Before joining the Peace Corps I thought a lot about the isolation, possible boredom and all of the loneliness that could consume me. However, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I came to the realization that I had either coped with the situation or lost it all together. Before I tell the story, I will let you know that I am completely content with either outcome (Nick being crazy or just normal-weird and coping with living and eating alone).
It all started when I was about to sit down for dinner and I had just moved my solar powered light over my table. I heard a rustling over in the corner of the room near some plastic that was covering my left over cook stove mixture. I walked slowly towards the dark part of the room, and with my flashlight on, amongst the shadows, halfheartedly kicked at the plastic hoping that whatever was in there would magically disappear and I could enjoy my meal. Nothing retreats from the plastic. Alas, I must be hearing things. However, before I return to the table, I see in the corner of my eye a mouse slink off into the darkness and down through the corner to the outside world. I think to myself, “Here we go again,” and return to the table to begin eating. That’s when things get weird.
I’m about a quarter of the way into my meal (rather colorful that night: rice, carrots, green beans, onions, tomatoes and cucumbers) when my mind no longer thinks about the food or other matters and it wanders back to the mouse. I think again to myself, «Here it is, the return of the mice.” From there, I kick into full nerd mode and start thinking of it in comparison with Return of the Jedi and how maybe the mouse that I saw is the chosen mouse that has come to save the entire colony. The Luke Skywalker of the mice, destroying my house to empower the whole mouse colony. Maybe there is some prophecy that is supposed to be fulfilled by this one mouse (I have not decided upon his (or her) social status in the colony or her/his general disposition). I think that for years they have waited (the mice) for this one mouse to thwart the evil people who do nothing but disturb or kill them. I then finish my plate and take seconds. Finishing everything that is left except the rice, which I always make in excess in the evenings.
I return to my seat and continue the saga of the mouse prophecy, but my mind wanders a little further this time and begins to include myself specifically into the drama. What if I am part of the mouse religion? What if I am the apocalypse? Maybe there is a mouse scripture that predicted the coming of a human that they had never seen before. He had light skin, blue eyes and odd hair growing from his face. He sometimes walked around clumsily as if his legs were made of lead when walking down the stairs. He would seem altogether awkward, not at all like the other people the mice have come across. He would make these sounds unlike the other people, although he could still converse with them. He would have this powerful light that accompanied him. He would shine this light from his head or his hands and locate the mouse. It was from that time that the mouse was doomed. Once the mouse saw the light it was just a matter of time before certain death. The mouse would be consumed by greed and never be full or satisfied with what it ate. It would crave peanuts, and nothing else and these peanuts would bring the overall doom and destruction of the mouse. A mouse, a few days after seeing the light, would stumble across a peanut, decide to indulge, and then smack! Life ends and all is quiet in the night (minus the frogs, cockroaches and other living things who prefer nightlife).
Eventually, like any religion, the group separates because there is no reason or practical foundation for such things to be said. Coincidence is always upon us and there is no possible way to conclude causation from such matters. These different types of looking people seem to be everywhere on occasion, and it was just a matter of time until they stayed in this house. That those mice who believed in such nonsense were only trying to manipulate the colony for their own power and greed. The colony of mice split into two clans. One clan, claiming that this apocalypse is false and that there is nothing to worry about. The other, to leave the forsaken area and move to somewhere they felt to be safer. There were very few casualties between the mice when there was this religious split, but then again, mice aren’t human.
The one group leaves the area around my house, but is unable to find sufficient food elsewhere and most of the clan dies off. A few survive and become hybrid super mice that can survive off almost anything (after many generations of course), while those who stay meet their doom for two years until there is a break in the slaughter (mouse reproduce very quickly and I find it impossible that I should be able to remove ALL of them from my house let alone the area). In the grand scheme of things, neither clan was right or wrong and both went on surviving. Proving that my attempts to kill them all are futile and a waste of my time. But, alas, I will keep a peanut in that trap every night and I will shine my light should I hear a sound. I finish eating shortly after and then wash the dishes.
So who knows. Maybe the isolation has sparked some part of my brain that intensifies creativity from the lack of stimulus, or, maybe, I’ve gone crazy. I’m only 24; schizophrenia could still be a possibility.
I suppose everyone copes with the stressors of isolation, boredom and loneliness in different ways. I am almost certain, because I don’t like to speak in absolutes, that no other volunteer has constructed such a story in their head or had such a story occupy their time while they ate dinner. The peanut has disappeared for a few nights, but no mouse could be found the next morning. When I went to Antalaha, this ghost mouse ate my pillows and ransacked my entire house. He escaped the trap the first night, but I shined my light on him. The next night, he was killed.
So that is one example of some of the weird ways that my mind works. I also tend to think about my life -past, present, future-, who I met that day, what I will do tomorrow, washing the dishes, life in the United States, and sometimes, I just listen to the rhythm of my teeth crushing my food, zoning out in all its possible bliss. Besides, now that war and peace is finished, what else do i have to occupy my mind?

