I went to Tana for my Close of Service Conference. It was really great seeing the group of volunteers who came to Madagascar with me (and still haven’t left). It’s crazy to think that we all came here almost two years ago. We really are a Peace Corps family. I think it’s because we’ve all gone through so much stuff these past two years that we can relate to each other. The people in my stage really are a great group of people.

 

The actual conference discussed re-adjustment, resumes, job searching and all of the end of the line paper work and forms that need to be filled out. I was paying attention, but knowing that I should be extending for a year made me not really think too much about ending my service. The food was phenomenal as well. I have to say, I don’t get many taco nights in Matsobe.  I might need to talk to the mayor of my Commune about that.

 

Shortly after, my dad arrived in Tana. It was awesome to see him. I hadn’t seen him since I had left the U.S. He was pretty jet lagged, but we walked around Tana doing various sight seeing activities. We saw the main parts of downtown, the Queen’s Palace, and the man-made lake. I’m not really a fan of Tana (as I say each time) so I didn’t really want to do much either. Sadly, just arriving from the “future” my dad wasn’t really impressed with real food options.

 

The next day we flew to Fort Dauphin and then drove to Berenty Reserve. It’s hot in the south, that’s for sure. Berenty is really cool, but I’m definitely jaded from being a Peace Corps volunteer. It is the farthest thing from rugged and although it’s cool that there are lemurs all over the place, it kind of takes the fun out of “looking” for them, when they are around all of the time. Also, as happens from time to time when I travel in Mada, it was outrageously expensive. I’m sure a lot of tourists don’t even realize the prices they are paying, but after living in a village for two years and knowing what the locals pay (knowing what I get paid!) it seemed a little much. Especially when there are no other options.

 

While in Berenty Reserve, we went on a walk through the Reserve and got the usual explanations and took plenty of photos of lemurs. The crocodile that wasn’t in water (because the little amount of water that it had got too hot) was a little sad, but the lemurs jumping about seemed more or less happy. We were pretty much the only tourists there so that made the experience a little more pleasant as well.

 

The funny thing about Berenty was that it felt too much like a zoo. Seeing the tame lemurs was awesome…for the first 2 hours. After that, the excitement faded and it wasn’t as exciting as when one hikes around a forest and sees a fleeing lemur. But, that’s what we are trying for, isn’t it?

 

Berenty is an excellent example of how people and animals can coexist. It is ecotourism mixed with local appreciation and income generation (as well as sharing it with foreigners). What’s hard is that it doesn’t seem natural for the two to be living together. It doesn’t feel like I’m visiting a forest, but a zoo.  I think for my personal experience “nature” needs a wild aspect. There needs to be something exotic. Berenty was too tame for me, but nonetheless admirable.

 

Fort Dauphin was an odd beach town. Sprawling all over the bay(s) it wasn’t very friendly for foot traffic. In addition, the cyclone was passing through Madagascar at the time and so the weather than less than ideal beach weather. However, we managed to travel around and see a lot of things because we had a car. After about a day, the weather cleared up and we were back on track. And, not having the sun out was somewhat of a blessing. It is hot in the South!

 

One of the prettiest things about Fort Dauphin is the view from Pic St. Louis. From up on the hillside you can see all of the bays, the ocean sprawling out and then the long flat until it hits the dramatic green mountains (of course deforested by now, but still bright green). Also, from this view one can see the awful sight of the titanium mining that is going on in the area.

 

I’m not an advocate of mining. I know we have to get our metals somehow. It isn’t something we can avoid. Also, I understand that it can give local people jobs, at the moment. In one instance, the company relocated a village, but hey, they got a school out of it. Is that okay? I really don’t know.

 

Potentially, many more children will have the opportunity to attend primary school without needing to walk very far. I can’t really complain about that. I just can’t imagine being relocated so that someone could completely destroy the area that I once called my home, just so my children didn’t have to walk…like every other child in this country.

 

I’ll be curious to see what happens to Fort Dauphin once there is no more Titanium, no forest, and no jobs.  I’m sure that the youth will be educated enough by then to fight back with their primary school education.

