2011 didn’t start the best for my health, but after about 15 days of feeling anywhere from awful, to not too good, I now feel like I did before the devastation. It’s kind of amazing to realize how I was now that I feel 100% again. It’s nice to be back.

I’ve really started putting in a lot of time and effort with Antanetiambo. Since the last blog I returned with a few people and we planted more trees (from my tree nursery) and bamboo to help thicken the Reserve. We have also started approaching people to see if they are willing to sell their land to us. We really need increase the size of the Reserve for the lemurs and because the neighboring hillsides don’t look aesthetically pleasing with all of the slash and burn agriculture destroying the forest. In addition, hoping to make a better trail system, it is important to understand where the lemurs usually go and where they sleep. Because they are Crepuscular, I’ve been going in the early morning and searching for them. It is nice to get out there when there isn’t a lot going on and just hang out in nature. I’ve had some luck with finding lemurs in the morning, but sometimes it’s just me out there. My passing regularly is good because I can see that people are still coming to cut the bamboo and my presence might slow them down a little bit. I still have a lot of planning to do, but my current idea for the Reserve would be to construct a series of platforms in the trees. I climbed one tree one morning and it was really peaceful and cool from the top. One is able to see down the hillside and out into the Andapa basin. Hopefully, we can build some simple structures so that tourists could just hang out up there and see things. If nothing else, it would be a good place for tourists to stop, hang out, and then wait for the guide to come back with the location of the lemurs. We are still working on finding the material to build a guard house and a guard as well.

I was worried when I started the tree nursery that there might not be an area that people could plant. Thankfully, that’s not the case. I went to the forest with a group of people that have worked in the tree nursery with me and we planted 94 trees on their land. That still leaves about 140 of one species of trees that are ready to plant that are still in the nursery, but I think they have already chosen another spot for those (I plant my share at Antanetiambo Reserve). The best part of working with these people out in the forest is that they have a ton of pineapple! I know that if I go to work with them I will definitely get some pineapple, which I love. The downside, the mosquitoes are out of control and my legs are destroyed after a days work. You would think that I would wear pants or remember to bring mosquito repellent…I’m not that high on the food chain.

My reading life has become real exciting over the past few weeks. I got my act together and made a big push to finish reading Anna Karenina. Altogether, I thought it was good, but nowhere near as good as War and Peace. The first few hundred pages were great and then it kind of tapered off from there. I think the fact that I was really busy and didn’t read it consistently everyday might have affected my review of the book. Recently, I started reading The Counterfeiters, by Andre Gide. It seems like a much easier read so far, but I’m not very far into it. Also, I received a whole heap of Time Magazines the other day. I had my mom cancel the subscription because they weren’t coming consistently. I think the post office in Antananarivo finished reading them and so I got 4 of them (scattered through 3 months) the other day. In addition to the arrival of Time, the volunteer in Andapa got a subscription to the Economist, so I have access to that too. Long story short, I’m happy I can read.

In other news, the machete that I lost almost two months ago has finally been replaced. It feels good to have a giant knife again. I was able to clean up a bunch of things around my house, in the garden and walk more comfortably in overgrown areas in Antanetiambo. Not to mention, if I eat sugar cane, it makes life much easier to have the machete. Now that I have my knife back I’ve been hacking away planting the branches of trees and mowing pathways around the house and garden. However, it does no good when the wasps attack. And that brings me to the realization that I had the other day about my obsession with killing.

I don’t know how much I destroyed and killed back in the states, but it is pretty unreal here. I live in Madagascar, surrounded by nature, surrounded by living things. However, I tend to destroy a lot each day. With my machete, I ended the life of tons of plants only because of atheistic reasons or because I wanted a nice little trail. It’s also good exercise to destroy. Then, when one thinks of the number of insects that I come in contact with on a daily basis, it is amazing how many of their lives I end. The bees destroy my house, and therefore, I feel justified in taking their lives. Ants, I feel are a nuisance and if they come across me in a bad mood, I might end their existence. The wasps I only kill out of self defense, because to be honest, I have a slight fear of them. Then there are the large number of moths and other flying insects that just annoy the hell out of me. I think what it really comes down to is that anything that I find annoying, I kill. I don’t think this will transfer to people, but if it does, we can all blame Madagascar for turning me into a psychopathic serial killer (technically, we would blame annoying people, but I don’t know if I would have the sympathy required to escape the law).

I have no intentions of killing anyone, but here is a list of a few “types” of Malagasy people that are really pushing my limits:

1. Those who know what life is really like in the United States. Oh wait, you’ve never been there? You’ve never left your region of Madagascar? Oh, okay, it makes perfect sense that you know everything there is about the United States and what life is ‘really’ like there. I must be utterly clueless. I’m sure you know all of this from your outdated textbook.
2. Those who refuse to speak Malagasy. I’m nowhere near fluent in Malagasy, but I can get by alright. It is partially laziness that is holding me back at the moment. However, it is pretty frustrating when a person refuses to speak Malagasy to me, but can’t speak English. If they don’t know English, that’s fine, that’s a different matter. But to speak a little English to me (insisting we speak English) and then to tell me that they don’t know how to ask me something in English and refuse to ask in Malagasy…smell ya later.
3. Those who think I’m on Vacation. As much as I would like to have had an 8 month vacation in the Andapa basin, that’s not the case. So, when people that I’ve spoken to ask me how long I’ve been vacationing here I start to wonder. I’m pretty much the only white person living here and we just talked about the work I’m doing here. Maybe that’s a compliment – you think I’m Mr. Money Bags – but no, I’m not on Vacation. And if I was, if I could afford a year apart, do you really think we would be having this conversation while I ride my bicycle into the country with this weeks groceries? Mr. Money Bags would have a four wheel drive vehicle, stay in Andapa and have a group of servants. Not to mention an entourage; those are kind of cool.
4. Those who can’t tell the difference between white people. Uh, actually… (Insert racist comment here). Somewhat related to the previous, I would think that people would kind of recognize me after 8 months. I’m pretty much the only white person living in the area. There aren’t any people to get me mixed up with, and I don’t change my clothing on a regular basis.
5. Those who are obsessed with changing the gears on my bike. I know not all of the bikes in Madagascar have gear shifts, but you would think that not everyone who came in contact with my bicycle would feel the need to press the buttons and switch the gears while the bike isn’t moving. It makes things a little difficult when I start moving and annoying every time.

