I suppose that it’s only fitting that after stepping on spiders in the last entry that I had to outdo myself. And, I must say, that stepping on a frog is much worse than I imagined. The moist skin depressing beneath the ball of my foot, crushing the life out of the squishy little animal provided quite a lot of discomfort for me. Yes, I managed to kill a poor little frog by walking in the early morning. I guess the animals can speak Malagasy here, because apparently they think that I really do protect the environment; maybe that’s not always the case.

But, because I do protect the environment, I had to mourn the death of the frog and in doing so; it coincided perfectly with the Malagasy All Saints Day Holiday. I visited the Malagasy cemetery in Marovato, which was a really cool experience to be with so many people visiting a cemetery to take care of the familial tombs. However, drinking alcohol is a part of the tradition and I didn’t participate in that, but definitely was the subject of many drunken conversations. However, more than anything, it was great to talk with people about our different cultural practices. I thought it was going to be a little bit more sensitive subject, but all of the people from Matsobe that I went with were happy to answer my questions and tell me to take pictures. Pretty nice to feel so welcomed. And, once again, it was one of my many moments here when I feel like I’m the anti-Waldo; one definitely does not need to ask: where is Nick? It’s difficult to NOT find. Above all else, I love free food. Any time that I can be offered a meal, you can bet that I’m on board. With the festivities came an awesome set of meals, because different people wanted to feed me different food. I was very appreciative. I was very full by the end of the day and I no longer thought about “Croaky”, the frog that croaked…

I’ve also noticed that my Malagasy has improved to the point that I can speak. I don’t always understand everything, which I really need to work on, but for the most part I can communicate. This has led to me hanging out with more people on a more regular basis, which has been really great. I’m starting to have real Malagasy friendships, which makes life much easier for me. The only downside is that I don’t want to work as often because I could hang out and do fun things with people. If I just go and walk with people or go visit there farming land it is a lot of fun, but not always the most productive. But, I think about all of these interactions as helping me in the long run and I’m probably gaining more information than I realize. And going back to the meals, it often involves free food, which I am a very big fan of. I hope to build a garden with some of the people that I hang out with, which is idealistic. A lot of people have the potential to farm on a very small scale next to their house, but they are so accustomed to farming everything in the “forest” with everything else and so they don’t try. I think it would make lives easier, but it is hard to say if it is sustainable or sufficient for a large family. Judging from the amount of rice they eat, they really don’t need to plant that many side dishes.

I had a nice little vacation in Antalaha. Technically, it was for a Volunteer meeting, which really did happen, but didn’t take all of the time. It was great to relax, go to the beach and speak English with people who understand fluent and slang English. I think I drank my body weight in fruit juice, which was pretty awesome too. I also did a little work there, and managed to get some seeds from the owner of a Reserve that works with another volunteer. I am just waiting on receiving more plastic pots to plant the seeds. One of the offices in Andapa should be able to help, but I have no idea what the timeline will be for that. I think they are waiting for the office in Tana to send them; I might have to wait until 2012. But that isn’t a huge rush for me, because a lot of the trees (and a lot have started to grow) still aren’t big enough to transplant and I really need to figure out where I will plant. We had a lot of Moringa trees that should be transplanted in town rather than far away, but I don’t know how well that will go over with the people. It means that more people will need to care for more trees individually. Something that is great if it works and awful if it fails because a large amount of trees would essentially be wasted.

I was super thrilled to receive money from the $10 Club, and organization through the US Embassy. They included my SRI project in their funding for this month, so I can pay for my SRI Training like a Peace Corps volunteer is supposed to and not with my own money. A nice relief, especially for my first real project. The project will take place next week and then the week after that so hopefully things go as smoothly as is realistically possible. I was also able to receive notebooks from the School Office in Andapa for the project, which was really exciting because I didn’t expect to receive anything when I asked them. But, I guess it helps to have friends in the right places and it seemed to work out. It’s nice to know that some of the people in State offices like to help fellow Malagasy people. It really means that people can write down things for the training and then hopefully remember it in the years to come, before it is second nature (I can dream, right?).

