away smiling if we don’t understand each other.

As all this negativity builds up and eats me from within, filling my insides with defeat and despair, there are some things that seem to be going in the right direction and keep me from losing all hope. I started building a keyhole garden at my house and it helps to fill the time and give me a physical activity around my house. The local tavern donated their old small bottles to me and so I started building. Some of the local boys decided what I was doing was interesting and so they started to help. The next day I saw one kid lingering around my house and so we started working again and then a bunch showed up to help collect bottles, collect manure and build up the garden walls. We still need to raise it a few more layers, but it’s moving in the right direction and it’s nice to give the kids in the area something to do as there really aren’t any activities and they usually just watch people drink for three nights straight before starting the week again. Mostly, I’m just thinking that maybe this is the age where they need motivation and reassurance for farming. Maybe the afterschool kids are still interested as well and they just need to know what’s possible so that when they get older they might show an interest and try something related to farming. Because waiting until they are twenty something’s is difficult, and in my opinion too late for many because they already feel defeated.

The other day someone asked me how my day went and I responded somewhat hesitantly, “It was ok. Not great. Not bad.” When they laughed I continued, “I just have to live one day at a time and what happened today is a thing of the past and I’ll start it all over tomorrow.” I’ve found that each day has its small successes living in the shadows of my towering failures. I often wonder if it’s all worth it and whether a different line of work would be free of these thoughts and feelings. I’m not so sure that it would. Most evenings I’m exhausted and continue to question why I’m here, but every morning I wake up and do it all over again, trying to leave the negativity behind me. I’ll let you know in eight months or less if it was worth it.

I started this blog entry a couple weeks ago and as a result is was a boring list of work and training items that would have been a waste of everyone’s time to read. Needless to say, I’ve been busy here. At times it has been nice, sometimes a little stressful, and even overwhelming. I remember my first month with Peace Corps in Madagascar – the days reading, bike rides off into the hillsides, the constant wondering of, “can I make it two years doing nothing?,” and eating out of boredom and just struggling to survive. This time around things are different, and in many ways I’m hoping that it’s for the better. The stressful thing about agriculture is that things do have their seasons and sometimes you just have one shot to get things going otherwise you’ll be too late. I just hope that I can set everything up in a couple months and then just relax and ‘manage’ afterwards.

Right now we’re planning like crazy and I’m trying to see what’s possible. I’m working with the garden at the youth center to feed to children, staff and hopefully provide enough produce for sale. I’m working with a 3 ha farm to produce on a more commercial level and aquaculture. Between the two of them we’ll start a nursery so that we can produce our own seedlings. In addition, I’ll be working on a home garden project that is already in existence, and we’ll be monitoring and improving those gardens which will help local people who were identified by local clinics. As if that weren’t enough, I should be helping once a week with the Early Childhood Development (ECD) children and the Fit For Life, Fit For Work youths/young adults. Then there’s all of the office stuff, making manuals, researching, pricing, and helping to apply for grants. Then I breathe, eat, and sleep when I can. Busy.

But you don’t need to read all about that, really. So I’ll try to talk a little bit more about the ‘interesting’ things that have caught my attention in the past few weeks.

For starters, I’m getting used to my house and I really feel at home in my little box. I’ve fallen into a routine for cooking, bathing, cleaning, etc., and I know how long everything takes. Space is still slightly limited, so I keep my plates and silverware in the top part of my wardrobe. That means that every time I want something, I need to lift the top door up and then look for what I need. Usually, I need to hands so I rest the top part on my head and then search. I feel like there should be an easier way, but I haven’t found it yet. The tin roof is low and as the hot weather approaches I can’t help but feel like I live in an oven. The walls themselves radiate heat and how anyone does anything clothed in one of these homes just boggles my mind. Still no rats, however ants have started to just come randomly and hang out and I had a toad that really wanted to move in the other night. So far, so good.

