Last week was my one year anniversary here in Madagascar. Kind of crazy to think that I’ve been away for that long. Although, there are days/weeks/months that seem to go by pretty slow at times. The only downside is that the more I know about the country and the people here, the more I question the usefulness of my work. I am truly half way into this tunnel of Peace Corps and the light on both ends is not the brightest at the moment.

On a purely superficial level, the days are getting shorter and the rains are here. Not necessarily a torrential downpour, but the clouds are present and the sun only shines on occasion. The positive, is that it isn’t devastatingly hot, but it is still quite warm here. A small positive for me to hold onto.

Now for the layers that are a little deeper. I’ve come to realize that a majority of the Malagasy people that I come in contact with don’t want development. They don’t want to work more or harder and they don’t mind suffering for whatever period of time they “suffer”. It’s just how life is for them. In addition, the destruction of the natural habitat continues at an alarming rate. So, I think that after 20 years, this island will be little more than a zoo for rich people to see isolated animals in the ‘wild’ and what I’m living in now, will all be gone.

But with all this negativity, one must be positive. I can only hope that I have made a mistake. All of this devastation means bad things are happening; and not necessarily because the people realize that their lives are consisting of a few ‘bad’ actions. What makes me want to leave this work and these people is the same reason that I am compelled to stay. I might as well try to help, because there is an off chance that I can actually help someone, and eventually those people, can help their country. Plus I have free healthcare, no rent, and I pretty much live in paradise. I’ll tough it out.

So, before all this negativity hit, I spent a weekend in Sambava with other volunteers. We had a meeting about our work with Peace Corps and about any ideas that we might have for Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary. It was nice to get away from the village for a bit and to eat semi-real food again. It is also crazy to think that so many volunteers have gone to different parts of the world over that past 50 years and most of the early volunteers probably had experiences that weren’t very close to what I’m experiencing now. I complain about Peace Corps from time to time, but they really do do a good job of taking care of us.

Another little travel that I had was to a new site for Peace Corps. I visited a village that isn’t far from Andapa and is hoping to receive a new volunteer. Obviously, these people were trying to sell their site to me, so they were super nice and seemed really hard working and productive. Hopefully, it isn’t a front and they really are hard working for the next volunteer; they just need to finish building the house. I’ll be checking up on them in a few weeks so I hope they get it together. A few people have already left from my region, so it would be nice to receive some more people.

Rice has continued as usual. I came to the realization that it will never stop and I should just run with it. I have become close to an expert of sorts and I might as well keep truckin’ along trying to convince people to change their farming methods. I’ve been weeding like a madman lately, and by the end of this month we should be able to harvest the first field and see how much rice was actually produced. As it gets closer, I’m getting a little worried about the rice because I’m afraid that it won’t be as productive as I’ve been saying. I’ll wait for judgment day with the rice gods.

I know that teaching English isn’t in my future. Or teaching anything for that matter. I helped the education volunteer in Andapa teach some Environmental Education and let’s just say I was proud that I didn’t physically assault anyone. They were quite a handful and I don’t know how she can teach them every week. I definitely would have gone home, but I guess that’s why I’m not an education volunteer. Despite their hellish behavior, I did manage to teach about SRI rice techniques, deforestation, tree nurseries, hot boxes, cook stoves, ecotourism and some things they can try to do on a daily basis to help protect the environment. And, with all the struggles and frustration, a group of people wanted me to help them build a hotbox, so I thought it wasn’t a total waste of my time. However, none of them showed up for the scheduled meeting time and it was because 24 hours in advance they didn’t realize that they were going to go to a soccer game instead. This lack of foresight might cost this country dearly.

I’ve also started teaching some people how to use a computer, including my counterpart. Let’s just say that I take a lot of my computer knowledge for granted. The class will be moving slowly. The biggest surprise is that you need a thing called the ‘internet’ to send a message to someone. If only the computer were the magic box that some Malagasy people think that it is. If anything, I hope they learn enough so that I could share my frustrations about my computer with them (I’m happy I brought this net book, but it is a total piece of crap).

As for Antanetiambo, we’ve been working on contracts to buy some land. It looks like we are getting close and might actually be able to make a purchase soon. It will be great to expand the reserve and do some more trail work and reforestation so that it is ready as soon as possible. Some family members of my counterpart want to buy the land, so it is taking a lot of deliberating. I just hope they don’t expect to get some ridiculously large amount of money from it. We will be fair, but I don’t run a charity.

The tree nursery has been working without me lately and I couldn’t be happier. It is one project, along with the rice, maybe, that can be sustainable and not be totally lost when I’m gone. I’ve heard a lot about the previous volunteer’s projects and programs and it is really sad how many of the programs no longer exist. I think the political crisis might have contributed to some problems, but I still don’t want to create a community that becomes reliant on a Peace Corps volunteer. If people keep planting trees, then they can at least slow the destruction of this island.

And then there’s my foot. Yes, my right foot ran into a little trouble last week (not pun intended). I planned to build a hot box, but when nobody showed up at the school, I decided to play basketball with some people. Of course, my Air Jordan’s weren’t with me and I didn’t feel that my cheap sandals were really up to par; so I played barefoot. I was really schooling some high school kids when it all caught up to me. I collided with another person (however, I did get the ball and retain possession) and dragged my foot across the blacktop. This little maneuver took off the layer of skin on the ball of my foot and provided quite a lot of pain. A friend of mine biked me home (I got to sit on the back like a real lush) and then the painful cleaning began. The wound wasn’t deep, but the location was bad and I was out of commission for a while. I hope to get in the rice field next week, but I don’t know if things will be healed yet and the rice field is less than clean.

So my cynicism, negativity and malaise all thrived these past few days while I was forced to sit inside, see the crappy weather and be left to do nothing. I honestly don’t know how people do it; I need to be moving all the time! With this new, stationary time I devoted some of it to reading and studying; a lot to just spacing out. I’ve started reading Plato’s Republic. It has sections that I find really interesting, but some sections are really bad. I don’t like the dialogue set up at all. I just picture these pompous rich dudes talking about all these great things that need to be done, but not really making any attempt to do anything. Also, the dialogue seems somewhat fake (maybe by today’s standards) and so at times, I just find it really annoying. But I was in luck. With all of this philosophical enlightenment and thinking, I was in dire need of something to balance out my brain. That’s where Gone with the Wind comes into play. No, I’m not a 14 year old girl, but it is good to counterbalance Plato. I’ve heard some really good things about Gone with the Wind, but I have yet to be really impressed. I don’t think the writing is that good and it really is a chick book. Regardless, international woman’s day is celebrated in Madagascar, so it is good preparation for this coming Tuesday.

Finally, the one other positive, which could prove to be my own demise is that I split the cost of a modem and can now have internet (I still don’t have electricity). It is a USB key modem and it works with the phone networks. It should be a lot cheaper in the long run. Also, the other Peace Corps volunteer has electricity so I can just go to her house if I’m worried that my computer will run out of charge. It looks live I’m slowly developing, even if the rest of Madagascar doesn’t want to come with me.

Advertisements