It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was back in the SAVA region that I love. My plane was late, the taxi brouse waited until there was absolutely no room, not even for a backpack, the brouse then broke down for an hour, and then arrived in Andapa much later than it should have. That’s the world I’m used to. Much better.

I have to say, as refreshing as it was to have a vacation and just relax for a few weeks, it truly is nice to be back in my little village. The English spoken over the last few weeks has taken its toll on my Malagasy for the moment, but I hope to rebound over all. I was greeted with smiles and questions, which meant that the people didn’t forget who I was, especially that I didn’t have any facial hair. Sadly, a lot of people in Andapa thought that I was a new foreigner because the beard was gone. I’ve been getting shouts of “Vazaha” that had stopped before I left for Tana. Oh well, I suppose the people that remembered me are the ones that matter.

My house was in better shape than I had feared. It really is proof that the house is just part of the ecosystem in the area. The bees had taken over most of the ceiling beams, leaving saw dust all over the house. Thankfully, the rat poison works. Sadly, it doesn’t convince the rats to die in a different place than my house. There was one clear corpse of a rat and then there was also what looked like the remains of a second rat, but I can’t be quite sure. There have been no mice in the recent days, so I suppose that dead mice are the best form of resistance for new mice. The lizards have grown quite large in my absence as well. One even started to form a nest in my mosquito net, but I think that stopped when I opened the net and an egg crashed on the ground. But definitely, with all of this life and coming back from Tana, I am much happier to be emerged back into the environment. Tana sucks.

I checked my mail and there was quite the supply! I want to thank Abby and Melissa for their letters and the candy they sent. I must admit, the candy didn’t last long, but it was real good. Also, the TIME magazine subscription came through and I’ve received 2 issues already. It seems like it should work out for the most part. I also received a package from my mom and it appears that everything was intact and arrived. The skittles were not consumed in moderation.

The new Education PVC has moved into Andapa and so I spent a few days visiting and saying hello. There was also a recent graduate from Scripts College that was doing a yearlong fellowship traveling around looking at conservation projects on various islands; a very cool project. So, I spent a few days with them and said hello. It was a nice shift from being surrounded by Americans all of the time, to slowly weaning myself back to the Malagasy lifestyle.

But before I could get to work, I of course needed to go to a Malagasy concert. I went with the new PCV to see the group, WAWA. It was nice, because we met some people from Matsobe on the way to the concert so we were able to hang out with them the whole time. I have to say, Wawa was pretty much the Malagasy equivalent of Michael Jackson. He was just so weird and his dance moves didn’t help his case. The concert was a lot of fun, but about 1 hour too long. By the end I was pretty much ready to leave and go home. But remember, my sense of “late” has really changed lately, and so the concert ended at 9:30pm. I know, kind of sad. To make matters worse, just a few nights ago I went to a church party. It wasn’t the most exciting to me based on my own personal beliefs and I’ve never really been a church-goer. The worst part was they kept singing repetitive songs that I would never know when the end was coming and I would have to keep dancing (100% sober), constantly hoping for the song to end, when the chorus would just repeat again. However, come 11:30pm, I told my friends that I needed to go home and get some sleep. Funny, because the 7 year old next to me wasn’t even yawning… yes, I’m a 70 year man now.

There is clean water project that was started by the previous volunteer. She received all of the supplies and then got evacuated, so the project just resumed with my presence. However, the project stopped with about 500 meters of pipe still needed and no pumps. So I’ve been on quite the question rampage trying to get everything together. Basically, I’ve just been an annoying, pushy, bitch, and I’m starting to get some results. It looks like that after I made a bunch of threats (of course none of which I could back up, enforce or really uphold in any way, shape or form) it looks like all of the material was “found” . The major downside is that the cement is too old to use, and it was pretty expensive. So I’ll have to find a way to finance the cement and then the project should be finished. In the meantime, the pipe isn’t far from my house, so I’m able to get clean water, and my stomach is all the happier. By no means am I regular, don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect regular bowel movements for the next 2 years, but it’s still better than nothing.