A co-worker picks me up most mornings and so I have it easy as far as going to work. I don’t walk far and I don’t need to flag down an empty taxi (which is hard to come by). However, most mornings I’m still blown away by the broken glass all over the dirt road on my way to the pick-up spot on the side of the paved road. I see the shattered bottles of clear, green, and brown glass and make sure there aren’t any pieces that might be troublesome. I think I need to reach out to these angry drunkards and teach them about mosaics. It would be great if my walk to the street was lined with all these glass pictures along the roadway. So when they’re belligerent or trying to smash the bottle to kill someone they can think to themselves, “ Now, let’s do this tastefully.” Not sure I’ll get to that anytime soon, but you never know. For now, I’m just avoiding the big pieces when I walk.

The local music is rather busy. I’m sure that you can go on youtube and find something about Xitsonga or Tsonga music. It’s almost like a 1980’s video game. When it comes on I feel like I’m in the lightening round and I have to collect all of the coins in 30 seconds… or something of the like. There are some songs that I like and more than anything I’m just curious to know what they’re saying. After all, they could be very sweet love songs. However, when it’s playing in a car, I can’t help but smile and feel like it’s the perfect soundtrack for the white guy traveling around town with no idea where he is going.

I have a kit latrine about 50m from my house. It’s great, I don’t need to squat, it’s clean in good shape, everything. However, I have to balance the flies with my arachnophobia. The flies get out of hand unless there are spiders. Now, the spiders on the inside walls and corners are cool – I don’t have any problems with them. It’s the spiders in the bowl that worry me. Now, thankfully, I haven’t had any stomach issues and so I’m not sitting that often in there, but I do feel rather vulnerable with them looming below. But flies are bad all the time and so sometimes you just have to deal with the spiders…7 year-old Nick would have disagreed.

Due to some technical problems, it’s like my first 6 months as a volunteer all over again…well, sort of. Back in Matsobe I didn’t have any water and so I had to walk about 200m to the river with two 15L buckets. When they moved the water pump outlet and the electrical box from my house to the main house something happened and the water pump to the borehole no longer works. What really went down, I’ll never know. As a result, I’m now walking to someone’s house and paying them R1 per container. I don’t use a lot of water so I can manage, but I do feel bad for my host family. Also, this time I have two jerry cans and a wheelbarrow, which is much easier than carrying two buckets…and I can push 60L no problem. However, I’ll be happy when it’s fixed and I just need to walk around the side of the house.

Having a fridge is amazing. Like really. Food is never an issue if you have a fridge. Although the fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t necessarily as accessible as they could be, my village has enough real food that even if I didn’t go to the grocery store, I’m still ok. I’m 40 km away from a town with two shopping malls. I can get pretty much anything I need. And because of that I sometimes forget that I’m “roughing it” out here.

Last week I broke down and bought a blackberry. I was spending so much money for my airtime that it just made sense to upgrade because it would save me money in the long run and I could actually talk to people. So I have an unlimited data plan (no minutes or text messages included) and so I can talk on whatsapp, facebook, email, and all the other stuff. It’s great for speaking with people in the US, except that it’s about 10 hours different in time. I’m also talking a lot more with volunteers because of it and it’s really nice to just talk and joke with people on the phone, easily, at night.

The weather here just confuses me. I really have no idea what’s going one. Today it might be hot, tomorrow it might be cold. It looks sunny and then it rains, it looks like it will rain and then it’s sunny. I don’t even know what’s happening. There were three days when it was freezing and then the next day it was so hot I was sweating in my house at night. Not a lot of trees in the area and the sun is pretty intense so I’m sure January will be a consistent batch of sweaty hotness. There are random windstorms; the past few days have been in the 90’s – it’s crazy. Apparently people don’t work when it’s hot here – unfortunately for them they have the guy from Central California who is used to working in 100+ degree weather. Save your sympathy for the next guy.