 

After the South, we ventured back to the glorious Northeast of Madagascar; by far the best location in all of the island, and Andapa, being quite possibly the place to be and, for the more adventurous traveler, Matsobe-Sud (I’m not biased about where I live at all).

 

My dad and I spent a week at my house. We visited my friends and the people I work with. Saw some SRI rice fields, the tree nursery and the Reserve. We also went around Andapa. It was nice to share my place with my dad so that he could see all of the places and people that I write about.

 

The first middle school students visited the Reserve last Friday. It was a great group and it went as well as I could have hoped for. Only 15 showed up, but the 15 that were there were really great. They all planted trees, saw lots of birds, lizards, butterflies mating, frogs, bamboo lemurs and I’m sure other things that I forgot. The education part went well too. They really liked learning and I don’t think we bored them. If nothing else, we might actually have gotten to a few of them and made a difference in their lives. One can hope. It was the first lesson so I was nervous and there was no real lesson, but it finally came together. I know for the next visits it will go much smoother.

 

In my free time I finished watching up to season 4 of Jersey Shore. I take back what I said before. I really don’t know how those people can live their lives like that. It just isn’t healthy on so many levels. I finished reading “Once a Runner”, which I liked, and it made me want to run. I’ve started reading “Les Miserables”, which will take some time. It starts much easier than “War and Peace”, but the end notes are killing me! There is so much stuff I just don’t know and so I need to keep checking them. I know I’m reaching old age as well because the small print strains my eyes a little at night. Sad face.

 

My dad left once the cyclone came. The wind and rain wasn’t too bad, but it made damage nonetheless. I dropped off my dad in Sambava and then returned with my friend who was also the driver of the car. We had to move two trees as well as dodge other fallen trees. 19km out of Andapa the car broke down and we didn’t know how to fix it or have the right tools. So, after an hour and a half of standing in the rain, covered in grease, we managed to figure out the issue, got tools from a passing car, and fixed the problem. I would love to tell you the issue (I think transmission?) but I really don’t know. The funny thing is that 2 years ago I don’t think I would have handled the trip as well as I did this past Sunday. It didn’t even faze me.

 

Once the cyclone passed I thought we were in the clear. My house was surrounded by ankle deep water and the roads to the west had a lot of water, but nothing that seemed too bad. However, last night the water started to rise. I had already gone to sleep when my counterpart yelled to me that the water was rising. I got up, and, sure enough, it was rising. It wasn’t raining, but the water was rising.

There have been so many cuts in the forest this year that the land really couldn’t soak up the water. It went straight into the rivers and now those waters were rising. I moved some stuff upstairs and waited an hour. Moved stuff upstairs again; waited. Finally, around 10:45pm I heard water and decided to take a look outside.

 

The library across the street was surrounded by water and that water was crossing the street and going towards our houses. I decided to move almost everything upstairs.

 

I waited outside with people until about 12:30am to see how things were going. It was clear that the water was rising, but not very fast. I finally decided to go to sleep.

 

When I woke up I was happy to see that the water didn’t enter my house. However, I saw that at its highest point it got to about 1 inch from entering. I just hope the rains over the next few days aren’t too heavy and that the water gets down to a more manageable level.

 

The positive of all this water – pretty much every kind of frog was out hoping about. The negative – a 3ft long snake was in my house yesterday afternoon and I’m harboring pretty much every kind of rodent one can think of at the moment. I managed to kill one last night with a shovel only to realize that it’s destiny was only to be floating in the waters around my house until things dried up…It will be my 2 year mark this Saturday. Maybe that’s why none of this is really bothering me.

 

On a much nicer note I was watching dragonflies outside my front porch yesterday evening. Surprisingly, there were no mosquitoes as thestill, debris and trash filled water surrounded my house.  Kids were off by the water tap shouting, waiting for their buckets to fill. I was waiting for my beans to finish cooking. It was beautiful watching these dragonflies swerve, dive, and maneuver against the backdrop the storm clouds and mountains. There must have been at least 20 of them intertwined in the sky. It’s hard to tell whether they were flying with a purpose or just for sheer enjoyment. And, I think, that’s what I enjoyed about them most.

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