My garden is doing ok. The cilantro really shot up and everything else seems to be doing alright. I have a lot of weeding that needs to be done. There are two new residents near the garden: two large black snakes. I’m pretty sure they’re making babies under my failed compost pile. They are pretty cool, but large enough to be slightly worried (about 4-5ft long). A majority of my fence has disappeared. Annoying. I can only guess it became firewood for my counterparts. Who knows, the door to my shower disappeared as well, so maybe there’s an epidemic. I’m just worried as to what might disappear next. I suppose, if the community keeps the wood theme, I can plan ahead…but my house is made of wood…

Antanetiambo had a bunch of visitors while I was gone, and a few just in my return. Pretty exciting for the Reserve. I spent a lot of time with some other community members building a new trail. The old trail scaled straight up a hill, with no real foot holds or anything real solid to hold onto. So, we built steps. It was nice to do some real physical work after sitting for 3 weeks, it also allowed me to think and I came up with ideas for a bunch of new projects or things to think about for the projects that I already want to pursue. I’m a little worried about how the rainy season will treat the new steps, but only time will tell. I also think it would be wise for the Reserve to open a bank account and put 50% of what they earn with each group into the account and then use the money yearly to do projects for the Reserve: buy land, hire guards, reforestation, etc. However, that depends entirely on my counterparts and if that is something that interests them.

Then to make all the trail work worthwhile, there were more visitors last week. What made it even better was they were American, and one of them worked for Peace Corps in continental Africa. That meant I could go with them on their tour, know that they would understand my English, my jokes, and I wouldn’t have to explain too much about Peace Corps.

I visited the bank that would be able to give me a loan for a rice cooperative. I still need to collect a lot of data and see what the costs would really be to run the business. They have a 3% interest rate on the loans, so that seems manageable, but I need to figure out how “profitable” this needs to be. In other words, when I’m gone, will it still work, or will this project just give someone a bunch of debt because they will just take all of the money and not pay the bank back or not keep good books. It is definitely a project that I will have to approach very carefully.

My big project for the moment, and my main priority, is doing an SRI Rice plot in Matsobe. After meeting with the very helpful CSA office, we were finally able to track down a technician who could lead the training. Thankfully, the guy from CSA went to the meeting with me and helped ask questions and made sure that everything was clear. I hope to bring the trainer for 3 different farming organizations in Matsobe so they could learn. The meeting mostly consisted of what was needed for the training, what I would need to do to prepare the training and then how much it will cost. I have the total cost estimate, but the problem is that I don’t have the money. So, that means I need to figure out who I can ask, and hopefully they will give me the money. If everything works out as planned, then I can do the project in November, before people are busy with their own rice fields. Part of me thinks I should just do the project even if I don’t get the money in time, but that’s a big Peace Corps no-no and I don’t know if I should start paying for things, even if I am financially capable.

On the smaller scale; I’ve started building cook stoves with the community again. Those are a nice excuse to hang out with people and help them out at the same time. I’ve also started talking with vanilla providers to get a real cost system started so I can bring tourists by their homes and if the tourist wants to buy something, then they will know how much it will cost in advance. I also want to start brainstorming with Matsobe and Belaoka to figure out what kind of crafts they can produce. It would be great if the communities could create some souvenirs for tourists that would provide substantial money for the local people.

The weather here has changed quite a bit since I left. It is hot now. Almost too hot for me; needless to say that I am worried for when it is actually supposed to get “hot”. Right now, I’ve made the shift to never needing more clothing than mesh shorts and a t-shirt. To adapt, I’ve bought a new straw hat and I hope to look through some secondhand clothing to get a basketball jersey or something that doesn’t have sleeves. For the moment, if I’m not in public I just go shirtless in or around my house; this really scares the children.

But back to the beard. It’s really funny how superficial human beings are. With the change in my look, and maybe more so, the change in what my age appears to be, I am starting to shift between different social groups. I am feeling much more welcomed by the younger groups (as I still have the face of a 15 year old), even if we do just hang out. In retrospect, it is probably good that I change my look to be accepted by different groups so I can learn more about them. It’s like I get to be a high school kid with an identity crisis, but none of the emotional instability. A nice personal experiment if nothing else. All the practical work options aside, I’m happy the beard is gone, and I can’t wait to shave my head.

The only hardship since my return has been that I ran out of gas one night for my stove and didn’t eat for a bit until I managed to drag the tank on the handle bars of my bike. Hopefully, that’s the only hardship that I encounter for the next 4 months, until it is bound to repeat itself.

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