Our nurseries are finally at the point where we can plant the trees! It’s been a lot of work these past 5 months putting everything together, searching for seeds, monitoring seeds/seedlings (as well as people) and more than anything just making sure that everything didn’t fail. Now, the weather is starting to rain consistently, the seedlings are tall, and we’re ready to plant.

But it can never be that easy. Of course, I like to think that Antanetiambo Nature Reserve has a wonderful plant diversity, but the hard truth is that there are a lot of invasive and unwanted plants (that’s why we’re planting trees). So, lately, I’ve been in the Reserve with the guardian hacking away, taking out the bad so that we can plant the good. So far we’ve planted Jack Fruit, Raffia, Tsara Ravina and Antohiravina. We have some hardwoods coming in a few weeks as well as some seedlings from Sambava. In a few weeks other trees from our nurseries will be ready to plant as well and it will continue. I think that I’ll look forward to the day that I can take a break from swinging the machete. However, it is good exercise, and I always come up with the best ideas while I’m swinging away. Major plus – I can always find a pineapple to eat while I’m working. Major minus – one day I got stung 3 times by wasps on my head. Something to think about – I realize how much (or how little) our Guard really works. I’d like to think that it balances out, but I’m not really sure.

To get those trees to the nursery we had to count the ones and distribute them. The system provided 60% of the trees for Antanetiambo and 40% to those who work in the nursery. Every day that we worked I took attendance and only those people who showed up on time received credit. Now that we have come to the tallying of names people realize that I wasn’t joking around. I totaled everyone’s attendance and then put it into their 40%. If you worked 10 days then you get quite a few trees, if you only showed up for 2 days then you’re not getting a whole lot. But that’s the point. It doesn’t make sense for some people to work hard, but for everyone in the group to get an equal amount. I could tell by the faces that the people who didn’t show up were a little upset and the people who did show up were very happy that they were rewarded for their hard work. More than anything, I think people know that we’re serious and they might be showing up at the nursery a little more regularly.

We had the wonderful experience of dividing these trees and transporting them to Antanetiambo so we could plant them. It was a huge hassle (as always) bargaining prices and finding the right people to help. I really wish that more Malagasy people didn’t try to take advantage/cheat the vazaha every time around. This time I had to threaten to just carry baskets full of trees on my own by bicycle before I could get down to a decent price. Long story short, I left Andapa at 4:20am to make it to Ambodivohitra at 5:00am. I was very impressed at how well I could ride the dirt road with such limited light; I guess my body just has the muscle memory. Anyway, I wake the guy up so we can take his ox cart (the cows are gone in another village like he said before so it was just three of us who were going to pull the cart). I round up everyone else and we are only about 15 minutes late – not too bad. So we push the cart fill up trees, push the cart, fill up trees and then drop them off at the Reserve. We do this twice. In the process I manage to sweat out about a gallon of sweat as well as fall in a thorn bush while we are trying to wrestle the cart through a rice field so that we can get closer to the drop off point for the trees. It was a long morning, but just a morning nonetheless and it was finished. The craziest part was after the fact I realized that we pushed that damn cart a little over 10 miles all together; a little farther than I originally thought it was.

With all of this hard work, sunscreen and the wonderful world of dust that seems to constantly surround my life, I’ve managed to get pretty dirty these past few weeks. Every time that I shower I’m amazed at how dirty the water is. It makes me wonder if something has changed or if my shower water was always this dirty. Back in Matsobe I showered in an outside shower and so the water just went down to stones or dirt. Now, I’m showering in a real shower and it goes down to white porcelain. Maybe it’s the contrast and I’ve been this dirty all along. Either way I seem to be collecting a lot of dirt and I’m happy to be able to wash it off daily.

I’ve also been doing some work that was a little less dirty. I was asked to write an article about all of my tree nursery work for the upcoming Duke Lemur Center Newsletter. I was actually very excited to have a chance to share my project with more people other than those who read my blog and Peace Corps. The article is just a four paragraph summary of the project and why we’re so excited about it. It’s still being edited and put together, but I think it should come out in the next month or so. I’ll be curious to hear what kind of feedback we get from the article and if we can get any more support for conservation efforts in the SAVA region.