I love a lot of the people here. They can joke and they are straightforward. The other day a co-worker thought another co-worker was pregnant. So they asked her to come in and asked to see her stomach and then another lady started grabbing her breasts to see. Nothing weird about it to them. What’s funny, now that I’m writing this, is that I don’t even ask if the girl is pregnant. I was just cracking up in astonishment as it all played out.

I flood my room every night. Well, really it’s just me showering/bathing and failing to keep the water in the basin. If it weren’t entirely creepy I would video myself to see just how awkward I look, but it seems wrong to videotape myself bathing. I used to be concerned about the water and now I just splash around to my hearts content. I guess that’s life though, we don’t really get better at anything, we just become more accepting.

I went to a party for a co-workers niece. It was like a reverse baby shower in a sense. It was cool to see the fused culture of traditional songs and dress mixed with the current times. It was nice just to get out of the house as well and let people know that I’m willing to hang out with them. I went out last weekend with some friends and the people were blown away that I was there. In Madagascar, they were just surprised to see a white person in general. But here, the racial divide is much more apparent. I definitely see it with the older crowd as they lived most of their lives through apartheid and it makes me happy to see how happy they can be when I talk and joke with them (even if they are drinking). It got me thinking about when I drive around with one of my co-workers. If this were 25 years ago he would be arrested and beaten. Now, neither of us really thinks about it, but I’m sure it’s ingrained in many of the minds in this country.

I saw my first snake in South Africa. It wasn’t large and it was hardly fearsome, but people killed it anyway. Although I didn’t really take note of its coloration, people in the area were worried that it was a green mamba. However, I highly doubt that it was a green mamba only because I faintly recall seeing other colors on it and the likely hood of a green mamba being so far away from trees wasn’t likely. What surprised me is how adamant they were about killing the snake. Granted, there are small children in the area and if they are bit by a venomous snake that’s a problem, but there are no attempts for education or how to deal with the fears. I don’t think that this is something that I will address in my time here, but it was alarming nonetheless. Now, if there was a 2m long black mamba slithering around I might be more inclined to kill it. However, just another bush snake that isn’t venomous, not really sure it would have harmed anyone.

Finally, the honeymoon is over. Everyone has more or less gotten used to me and now they ask for money. I turn them down – sometimes politely, other times not so much. They’ll figure it out soon enough. Regardless, I’m adjusting to life in the village, and I’m definitely happy to be here.

After a four-month hiatus, I’m once again talking to the inter-webs. I was living the dream and putting on pounds in California, but now I’m back in Africa! I’ll be living in the Limpopo province of South Africa until August 2015 and I’m thrilled to be back the village and can’t wait to do more agriculture work.

As a Peace Corps Response Volunteer my positions are slightly more focused, but that doesn’t really mean that I know what’s going on. I know what I’m supposed to do according to the proposal, but what needs to be done isn’t always the same as what’s written down on the proposal. However, as the years go by it become increasingly clear that this isn’t the case, and all one can do is embrace the uncertainty.  What I do know is that this position is much more like a ‘real job’ then my first go with Peace Corps and I have set hours during the week and supposedly a weekend (but we’ll see how long that lasts).

After arriving in South Africa, we had five days or orientation. It wasn’t the most entertaining of sessions, but I was with four other RPCVs and that made the time a lot better. I think that just having completed a Peace Corps service people can be drawn together. It doesn’t matter that we served in different countries or work in different sectors, we all took at least two years of our lives to experience something different…and if we’re doing it again then it means we probably enjoyed it the first time around. Although we aren’t geographically that close to one another it is nice to arrive in country with another group of people, if nothing else to have someone to talk to when you need it.

My installation was fairly similar to my installation in Madagascar. We arrived later than planned, I didn’t have everything I needed, it was a wild rush of chaos and stress to get things together, and by the end of the night I wasn’t quite settled in, but I slept because it was time to sleep. At least this time around I had a bed (I was told that it arrived that day) and there weren’t any rats running around my head.

