I spoke to my mom a few weeks ago and we talked about the previous blog entry. Her hesitant question towards me was this: “Are there any people that you do like?” I immediately got defensive to the question and didn’t even know where to begin (Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of people in general. I find them fun, and being social is great, but we are all evil and destructive when it gets down to it). However, eventually, I was able to convey that there are people here that I like. They’re the reason I’m here and that I haven’t gone home yet. The people I like are all of the people that work with me everyday, the people that make all the work that I write about in my blog possible. I’m not out here working alone; I’m working with all of the people that I do like. All of the people that not only make it look like I’m a productive volunteer, but make life easier than it already is. The ones that make me laugh just because they’re so awesome. The people that have almost nothing, but insist on giving me something because I’m their friend. The people that can merely say hello to me and it immediately takes me out of a bad mood. These people are around me everyday and I couldn’t be happier to have them in my life. I don’t write about them in my blogs as much as I should. They don’t just make my work bearable, they make it enjoyable. They’re my starfish.

My junior year of college I took a Social Psychology course. It was one of those semesters that was stacked up with difficult classes. The kind of semester where you think it’s a good idea to get a bunch of things out of the way, but really you’re just bombarding yourself with a whole lot of work. Needless to say, while taking the class, I was under a ton of pressure and stress and didn’t really appreciate it at the time. However, as my life continues I think about that class quite often and really enjoy all that I learned. In addition to the technical concepts, I will always remember the story that Dr. Temple told us:

A guy is walking by a beach and looks over across the sand. To his surprise there are thousands of starfish washed up onto the beach. The guy walks down to get a closer look. He starts to walk down the beach and he begins to pick up the starfish, one by one, and placing them back in the ocean. Because there are so many he is unable to put them all back and he misses a few of them here and there while he walks down the beach. While he does this, another guy walks by and asks him what he’s doing. This new guy tells the man that there are too many starfish to place back into the ocean and that he can’t save them all. What’s the point? It’s not going to make a difference. To this, the guy calmly responds, “it makes a difference to that one”.

So, a few weeks ago, when I was at a low point, I was working in the rice field with a friend of mine. I told her that I didn’t think I could help her as much the next time they planted because I would need to help other farmers. She responded without hesitation, “that’s okay. I understand that you need to help other people. I’m just happy that you’ve helped us and I’m always happy when I see you.” She’s one of my starfish.

But enough sentiment…

A few posts back I made some resolutions for 2011 and so I thought I might keep you all updated on my success or failure with a little thing called THE RESOLUTION REPORT.

RESOLUTION REPORT – 2/8/10

I’ve started helping a friend build a chicken coop at my house. My counterparts have the chickens, I paid for the building materials and we decided to share the chickens and eggs between us. I’m pretty clever (lazy). Hopefully, it will finish in the next few weeks and then I can start messing with how to best fit all of the animals in the hut.

I need to speak Malagasy everyday, so that’s kind of a joke resolution. It will of course improve. We’ll have to wait and see to what degree it improves. The other day I had a pretty good, long conversation almost entirely in Malagasy. It makes me realize that however clueless I can still be, I am making improvements. I have started using my French/English dictionary and started writing vocabulary in my notebook, with hopes of learning French. I figure because I did take that conversational French class before coming here, I can relearn a little bit and then seek out a real class/teacher situation. Refresh on my own and then really get down to what needs to be done.

I went to Vohemar last weekend. It was nice to see the other city that makes the name of my region – SAVA (Sambava/Antalaha/Vohemar/Andapa). It was really hot there but it was nice to hang out and relax. I finally understand why everyone says that Andapa is so cold – everywhere else is uncomfortably hot. There have only been a handful of nights here where I was too hot and couldn’t fall asleep at night. No California summer without air conditioning. Another reason the trip was good was because I have been working with rice so much that if I don’t leave my site then it is hard to take a break from working. While there I spent a lot of money on food. I take that as justification that I’ve started being a little less stingy with money. The only downside of the trip is that it is so long and near unbearable. I can only space out for so long…I know, hard to believe.

I finally finished my map. I pretty much know all the names of adults, but the kids are still a little questionable. I’ve also decided to push forward with the trash program that I have been considering. I figure it will mostly be so people can start composting. But that might be a little difficult to get everyone on board. Houses are still being built, people are moving, and some people didn’t want to give me their names. However, my village consists of about 71 houses (not families) and about 220 people.

