I can’t exactly say that it flew by, but it did go surprisingly quick. It wasn’t until I went to save the blog entry on my computer and put the date that it hit me the 6 month mark was happening. I have mixed emotions about the time passing, part of me feeling like we were landing in Tana just last month, and part of me thinking that training was ages ago. Regardless, a lot of stuff has happened in the last 6 months, and overall, I’m pretty happy with it. However, there are still certain things that happen that continue to piss me off and I sometimes wonder why, after 6 months, they haven’t stopped. I think the next 6 months will be a little harder psychologically, only because I will feel like I should be accomplishing something by then. I just need to tell myself that if I get a thing started that’s good enough; everything is on a two year deadline in my head.

With the new volunteer visiting I did a lot of hosting for a week, but I was able to make a lot of social connections during that time. I met some more people in the community and I was invited for some fabulous meals, so it actually worked out in my favor quite a bit. Another plus, was that I met a man who was doing a presentation in Andapa on cook stoves, green charcoal, and a cook system that he called an incinerator. I am not sure if they would be practical for my community to build them the exact same way that he built them, but it gives me some things to work with and now I just need to experiment with stuff at my house and in my community. Finally, that week made it clear to me that I have acquired quite a few names in the area. There are three different pronunciations of Nick and then I’ve acquired the nicknames of ‘Sobika Mafana’ and ‘Matsobe’ (the former being a hotbox (literally hot basket) that I can build and the latter being the name of the village that I live in). It is kind of funny when I go down the road on my bike and people just yell sobika mafana at me. At least I’m recognized.

I also had a chance to teach my first English class to my community. It was really hard to teach English to people who didn’t speak any English at all. I just taught basic stuff like general dialogues and introductions, but I still struggled a bit. I think the fact that my grammar is so bad that I really don’t know the rules of the language I’m teaching them and I’m definitely not fluent in Malagasy, so it was an interesting two hours to say the least. However, there weren’t that many people there, so I hope that if I take the time to repeat the class, there are more people. If more people don’t show up, then it’s not worth my time at the moment and I can teach people English on an individual basis when I interact with people in the community. I went to another community with a Malagasy friend and taught some English there too. The plus side of writing down what I taught the first time in Matsobe meant that I didn’t have to think about what I was going to teach for my other first class. It makes sense why teachers make lesson plans. I finally get what my mom has been talking about for years 

After all that hosting and socializing in Andapa, I was lucky enough to go to Marojejy National Park for a week with an American researcher, Erik Patel, and a South African film crew from Earthtouch. The park was absolutely gorgeous and I was so happy that I had a chance to visit. I was very useful for the crew as well, because I could speak Malagasy, which was important when getting food or speaking with porters and other people. It also made me feel less guilty because they paid for a large portion of my trip in the park as well (I was put in the film budget). We spent most of our time at Camp 2. The park has a main trail to the summit and along the way there are 3 camps with bungalows. Camp 2 has most of the silky sifakas so that is why that location was our base camp. It was a new experience for me to camp with porters, cooks and to sleep in a bed and not in a tent. We needed 40 porters to get all of our stuff up to Camp 2; a slight change from backpacking with my father, where we wear the same clothes all week and eat bagels with salami and cheese until you would rather starve.

I was able to follow the group of silkys for two days and I was so happy to see the group close up and really follow the research team. They watch the lemurs all day and write down what they are doing every 5 minutes. The team is very diligent, but I don’t know if I enjoy the lemurs enough to watch them every day and write down what they are doing every 5 minutes. They excitement at the moment is that the group has two new babies, which is important because they give birth to one baby every 2 years. It was kind of funny going on a trip that was specifically for lemurs and thinking about how I would write about my visit and how my url is morethanlemurs.wordpress.com. Oh well, I guess all the other posts justify the title.

After the two days of following the group, I went with one of the cameramen to Camp 3 and then the Summit. We left at 3am with hopes of seeing the sunrise from the summit, but it was just cold, rainy and we couldn’t’ really see anything. However, the climb up was quite fun and beautiful in its own right. We needed headlamps while we went up and it reminded me of playing the night levels for Crash Bandicoot on Playstation. Except this time there were no mangos to grab and nothing that was attacking me. It was really cool when it became a little lighter, because it was clear that we were walking through a real tunnel of vegetation, composed of a ladder made of roots and rungs composed of puddles. The way down created a few nice views, but I didn’t think the summit was that great. I think it just justifies that the top of the mountain is for personal satisfaction of climbing to the top; the rest of the mountain is for the personal satisfaction of saying that you saw something worth seeing.

