It’s been a while since I’ve written to the virtual world. I think the most honest answer that I can give is that I’ve been lazy. I had a post around the middle of May, but then I ended up deleting it for various reasons. I should have re-posted the blog with edits, but I just deleted it and erased that part of my life. So, now, I’ve got to clean up the mess and fill in the large gap of time.

I was in Tana at the end of May for our Mid Service Conference. It was really nice to see all of my friends from the beginning of service. We truly are “The Best Stage Ever Stage” and it was nice to see everyone again. So of course, my time in Tana and Mantasoa was a disaster for my stomach. My diet varied from the norm as it always does and I got to spend a lot of quality time on the toilet. I guess that’s the price I pay for good food. Also, I had a toilet to sit on, so it wasn’t all bad.

I got back to site and hit the ground running. I helped some SRI farmers harvest their rice and I was in no shape to do so. It was exhausting. However, it was the first time that I’ve harvested rice with a straight blade knife rather than the curved knife, so it was good to increase my repertoire. I also made sure I got two French classes in because I had missed a few weeks. I forgot everything I had learned and it was more than embarrassing.

I had a meeting with a village out in the countryside. We built two hot boxes and a cook stove. They seemed pretty hard working and interested and it was nice to be around some positive people who truly want to improve their lives. They say they want to learn about SRI, but I’m not sure if it will work out. In general, there seems to be very small windows that people leave available for farming rice and it can be a little stressful balancing everyone’s schedules so that I can fall into everyone’s special little window.

I was suppose to go to another village and help the English teacher for a morning, but he never showed up (fitting?¬). However, it turned out to be a real plus because it gave me some time to walk out to one of the SRI fields and see the rice. On my way back I saw some people who invited me to work and I said yes. We talked the whole time we worked and they even said they would like to try SRI, so hopefully that works out. I’ve been speaking with them lately and it looks like I should have two new SRI farmers because of the encounter. Kind of funny how things just happen when you talk to people and are a nice person.

After all of that busyness I prepared my house because my mom came to visit!! It was really great to see her and show her everything that was going on in my life. She stayed two nights in my village, in my house. The very first night she told me that my bed was the worst bed she had ever slept in (in her entire life). However, I think she did enjoy the area. We went to the Reserve, around town and into different villages in the countryside.

After, I got to be a vazaha. We flew to Diego and then Nosy Be. It was really beautiful at the beach in the north, but I still don’t think it’s as beautiful as my site. Nosy Be had really nice beaches, but the people really weren’t that great. They don’t produce anything on the island other than oil from a flower and so the Malagasy people are completely reliant on tourism. That can make some for some unpleasant encounters with people expect all white people to have too much money and buy everything a person is selling. After Nosy Be, we caught a boat to Ankify and then caught a car going north back to Diego. On the way back to Diego, we went to Ankarana, Red Tsingy and Amber Mountain. They were all very nice and beautiful in their own way. However, I have to say I do love my site. I know that I’m completely biased because I live where I do, but as far as aesthetics go, I really do think that Peace Corps placed me in an area that is best fits me.

This feeling was only intensified when my mom spent some more time in the area and we had a chance to explore some of the area around my village. We even lucked out and got some good weather, which meant we got some great views of the basin. The funniest thing of walking around with my mom is that everyone would just give her a somewhat cold greeting until I introduced her as my mother. Once they knew she was my mother their entire face and body language would change immediately. It felt really good to have some positive support from people in the area.

Because she had previously stated that I had the worst bed ever, we changed that. She pressured me to buy a new mattress later during her stay. I’ll admit the new mattress is pretty comfortable. I just don’t know what to do with the old mattress. I guess I’ll never have to buy another sponge?

I didn’t have a lot of training before I came to Peace Corps, and so as the days go by I am always picking up and learning new things. Stuff that any person that grew up on a farm would be use to and think nothing of. Last week I had one of those experiences. I went to ask someone about when they’d be free so I could schedule in my calendar when we’d plant rice and they asked if I could help them hold down some pigs while the vet neutered and spayed four pigs.

So the whole thing kind of just happened and the next thing I know I got a front row seat for the operations. There was a guy to grab the ears and hold down the shoulders, another guy on the front legs and then me with the rope and standing on the back legs. Then, trusty Doc would just get right down to business; no drugs, no operation table, no real disinfectant, just a razor blade. Those pigs would squeal (I don’t blame them one bit¬), the vet would pull the testicle out wrap a string around and then cut that sucker off. When the cut was all done he would rub some disinfectant thing and give the pig two shots. Then we moved on to the next ones.

Obviously, being a guy, I can really feel for the male pigs. That’s just all kinds of bad. However, I think the girl might have had it the worst. She got a cut on the side above her back leg and then the vet just stuck his hand in and started searching around (once again, no drugs¬). Also, the stitch job she got at the end wasn’t exactly the greatest, but I’m sure she’ll be fine. I guess when I eat the thing for New Years I’ll know killing the pig wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to it.

