It was a dark and stormy night when I started to write the first draft of this blog. In general, the rainfall has been very hard and cold lately. It makes me a little worried because we are in the “dry season” here and I might need to purchase a boat for the “rainy season”. Apparently, it has been around 5 years since the last big flood around here and people are telling me that we are due for another big rainy season anytime soon. I’m not looking forward to it if that is really the case. At least I have a two story house so if the flooding gets real high I might be able to secure some things…assuming the house doesn’t fall down.
I’ve decided to have the title of “Untitled” for this blog entry, because so many things have happened lately, that many options were worthy of a witty title. Such examples are: Farewell to the Hunchback of Matsobe, The Great Bean Geyser, I’ll Wash My Bike and You Wash Your Body, The Do’s and Don’ts of Dysentery, and My Not So Lovely Love life. Besides, if I just left the title blank, I’m sure you would think that I just forgot. Who knows if anyone reads the title anyway.
As far as the food world goes, i have two new discoveries that I think are quite delicious. One, I didn’t really make, but made with a friend in Andapa. It is stuffed eggplant that is deep fried in batter. If I had the time and a proper kitchen, I would make them every day and come back to the U.S. 300 pounds. I’d be the first volunteer to come back from service severely overweight and with multiple health conditions caused by my obesity. I’m sure the worms and parasites would be happy with this endeavor. The second invention is still in the experiment stage, but still good nonetheless. A while back I helped this family translate a letter they received from an American family that sent them something. When I passed by their house a few weeks later they gave me a ton of peanuts. So, with this added surplus of peanuts, I decided to experiment with my possibilities. I ended up making dough mixed with peanuts that I think is really good (it could just be losing all sense of what really tastes good). i mix together flour, sugar, powder milk and then water to make it similar to condensed milk. Then i roast peanuts in oil and mix it into the batter. The hot peanuts heat up the mixture a little to make dough almost and i think it tastes great. Yes, i have limited options for sweets here.
Some big news for me was that a person from Peace Corps visited me at site. Overall, i got a fairly good review, although it wasn’t an evaluation, and he helped clear up a lot of questions that i had and things that needed to be sorted out. i also found out that for our in-service-training, i should be able to acquire a lot of information that will help me with other projects that i want to get started (erosion control, rice cooperative, SRI plot, etc.). What was even better about the visit was that he brought my new bike. This bike wasn’t brand new, but compared to the last bike they gave me, it was like upgrading from a pinto to a Porsche. For starters, the bike actually fits me. Also, it is in much better condition, has a carrier rack on the back, a water bottle holder and a seat that has much more cushion than the other one. i ride that bike and i feel ten times better than on the other one. I am no longer this hunchback from riding a bike that was too small and i think it is good for my health too, because it isn’t stressing my lower abdomen and probably crushing all of my internal organs. I was really starting to turn into an inversed “J” for a while. It’s kind of nice to straighten out the spine again.
For work, I’ve been quite busy. i went to the countryside with a friend of mine from the English club in Andapa and built a hotbox with him and his family. Besides it being nice to speak with all of them, they now have a hotbox that they can cook with and there was about 10 people who viewed the process overall. The grandmother of my friend lives in a different village and she wants me to come back and build some there. i am happy to get positive feedback, but i don’t believe anything here until it really happens. The following day after this accomplishment, i had nothing planned at all. So i walked through the community that lives closest to me and started asking people what day would be best for them to study English if i were to teach a very general and simple course. I still need to do some more data collection, but it looks like i will probably teach some kind of English on either a Monday or a Thursday. I haven’t decided the frequency yet, but because I’m not an education volunteer, I’m not really in much of a rush. The best part was when i was walking through town a little girl walked by me and asked when we were going to build a cook stove. The weather was pretty good that day so i told her we could build it right then and so we did. There are a few families that live in the immediate area and so i ended up helping build two cook stoves, and it would have been three, but there wasn’t a kitchen or place for us to build the third, so we were forced to abandon. The only downside is that they cooked with one right away and i think the kids messed with part of the other one, so i don’t know if they are as effective as they could be. I’ve learned that it is better if I help a little bit more with construction rather than giving the people total control. I’m starting to realize that I know a lot more than I thought I did. However, altogether, it was good day for my community involvement and getting to know more people. The kids absolutely loved having their picture taken, so my camera has plenty of the experience and they fed me lunch so that was a major plus too. A few days later I built another cook stove in the community and it turned out much better. Child labor is quite a thing. I played a much more active role in the building stage and everything is still standing and in good shape. But things aren’t always so glamorous and successful. I suppose if they were, I wouldn’t have a job with Peace Corps right now. An example of this is that I was supposed to build a cook stove with some people and when I went to their house there was nobody there. The day ended up being pretty bad weather so i wasn’t completely devastated.
