I somehow find it hard to believe that I’ve been living abroad for the past five years. 2010 seems so far away and yet so close at the same time. I remember during my first year abroad I was counting days, so aware of the time that I’d been away from the US. Now, as time moves on the anniversary passes by suddenly, hardly noticed, rather than a celebrated date or time of recognition, more of an afterthought. Thinking back to the Me that was five years ago is strange because I feel a little disconnected from that person, like he no longer exists. It’s interesting to think how I’m both the same and different from before and what would have happened had I chosen a different path. In the past five years I’ve learned so much about the world, international development, people, and about myself. Looking back to January 2010 I never would have been able to create a 5-year plan that has played out the way that it has, but now I can’t imagine my life moving in a different direction.

As I wait to hear back from Graduate schools I can’t help but think more about decisions and what path to take. In some ways it scares me to think that there is a right and a wrong decision, but ultimately I know that’s not the case. I don’t even know if I can say that one choice is better than another either, simply a different path to a different destination. It makes me think how cool it would be if we could live multiple lives, simultaneously, living every path we could have chosen and comparing them all to one another. Likely, it would be impossible to tell which is better than the other and I’d still be in the same predicament that I am now. But as for now I’ve been accepted to three schools and I’m still waiting for the fourth to respond so I’m sure I’ll write about it in a future blog.

But I must regress from the future and return to the present. Work seems to be going rather smoothly over the past couple weeks. I’m not sure how much can be attributed to people and how much to myself. If a vacation really gave me the recharge that I needed or whether it gave others the boost of reality that I’m not always going to be here to help. Then again it might just be things working themselves out naturally and as always – some things just take time.

We had both of our household garden workshops. The project helped 20 women last year and they are still included, but we added an additional 20 women for this year. We separated the two groups for the introductory workshop because they have different skill levels, but will join them all together for the nutrition workshops. I think the introduction was important for the home based caregivers, the home gardeners, and the implementers of the project because it allows everyone to know we are serious. The home gardeners know that we expect them to actively participate and be interested or motivated, we ask the home based care givers to actually complete household visits, and the implementers gained confidence speaking to the groups and to take ownership of the project; it is very exciting if it continues to work. So we had the workshops and some people received seedlings and we’ve also done a lot of planning. We’re trying our best to get everything does as planned and we’ll see what actually happens when it happens. So far, the household visits seem to be good and we’re making progress so I hope in the next few months we’ll have 40 awesome gardens all around the community.

Work on the farm is still ongoing and as physical as ever. Although we finally got a tractor and a disc, we did a lot of land preparation by hand so that we could get started. Unfortunately, we had a few weeks of crazy heat at the same time that we transplanted and many of the spinach seedlings that we planted were burned. It’s another reminder of how limited we are with the work schedules and why we need to be more flexible in order to gain success. However, we’ve planted spinach, beets, mustard, tomatoes, and onions and we are preparing more land to plant in the future. I’m hoping that by April the land is close to being filled up and it really looks like a farm again. We just need to do more marketing and planning for sales so that we can turn over quickly rather than harvesting and losing time not knowing what we are going to do. Moral is fading with the workers and I’m worried that the elation from the Holidays has worn off and people are reluctant to work again – the struggle continues.

There’s a chance that the Organization will receive funding from the Government to help with an Aquaculture-Agriculture project. Basically it would be four fishponds that have Tilapia and Ducks that then feed water into fields for agriculture. It looks like a strong model and I really hope that they get the funding because I think that it would help out the agriculture team to not only make money, but become more involved and motivated in the project because the outcomes or profits would depend on their efforts and determination.

I’ve given up on the pre-school and the afterschool program…at least for now. It’s not that I’m not interested, and I can make time if I felt that it were necessary, but I just don’t feel like it’s a great use of my time. I think if I wasn’t busy I would pursue it a bit more, but for now I feel like there isn’t enough support and I don’t have the time to be with them everyday. At some point people need to want to be involved in certain projects and not just ask for assistance and expect others to help or even do their job. That isn’t to say that they aren’t doing their job, it just means that what I was doing wasn’t structured enough to be useful. Although I have a meeting for the Afterschool program and so we’ll see if we make any progress.

