My transit back to Andapa went as smoothly as I could have hoped. The night before I left Tana, I stayed with some friends and we had an awesome dinner (nothing at all what I cook at my site). When they asked my travel plans for the next day they told me that a friend of theirs was going to be in Sambava and so the next day I would able to hitch a ride with him after my plane landed. I was really excited to have the ride because the taxis can be an issue sometimes, and because there had been an accident a few weeks before, I wasn’t looking forward to the possibility of being in a taxi near nightfall. I didn’t have to pay the friend for the trip, but a few days later I bought powdered milk from him that was way to expensive, so I’m pretty sure we’re even now (actually, he probably owes me¬).

It took a little bit of time to get back into the village lifestyle. Two weeks in Tana felt like a decade. I was really happy to see everyone and to catch up on all things work related and gossip. However, I was definitely out of the loop! It was just weird to get back into fetching water, cooking all of my meals, hand washing dishes on the ground, and just living on a completely different cycle than I was back in Tana. The craziest thing was my protein intake. When I was teaching the new volunteers at the training center, all of my meals were taken care of. Not only did that mean that I didn’t need to cook, but it meant that I didn’t need to think about what I was going to cook. So, now that I’m back at site, I need to make sure that I’m getting enough of a balance in my diet, especially enough protein. It’s good to be back though, even if I do have to think about the food I eat rather than just shoveling it in.

The funny thing is that going to Tana kind of reminds me of Vegas in the United States. Although my time in Tana was nothing like the time I spent in Vegas with friends, it had an odd similar feeling. Spending a week or so in Tana is more than enough for me and I couldn’t even imagine living there. There’s just too much going on. However, it is like a connection with the “real” world, which at times is nice…

My first SRI Farmer harvested rice while I was gone. When I asked the farmer’s mom how the rice was and if it was good, she responded, “ok, but not too good.” My heart sank and I felt crushed. Everything I had been working on for the past 6 months was connected to this first rice field. I had told everyone that this was the example; this field was how they were going to get more food and eventually, more money. It turns out that the rice was ‘too’ good and so a bunch of it fell after being close to mature. Because it was wet, it ruined the rice before they harvested and they weren’t able to use it. I was hurting after I heard this. Not only for my own pride, but because I had messed with these people’s livelihoods: their food, their income, their identity.

After the initial shock, I finally got to asking how many daba (can used to measure rice = 30 cups) they received. They told me that they received 30. Turns out, before using SRI they only got about 10 daba on the same section of land. I got to say, I’m really happy I got placed in a location that likes practical jokes, but that was just mean! I was thrilled that they received three times as much rice! However, the stuff before was true – they used the wrong kind of rice (they told me it was a different kind before planting because someone made a mistake on the gunny sack) and so the type of rice was too high. It grew very well and then fell when it was mature. Around 10 daba were ruined and so they only got 30 daba instead of 40 daba. It still sucked, but it was way better to know that they tripled their rice harvest even with the section of rice that was lost. It is even more comforting that they didn’t react like I did. They started thinking about what needed to be fixed for next time so that they didn’t lose any rice – the joke had some seriousness in it and I think that kind of attitude might be an indicator that this farming will continue even after I’m gone. I’m just happy it wasn’t a failure.

Most of the other rice fields look good as well and I’m curious to see how the harvest goes for those too. I think it will be clear as time goes on that the people who put more effort into their rice fields will receive more rice. Some people adopted the technique for transplanting and then got lazy when it came to weeding and water control.

I don’t know if it was my time away, the photos I brought as gifts for people, the success of the rice farming or something else, but village life as been really good lately. I am a little reluctant to say this, because I fear the minute I announce it something horrible will happen, but really, things have been great since I’ve returned from Tana. I really feel that these people are my friends, that they care about me, and that I care about them. It’s nice.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my future lately. I’ve had a lot going on in my mind since my time in Tana and the connection with the internet. I’ve thought about life at home, plans that I have with friends after I’m done with Peace Corps, what my career goals are or if they still don’t exist, if further education is worth the time/money or both and where in the world I want to exist for a while. Oddly, I got to talk about a lot of these things with the rice farmer in the above paragraph and she really helped me clarify some things whether she knows it or not. I have been given an extension possibility from an American NGO working in Madagascar and I think I’m going to take it (assuming Peace Corps approves¬). If I can get the full year extension, I hope to spend a month at home after my two years and then return for another year in Madagascar. If that doesn’t work, I might just try to stay 3 or 4 months after my service. What it really comes down to is that I’m in no rush to do anything with my life. I almost want to slow it down. The thought of grad school, a career and all that other stuff just doesn’t sound appealing. I realized that I was thinking of the extension as a way to further my possible life in a career and that ending Peace Corps after 2 years was going to be more freedom. Then I realized, and it was quite obvious, that if I stay in Peace Corps for another year, I still have my freedom, and I don’t have to make any career/school plans even if I will be more qualified. So, now, it is just a matter of the paper work going through as to whether it happens. My life, since my application for Peace Corps was accepted, has constantly been changing, so wouldn’t be surprised if this falls apart completely or blossoms into something bigger.

