I’ve been living in a rice field. I thought that I’ve been working pretty hard and it is nice to get the positive feedback from all of my friends and people who know me. I’m constantly being asked, “Where have you been?”A lot of people thought that I left or went on vacation because they haven’t seen me. Then when I tell them I’ve been managing and working at 5 rice fields they give me the respectful response of “You can do all of that?”


So that’s where I’ve been. I’m in the rice field in the morning, giving advice, planting, weeding, helping people regulate the water and more than anything just motivate/give confidence only to return late afternoon (or early afternoon if the rain dictates the work). The sixth farmer bailed on me at the last second. I’m not sure if it would have happened if we didn’t have flooding, but it was extremely frustrating to have wasted so much time with them. However, working in six fields over the course of one month might have proved too strenuous.  


The more I work with the rice and pretty much everything it amazes me how much humans value quantity over quality. It is seen in the rice work. People don’t want to spend more time to plant and receive a quality product (i.e. more rice), but would rather plant in multiple rice fields (therefore requiring much more land) and then receive close to the same amount. By doing quality work the people wouldn’t have to plant in a lot of places. Hopefully, this thought will start to get across to farmers over time.


I spoke to some people from an office in Andapa about this and it amazes me how much “conservationists” totally disregard agriculture. They don’t take it into account at all as a factor that could help save the forests. If people can get enough food and money in a rice field then they don’t need to travel far distances to plant rice on a hillside or cut trees from a protected forest (assuming they save money to buy firewood or charcoal). However, those who work in the offices just think that Malagasy people don’t care about the forest and just want to destroy it (this does have partial truth).  Sadly, people teach improved agriculture techniques once and then think their job is done -Development is on the way! But that isn’t even remotely true. Chances are that they’ve taught one person/one group of people once, but never followed up on it and so the practice never catches on. In addition, people that were skeptical the first time around, but really hard workers, no longer have a chance to learn because they missed their one shot. I think a more positive approach needs to be adapted by conservationists in this country. Instead of trying to figure out ways to keep people from entering/destroying protected forests, why don’t we try to think of ways to change their lives so they don’t NEED to enter the forest?


But that’s too practical.


The tree nursery has begun to plant trees! I’m super excited because although they inform me of their plans and the number/type of trees they’re planting, they’re doing it on their own! I’m super busy and so our free time doesn’t always match up. I’ve gotten the group to split up and not be disappointed about this. If one person has time – go plant trees. If only two people are free that day, it’s okay – go plant trees. The other day, it was raining, but I had some time – I went and planted some trees. I think that by the end of this month a good portion of the 3,100 will be planted (of course saving a minimum of 290 for my CEG students to plant when they visit the Reserve). I keep telling them that I don’t care who plants the tree. Our goal is to get the trees planted. Whether it is me, someone in the group, a thief, or someone else it doesn’t matter. Even thieves need a forest to steal from.


The stress of the Library coming together is nearing the end. I finally got the shelves built and installed (by a carpenter). For whatever reason, nobody else could make any progress on this. I have absolutely no idea why I had to be involved in every single second of this operation, but I was. At one point it consisted of me sitting in the unfinished library and watching the carpenter finish the shelves so that it was done properly. I was just sitting, watching for a while until we both realized that it was kind of stupid. We started talking and I realized that he really did want to do a good job, but with nobody with him, he didn’t really know what we would make him do and, more than anything, it was too quiet for him to enjoy his work. So, we talked about work, education, wood work and people who could weave mats and baskets while he finished the shelves. A few days later a majority of the furniture arrived. Now it is just a matter of transferring books inside.  


The Ambodigavo Group who was supposed to make souvenirs for tourists fell through back in November. Sadly, the back up plans that I had also fell through (people either moved away or they didn’t actually know how to make the stuff we wanted). So, after getting the name of a person and the name of a town, I went on an adventure. It has been a long time since I’ve just gone out to uncharted areas. For the most part I don’t go to a lot of new places these days, but mostly just circulate around the areas that I know.


The bike ride was supposed to be around 2 hours. Because I was happy to get the exercise and left in the morning, I made it in an hour. It was kind of nice to have to stop and ask people where I was and if I was going in the right direction. Finally, I got to my destination. Of course, the person wasn’t there.


I had thought about that when I left, but that was a risk that I really couldn’t avoid. However, when the neighbors told me that the lady wasn’t home AND didn’t know how to write words while weaving, I was a little disheartened. But, they told me another person farther down in the village and so I went to ask them.


Of course, I arrived at their house and spoke with their family (the person I was told to talk to went to church and wasn’t home either). They were really nice, but they weren’t able to make anything either. The lady showed me a mat that she had made before where she had written something. The problem was that she made it about 30 years ago and in the span of things forgot how to do it. One might think how does that happen? However, when I was a kid I use to make a lot of origami boxes. Now, I can barely put together a paper airplane.


They gave me a new name and I walked with a man to go look for the new person. Once again, they weren’t home. However, we were told they were in the rice field and so we went to the rice field. I met the women while she was getting ready to plant and she said that she still could make a mat/basket with writing. So, in a month, I’ll go back and see if anything has developed. If nothing comes together, I will give up on trying to help the countryside and just go to Antalaha where the people really do know what they are doing, but don’t really need the money as badly.