My house is definitely modest and I was worried that it might take a long time to get used to it, but I seem to have adjusted quickly and smoothly. I guess all the time that I spent in my room this summer helped prepare me. My house is roughly 12 ft. x 15 ft. and made of cement. It looks like a bunker and I’m sure if the World War 3 ever starts I’ll be able to hold my position nicely from this location. Not to mention that I have electricity and a water tap on the outside of my house so that I’m really living the Posh Corps lifestyle. I even have a fridge, which means that I don’t have to re-heat food because I just eat it cold. Somehow the décor came in a blue/turquoise theme and I just kept building on it. I sometimes feel like I’m living underwater surrounded by the semi-arid countryside. The new curtains that I bought are especially shiny, almost giving off a 1980’s class to my little cube. The cement floor is nice because things don’t crawl in through the bottom, but aren’t great because, well, it’s a cement floor. I managed to get some small mat/rugs, which help with walking around and for doing exercises at night.

My major cultural adjustment so far has been bathing and how to accomplish this normal, hygienic task. In Madagascar we had a set area to shower, outside of the house. Here in South Africa, most people shower (actually bathe) in their homes, whether or not they have a room to do so (or a real tub). Initially, I thought that I would need a space outside of my house to shower. I’m a complete mess trying to get myself clean while standing, squatting, leaning, and contorting my body from within a plastic bin that serves as my ‘tub.’ While I splash around in the tub I’m constantly soaking everything around me and I have to clear an entire space in preparation for the inevitable flood. I think most people just take a bath in the basin, but that doesn’t appeal to me; most likely because then I would want to heat my water. A cold shower is doable and refreshing, a cold bath is just masochistic. So, I half bathe, half shower, and flounder around for a few minutes, until I deem myself clean enough to step out. I thought I might be able to buy a larger basin, but I’m not sure they exist. If I feel that it is something that needs to change I can always buy a kiddy pool in the mall that is 40 km away from my village.

All this being said, showering in my house is actually pretty sweet because I can shower anytime that I want. I don’t have to worry about it being dark or having to share the area. I can exercise at night and then just shower afterwards. This thought was put on hold for the first week because the original curtain supplied in my house was more of a see-through tablecloth. In other words, people could see into my house at night, but I couldn’t see out. Of course, I checked this before attempting any night showers and just reluctantly went to bed kind of stinky and showered in the morning. With my new curtains I can splash around my box as much as I like, all by myself.

As I mentioned earlier, there aren’t any rats in the house, which really makes life so much easier. I hate rats. They just destroy everything and they can dictate how you live your life. Without the problem and because they provide lunch at my organization, I only wash dishes in the morning. I somehow seem to be surviving on about 15 liters of water a day, which I find borderline amazing considering a normal shower alone back in the US was exponentially higher than that.

Where there are no rats, the insects seem to thrive. Maybe they’ve always been around and it was just when I didn’t have electricity that I didn’t notice them, but they are in full effect at the moment. Mosquitos aren’t awful, but there are all kinds of strange insects. On my second or third night at site I saw a huge creature (scorpion or spider or other insect) that hurriedly came out of somewhere and then left my house. Not really sure what it was, but I hope that it doesn’t feel the need to come back. It didn’t look like something I really want to be sharing a living space with.

Comparing my Peace Corps experiences, I feel that I’ve upgraded in many ways, but that I still seem to be living rather simply. To keep with tradition, my first meal was eggplant and rice. In general, the living is a little difficult because of the economic inequality and overall development of South Africa that already exists. People have a lot more in South Africa than they do in Madagascar. Not only in terms of material goods, but access to services, infrastructure and connections with the rest of the world. In many ways, being here, it helps me realize the poverty in Madagascar; something that I clearly acclimated to after four years. If Malagasy people from Matsobe came to my village they would think that everyone is crazy rich. Another interesting thing about this experience is that I arrived on a weekend. Most of the people that I worked with in Madagascar were subsistence farmers who didn’t have weekends, but their schedules depended on what they needed to do for crops. However, most of the people here have real jobs or are unemployed and so the weekend is much more prominent. I can see this being a good thing once I’m settled and know my work colleagues, but arriving into it seemed a little strange.