Also, don’t ask me for money. I have none in the real sense, other than the amount given to me by Peace Corps on a monthly basis. You can ask Mr. Money bags, but he goes pretty fast in his four wheel drive vehicle, doesn’t speak Malagasy and doesn’t really know what life is like in the United States. However, we all look the same, us whitey’s, so you’ll probably ask me while I’m slowly moving along changing the gears on my bike. No worries, I’m pretty much use to it all by now…and the answer is still no.

For a slight change of pace, my English class is still continuing. However, as luck would have it, the last two classes only had a few people in it, so I was justified to cutting the class down to once every two weeks until they could prove that more people wanted to learn English. It just feels nice to justify teaching less without feeling like I’m bailing on the people. It also gives me more time for the other projects and work that I have going on that seems to be building up. Besides, it’s not my job to teach. Go to school.

I decided to mix things up last week and bought some dried fish instead of ground beef. I didn’t like it as much, but it was a nice change to have some different food. I don’t like preparing fresh fish, but I’m sure that would taste much better. The dog was happy for the food change because he got the fish heads that I decided not to eat. What’s really improved my food life has been the jam that one of my counterparts has made for me. She makes them from pineapple and litchi and it is so sweet and delicious that I don’t have to eat straight sugar anymore. I’m almost civilized. I’ve also switched to eating more cucumbers rather than eggplant because I thought my oil intake was getting out of control. With the hot weather it is nice to eat some cold meals every once and a while anyway. I still eat rice. Altogether, I came to the realization that my diet has shifted almost entirely. Except for the fact that I ate a lot of bananas for an American, and I eat a lot of bananas for a Malagasy too.

I still haven’t finished the map of my community. However, it is amazing how quickly I’ve learned most of their names. I was worried it would take me a while, but I would say that I know the name of the majority of the people in my village (as I should have a long time ago). I don’t know if my daily journal entries have been changing in subject matter, but now that I know people’s names, it seems that their names are starting to appear in my journal entries more often.

The names have also been good because a fifth farmer has adopted the SRI Method of farming. I can explain to everyone and anyone who worked and where they worked on the given day. It is real good news, but I’m kind of burnt out on rice at the moment. I’ve been working in every stage of farming for the past 3 months. Now I have at least one more solid month of work ahead of me, before I can call it quits. Sadly, I have one month off and then the first batch should be ready for harvest. However, on my afternoon off (free time surprised me out of nowhere) I started thinking about all the things I’m doing and realized that although I have so many things to coordinate for the rice fields, they can probably do a lot of it on their own. I should probably let them, and move onto other things.

But enough work mumbo jumbo, let’s talk about witches. When I say it like that, like the direct translation, it sounds ridiculous. However, I believe in witches, because they exist here in Madagascar. Not in the sense that they fly around on a broom at night, mix rat heads in a cauldron and have an awesome style sense. It’s just a bad translation from English/French to Malagasy, a translation that fails to explain the gap in technology and culture. Bad people here are sneaky and don’t have guns. If they want to kill someone, they use poison. When one really thinks about it, the options of killing someone are pretty minimal in a developing country if one doesn’t have a gun. Let’s face it, using a knife can get a little messy and I don’t think many people want to use it. Anyone who has lived in the country knows that more often than not the knives are pretty dull here anyway and not the best weapon. You’re better off using a large stick. But I’ve digressed from the point. If someone uses poison to kill someone, then they’re a witch. A few weeks ago, a man who allegedly killed 8 other people in the past, was caught and confessed to poisoning his 9th victim. To be honest, I’m a little skeptical of the broom riding, cauldron stirring, cat raising, potion using witch. On the other hand, I do believe that bad, malicious people exist and if I have to call them a “witch” here in Madagascar, then that’s fine by me. There are no fairytale killers, just normal people, using what they’ve got to end another person’s life. It is a little sad though, I always wanted to ride a flying broom and I don’t think it will happen anytime soon. Especially because I don’t believe in Harry Potter.

So with all this killing going on. With the annoying people following my every move, how is one supposed to cope with it all? I’m living in a serious danger zone…I needed to get grounded somehow. That’s where Rambo came in. Every week the local shop has a video night. They recently got a new DVD – Rambo II. I was quite excited to be able to share my Rambo knowledge with the Malagasy people. Really make some progress in development. The first question they asked was whether Rambo was still alive. First off, Rambo will never die, it’s impossible, he’s Rambo, duh. However, Sylvester Stallone, the actor who plays Rambo, is still alive. They were quite excited and surprised by this. However, once I explained that the movie wasn’t real and that all of the people were ‘acting’ Rambo lost some of his glamour with the Malagasy fan base. They just assumed Rambo was a true story. I guess it’s back to the witches and food poisoning for them. Not as good on the big screen, but it gets one’s fill.