No, it’s not as much fun as Sean Kingston’s catchy song. The hillsides all over Madagascar are still ablaze and it couldn’t be more depressing.  I am no longer living in an island paradise, but a satellite of Los Angeles. The afternoons are filled with a light haze and I feel like the smoke just settles above the basin, only gone for a slight moment in the early morning.

In order to plant rice on hillsides (which in most cases are too steep to plant) people have set the walls of the basin with a fury of flames; only intensifying the draught we’re in and making everyone hold their breath as to whether they should even sow seeds for the “rainy” season rice.

The last harvest was awful for all people (however, my SRI plots were good for 4 out of 5 farmers). At this time of year a cup of dry, uncooked white rice should cost 200 ariary – it’s 400 ariary now and only has the potential to rise in the next few months. The likelihood that people will have rice to eat come February is very small and I can only envision a rough next few months once the glory of new years washes away.

People stay optimistic and they are sure that the rains will come. However, the weather has really become unpredictable for the people who live here. When the weather changes and you work in an office, you might notice a change in prices at the supermarket, when that happens here, sometimes, people don’t eat. I’m eager to get the new farmers planting, but part of me wants to wait until I can be sure there will be water. Thankfully, after about a week of no rain, we’ve started to get a little bit of rain and things are looking hopeful.

The dry weather hasn’t been entirely awful either. I’ve harvested with three of the SRI farmers, and all of their rice was really good (I have one farmer left to harvest and then one group didn’t want to build a canal so they abandoned their rice work a long time ago).  You don’t want rain while you’re harvesting because you can’t thresh and it can spoil the rice to be too moist. That being said, after my vacation, I was not in good enough condition to spend an entire day in the sun cutting and threshing rice. It was exhausting! However, after three straight days of harvesting rice with different farmers, I think I’m ready to battle the heat under any work conditions. I just like to be there when other people pass by and comment on how good the rice was and how surprised that planting one little seedling could produce so much.  It’s something truly unbelievable for many farmers and it is great that I’ve been able to get test plots all over this basin so that so many people could that is it is possible.

The tree nursery functioned splendidly in my absence. I gave them 800 plastic pots before I left and the PLAE office game them 300. By my return to site they had planted seeds in all of the pots and we now have around 2800 trees planted in the nursery. In the next few months we should be busy with planting them on the hillside as well as possibly selling them to people. I had a bit of a breakdown with the group the other week, because over 100 trees/plastic pots are missing and of course, nobody knows where they are. Naturally, I was accused of making a mistake in counting all of the trees.  That’s when I simply took out my notebook and showed them how many trees we planted (or I was told they planted) and the corresponding date. That gave me a silence, but it just shows that I still need to watch the nursery closely from time to time to make sure people aren’t trying to get clever. After a quick match of yelling between me and the president we counted the trees, confirmed my statement, and made plans to keep working and be more aware of how many trees we plant each week.

I read “Born to Run” while on vacation with Abby. I really enjoyed the book and it reminded me of how much I enjoy running and motivated me to keep running in my village. After a few weeks off I was definitely out of shape. Not too mention the first day that I ran, I was asked to harvest rice and so I had a rather intense work out before noon.  The book also motivated me to do what I thought about a while ago and that is to try to run farther rather than faster. As long as the rice work isn’t pressing, it shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see how it goes. Somehow my foot got out of shape as well and I hurt a toe nail. It is only a matter of time until that little guy goes solo.

I read “Tortilla Flats” and although I thought it was a little slow in the beginning, but it really picked up. The characters are really funny and quite amusing.  In a sad way, some of the characters remind me of people that I know in Madagascar. And, consequently, in a very funny and admirable way, the characters in the book remind me of people I know here in Madagascar. 

Two things American have hit Matsobe, and I’m proud to be part of one of them: American football and porn. No, I didn’t set up a porn video club in my village. In fact, I was quite surprised that it made it and that it was more or less publicly displayed. I would have never noticed the tiny little piece of paper had I not been asked to translate “Big Ass Anal Heaven 12”. I’m not sure if it is here to stay or was just a special event, but it made me laugh nonetheless. Now, football is more of my doing. When Abby came to visit, my Dad sent a football with her. I played catch with some people a few times and it’s really starting to catch on. I think when soccer dies down I might try to get a few games going so they can learn. Besides, there’s something about throwing a football back and forth that I find so much more entertaining than kicking a soccer ball.

We had a huge party in our Commune to celebrate the water taps (yes, they were built a year ago). This meant that everyone dressed up their water tap with flowers and cloths and banana tree walkways in the front. My village was the start of the taps, so we had a “Tsimandrimandry” (don’t sleep) which was just a party where people dance, drink a little, have fun, and stay awake in order to guard the water tap. I managed to make it until 2am and then called it quits. Thankfully, nothing happened to the water tap while I was sleeping.

The next day we had the celebration. A guy from Tana came and cut the ribbon on the taps and then there were a bunch of speeches in Marovato. Altogether, I think it was good for the community and some of the speeches did address slash and burn farming and protecting the environment. But there was one thing that really surprised me. In all of the speeches, not once did anyone thank Rachel (the previous volunteer who set up the water project), myself, or my counterpart, RABARY Desire.  We didn’t even get a formal invitation to the party. I don’t look for recognition in my work. I don’t really care who knows what I’ve done. I know. However, it is just so surprising to me that the Mayor would take complete credit for the project. Had I not come to Matsobe, talked to him, talked to builders, asked the National Parks office for money and basically nagged them for 3 months straight, this never would have happened. I guess by celebrating the fresh water a year later, he was hoping that I would forget the work that I’d done and the program that Rachel set up. He doesn’t know me at all.