Although we completed the nursery, we’re still waiting on some finalizing material. I really hope that we can plant seeds this month, but I’m not sure that it will happen. I think the Nick in November would be very frustrated with the speed that this is moving along, but I think I’ve learned to simply deal with what is available and the speed that things move naturally. I still make a push and I light my fires, I think I just push a little lighter and only burn when it’s absolutely necessary.

I was reading for a while, but that all ended when I started watching Scandal. People have been telling me to watch it for a while and so I finally gave in. It’s weird because very few episodes make me want to watch the next one immediately or go through the entire season in a day, but I like the stories and it keeps my interest so I seem to be putting back episodes rather quickly.

As for life in the village not much has changed. The kids still yell/chant “Nicky” all the time. I say hello to a hundred people every hundred meters, but it doesn’t really bother me anymore. I still walk 10 times faster than the average person here, but I can slow down and only be slightly irritated. I’m working on my resolution of being patient, but I have relapses pretty regularly. I’m still doing things on the weekends with friends and the socializing has put my face out to more of the community. I’m back to living a life of constant surveillance and sometimes it bothers me, but I’m more or less used to it. I sometimes think that life in the US might be nice for a while just so people don’t notice me, so that I don’t need to perform, but can simply just be me for a while. It might be relaxing. I’m eating more peanut butter and eggs (separately of course) and less meat, but I think I just haven’t gotten around to walking to the butcher lately. With all the physical labor though my metabolism just keeps at an alarming rate, but I feel healthy. More than anything I feel comfortable here, now. And in some ways it’s a bad thing. As I get closer to my close date I’m realizing that I’m really going to miss this place and the people that I both work with and socialize with. That they really have become a part of my life and that I’m thankful for my time here. And, I guess, for the time being I should just enjoy it.

January seems to have come and gone much more quickly than I would have expected and now February is on it’s way as well. With these feelings I’m somewhat surprised with the time that has passed and I actually had to sit down and think about what has happened – or more correctly, I needed to organize what I’ve been thinking about the past month. I meant to write a blog before going on vacation to Cape Town, but I didn’t get it together and so now I hope to cover most of the things that happened over the course of the last four weeks.

As my vacation was only a week long and relatively unrelated to everything else I figure I’ll just start with that and get it out of the way. It was my first time to leave my site and so it was a little weird trying to figure out where to go and how the taxis worked, but everything was fine (mostly thanks to other PCV guidance). Travel has become easier over the years and I can just sit without having any real trouble. People in the taxis are confused by my presence, but I feel like people are confused by my presence most places that I go.  I met some other volunteers in Pretoria and then spent a few days in Cape Town. It had been 8 years since I was last there and although the city is still as beautiful as ever, it has changed quite a bit as well.  For one thing, people said that it’s becoming less safe and told me that when I went out I might consider leaving my phone in my room, but I never had so much as the slightest scare my entire time there. There are way more taxi companies driving around and the taxi buses are in better condition so it seems the city has adjusted to the tourism. Table Mountain is now one of the 7 wonders of the world and, although I don’t understand the criteria for choosing a ‘wonder’, it was still a great place to walk around and to see the city. The food was phenomenal as ever and the beaches were refreshing. I met up with a friend of mine from the U.S. and also a friend from Cape Town.  For whatever reason when I was walking with my American friend someone asked me if I was a local…and someone else told me that I don’t speak like an American…whatever that means. The vacation was a good mix though because I was traveling alone, but with friends and so I got to have both dynamics for the trip. Regardless, I’m happy I went and I would still suggest to any type of traveler that they must visit Cape Town at some time in their life.

For work the past month has been land preparation everyday. The land was plowed, but we didn’t get a disc, so it was time to get the hand hoes out and start working. I went to the farm and we cleaned, cleared, and leveled the land. I went to the center and we did the same thing there. I couldn’t escape it even if it exhausted me or if I sometimes became bored with the work. It’s just something that needs to be done so I do it. We’ve managed to prepare a lot of furrows (hopefully we can switch to drip irrigation at some point because furrows aren’t that great) and should be ready to plant onions, spinach, mustard, and cabbage this week or next.