So once I got my little cell situated, it was time to walk around a bit. The owner of the house had her son walk around with me so I could explore the area. As it was a Saturday, pretty much every male in the vicinity was drinking alcohol. Although I didn’t partake in the drinking, it was interesting to observe the dynamic and to meet people in the area. In some ways I felt that they didn’t care if I drank, but found comfort in the fact that I admitted that I do drink alcohol sometimes and that I was still talking to them and willing to be around them. Although the knowledge of English changes from person to person, it really does make communication so much easier when the majority of the people can at least get by on a little bit of English. Later on in my day travel I did meet some people that seemed pretty nice and overall – for being called such a violent country and violent culture – I felt more or less welcomed or passive indifference to my arrival.

As I’m hoping to learn Xitsonga, I’ve been trying to get as much vocabulary as I can. Once again, drunken relatives of my homeowner accompanied me later that night that wanted to speak with me on the porch. Although they argued amongst themselves, they were nothing but nice and respectful to me and encouraged me to ask for more Xitsonga vocabulary (occasionally yelling at each other about how to spell it correctly). In some ways I like their aggressive and straightforward way of speaking better than the passiveness of Madagascar, but I can see how this can be problematic. I like knowing what people think and having them speak their mind. Also, the people living on my compound are far less protective of me than those living with me in Madagascar and this makes life much easier. If I ask for any help or assistance, they don’t hesitate to help, but they let me live my life and leave it at that. I’m sure that my time spent with Mama Grace and the family will be a nice 10 months. They have been so welcoming and love to talk with me even if their English isn’t the best.

I’ve been trying to talk with people in my yard/ my host family as much as I can. They really are nice people and I’m very appreciative for their welcoming me. Even more so I’m blown away at how willing they are to try and help me learn Xitsonga (almost like I have more pressure to really learn), but I guess not a lot of people really put in the effort to learn. We’ll see how work goes and how much time I really have to focus on language, but I hope to get at least the basics down, and a lot more than just the greeting, where I’m from, and my name. However, it’s difficult because they want to improve their English rather than help me improve my Xitsonga.

There’s another volunteer in my village; she’s an education volunteer who has been in the area for a year. I lucked out again to be in another site next to a person that I actually enjoy talking with. I often wonder about my time in Andapa how it might have changed if Hilary and I didn’t get along. It’s been cool to get her perspective of this village, the culture, the language, and just how things go down. I know that just by living here for a year she probably knows more about the area than she realizes and it’s nice to get her perspective.

I was very excited for my first day of work. Mostly because I still didn’t really know what I was going to do (even know there is a bit of uncertainty). It’s cool because I’m with a real organization that has real programs going on and so there is potential to get some serious projects done. The name of the organization is Valoyi Trust or Xitsavi and you can check out all of the things they do online if you’re interested.

I spent my time with the Fit for Life, Fit for Work class and I hope to sit in on a bit of those sessions over the year. They are meant to help young adults prepare for the workplace and to get jobs. I’m also going to be doing some permaculture gardening (what the position was all about). So I saw that they have some basic gardens and that they aren’t really using any specific techniques so I’m going to try an incorporate that with the women’s group and the afterschool student groups. There might be an opportunity to do some community work as well as partner with other schools and clinics in the area. I hope to do some gardening on my compound too.

I’m also doing some English work, which I know is important, but don’t really enjoy. If the kids already understand then it’s fine, but with the one’s that don’t speak any English it’s much more difficult for me and I need to figure out a way to make it more fun for them and myself if I continue to do it in the future. Regardless, it needs to be done so we’ll do it.

