For all of you who were at IST, no, I have not cooked with Gasy…for better or for worse. For those of you were not at IST, it’s not important.
However, my return to Matsobe was welcomed with a ton of people requesting cook stoves. I built around 7 cook stoves in the area during my first 4 months at site. In October, so far, I’ve built 7 cook stoves (in Matsobe-Sud, Matsobe-Nord and Beloaka). I don’t know why there was the sparked interest (I still haven’t made one for my counterparts), but I have been in high demand. One strong influence was that October had a dry streak of about 10 days, which made it perfect building weather and the construction went quite smoothly. Since the draught we have had on and off light rain, but I haven’t had to cancel any plans because the weather was too bad and the soil was too wet. I’m happy to help all of these people, but to be brutally honest; I’m getting a little burned out (pun intended) on the everyday ceramics. But, as always, it’s hard to say no.

Part of the reason that I think that things have worked out so well is that the Chief Fokotany of Matsobe-Nord has taken a liking to me, and is probably one of the closest things to a real Malagasy friend that I have that doesn’t really speak any English. I think his authority with the community has helped the people in Matsobe-Nord realize that I might actually be on to something with these cook stoves. The best part is that even if all of my big projects fall apart, I can hold on to these little stoves to make me think I haven’t completely wasted all of my time. Speaking of which…

My SRI project has been consuming most of my time lately. I’ve speaking with different technicians and different organizations. Receiving different information and different needs and not really understanding anything as well as I would like. However, each day was a battle that might not have been won, but moved in the right direction. The funding search seems to be improving and I seem to have things fairly figured out. I had a meeting with the Madagascar National Parks office in Andapa about helping out with the project. It didn’t go as I would have liked and it reinforces the feelings I have about their current “programs” or lack there of. I’m doing the project with a woman’s organization in Matsobe – VMMS (Vavy Mamokatra Matsobe-Sud) – so the fact that I have a female technician will probably be a good idea as well. I made a switch to this organization and should help them carry on the project in November and then do another plot with my counterpart and Peace Corps volunteers again in December. If both happen, I’ll be happy, but mostly relieved to have some project finished. Better yet, I’ll be happy in the next week or so when I have final dates set for both programs and I don’t have to keep talking to a million people every day just to get it set up. It’s not an easy process.

I’ve been brainstorming all of my other projects with people and organizations, but no real progress has been made. If I can get this SRI thing done then I will be happy and motivated to continue all of my other endeavors. A tree nursery is already underway, a rather pleasant surprise (large community interest as well as help from PLAI, an organization in Andapa). Also, a radio project might be easier than I thought, but that fact that I’m thinking it might be easy probably means it will be ready in April of 2012.

I shaved my head a few weeks ago. It was short. For all of you who have known me for a while, you should know that if I say that my hair was cut short, then it was short. I have been using the analogy of sandpaper to express the length/feeling after it was freshly cut. Thankfully, it seems to be growing quick enough. However, my dome was bright white after the cut and I think the fungal thing that was under my beard was on my whole head. So I’ve been tending the white splotches (they really aren’t bad) that I hope will go away. However, I know that I’ve improved my look with the short hair and no beard, because people have been telling me I really need to find a wife. Apparently, bearded Nick wasn’t in dire need.

As a result of my haircut, I’m pretty sure I looked a little tougher than before, because the guy who cuts my hair asked if I wanted to go to Aikido with him. He had talked about it a bunch, but never invited me, so I thought it was worth a shot to see it. He has been studying it for 10 years and is more or less the teacher in Andapa at the moment. I went last week and had a ton of fun. It was nice to do a different kind of exercise and just get muscles moving. Aikido is really cool because it is more self defense moves and not a lot of punching/kicking air, so we got to tumble around and do some other things. Needless to say, I was covered in sweat after about the first 15 minutes and I don’t know if I ever stopped sweating for the whole 2 hour period. However, the class is a little late for me and it’s in Andapa, so I’ll probably just do it once a week. At the moment I just need to buy my kimono.

To change topics a little, I hate spiders. I really have no justified reason for the fear or dislike; they’re just creepy. I’ve never liked them, but my tolerance has definitely improved over the years. With the warmer weather, or some other cause, my house has started consuming spiders at an alarming rate; housing them as if they were refugees from the forest. The worst part is that a large one likes to hang out on my ceiling, above my head, where I eat. However, I topped that the other night, when I was walking around barefoot at night and felt a crunch, almost like stepping on a grape. I lift my leg slowly; knowing there was no grape to step on, made a nice little shoulder shutter to release the tension in my spine, grabbed my flashlight and then illuminated the carnage. On my floorboards sat the carcass of a dead spider. Three legs detached, and a body mangled. This time, the shoulders shuttered a bit more than the first and I checked the bottom of my foot; it was sticky. I’ve been walking with care lately, but with no avail. A few days later I stepped on another one. I can only assume it was suicide. It wasn’t like I was running around my house in the dark and it must have known I was coming. I suppose it’s a modern Romeo and Juliet for spiders. Maybe I just have this thought because I finished Love in the Time of Cholera, which I was not really impressed by. It was interesting enough, but I think it was just my lack of other options at night that really helped me prevail and push on through to the end. At the moment I’ve started reading Anna Karenina. I like it so far, but I’m only about 75 pages in.

For food, things have become much better, but I’ve been making the situation worse. Mangos and Custard Apples are in abundance, with other fruit on the way. I definitely do not have a vitamin deficiency at the moment. Flossing after the mangos is still a necessity and still annoying. However, food is no longer exciting for me. I don’t really want to cook often, and it seems that a lot of meals are carried over to further meals. I still eat an ungodly amount of eggplant. I think the warm weather has suppressed my hunger a little, but I also think it might be that I am a little healthier now, so I’m not feeding any other organisms.

Finally, I’ve found God. He lives in Matsobe-Nord. Not a bad place to locate oneself (at least I think so). I had my first church experience in Matsobe and I found it quite rewarding. I didn’t receive any spiritual epiphany while at church and I did not “find” a faith or become a believer. I have no faith whatsoever and although I find no problem with other people worshiping a God, I can think of other ways that I would like to spend my time before I decompose in the dirt or burn because it’s cheaper. However, it is a great chance for me to listen to Malagasy and even better for me to practice reading. They had books with the songs that I could follow along and sing to and they had me read a passage as well. It really builds up the nerves to read a passage out of The Bible (in Malagasy) in front of a pretty large group of Malagasy people. I was a little nervous, but managed to get through it smoothly. Returning to church might prove good for my language skills. I’ve also started teaching an English class there, once a week, for anyone who wants to learn. We’ll see how it goes, but at least my language skills are far enough along to be somewhat clear to everyone. And like all aspects of my life, if it results in a free lunch than it’s hard for me to see a problem. I didn’t go back yesterday for church (I really needed to transplant some avocado trees), but I did go in the afternoon to teach. I’ll go to church again in a few weeks. Who knows, maybe I’ll find God…or at least Jesosy.