Although the physical labor is exhausting and it’s incredibly hot, I still enjoy the physical labor. I enjoy having a chance to do work that I see immediate results and because it gives me time to think. I often wonder how I can teach other people to do this, but I think they’re just more social than I am and have no desire to be lost in thought. They would rather talk to each other and be social to free their mind. The other day I was clearing a road and one of the farm workers asked me if the work was hard because I just kept moving. I had to laugh and say, “yes, of course!” but also explain that when I’m doing physical labor my mind and body aren’t in the same place.  It’s just easier that way.

The other positive of doing physical labor is you get to see how people work. What motivates them, what distracts them, when you can push them to work harder, and when to give them a break and save their energy. I think every farm manager should do physical labor from time to time because he or she would have a better idea of planning as well as the incentives for the farm workers. It’s tough work, but one needs to realize the work that they expect and make sure that it’s realistic.  The farming manager told me the other day that he enjoys when I’m at the farm because I’m working the whole time and I’m always happy. Honestly, as crazy as it sounds, I think that might have been all that this project really needed and it seems like the whole crew is slowly coming around. Even more exciting is that they aren’t always happy with what I’m saying, but they’re willing to listen and they’re willing to do it or try it anyway (and that gets back to me needing to know when to push and when to give them slack for working). I’m still trying to find a balance, but I feel like all of the conflict from the previous months might have paid off.

We finished constructing the seedling nursery and it’s such a relief! After all of the setbacks and obstacles, I’m happy that we were able to complete the simple structure. We still need to collect the seedling trays and decide on what mixture we want to use for starting seeds, but I think we will have seeds planted by the end of this month. So we’ll have to plan our planting schedule so that we can provide for the Center, the farm, the household garden project, and for sale. I think it will really help out the food security project and as people’s attitudes change I’m beginning to think they are going to be ready to continue all of this even after I leave.

My daily life seems to be going on smoothly and in many ways I’ve already begun to normalize my life here. It only took four months, but I feel like I know the area for the most part and what I need to do to live my life. I’m meeting more people each day and the friendliness that I’m shown each week continues to make my social life easier. It’s still funny to hear about all of the people that see me around, but never say anything. I often wonder if they intended to spy on me, whether they didn’t want to say hello at the time, or whether they heard it second hand. Nothing more than curiosity fuels me to ask these questions because it really doesn’t matter because they were willing to talk to me about it at a later time. It’s just a reminder to myself that I must be safe and careful at all times because I never know who is watching me or who has been watching me.  At least if I knew, I could watch them back until they realized how weird it is.

People here eat with their hands for the most part and it made me think of the cutlery business and how they must struggle in Africa. My guess is that the English or the French would buy the most, but no real basis behind this other than stereotypes of being proper or cooking great food. Here, you’re lucky if they have a spoon and a fork is pretty much a hidden treasure. I still eat a lot of rice so the spoon is a must, and cereal would prove messy and difficult should I jump into it hands first. However, I’ve noticed that as time goes by I’m eating more and more food with my hands in my own home. I usually eat lunch at work (they provide the lunch) so I’m often eating pap and whatever our side dishes are (xixevo).

I helped lead a presentation with the Department of Agriculture on onion seedbeds and production. It’s amazing the knowledge that I’ve seemed to pick up over the years even though I don’t have any formal schooling in Agriculture. It’s just a reminder that even though people are constantly asking me here if I have a degree in Agriculture that it’s not necessary if I have the practical experience. I don’t speak Xitsonga, so I spoke in English and then a man from the Department translated and added his additional knowledge where I was light in information. After the presentation we did a practical and actually made a seedbed and filled some seed trays. It was cool because I saw that the people were really involved and interested and I hope that more workshops in the future have this aspect (it was a best practice with all of the CRS farmer field schools that I wrote a ton of reports on!).  Mostly, I was honored that they considered me to help and participate and that they trust me enough to speak about these subjects to other farmers in the area.