I went the Madagascar National Parks office last week and introduced myself to everyone and talked a little about some of my projects. Because i don’t have any forestry specialty, i really don’t know how much i will be working with them, but i think they might be able to introduce me to communities that have interests in different environmental projects. They also might be a good source for funding so I can have some good resources. i also went to the WWF office and will probably start working with them one day a week. I think it will be good to have a little Malagasy office experience and partner with WWF for funding projects as well. Also, if i have the opportunity to go on any trips with them to the forest, that would be awesome. But that depends heavily on the length of the trip, as i can’t spend a month away from my site. I also met their volunteer from Ireland who is just about to return home. He was real nice and it’s always nice to have a conversation where you don’t have to worry about saying something too fast and then asking if it were clear.
For projects in the future i did a seasonal calendar with some people and realized that when people don’t have enough food, they really mean that they don’t have enough rice. Different foods are always growing in Andapa, so that isn’t the problem. The problem is that the price of rice goes up and they can’t afford to buy as much. So rice and physical money are the real issue. If i can really make the rice cooperative a reality, i think it might be able to solve the problem for some people. Also, it should be sustainable, so eventually it could grow in a much larger scale and possibly a business. But it needs to be built before anything can really be done. The road from Matsobe to Beloaka is absolutely awful and i hope to do an erosion project in the future. I still need to do some research and see if i can get any funding for that project as well. It will really just consist of planting alongside the road and filling in the road when I can. Even if I don’t get funding, I might be able to approach this project at a very slow pace and have it be finished after my 2 years here. For my garden, i am still planting and i have discovered that life is too wet for squash or there is a bug problem. They touch the ground and then rot. I put some ash around the plant so hopefully that works and the pumpkins don’t meet the same fate. The other day I saw a damn good looking squash, so hopefully my problems are solved. Another project for the future is rebuilding a library in the area. The previous volunteer created one, but after the political crisis, everything was pretty much taken. I hope to get books in French and English and keep them at my house or my counterpart’s house. Then, people can come to the house and we would take their names and the book they took and they would need to return the book after a few days. That way people are accountable for the books they take. It will still be quite the risk because even if we have someone’s name, I don’t know if there is any way to really enforce the return of the book.
Now for a few odds and ends. I received a package from my mom. It took about 5 weeks to get here, but it was in a large bubble wrap envelope so i think it was treated like a letter. Everything was still intact too, which was nice. I’m just happy to know that if something is sent to me, that it actually arrives. i finished reading Catcher in the Rye. Overall, i really liked the book. To tell you the truth, i thought it was really well written and funny. However, the end was pretty depressing and the last line of the book depressed the hell out of me. I could easily see how someone wouldn’t like it for that reason. I liked it though. That’s all I’m saying (if you’ve read catcher in the rye then my review should make more sense to you). I’ve started reading One Hundred Years of Solitude so i seem to be making my way around the literary globe rather nicely. At first the magical realism was a bit much for me, but, because i have nothing better to do, i pushed through and I’m really enjoying it so far. For my little disaster of the past week i had the construction of a geyser in my house. I was cooking beans with my pressure cooker, when the steam fixture unscrewed and fell off. This resulted in a ton of bean water shooting out of the pot and splashing against the ceiling all over the floor, the stove and on me. I must have been in a great mood because i didn’t swear too much, but i think i was more in shock from the whole escapade. I fixed the fixture and the beans were good. I’m just happy nobody in my community brought up the escapade because I’m sure they heard the whole event go down. As for my psychological status, i had a wonderful little make believe mosquito conversation the other morning. While i was eating breakfast, i saw one mosquito linger around a bit and then exit out my window. While it exited, another mosquito entered. I just imagined that these mosquitos work for some mosquito business and they were trading off shifts. I haven’t decided if they are salaried or commissioned by the amount of blood they receive. Their conversation would go a little something like this:
Jim: “how was the night shift, harry?”
Harry: ‘”not too good. He had that damn net up again. There’s no way to get through all of that. i had to settle for mouse blood again. The boss is gonna kill me. You might be able to get him now, he’s eating breakfast.”