The first night back in Camp 2 a fosa was in our campsite. It was very surprising to see a fosa because they usually don’t show up around people, let alone a group of about 15. However, at about 3pm, it came into the kitchen and allowed for everyone to film and take pictures of it. That night it slept under and in the kitchen structure and it kind of made the visit a little less special once the fosa made itself at home in the camp. Theoretically, the animal is quite dangerous, because it is known for taking out whole groups of lemurs and eating pretty much everything. With the footage I got, it really just looks like a big, docile house cat.

The last day I hiked out with an Austrian couple so that one of the guides wouldn’t need to leave with me because I was leaving before the other members of my group. The couple was really nice and they were really interested in the Malagasy language. It was really nice to see foreigners that were interested in learning Malagasy and not just relying on French (which they knew). When I got back to the park entrance I changed out of my pants, boots and socks and saw the bloody carnage that was left on my legs. Apparently, a large pack of leeches had attacked me and I had a bunch of bloody spots all over the bottom of my ankles and feet. At first I felt pretty gross, but then the ride that I caught back to Andapa was full of people puking into bags so I really didn’t feel too bad about my bloody ankles.

Being away from site for a week was pretty strange altogether. I felt like I had been gone forever. However, the people were excited to see me again and everyone had wondered where I had gone. Even the people at the market thought that I might have returned to the United States. My house was in really good shape, no mice damage. The only down side was that there was a dead mouse in my house. I suppose a dead mouse does deter other mice from hanging out. I guess the poison doesn’t make the mouse die in its nest, or the nest is my house so the mouse died in the right spot. Also, the first night back didn’t bring any frog action, but the second night was out of control. Frogs were all over the place and I stepped on one and then another, probably trying to avenge me stepping on its friend, dropped from the ceiling right next to the chair I was sitting in and scared the hell out of me. But to make things clear, I think there was a total of about 3 frogs in my house when this all went down, they just want to hang out I guess.

This week I have to finish a bunch of Peace Corps papers and it just reminds me how much I hate office work. I have to complete this large paper about my community and my work in the area, fill out a volunteer report file for the peace corps office and then also prepare a power point presentation for our in service training. I really had no idea that I was going to need to do so much computer work as an environment volunteer, but I’m sure it’s good in the long run; I just like complaining about having to write anything that I don’t want to write. I actually put together quite a bit of information for the beginning of a paper, and I’ve never liked power point presentations so I’ll just leave it at that. I have noticed that my mood hasn’t been the best with all of this office work and I’m in a much better mood when I’m working outside.

In the world of food, I’ve been eating a lot of fresh basil, cilantro and green onions from my garden. The latest creation consists of cooking eggplant, tomatoes, onions, pepper, cilantro and basil and then putting it into a tortilla; it’s pretty good. The funny thing about the tortillas was that I forgot to clean the counter that night and the next morning there appeared to be a perfect circle of flour on the counter. I forgot that I had made tortillas and I thought that maybe the mice were holding a séance in order to resurrect the dead that have been lost with the recent traps and poison. But back to reality…the squash have ended for good and only time will tell as to whether I am able to harvest the seeds. The pumpkins were attacked by insects, but I hope to be able to build a few small jack-o-lanterns. I have a bunch of lettuce that is growing as well. I feel like the garden will never be completely satisfactory for me. Only half will be good and then the other half in shambles. The big food accomplishment of the past few weeks was that my oatmeal finally arrived. I had one of the Chinese shop owners put in an order – directly to China. So yes, life is rough as a Peace Corps Volunteer when you get to eat Quaker Oats that are specially ordered for you…

The facial hair will be gone next week and I couldn’t be more thrilled. It is definitely time for a change. I just hope I don’t have a Sampson beard and that all of my community interactions and knowledge will be lost once I‘m clean shaven. If nothing else, cutting the beard can only help my hygiene and with the coming warm weather it will feel a lot better to be free of it.

I’ve finished reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. Overall, I thought it was really good, however, towards the end I did start to become a little less interested in the newer family member. However, I felt that there was a decent amount of closure in the end, and of course the magic realism was consistently intriguing. I’m starting to read Love in the Time of Cholera, so we’ll see how that goes. One of the new volunteers who will be in my region is supposed to receive a bunch of books so hopefully that can keep me busy for a little while.

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