Most of the people that I work with don’t have gardens at home because they are sick of what they do by the time they get home and just want to do something different. Now that I have the keyhole garden, I often feel the same way and I don’t always have the energy to deal with it. However, one evening, after a really long and exhausting day, I went out there because I needed to clean up the weeds and get things in order. The next thing I knew I had been out there for 45 minutes! It was really relaxing and in a way, psychologically, it was a lot like running in that the hardest part was getting started, but once I’m going things are easier. I took out a lot of weeds, which had control over the garden and planted some onions and tomatoes. I was a little worried because the seeds that I planted the first time around didn’t do to well and I had some worries about my garden. However, this time around the seeds germinated within 5 days and everything seems to be going well. I cut some holes into the bottom of a 2 liter plastic bottle and connected it to the hose so that makes watering much easier and much more consistent as well. I hope to transplant some of the tomatoes and onions into the keyhole garden and then transplant the rest in an area for my host family.

Although rain has been scarce, the summer has brought a lot of sun. Hot and dry it reminds me of California, but the new work suit I received from work is going to take some getting used to. Back home I worked in mesh shorts and a t-shirt – sometimes even wearing flip-flops. However, because they are worried about safety here, everyone wears work suits and boots that cover your entire body. I just got mine and I can tell you that it’s hot in that thing. Like crazy, make you sweat, forget what cold feels like kind of hot. But, the people are happy that I wear the same things as they do now and that we all look the same so I’ll keep it up. I figure winter is on it’s way so it can only get more manageable as time progresses.

My host family has been asking me to attend church with them for a while now and so I finally attended – it was my first time attending church in South Africa.  I never know if I’m supposed to go or not, whether it is considered polite or rude based on my own personal beliefs. Regardless, every time that I enter a church I immediately feel awkward and I don’t know if this awkwardness is a result of how I truly feel or of how I think others think that I should feel.

I remember as a child attending Sunday school with some friends because I stayed the night at their house. Even in pre-school we went to the church and sang songs (Jesus loves the little children all the children of the world…) and I loved both of those things. But it wasn’t the theology or belief that encapsulated me, I loved singing and Sunday school always ended with juice and cookies – things I didn’t always get at home.

But I guess that’s why most people go to church. Not necessarily for the milk and cookies, but for something that they can’t get at home. The dynamic is different, the energy is different, the prayers more communal and the friendship and unity almost overbearing.

I had to introduce myself, which was awkward. People are dancing and speaking in Tsonga, which is difficult for me. However, despite my own personal feelings or beliefs, one can’t deny the power that reverberates within that building. As it became time to pray I just stood in silence and observed my setting the best that I could, in a polite manner. Hearing all of the different prayers requested at once did make me feel something, but not for myself.  It made me feel for these people and their hardships and their struggles. It reminds me of one of the many reasons that I’m interested in Development – because I want to help people. Reflecting on my background in Psychology it makes me wonder how these people communicate and express themselves within their homes or personal lives – if they feel free to do so. Church is where the people go to ask anything, and often something private; to relieve the stress and find guidance. Although international development is far from holy and nowhere close to a replacement for God or religion, I do feel that in a way we are seeking similar things.

As hour 5 crept upon us, my tolerance faltered a bit, but continued nonetheless.  As time continued I was reminded of the power of churches and how they could combine with development efforts to do a lot of good. It’s just too bad that there’s a lot of separation and that people sometimes think that a church only wants to help their own (which could be true).  Regardless, if I ever have the chance to manage a project that can utilize the power of the church then I will try my hardest. Because some of the things that I saw and heard were beyond my belief, beyond what I want to see as real, but reality for so many others. Obviously their faith lead them to church, I would want to use their faith to lead them to progress.

With my first church experience beyond me, it seems only fitting that I should have my first funeral as well. I had heard a lot about funerals and they happen every weekend so I had mixed feelings about attending one. However, my host family invited me to a funeral because it was a relative of theirs and it was fitting that I participate.