So this negativity transitions into a conversation I had about drops in a bucket and another about caring about one’s work.

My work (and I suppose many others’ and not just Peace Corps Volunteers) can compared to drops of water in a bucket – useless, pointless, a waste of time, stupid, idealistic, etc. Imagine you have this huge 15 liter bucket and the water pump just isn’t working that day and all you get is a tiny little drop. That drop is me and all that I’m doing. It has a long way to go until it gets full.

I think the water drop is intended to show that everything we do is miniscule and pointless. Why bother with anything because in the grand scheme of things nothing is really happening. There’s some truth to that. I think the hardest thing for some people is that we can’t see into the future. Nobody knows if there are going to be other drops like them, or if they will be the only one. There’s no reason to make an effort, advocate for change or try to make a difference when failure is the most probable outcome. 

But what if it isn’t?

There is nothing that is certain of failure and it just doesn’t make sense to me to be negative. If everyone just keeps making there one little drop then things can be accomplished. I think the main problem comes from a sense of urgency and entitlement in people. Many people want to be recognized for doing great work rather than just working as hard as they can to produce something worth recognizing. There doesn’t need to be importance or significance in every action in order to make significant change. Also, things take time and to do something worth while, usually take a while.  But that’s hard for people. Nobody is willing to be a small, recognition-less part of a whole.  I think a lot of things could improve for a lot of people if everyone just got over themselves. Just do what needs to be done, what seems like the right thing.

I guess for me, personally, I don’t need to know the future. I don’t need to know if things improve, stay the same or get worse. It doesn’t affect my work, life or my actions either way.

To look at your work as if it won’t make a difference is the same as not caring. I think that in order to produce quality work and enjoy what one’s doing then one must care about it. I don’t think that a job is just a job.

Maybe I’ll leave Madagascar and all my projects will stop. Maybe everyone will forget me. Maybe something I’ve taught will actually make someone’s life worse. But that’s how it is for anything.  I’m reminded of the cliché “hope for the best and expect the worst”. In the end, that’s all one really can do. There’s nothing pointless in caring about what one does.  The only pointless work is the work that one doesn’t care about. I know that if I stuck with the work that I didn’t care about I wouldn’t be as happy as I am now and I definitely would be making a positive difference in anyone’s life, especially my own.  

I’m happy being my one little drop in a bucket and it doesn’t matter to me if I’m joined by other drops or not.

But I’d like to end this blog with a little something less serious. I seem to have been very serious lately with my blog entries, and that’s really not what I would like.  I think it’s important for one to dumb things down on occasion. Besides, it’s proof of one’s intelligence if one can dumb it down. With out this ability, it means your product is already dumb (how’s that for logic?).

I finally came up with the title of my Peace Corps memoirs – “On Diarrhea and other fecal matters”. I envisioned a paperback with a bright blue sky and the picture of my outhouse from a far… I came up with the title one night at dinner, when my stomach wasn’t having its best day. I think I drank some ranompango (rice water) that might not have been boiled for the proper time; or, maybe not at all. Anyway, I thought how strange it was that these stomach things no longer faze me (I sometimes don’t even acknowledge it) and that this title really sums it all up. However, because I have dinner for one almost every night, the thought process didn’t stop there and I kept thinking about the title as the flame of my little gas lamp flickered above my plate of rice. It is such a good phrase; it could be used for just about any kind of book one would want. Here are a few examples:

“On Diarrhea and other fecal matters” – Athletic/Sports Science addition. With all of the time one spends squatting over a hole, rather than lounging on a flush toilet, the legs are strengthen naturally. The book would cover various exercises to accompany one’s regularities. Pretty soon Olympic athletes from all over the world will be reading this guideline in order to perform at the highest level. It will be translated into 5 languages in the first month of publication

“On Diarrhea and other fecal matters” – Psychology. Is it okay to talk about one’s poo? If so, how often is okay? Does it say something about the person? How do bullshitters fit into this line of thought? It would be both enlightening and have a long list of references. Probably a Psych 101 must have for any university.

“On Diarrhea and other fecal matters” – Holiday/Economics. Why we feel the need to buy/spend excessively around the holidays. This would branch into various buying practices and how we are programmed to lose all of our money should we not be aware of the excessiveness.

“On Diarrhea and other fecal matters” – Travel. This one would delve into all kinds of travel foods and the do’s and don’ts of buying street food. It would go into complex ratios of the “5 second rule” and how it compares to the age, texture and size of the food dropped.  It would also inform the reader on how to balance multiple “negative” foods in order to produce a positive.

“On Diarrhea and other fecal matters” – Dating/Relationships. This will help you find your soul mate based on bowel movements. It makes sense; you can spend a lot more time with a person, if you synchronize certain things…

“On Diarrhea and other fecal matters” – Politics. This book would just recap the two Bush Administrations.

And the list goes on and on.

Let me state for the record as well, that I really do not have any stomach illness or issues, I just felt a little off one night.  I guess, one could say that I’m coping just fine returning from my vacation and no longer having company with dinner. In fact, I am so social during the day that I quite enjoy my dinners in solitude. For anyone who reads this who eats dinner amongst other people, I would suggest trying to eat dinner for a week alone and see what you think about. This doesn’t mean that you go to Taco Bell, order a grande meal and then find a nice little place in the corner to down enough food for a family of four and watch as people come and go. I mean, really eat alone – like the only one in the room, with no other distractions but your thoughts. You might find out you’re even weirder than you thought. Or just confirm that I’m weirder than you thought!

*I forgot to mention in my last blog how happy I was to all of you who sent me things and to Abby for hauling them half way across the world. The music, food, books, and everything else in between were very much appreciated. THANK YOU!!!