I’ve been working more with Antanetiambo Reserve. But that’s a resolution that can’t stop until 2012, and hopefully, not until I leave Madagascar. So I need to keep pushing forward. We should start building a guard house relatively soon. Also, we should be buying more land soon, but that’s just a question of whether people will sell it. I recently made and printed out a sheet of questions that people need to ask if a visitor call the Reserve. There have been so problems in the past, so things should be much more clear the next time someone comes to visit. I’ve also started speaking with my counterpart about making a menu for tourists. It will clear up any food worries that both sides might have. On the physical side, I did some trail work the other day and it was nice to just get out there and dig, cut and think.

Now for the two failing resolutions. In reality, they aren’t really failing. I’m still not working with WWF, but after sending my contract to pretty much everyone, the two organizations (Peace Corps and WWF) decided they needed a contract between the two of them, not with me. So, I’m kind of just waiting on that. As for soccer, I haven’t been seeking it out, but with the heavy rain, a lot less soccer is being played. Not to mention, the old field that I played the most on now has rice on it.

–end report—

The weather has really picked up with the rain every afternoon. It’s about 2 months late or more. The water level has risen and it is easy to see why the Andapa Basin was a swamp before people inhabited it. The river is moving swiftly and the water is really dirty from erosion. Thankfully, the rain fall has been supplying me with water lately, because the water pump is having pipe problems. Also, the trail through some of the rice fields to get to the fields that I work at is a little difficult. The camera definitely goes in my hand…above my head. The downside to all of this rainfall has not yet occurred, but I surely fear that it might happen. As the water rises in the river, floods the fields and floods the roads, it goes in my outhouse as well. The water is rising. Sometimes, I feel it is alarmingly high. Thankfully, it is really hot and some of that sewage can evaporate…

Like I mentioned earlier, the rice farming is still going on. I’ve even acquired the new name ‘Monsieur Commandant’ from the people I work with. I guess they took me seriously when I said that i wanted to learn French. A sixth farmer will be adopting the technique this week and then I have to hopefuls for the next season in the towns of Andasibe and Antanambaobe. It will be nice to get a change of scenery.

The water project is lingering on. However, someone else to the initiative for the project and I couldn’t be happier to have someone else feel the pain of having to practically pull people out of their homes for a meeting. The guard in my village, also the one who has been doing most of the work, organized a meeting and told people they needed to start taking care of the pump and giving a small amount of money every month to help take care of things. I don’t know if the water will ever go to the second pump, but I really do think that things are on track for the pump near my house…if we can fix the pipe like I mentioned earlier.

I interviewed and got chosen as a Volunteer trainer for the next group of volunteers coming to Madagascar in March. I’m happy to have another project and in will be nice to get to Tana again before our Mid-Service Training. I’ll be real curious to see what they thought I was capable of teaching the new volunteers. Too bad for the newbies; can you imagine having me to shape your mind for the next two years of your life? I’ll probably hold back a lot just so I’m positive, they can find out how worthless development work can be on their own.

As for the superficial, narcissistic update about myself not a whole lot has changed, but I feel a description in order. Back in the first few months I hade updates with the beard, so I figure I can let all of you create your own photo of me. First, my skin is like a calico cat. I have varying tan lines all over the place. I have parts that are really tan, tan, slightly tan, white and then ghost white. Because my eyes aren’t black, many people say that I have eyes like a cat. So I figured the comparison to a calico is even better. My feet and hands have noticeably widened and toughened. I prefer to go shoeless as much as possible and I’m always using my hands so they just stay calloused. I shave anywhere from once every 2 days to once every week and a half. Depending on the day you will see me looking young and professional or not. Between the balding prematurely and my streaks of blond hair they are all convinced that all foreigners look old very quickly. They don’t realize that white people can have blond hair and be young, they think it’s grey hair (it might be now). But whatever, when they find out I’m only 24 it gives us something to talk about.

I visited an Advantest church last Saturday . It was really enjoyable because they had a book that they were learning religious ideas (not the bible—I’m not that out of it, and I can’t say Sunday school because they meet on Saturday). The chapter that we went over talked about having good thoughts. At first I thought nothing of it, but then it developed into this total philosophical conversation about psychology and the mind and the brain. It was really interesting and engaging and I was happy to be able understand and speak some Malagasy so that I could voice my opinion (I did study psychology for 4 years). So, if I have to go back to that one, it won’t be the worst thing that ever happened to me. Besides, they had a cool flip chart with pictures. I swear one was when the Devil threw a snake at Jesus and then Jesus bitch slapped him. It was on top of a rocky cliff to make things more dramatic. It’s giving me ideas for next Halloween…

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