Honored by the invitation I went and stuck out like the sorest of thumbs. It’s been almost 5 months since I’ve been here and I still forget that when I enter a new social circle that people don’t know me – like nothing about me. What’s interesting is that I can feel the tension and it’s no surprise to me that blacks and whites don’t integrate often in rural Limpopo. It takes a lot of effort from both parties to make the initiative and put themselves out there. It’s almost as if both groups are insecure, unsure of how the other will view or treat them. Obviously, apartheid isn’t too far in the past, but eventually someone has to do something. When they do they will realize that we’re all people.

The funeral was like a regular funeral, although it was my first time attending the funeral and then traveling to the cemetery. I had to cover my shoulders with a jacket to enter the cemetery and women had to cover their heads. A lot more singing and of course everything was in Tsonga so I kind of checked out. However, despite the words the feelings were there. It amazes me how much communication is done by tone of voice and body language. I didn’t know what most of the people said in their speeches, but I felt for them and I felt for the deceased.

And as I attend these events and more people begin to know Mzamani, I realize that leaving this place will probably be very difficult. Despite the stresses and the frustrations, I’ve become close to a lot of people here. I guess that’s what’s supposed to happen and obviously if you get to really know people there are going to be good times and bad times. For now I’ll just keep working and trying to enjoy every moment that I can because if January and part of February passed so quickly…July and August might be right around the corner.

2015 is now upon us and that means that patience is ever looming within my thoughts and actions in hopes of completing my resolution and improving myself as a person. I say looming because I catch myself being impatient constantly, every day. I never realize just how impatient I am until I tried to become more patient. I notice that I start to get frustrated and then I just think PATIENCE, breathe, and reassess the situation. It’s still January and we all care about our resolutions because life hasn’t quite caught up and revealed why we are the way we are, but I’m trying (I am Mzamani). I feel like this goal will either make me a better person or give me a brain aneurism after a couple months, but let’s hope for the prior.

One thing that helps is that being back at work I’m not trying to meet deadlines, or more specifically, the deadlines of others. It’s nice to sit and plan with my coworkers so that we can ensure that everything has time to get done on its own time. We don’t need to run around trying to do things at the last minute or scramble, but can make a schedule and actually follow it. It’s still early, but what is more exciting is that I think we will be able to accomplish it.

One major victory is that the farm manager and employees are coming around with their energy and motivation toward planning and openly discussing their work. I can’t force people to work when it’s hot (even through positive deviance or by the fact that people in other countries work when work needs to be done rather than purely based on temperature), but we can make better use of our time rather than just sitting in the shade doing nothing. We’ve managed to utilize afternoons to discuss what we should plant and when, potential markets, and any setbacks or challenges that we might face in the future. It really allows for an open discussion so that everyone can contribute his or her knowledge or preferences. I was worried that it might just be a lecture, but the farm manager did a great job asking about the workers’ ideas and they managed to respond. Even better, much it matched with the planning that the farming manger and I did a few days earlier. I’m happy that it’s catching on and I hope that it continues even after I leave. For right now I’m just excited that people are on board to work with me and try some of my ideas so that we can reach our goals.

On a completely different topic, snake discussions seem to have come up more frequently over the past couple weeks. I’m not sure if there is any real reason, but nonetheless people are talking about snakes. I’ve always liked snakes even though I can be afraid of them from time to time. Here in South Africa there are many poisonous snakes and so people have even more reason to be afraid of them (although there are much more non-poisonous snakes). But the fear of snakes doesn’t come just from a bite, but from the fact that people don’t know the difference between the different types of snakes and so they just kill all of them. In California it was always easy to identify dangerous snakes because the rattlesnake was the only real threat in the area. And a rattle snake has a clear diamond pattern on it’s back…that’s if you don’t hear it’s rattle going crazy. A few weeks back we killed a brown snake on the farm, mostly because a coworker thought it was a cobra. The other day someone told me that black mambas were all black (they are actually light brown and are called ‘black’ mambas because the inside of their mouths are all black). One of these conversations happened around the same time that we were talking about spiders and someone mentioned that there are only two spiders that are poisonous in the area and that they are capable of distinguishing the dangerous spiders from the non-venomous spiders. When we compared the two people began to realize that it was a very similar situation – they don’t kill every spider that they see because they know that some spiders can’t hurt them. We’ll see if anything happens with it, but we do have a rodent problem at the farm and if we had some snakes slithering around it might help a little. I’m hoping to get some kind of material or training resource so that maybe we can change, slowly, some of the attitudes up here so that people face their fears and act more responsibly.