I’ve found over the years that no matter where I go, the kids love gymnastics. I’m really thankful that I enjoy simple gymnastics and that I spent part of my childhood flipping around so that I can share it with other children. The neighborhood children have already made an afternoon plan for me. I come home from work and they teach me some Xitsonga, then we do ‘gyming’ (their word for working out), and then we play some games before it’s dinnertime. Some of the kids have potential to be pretty good, but mostly it’s just the fun of walking on hands, cartwheels, and handsprings. They taught me their local games, which were funny in themselves.

My favorite is where one person is a shop owner and the other is a person who wants to buy things. The other children are then commodities within the store. So the buyer goes to the shop owner and s/he tells the buyer that s/he smells and that you must leave. So you go and shower. You come back and the shop owner says it again, so you repeat. Then you show up at the shop and have to ask for things to buy. You don’t know what the other children said they were so you have to guess what they might be. When you select them, the shop owner “weighs” them and the weight is the number of seconds that they count before a little footrace. If the buyer catches the commodity s/he gets it, if not, the shop owner keeps it. By the end of the game you see if the shop owner or the buyer has more commodities. Then it’s an all out tug-of-war of people until one side has all of the players. If nothing else it’s much better than the game where I accidently started play fighting with the children and then they started kicking me from all directions…I put a stop to it rather quickly.  I think they didn’t realize that while I was battling three or four of them in front of me, the flying sidekicks to my back weren’t what I needed.

As the week progressed more children showed up and they even come to greet me on the road when I come home from work. It’s extremely embarrassing and I hate the attention they give me, but I guess it just shows that they need something going on in their lives. Maybe this will be the year that I get me over my fear of children…I’m not going to hold my breath.

I had my introduction to the local Tribal Authority in Nwamitwa. The Chief couldn’t be there, but the rest of the council was able to meet me and I had my formal introduction to the community. In doing so, I was ready for my Shangani/ Xitsonga name. The name I was given is Mzamani. The name means to try or to venture. Everyone seems to laugh when they hear it, but I’m just happy that I’m not another generic ‘gift.’ I think it’s because I really am trying to learn the language and I am willing to do anything at work.

My first week at work ended with a little bit of planning for the future and trying to grasp everything that’s going on with the organization. It’s somewhat overwhelming just because there are so many possibilities and so many things that I want to help on, but I’ll probably have to turn down a few. I’m hoping to get some test plot gardens done by the end of November and then we will start in January, after people return from Christmas break. We already made a small compost pile and we tried this technique of covering it with mud for heat insulations (we didn’t have plastic). I’m sizing the garden now and hoping to make a map so that we can figure out what we can plant, how much of it and the timing for a garden plan. It’s difficult because they are kind of on a year schedule because people leave around Christmas time. Therefore, I don’t want to start too much because I know that it might be neglected for a few weeks in December. In addition, the beds need to be re-dug so to be wider and this will take work. So it’s all a big mess until things really get going and everyone is on board and believes that what they are doing is worthwhile.

I spent my first real weekend in the area traveling with two of my work colleagues. One of the guys has a car and I ride with him to work regularly, so we traveled around to see his family and the two of them showed me the area. It was nice to hang out with them outside of work and get a better idea of their lives and what they are doing. It also gave me perspective on what they want from life and what they hope to do (one is 27 and the other 23). It was just nice to have some smart, fun people to hang out with rather than the local drunks.

So that’s my life after week 1 in the bush. I feel like so many things are happening and it’s hard to say what is really worth commenting on. Overall I feel positive about my house and my work and I just have to keep up that positivity. South Africans like to eat and the village is doing its best to try and fatten me up. One woman even told me that she hopes that I get so fat that when I come home my family doesn’t even recognize me! NOT GOING TO HAPPEN, LADY!!!!, but I appreciate the sentiment.

AND…I’ll try to post pictures on Facebook…

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.

 

 

 

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