Life in Madagascar has become a little more regular. I have been at site for about 1 month and I am really getting into the swing of things. No real profound moments as of yet, but I’ve established a routine for the most part, and it is only a few times a week when I’m cooking dinner in the dark or fetching water from the river that it really hits me that I’m living in Madagascar.
Since my last entry I have done some serious exploring in the area by walking or riding my bicycle. I can cover much more ground with the bicycle, but it is much easier to talk with and meet people when I walk. I have pretty much memorized my speech where I tell them that I am not a “vazaha” and that I work for Peace Corps and I will be working with their community. I think around 75% of the time they understand, so that’s not too bad. There was a holiday the other day and I wandered by a church and ended up eating with a bunch of people. It was very good for me to meet everyone and to let them know that I’m not a visitor but living with them!
I started my garden recently, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve planted anything yet. I’ve had help from around 8 different people in the area so it’s good that some people in the community are seeing that a garden can be built on a small section of land…and hopefully my garden produces! Making the fence took a while and so did digging up the large amount of weeds and starting the beds. I still need to add/find manure and dig the beds and then I should be able to plant. I also started a compost pile which my counterparts have seen and now know how to make. It is much better than the thought of throwing an orange peel on the ground and calling it compost. So I suppose I am doing things for the most part that an Environment Volunteer should do.
My diet has really picked up in quantity. I am fairly certain that I have a parasite/worm of some sort that I have requested medication for. I have been eating rice by the plateful with other things and I just don’t seem to be full. It is a very unsatisfying feeling that I wouldn’t want to wish upon anyone, but at the same time, I’m eating all the time so it’s not all bad. I’ve also discovered that a banana mixed with cold rice is absolutely delicious and I know eat it as my “desert” for breakfast. I didn’t eat meat for the first two weeks because it really didn’t look appetizing, but I think my body needed the extra protein so I know eat meat on the days that I buy food (usually twice a week). Other than that, my diet is composed of a variety of healthy, organic foods and pretty much every time I eat an avocado I manage to spill part of it on myself.
I finally got a chance to go to the reserve that I am working for. It is called Antanetiambo Nature Reserve and it is not very big at the moment, so I will be working to try and make it more accessible to tourists and to acquire more land so that more lemurs can be introduced into the Reserve. It is nice to have work with the Antanetiambo because it gives me something a little more concrete to be working on so if I feel like my work in the community isn’t really “work”, I always have my 1 day a week or 2 weeks at the reserve to make me psychologically feel like something concrete was accomplished.
As far as my physical appearance, I think I look quite different. Some of the guys in our stage wanted to have a facial hair competition at in-service training, so I’ve been growing out my facial hair so that I have a lot to work with. I would like to shave, but it is welcoming for the colder weather that is approaching. I decided to cut the hair that is on my head though, so at least that is somewhat orderly. I’m also fairly tan because the malaria meds make me extra sensitive to the sun. I’m not quite Tom Hanks in Castaway yet, but getting there.
Now for a few little side notes: First, the lessons of Mario Kart have taught me well and I almost hit a person on the street with my bike because I was afraid that if I went over the banana peel I would spin out of control. Second, I finally got my radio to pick up a station and of course there was a block of country music on. It was quite bizarre listening to “whiskey lullaby” while shelling peanuts with my Counterparts family; can’t say that I expected that. Third, I have been asked if I knew 50 Cent or Celine Dion. I reluctantly told them no, but I wish that I had told them that I knew both and that we hung out all the time. That probably would have led me in a bad direction later on though if I were to know a celebrity.
As far as down time, I have been reading a lot (War and Peace at the moment) and I have perfected the art of staring. I thought I could space out before, but I have seriously improved! I also just talk with people and if nothing else is going on go for a walk in my community. It is weird because I feel like I never have a lot planned, but the days always go by so quickly.
So that is about it; each day definitely has its ups and downs. The language is getting better slowly and everyday feels like an improvement. I’m becoming more accustomed to the animals although the mice thoroughly annoy me at night. I am slightly overwhelmed when I hear about what other volunteers have done in the area and the high expectations of the community, but I’ve personally decided that nothing needs to really be accomplished by me in the first three months; I just need to gather information. So we’ll see what happens and how many projects I can complete and how many people I can get involved. It has only been a month and it seems like I’ve been here much longer. I’m sure after two years I will feel like the post was sent a lifetime ago.