My keyhole garden is still standing, but not as many of the vegetable seeds didn’t germinate. I think there were too many seeds in the manure and when I started watering the soil those weeds grew before the vegetable seeds. To make matters both better and worse those weeds are greens or “miroho” as they are called here, which people eat, including my host mom. So she was excited that they were growing in my garden. She was not so excited when I took them out because they were making my spinach a little leggy and preventing others from growing. I bought some new tomato, onion, carrot, and eggplant seeds so we’ll see if any of those grow. Also, we haven’t received any rain in about a week so it’s a good thing that I’m watering every evening and throwing most of my grey water into the compost basket.

I haven’t written about some of the odd things that happen in my day to day life so I suppose I’ll list them now; fair warning that these two just happen to be toilet humor. First, the kids are very excited to say hello to me in English and I’m as supportive as possible so that they feel confident and interested in learning and speaking English. However, some times are better than others – depending on whom you talk to. Mornings are obviously the best time to throw out the greeting because you can’t go wrong with saying ‘Hello’ and asking how someone is doing because you know you’re not being excessive. I assume this is why I receive greetings even when I’m in my latrine. Maybe they saw me walk in, maybe they notice the padlock is off, or maybe they just sense my presence, but whatever it is the kids still greet me in the mornings when I’m tending to my daily latrine duties. What’s difficult is when they ask how I’m doing. I always seem to say that I’m fine or good, or whatever, even though the first response in my head is closer to the action that I’m participating in and not lighthearted conversation. The second situation still confuses me, even as I write this. My friend and I were waiting for some people and he looks over and notices that a dog is about to take care of some business (no latrine for the dog and we didn’t ask how he was doing). He reaches over his car and says, “Nick, quick” and reaches out his hand with his pinky first. We lock pinkies, each person pulling toward themselves and he just smiles and looks at the dog. He says to me, “I don’t know why, but as long as we hold this the dog won’t be able to do it.” And, sure enough, after no more than 30 seconds of our pinkies locking and watching the dog squat and look around, it finally ran off without finishing the business. I don’t know what happened – if anything – but one can’t help but wonder if what we did actually control the situation in any way, shape, or form.

But enough of that, it has been crazy hot and dry the last week. Although it didn’t get California Central Valley summer hot, it was unpleasant and everyone was talking about it (so you know that it’s serious).  I managed to get sunburn, drink 5 liters of water in a day, and generally sweat that said 5 liters back out the whole week. Sitting in an office without air conditioning and sometimes no ceiling fan wasn’t very fun either. It was the kind of week that makes me long for winter…until winter is here and I complain about the short days and the cold.

Despite the heat, I wanted to start exercising more regularly and so I went running and jumped rope a few times. Overall, I’m out of workout shape, but in decent work shape so it all works out (if you can work that out). It was nice to exercise the first few days of the week because I was just in the office, but once I went to the farm it didn’t make sense to do additional exercise. And I was soooooooo hungry that you would have thought I was training to be an Olympic swimmer.

During my early days in Madagascar I seemed to write a lot about food because I had so much free time and because I needed to survive. This time around I think I’m less worried about survival because I figured it out before and because I have access to so much more food. However, cooking will always provide stories from my life and this living situation provides another. I use an electric stove that seems to remind me, at random, that it’s electric. Every once and a while I’ll stir up the rice in a pot of water before cooking or turning on the stove and I’ll receive a shock. Sometimes the shock is negligible, other times it seems to have a little more intensity behind it – it makes you wonder how bad do you want that rice? Nevertheless, cooking is always a guessing game because I never know when I’ll get the shock and when nothing will happen. I’m sure one day I’ll grow up and food and cooking won’t provide any hazards. But I can’t help but think that that would be so unbearably boring. I already dislike cooking; if I didn’t get shocked or have to plan meals it would become so mundane. Maybe that’s why some people buy take-out and don’t cook. They should try shock-cook therapy.