Rice season is starting and so I am in full on organizing mode. I have 5 individuals, in four different villages that all will adopt the SRI technique. This is great, but having people spread out all over the place makes logistics a little more difficult. So, I’ve been meeting with people, finding out when they really have time and trying to schedule everyone so they don’t overlap and I can help everyone. I also am in the middle of planning two more training sessions that might consist of a test plot as well. Everything seems to be going well for the moment, but I’ll have to wait and see if things play out like it is suppose to be. If nothing else, at this point, I’ve learn just to let things flow in their natural order and try to resist as little as possible when resistance is just a waste of time.

The 26th of June (Malagasy Independence Day) was upon us and the whole Andapa basin was around for the party. The festivities start a week in advance (officially) and continue for a week after the date (unofficially). It’s funny, because last year at this time I was really overwhelmed by all of the people in town, and this year, things are just the same. Good to know that it wasn’t a different problem last year, but that it is just A LOT of people roaming around Andapa. A few days before the holiday everyone from the countryside goes into town to buy things or just look around; that’s where the pink hats come into play.

Apparently, a few weeks ago, a shipment of pink hats arrived in Andapa. They came from Tana and supposedly China before that. Theory goes that someone from Tana had too many and so they sent them to Andapa because, well, they’d be bought. And that’s exactly what happened. So, now, there are hundreds of women in the Andapa basin that have the same pink hat; it’s crazy. I can just sit in front of my house and watch all of these pink hats float on by. So, now that I’ve digressed, let’s get back to the holiday.

With all of the people going to Andapa it was very apparent that lots of women had this hat. I’d ride my bike and every 100 meters there was a new woman with a new pink hat. It made me think of the old racing video game where if you didn’t catch one the green balls then you would run out of fuel the game would be over. The game would definitely be set to “easy” if I were to use the pink hats to refuel. The sad part is, is that I want to buy one and see if anyone notices that I have the same hat as a thousand other people or if they just think I’m a vazaha with a pink hat.

The downside of the holiday is that people waste their money. One example was when some riff raff set up shop out in front of my house one morning. It was a group of scammers that were playing a card game. There were two red cards, one black card, and you have to choose where the black one is. Stuff like that didn’t bother me in the States, but here it did. It’s really sad to watch people who don’t have a lot of money get sucked into the scheme and, obviously, lose their money.

But all this worrying is really a waste of time. After being around a week straight of partying, spending money and overall disregard for the fact that a majority of people will have no money by the end of June, I really don’t know which is a worse way to lose one’s money. However, I must admit that I have enjoyed the festivities this year in my village and it is nice to party with so many people who I consider friends. It’s amazing to think about this time last year and how different it all was.

Another fun lesson that I had with my community is teaching the children that stealing is wrong. Even if the commodity does come from a plant that is growing on someone else’s land. I was cutting grass the other day and cleaning up some areas around some avocado trees that I planted (I’m coming back in 6 years when they have fruit) when I heard some kids close by. I didn’t really hear what they were saying, but my name did come up and I could see from the tree branch wobbling, that they were clearly messing with something. I walk over to see what they’re doing (machete still in hand¬¬) and as soon as I look around my latrine, they seem me, scream and then bolt.

My first instinct is complete shock. I didn’t say anything, didn’t have a mad look on my face, and I’m not even sure they saw the knife. However, I didn’t like what they were up to, so I chased after them. They were all kids from Matsobe, so they ran in the wrong direction at first, but then looped back towards town (not very far though). Me being a grown adult and them being small children, it wasn’t much of a feat to catch up to them. However, it is one of the many times that I had a camera crew with me, because I’m sure it was quite the sight. Just picture me running, barefoot, a machete in my hand, and chasing after about 7 kids, none older than 10 years old, all of them screaming their lungs out.

They started to split up, but I just followed the one who stole until he ran full speed into an open house and fell on the ground; terrified that I was seriously mad. The lady of the house just played along like it was something serious, and then I walked off smiling. From this point on kids have politely asked for the guavas and I tell them they can have as many as they want.

Finally, I must regress back to the pigs. After being part of that group holding down a small pig, I got real curious when a friend of mine said he was going to kill a cow. I thought it took four people to do the pig operation; it must take a whole village to kill a cow. I told him that I wanted to see the process and he was all about it.

It was actually quite simple compared to my melodramatic expectations. They tied the two back legs, a guy held the head and another guy the tail. They yanked the cow to the ground and then tied another leg. Then, a group of four people were able to complete the process. You only need one guy holding the tail and back hip, one guy on the body, one guy holding the head back and then a guy cutting the throat. It’s kind of amazing how easy it looked to kill such a big animal. I don’t think I’m ready to be part of the process any time soon, but I no longer have to wonder how it’s done.

So that’s life, more or less, in the past few months. It’s good to be back at site and getting back into things. Crazy to think that I only have 10 months left…

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