All of my water project meetings seemed to be productive. I’ve now received an affirmative response from the ANGAP/MNP office that they would build the pumps. The only problem with that plan is that there is no timeline. It would be great if they really do pay for the cement to build the pumps, it would just be that much better if they gave the money for the cement this month rather than next year or whenever the money seems to appear or the people in the office are ready for the project; the people in Matsobe are ready now.

My teaching English has continued. I helped a friend with a few middle school classes in Andasibe and it was intense. I thought it was just an “English Club”, but it ended up being a real class. But not just one class, four of them. So, there I am, no real plan, teaching to over 60 students with different skill sets. It was a little overwhelming. I had to send one kid out of the class at the beginning because there was a group that just kept goofing off. I was happy just to have him out of my site, but was ecstatic to see that he had to do physical labor in front of the school while the lesson went on. I know, I’m sadistic, but I really was happy to teach people and see him in the sun digging after those weeds. I think a system like that should be used in the United States. Save money on grounds keeping for sure. I’ve also been teaching very basic English to some of the people in my community. It is slow, but it’s showing progress. I’ll definitely need to decide how much I want to push forward and how much should just be continual review. We only meet once a week and it’s not always the same people so the progress is not at a blinding rate. However, it seems like everyone at least knows “Hello” and the “How are you?/I’m fine thanks” which is a little rewarding. However, some kids don’t understand that one “hello” is efficient and they don’t need to say it to me 500 times in the 5 seconds that I pass them.

Antanetiambo had 4 tourists from Alaska two weeks ago. They were very nice people and I enjoyed going on the tour with them. I was able to fill some gaps in the information and just talk with them while there was downtime. One was a returned Peace Corps volunteer so she was happy to share her experiences and knowledge and I was happy to exchange the information as well. I think the Reserve has a lot of potential, but we’ll see if I see that potential realized while I’m still in Madagascar. I think a large initiative needs to be taken by the people who are the owners to really change things. I think if I push I will just spend a lot of my own time for the something that stops when I’m no longer there. The idea of conservation is there, but the real sense of ownership and sharing the reserve as a business needs to be improved. So if I can help build the foundation for a mindset such as that, then I will be happy enough (an awkwardly worded sentence, but I don’t want to revise it).

My health has been pretty good lately, but I had a few days last week that were a little off. I think it was caused by two things. First, I have been buying and consuming a lot of fruit lately. I won’t go into explanations for that, we all know what an excessive fruit intake can do. Second, I’ve started buying chocolate (don’t get me wrong, I still eat sugar by itself, why wouldn’t I?) and the bag comes with 10 little chocolate bars. So of course, I eat around 4-6 on the first day and then get sick. I really should moderate the chocolate consumption over a longer time span, but I’ve never liked moderation and I don’t plan to start adopting a life of moderation now. At the moment I’m deep in contemplation of what is better: 1 bag of chocolate (10 small bars) or 20 little meat sticks. I’m sure would both would do wonders to my stomach (I only eat meat twice a week, unless other people feed me). I don’t think I’m short on protein and chocolate has good qualities but chemicals. I think buying the one bag of chocolate produces less guilt rather than if I really did order 20 little brochettes. Since I am partial to a routine I might just alternate between the two every week.

Now for the great odds and ends. I built a cook stove with some people in Matsobe that I hadn’t talked to that much, so it was great to get to know them and help out. I bought new sandals. I bought the pair that looked the toughest, and they were. I had multiple blisters over my feet, but I think I’ve broken them in now. My bike finally got a flat tire, but thankfully, I had all of the stuff to fix it so it wasn’t a big ordeal at all. What appears to be the ongoing project of building a fence for my garden has commenced again which much happiness and dismay. Hopefully, this time around, people don’t heard their cows into it or take the sticks away for easy fire wood. If the fence can stay together then I will probably plant again; but I’m not sure what. I just hope it’s the last time I have to make major renovations. Or at least until I’m gone from my house for an extended amount of time and people feel it’s okay to destroy my garden.

However you want to view it, Ticks by Brad Paisley has been stuck in my head for 2 weeks. I can’t seem to shake it.

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