As work moves along we are moving forward with constructing the nursery. Things still don’t come along as smoothly as I hope or think that they maybe should, but I’m optimistic that we will have the basic frame finished at the end of the month and then just need to finish the tables and to plant seeds (if we ever get the seed trays). Planning for the farm and home garden project are moving forward and I’m impressed by the improvements that people have made toward planning their projects and work schedules. I’m seeing people take more independence and responsibility, as well as accountability and foreseeing potential obstacles. There is a noticeable difference in attitude and work production from October and November to now. Whatever we’ve done, something clicked, and they are improving their overall professional capacity. It looks like 2015 is already shaping up nicely and hopefully we can keep up the good work.

It’s something that I’ve struggled with my entire life. However, I’m hoping that 2015 will be the time that I finally master patience. As a kid, I never had the ability. I think it even sparked my interest in running because I thought – why bother walking when I can run and get there faster? I can do my homework early and then do what I want. I can work hard so that I can have free time. I don’t need to wait for someone else when I can do it myself. Furthermore, patience has been a struggle for me because my lack of patience has propelled me to do so many things. My lack of patience has kept me moving and ready, I never sit back and wait for things to happen. Previously, I thought that my time in Madagascar had taught me to be more patient, but I think I mistook patience for resiliency. I could wait around longer; I can still sit in a car for 12 hours without regular music or things to do. I learned to put up with things that I don’t have control over. However, I feel that patience is using that type of resiliency as a tool rather than a defense mechanism, something to use to my advantage rather than merely coping with my surrounding situation.

However, the longer that I stay at this post the more I realize that all of the positive that my lack of patience offers, the ability to be patient will probably take me farther. I really need to learn to take more steps back and let people do what they want/ think they need to do. So for next year I will make a push to be more patient, to be conscious of it every day in order to balance that which is available with what I am hoping to see.

This concept mostly stems from the fact that I’ve found the past two and a half months difficult. Not difficult enough to dissuade me from questioning if this line of work is what I want to do, but difficult in the sense that sometimes I do feel helpless. I often feel like I’m not doing something right, that I’m missing something. As a result, I have engaged in a few arguments with coworkers (all which were easily resolved by talking). But it’s not who I want to be and it’s not how I want to interact with my coworkers. There are always going to be things that I disagree with and that I question, but what I realized after a serious argument with a supervisor is that it didn’t make any sense; we were arguing in a way that wasn’t beneficial to anyone (and thankfully she realized that as well).

What’s interesting about this is that in many ways I feel it made me more real to my coworkers. They’ve seen me be nice and they’ve seen me upset: they know that I’m not faking my emotions or holding anything back. I think this because I’ve been able to have these arguments and then later talk with the people about the problems so that we could move forward. Amazingly, our work relationships have improved tremendously following these arguments. Regardless of how I acted, or how they acted, I feel like we’re moving forward in the right direction and I’m eager to see what next year will bring. The workers at the farm are the most recent example as they’ve worked around the holidays and even worked when I was working (and they didn’t really want to), and did it without complaining. They understand that when I want something to happen that I’m serious about it and I’ll push myself to make it happen. I think they’re catching on and willing to help me help them to make things happen as well.

I finally got my water situation fixed and I forgot how wonderful life is when you have access to water. Getting back to being resilient, I just accepted the fact that I needed to take a wheel burrow with two containers and plan my life accordingly so that I could drink, eat, and bathe as needed. I also didn’t realize the complete stress that it was putting on my host family until it was almost too late and our relationship was starting to deteriorate. I can’t help but wonder if this factored into any of the emotions within the office this past month, as they were responsible for sorting out the water issue. But with water available, the family seems happy and tensions have gone down to zero as far as I’m concerned.