Back to reality…
Like I mentioned in my last, very brief post, I was sick with a cold. It was annoying, but I did enjoy the opportunity to use snot rockets to their full potential. It is slightly more socially acceptable here (lack of tissues) and so I haven’t been hesitating to shoot a snot rocket. However, with the facial hair, a failed snot rocket can become a little messy and once I shot a snot rocket immediately after fetching water and it went in the bucket (I scooped it out rather than fetching a new bucket), so it really isn’t 100%. I thought I was better, but lately I’ve had a weird fever, stomach ache problem and general aches. So I’m just waiting for all of that to pass.
Instead of always ending with a down note, I’ve decided to put the hardships toward the beginning. I have become more known in the community so that means that I have of course been designated English tutor for all. It isn’t so much that I don’t want to teach English, but that I really am not capable. I am a horrible teacher to begin with, and then the fact that I can’t speak fluent Malagasy makes translation quite difficult. I tried to help one girl who wanted to learn English and she didn’t even understand the Malagasy that I spoke to her. Looks like I’m not the Savior yet. The second hardship consists of the Malagasy culture of lying and rumors. They are not malicious (often quite the opposite), but I would prefer if people were honest with me rather than telling me what they think I want to hear. I know I’m pretty awesome, but definitely not as awesome as I’m told.
I also made a trip down to Antalaha to visit another volunteer. All of the volunteers in the Sava region went and met up in Antalaha for the 4th of July. It was nice to see everyone and de-stress a little bit. We even did some work for PC, so I’m sure the office would proud of us. It is definitely cooler in Antalaha now that we are in winter, but it was not as cold as Andapa. There are many more sweets that I can buy on the streets of Antalaha and so I went on a binge of different peanut and coconut treats. It’s probably good that I don’t have similar access to that kind of food in Andapa, otherwise i would have some serious issues and no money in my bank account.
I’ve taken my hot box on the road this past week and it was quite the spectacle. I took the hotbox and just started walking door to door showing people and explaining how it worked. One of my counterparts went with me, and it was a huge help to have someone else speak when i didn’t understand and to be proof that it works and isn’t just a made up contraption by the foreigner. Some people were even interested in buying it, but it wasn’t for sale. Hopefully, all of the people who say they will build one, or say they will come to my house to build one, actually follow through. I highly doubt it, so i plan to return every once and a while and see if anyone is down for a little arts and crafts session. The English club is still going on, and i am very proud to announce that there was a club meeting where 3 girls showed up. That’s three more than all of the other meetings, so that’s a plus. I plan to build one with the club this week.
I went to the rice field this past weekend to see how the planting of the rice went. it was a very interesting concept to me, that really made me want to do SRI (hopefully it will work). After having the fields plowed by a team of two cows and a man pushing a plow, the women (yes, I’m using the gender information on purpose) would take the seedlings from the nursery and plant them in the field. The interesting part was that it looked haphazard to me. They just kind of stick the seedlings in somewhat of rows, more like a square pattern and then move to a new spot. Apparently, one has to pay extra if they are to plant in a row because it takes more work. Because so much rice is grown in the Andapa area, it will be really great if I can get a few farmers to start using SRI in the next few years.
With the hotbox on the road and just living life in general, I have started to acquire more and more friends who no none or very little English. Although these friendships can sometimes be a little tiring, I like them because they force me to concentrate and continue to speak Malagasy. However, i don’t always have a notebook and pen for the encounters so who knows how much I really retain.
On July 1st i took my worm medication that i got from the medical office. Because i can’t look at my crap immediately following delivery, i am forced to believe, just by the volume of food i am eating now, that i did have some kind of a worm issue. I am eating much less rice and food in general, and i feel a little more energetic too. However, it could all be a placebo effect, which really wouldn’t bother me either.
I’ve found out that our in service training is pushed back to September. That means the beard will stay around for an extra month, and i am not entirely thrilled on the issue. Of course, i could shave any day, but i am really stuck in a crossroads. I have waited so long that it seems dumb to shave now, but at the same time, there is no reason at all why i need to keep the beard. It will probably stay, but who knows. I’ll be sure to have a photo before the big cut.
My counterpart got two cats and beside them being overwhelmingly cute, they apparently have been destroying the mouse population in their house. I’ve decided that if i can find a nice healthy kitten for my house that it might be a good idea. I would get a dog too, but the dog from the last volunteer is still here, and i really don’t need, or want, to look after two dogs. There is a snake that lives under my compost pile (I suppose better than my kabone (bathroom), its old residence) and that has been helping with the mice population as well.
I plan to revamp the garden this week, by building a new fence and digging out a ton of weeds and re-planting certain crops.

*fun fact* I just realized the other day that if I were about 2 inches taller I would have to hunch over in the bottom floor of my house. Definitely built for a Malagasy person (AKA someone with the same body structure as me).

Also, the internet is surprisingly fast today and I didn’t have many emails so I apologize if this post has more errors than usual!

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