We’re thinking of building a footbridge to enter into the Reserve. I think that it is a really good idea. The trail to get into the Reserve is pretty bad and pretty much any point of entry requires going through some rice fields. I’m sure there would be an easy, quick solution, but that’s probably not for the best in the long run. However, I’ve spoken to 2 people to get estimates for the construction and it’s looking to be around $11,000-$15,000; that’s a pretty expensive piece of construction. I’m still trying to ask some more people, but I think we might just have to find some money to pay for it. The real question is whether Antanetiambo is ready for a project that requires this kind of expenditure.

I haven’t talked about food in a while so I’ll enlighten you all into my magical world of food, which as of recently, has expanded quite a bit. I’m still eating eggplant. Pretty much everyday and I really wouldn’t have it any other way. I still love it, think it goes great with my rice and I’m kind of stuck in my ways. However, I’ve started branching out a bit. Lately, I’ve been on this real yogurt kick. It’s kind of disgusting to think about how much milk I’m consuming along with the yogurt, but it tastes so good! I can easily eat 3 glasses worth of yogurt in one day (though I try not too). Needless to say, I have it down to a science now, so maybe when I’m done with Peace Corps I’ll open up a yogurt shop. I’ve also started making juice (both the juice and the yogurt are a product of me having a refrigerator). I have to say that homemade juice is way better than the ones on the street because I can make it to the exact strength that I want it to be (I also know that the water is clean). Plus, now that it is super hot all the time, it’s great to have something a little different than water from time to time. I’ve also started making peanut butter again. I know, it’s like I’m living back in America.

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. So TREK, if you’re reading this, I’m your next campaign. You’re welcome, I’ll take the royalties when I’m no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer and I am allowed to make money. As for now, the new tires are awesome and I seem to go a lot quicker than before. Amazing how well I bike works when all of the parts are working correctly or are in proper condition.

Oddly enough it seems to be lemur-stealing season. In the past two years in Matsobe nobody ever approached me with a lemur or asked to sell one to me. However, in the past two weeks we had two incidents in Matsobe (neither of which I was directly related to) that regarded people selling or taking lemurs to be their pets (it’s illegal). The first incident involved a mouse lemur. Thankfully, one of the guys who attends the English Club in the Matsobe Library noticed some kids from his village playing with the lemur and so he told them it wasn’t okay and brought it to us to try and figure out what to do. Then a few days later, some people walked by the house in Matsobe and tried to sell a dwarf lemur, but we just took it instead and they ran off. Kim, the Peace Corps Volunteer in Matsobe, went to the Water and Forest office and asked them what to do, but they didn’t help too much and just said that we should try to release it back in the forest, so we took both lemurs to the Reserve and hope that they will be okay. I just hope that the trend doesn’t continue. More than anything, I hope that other people don’t buy the lemurs so that people quite stealing them from the forest.

I forgot how nice and quiet my house could be now that school is back in session. A lot has changed since I moved in at the end of April 2012. When I first moved in, there was nothing and the neighborhood was nice and quiet. By the end of May 2012, a new hotel opened and they have a karaoke night. When that happens, the sounds (and bad singing) carry all the way to my house. There’s always been a CEG across the street. When they are on vacation it’s lovely. When they’re in session, I here Bonjour Miseur every morning and on and off screaming until 6pm if I’m home. It’s really not that bad, it’s just noticeable after a vacation time when there are no students around. Finally, a new disco opened up a few houses down. I should be happy, but the lighting in that place is so crazy that it just gives me a headache. I ate soup there once and had no desire to ever go back. A little more ‘ambiance’ than I want, but it’s really not that bad. The thing that really worries me is all of the houses on my compound. My house is a fortress and I’m not worried about people breaking in and I’m such a light sleeper that I hear everything. However, I don’t really know if the drunk idiot banging on the wall of the house next door lives there or is family there, or if they are trying to break in. It’s hard to know how much I should get involved. Don’t worry, I’m not planning to jump out of my window with my machete and go all Jet Li on everyone anytime soon. More likely, I can just turn on my lights and start asking who’s out there.

I finally got my new computer. My new Mac is so awesome! However, it’s almost too awesome. I’m still trying to figure out everything on the operating system so that it doesn’t automatically check for updates and search for things. When I try to use the Internet the Mb’s just come up too quick and I go through more credit than is reasonable. However, it’s a small price to pay and the keyboard is everything that I’ve dreamed of after the past few months of the Frankenstein netbook.