The more time that I spend here the more social I become and the more people I meet, but it amazes me how much that I’m getting attached to the children. Maybe it is just me getting older and becoming more mature, but I really do enjoy these kids. What’s more amazing is that they just keep wanting to hang out with me and I don’t have the ability to say no. It’s really not that difficult to just play with them for 30 minutes or so and then I just say that I’m tired and they give me a break (sometimes with me closing my door on them).

As far as the community goes, I’m starting to know more people, and whether they like me or not, I think they are getting used to me. They realize that I’m not out to judge them. I really like hanging out with one of my friends because it’s clear that he’s not there to take care of me. He definitely watches out for my well-being and I trust him in that regard, but he doesn’t care if I’m enjoying myself or not. It’s like if you want to hang out, we hang out and that’s that. Sometimes it’s a bit much when a person always wants to take care of you and cater to your every need. Most of the time I’d rather just fade into the background and watch the world move along – it’s much more interesting.

My keyhole garden is built and I planted spinach, broccoli, carrots, and a few sunflowers. We’ll see what actually grows, but it looks really cool with all of the different colored bottles and more and more people are complimenting me on it. They don’t even care if the vegetables grow; they just think that it looks cool! I’m hoping that some of the seeds germinate (I got them a little while ago and I’m not sure under what conditions they were held) and that it is actually functional and not just aesthetically pleasing. One woman from work saw the garden and she said she was interested in making one at her house. I think it would be great if it caught on so I’ll have to remind her about it in a few weeks in case she doesn’t say anything.

One day at the farm, a few of the workers were discussing trust and I found the conversation to be very interesting. Basically, what they told me was to trust no one and love everyone. I told them that they couldn’t really love someone if they didn’t trust them, but they disagreed. Obviously, this includes romantic relationships and so HIV has to be considered. It’s interesting how many people have multiple girlfriends and boyfriends and it’s not thought of as strange. That as long as you respect the woman in the sense that you’re not caught then it’s okay. I’m not sure how the women feel about this mostly because I’m getting this from men. I met a girl a few days ago that said that she is in love with one man and she will marry him, but she was talking about her other boyfriends before that so I’m not really sure how that all works out.

However, what interests me about this is that most of the youth go through this “love” trust phase and then enter the work world. I can’t help but wonder if it plays a role in how they function in work and the level of trust one has in their coworkers to do their job or act appropriately. That you grow up not trusting people and that you can’t count on others to do their job and truly work as a team.

Which brings me to something that I like to call the Tracy Jordan complex. I’ve been re-watching 30 Rock and I remember the episode where it was leaked to the news that the character Tracy Jordan – despite always been seen at strip clubs and being obnoxious – had never cheated on his wife. Of course, he was freaking out because he needed to protect his image. I sometimes wonder if that exists here and the people just don’t feel comfortable talking about it. Don’t get me wrong, I know a lot of guys who sleep around, but I sometimes wonder if some of the men just talk about having girlfriends and maybe flirt a little bit, but at the end of the day they stay monogamous. Maybe for some they feel like they have to be this way to conform to the local culture.

But who knows, it’s all speculation on my part and obviously there isn’t any concrete data of any kind to back up anything that I’ve been saying.

Christmas came and went and I really enjoyed it. It was my 5th Christmas in a row away from home and family, but as the years progress it becomes easier and easier. I think that last year was the most difficult only because my peer group left to see their families in different countries at Christmas. It’s always easier when the families are around locally and they just invite you to hang out. The music in the village is an ever constant pounding that I’m certain has intensified over the past few weeks. It made me realize that I listen to music in my house because it drowns out the thumping of the tavern down the street. But there’s just a lot of eating, drinking, music, and dancing; and none of the Santa nonsense. People spend money on new clothes and the parties and that’s it. I had three days of fun with various friends in the area, without any set plans. For New Year I don’t have any plans either, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy whatever the village provides. But I might join the January club that has no money as most people tell me that they spend everything in December and that January is the longest month.

Regardless of all of the ups and downs of this year, I have to say that 2014 was a good year and significantly better than 2013. I’m looking forward to 2015 and what’s to happen. But of course, I can only wait patiently and see what the next 12 months have in store.

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.

 

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