Jim: “maybe. With this cold weather he is all covered up. i could go for the hands or the face but that is dangerous territory. I’ve got a family at home.”
Harry: “how’s the family doing’ these days?”
Jim: “they’re good. Arlene is with the kids at her parent’s house, so I’ve had some nights to relax.”
Harry: “sounds good. You want to get some quality blood at the bar this weekend/.”
Jim; ‘sounds like a plan, see ya later, harry.’

However, the mosquitos were probably French because there is no way this conversation could have taken place in such a short amount of time. In which case, neither mosquito acknowledged the other mosquito’s existence and each continued on its own individual way.
In other, somewhat awkward news, it has become increasingly clear that people bathe when they want and i don’t need to stop what I’m doing to be polite. From the encouragement of other people, i have been told that if someone is bathing, it is still ok to get water and do what i need to do. i don’t walk down to the river and just stare at them, but i was worried that my presence would be an issue. The other day, i went to the river to wash my bike in the evening. There was a large group of people bathing and i couldn’t have felt more awkward. Here i am, fully clothed, washing the mud off of my bike, and just upstream of me about 6 people just getting themselves clean. I really wished my bike wasn’t such a disaster, because i probably would have tried to avoid the whole situation altogether and wait until the next day. I’m sure it builds character in a way.
I might have had dysentery (I might still have). Who knows, it could have been a urinary tract infection or giardiasis too. The medicine i took can treat all three, so it put my hypochondriac mind to rest. I was having some rather “rushed” mornings and decided to call the doctor after I had a little look through my Peace Corps Health Handbook. Here is a short list of moments that might prove as pointers for those of you who are new to the world of dysentery:

1. If you think you have time to wash the dishes and brush your teeth after breakfast, you’re wrong.
2. If you think you brought enough toilet paper to the bathroom, you didn’t anticipate the double-header that is about to come your way.
3. Improving your hygiene at this point makes no difference at all. The damage has been done.
4. Yep, all that sudden urge and that’s all that came out; a real disappointment.
5. I farted ten minutes ago, why won’t that smell go away?
6. Evaluate the weather beforehand. Muddy trails can slow travel down a bit.
7. No, I can’t talk right now; I have somewhere that I really need to be.
8. I’ve heard bananas can slow things down a bit. I’ll take 25, please.
9. One should acknowledge the consequences before undertaking any form of exercise.
10. Call your doctor if one of the previous nine doesn’t sound appealing.

Sometimes I’m feeling better, sometimes the same. The medication is really making me produce quite a bit and I’ve come across some interesting specimens, so regardless of what I had/have I’ve excreted something. The bigger problem is my overall water consumption. I get my water straight from the river and I’ve started to have little faith in my filter. I hope to finish the medication and then get back to normal. If not, I guess I’ll just try something new for a treatment. I’ve been much more conscientious of my water filter at the moment though, so the Peace Corps medical office should be real proud of me.
So now that we’ve reached the end, we can talk about my sexlife; a great topic after dysentery, if i do say so myself. Nope, nothing juicy here and that is just the point. Prostitution is a very big problem in Madagascar and in turn, a problem for my love life as well. i know I’m supposed to become integrated into my community, but that’s not exactly what i had in mind. But joking aside, it really is a problem here. For multiple reasons many girls choose a path of prostitution, because they feel they have no other choice and it’s a way to make some extra money. One major problem is that it is somewhat socially acceptable in the culture (or just ignored) and although there is a minimum age requirement for sex, it is not enforced. that isn’t saying that everyone approves of prostitution, but it is much more accepted than in other places according to my own experiences. Also, there is no public school system for secondary school or high school and so many girls need to get money for school in some way, shape or form. This added to the fact that Madagascar is a developing country makes the importance of extra money in a household even more important and prostitution more ignored as a social problem. Also, many Malagasy people are quite passive and it might be one reason why many girls decide to give in. they might think, if they are going to go through with it, they might as well get some cash out of it. So of course, one would think that this would make relations with the women easier. The options should be endless then, right/ However, I have created this complex (partially because I have been approached with offers by prostitutes) that if I find a girl attractive than she probably is a prostitute. I’m a pretty straightforward person, but I don’t plan to approach every girl that i might be interested in and ask her if she is a prostitute before advancing the conversation in any way. The other problem is that i don’t always know if i am approaching a prostitute situation or if a girl really wants me to become involved in the community. So it will take some time before I can find out a good system. I need to develop prostitute radar that will help decipher the intentions of the women i talk to.