Chameleon fighting season is upon us. I don’t really know how I missed it last year, but the male chameleons are really getting after it. I wished I had a working camera to document all of their epic battles. More than anything it is just cool to see all of the brilliant colors. It is kind of like watching a kung fu movie where they slow down sections of the fighting. The chameleons circle each other moving slowly and then there is a quick attack and they bite each others’ heads. The biting lasts for about 15 seconds tops and then they start circling again. I usually get bored and walk away before one could even declare a winner. I guess chameleon fighting really isn’t that exciting.


The guardian for Antanetiambo seems to have improved his work. I told him to start journaling all of the work he does each day and then we would talk each week. I did some surprise visits along with the scheduled visits and he was on top of things. I think I scared him with the talk that explained that it isn’t impossible to find a replacement. I really do want him to work out only because he’s been here for so long and I’ve put a lot of effort into trying to get him to understand the general idea of what we want to accomplish. I think that he’s young and inexperienced, but that could actually prove to be useful once we get a foundation built. It really does make my life easier now that I don’t have to patrol or do trail maintenance as often. His map is almost finished, trails are almost finished and I think in March he should start doing plant inventory for the Reserve.


I’ve always been a big eater. Not that I really cared about the quality of the food, but that I liked to eat. I didn’t have much of an appetite for about a month and the doctors weren’t quite sure what my problem was just by talking on the phone (I had loss of appetite and other issues too). Since I hadn’t been treated for worms in over a year they decided to give me that medication in case it helped. Oddly, since I’ve taken the medication I seem to be hungrier and eating more than I did before. I always thought that if I had worms, they would be the friendly ones that would just want to eat with me. Turns out I had the mean, greedy ones that wanted me to eat less. Either way, I’m putting away the plates of rice like no other. Too bad rice is super expensive now and people have no money.


It has been raining pretty much every afternoon. This means that outside work gets shut down for the most part. This also means that I read a lot more. I read The Gone Away World, which I liked. It was a different book than the classics I’ve been reading. It was funny because it just kept reminding me of TV or movies. I wish I could enjoy popular books, but for the most part I just think I’d rather space out and watch a movie than space out (to a different degree) for a book. I enjoyed the story, but I didn’t feel like there was enough going on with the characters themselves. That being said, it was super funny and smart and I would suggest it for anyone who likes to read; or likes ninjas and kung fu. To change things entirely, I finally got around to reading Freakonomics. Had I read it before I went to college there could have been a small possibility that I would have considered being an econ major. Like the authors, I don’t really care for math, or the economy, but people, incentives and data does interest me. 


But enough of the intellectual world. Before I left for Madagascar (almost 2 years ago!) I got into the MTV show Jersey Shore. It is the absolute worst show ever and that’s why I like it. There is something truly admirable about the characters of the show. There are these people that are immune to the pressures of society. They are literally just here for the party.


There is no pressure for these people and I am slightly envious. GTL (gym, tan, laundry) is how they live their life. Of course, to avoid monotony, they change the order of the three on a daily basis (I couldn’t help but notice that my life rotates on a similar axis. With all of the rice work, I get a lot of exercise, it’s sunny so I get some color and I come home so dirty that I have to do laundry. However, this would not be accepted as “GTL”). Skin cancer doesn’t matter, what work they really do doesn’t matter, they want a fresh shirt (if it’s t shirt time) only to take it off because they’ve been to the gym. Dinner is at nine and they arrive at the club at midnight. They wake up when morning no longer exists and repeat.


I know that I could never do it. Nor do I ever want to. However, there is something I really enjoy about all of them.  I don’t care if they are fake, lazy, argumentative, drunks or don’t have any class. They are what many Americans want to be and can’t be. I know that it is a bold statement, but there is some truth in it. Many people are afraid to do what they want. They only do what they think other people want or because of other environmental/societal pressures. In addition, many people are afraid to be ridiculous. There is absolutely no way I could ever say the majority of the things these people say. Some people might find it rude and appalling, but I don’t. I salute you Jersey Shore. All hale Snookie, the noble savage!


Now for me being weird (because we all know that I am). A few weeks back I was sitting in a taxi going to Andapa and I noticed a man who had a really long fingernail. I thought to myself: that is kind of weird/creepy/strange. However, I’ve seen a lot of people who do just have the one long pinky nail (it’s not for cocaine). So, I decided to follow suit and see what happens.


At first, I started growing my pinky nail on my right hand. After about two weeks I realized that I shake too many hands for me to be creepy on the right hand. So, I’ve switched to the left. I’ve heard of two reasons why a Malagasy person might have the long nail. First, that they are wealthy/educated and don’t work in the rice field. By having a long fingernail is shows that they don’t need to do physical labor (or at least don’t have the opportunity to get a bunch of dirt stuck in their nail). The second, and much more appealing, is that witches have them. The idea is that they can grab some poison with their pinky nail and then put it into someone’s food.


So, my nail is growing. It still isn’t at creepy length yet and I’m not sure if I’ll make it that long. I’m just curious to see if people say anything to me or if I get any looks. I’m definitely not privileged because I have to work in the rice field. As for the witch, well, there are some things I just don’t tell in my blog…