I caught my first mpangalatra (thief). I usually walk around Antanetiambo Reserve and check on the trails, the animals (if I see any), and the general state of things. Many times I’ll walk through and see bamboo that’s been cut, trees that have been cut and other offenses – but never the people who do the cutting. However, on a glorious Sunday morning, my time finally came. I was walking around a portion of the Reserve, and I heard some cutting sounds. I continued walking around as normal, because those sounds could be coming from anywhere. However, I came across a man and he was quite startled to see me as he walked on the trail with giant bamboo on his shoulder.

I don’t know the boundaries of the Reserve, nor do I know who ‘really’ owns what. So, I approached the situation very delicately. It was clear that he was in the wrong and that he was a thief from the way he interacted with me. He told me that he wanted to plant it, so I was a little more sympathetic (if that was the truth). I asked his name, and he hesitated, but gave me a name. He also told me that he would pass by my Counterparts’ house and tell them that he took some bamboo (for planting) and next time he would ask. Because I didn’t really know who he was or how to approach the situation, I replied that it was okay and we went our separate ways.

A few minutes later I had a bad feeling. It just didn’t add up. I left the Reserve and looked out into the rice field. I saw the man amongst the vast sea of green rice and it was clear, he had no intentions of going to Matsobe, no intentions of presenting himself. So, I ran out into the rice field, caught up with him and took his picture. I told him that I know the way to Matsobe and that I didn’t trust him.

We went our separate ways and I continued to walk around the Reserve for a few hours. I returned home and found out that the guy had never passed by my house. My counterparts wrote out a letter for the police and later that day they found the guy. People knew his face and where he lived, it even turns out that he gave me a fake name. I guess it’s good that I was in the Reserve to catch him, but it sucks that there are so many thieves. We will definitely need to start a community program for planting bamboo so that people won’t feel the need to steal. The other downside is that with thieves in the area, and with this encounter, people have suggested that I bring my machete with me into the forest (don’t worry; it’s not a danger zone, just a precaution).

My farming plans are moving along as well. One of my counterparts was supposed to plant soy beans (that I bought) while I was in Tana. Apparently, she did this, but only 3 plants have grown. It could be a bad batch of seeds, but I’m a little skeptical. However, I’ve cleared another portion of land and plan to plant eggplant there. If I have a lot of eggplant then I won’t need to buy so many at the market, but then again, buying eggplant isn’t really breaking my bank.

In the financial front, there was an issue with an ATM and I had to send a letter to the bank stating that I never got the money. Thankfully, I had enough money that I wasn’t going to starve, but it was really annoying. Luckily, the other Peace Corps volunteer in Andapa knows French, so she was able to write my demand. I would have been a little reluctant to have a Malagasy person help me, only because then they would know how much money was in my bank account (I’m really not rich by any means, but some things are better kept private). Altogether, the bank works like it should when it comes down to it, and I was reimbursed.

As for a few odds and ends:

I helped people harvest rice a few days ago. It was a lot of fun; I actually enjoy cutting the rice stalks. I also like cutting the grass. It makes me wonder if I like cutting/destroying things a little too much. Only time will tell.

I have a horrible rash all over my arms at the moment. It was from working in my garden and clearing it up. I’m pretty sure there is some plant there that my skin doesn’t like. Of course, with it being hot, I didn’t have a shirt on and so my torso wasn’t spared either. It’s on my legs too. I don’t think it would be that bad, but I think I have Guardia too, but I’ll spare the details of that.

The Marojejy Park guides English class is moving along nicely. It only has two weeks left and it really should be continued in the future. However, I’m going to wait for the new volunteer to arrive in the area before trying to renew anything (it’s a great program; I just don’t want to spend all of my Saturdays out there).

I spoke to some women last week and I don’t know how we got on the subject or how they ended up telling me, but they apparently have weight issues. I was pretty surprised, because I didn’t think the woman in my little village really cared that much. In addition, people who are fat tend to have enough money to eat so they aren’t really demonized. However, I might try starting an exercise class of sorts if people are interested. It would force me to exercise as well 

My watch band broke while I was in Tana. I fixed it with some ribbon for a while until the band broke again. I’m on my spare watch and if the band breaks on this one I’m going to have some serious mental issues when I can’t just look at my wrist for the time. Cell phone would be fine if I had electricity to keep it charged and on all of the time. Or I could just be less anal retentive.

I’ve started brainstorming/listening to my iPod for another song that I can make a parody of because I need something creative to work on. It will probably be something that nobody back home will get, but I’ll post it none the less.

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