The new volunteer, Kim, has officially arrived in Matsobe. It is really weird to relinquish ownership of the house even though I’m still around. It is no longer ‘my house’; and I noticed that when I helped her move in. I was sure to stay quiet when she was setting up all of her stuff. In my own weird OCD way I just kept thinking that she was putting things in the wrong place.

However, despite the passing of the house over to the new PCV, I think Kim will do a great job for her Peace Corps service. She seems smart, nice, and capable. I think everyone involved in my work just needs to be as supportive for her as they’ve been for me.

The student visits ended in anything but a dramatic fashion. It ended on a cancellation because only 2 students would have been able to go, and they would be really late. Rabary and I just decided to call it quits as the teacher strike ruined all of the other programs and then the other schools weren’t prepared because they didn’t go through all of the prior scheduling that I did back in December. However, we were able to have about 170 students visit the Reserve. If we ever have time, I think it would be a great project to have in the future.

I was able to give a lot of the extra books to the offices in Andapa (MNP, WWF, PLAE) as well as a few individuals who I thought would find the material interesting. They seemed really happy to get the book so that was nice in itself. I still have a bunch so I’ll need to figure out something useful for the ones left.

I broadcasted a ton of seeds before I knew that the teachers were going on strike. Good ole’ Mother Nature didn’t go on strike and those trees are growing. I transferred them into simple plastic bags and they didn’t die, so I kept transferring more of the trees into the bags. I moved them all to the Reserve last week and then planted them when it rained. I’m sure I was quite the sight sticking my head and hand out the porch checking how hard it was raining; looking out in all directions to make sure that it would be a good day to plant. Sure enough, it did rain that afternoon and again at night so I think the trees should be in good shape.

I’ve been trying to get into a routine with my new house, but I feel like everything just keeps changing and I can’t just get into a regular motion. We had the new PCV and her installation, at the same time a German scientist is visiting and I’m currently hosting him in my house. With that, it seems like I can’t really get into a good flow. The new hotel down the street seems to be loving the karaoke. However, I’m not loving listening to bad singer at one in the morning while I’m trying to sleep. I’m sure I’ll eventually get use to my city sounds.

In general, life in the city is a lot different. The plus side – I can get pretty much any food I want on any given day. The down side – it is way more expensive. It’s funny how I’m so use to countryside prices that I don’t always want to buy things in town. I figure that I go into the countryside so often that I just need to be more conscious about buying produce out there. But produce aside, I’ve been very happy that I’ve been able to get milk and put it in a refrigerator. I know, I’m already a vazaha be.

I’ve continued harvesting rice. I always forget that the people who help me harvest (literally cut the rice stalks) don’t usually plant with us and so I have to point out that it is SRI rice and not traditional methods; it always surprises them. The more that I work in a rice field, the more I think that harvesting is the hardest work. It is physically difficult. You have to bend over all day cutting the rice, then you carry it to be threshed (sometimes threshing as well), which causes your skin to have superficial cuts and itch, and then, finally, you have to carry all of the rice you’ve harvested! So, you’re exhausted, itchy and then stuck carrying a bunch of rice out of the field. It’s recognizably tough. However, this last time I saw some really cool frogs and almost stepped on a boa, so it was cool in that regards. Just three fields left until this season’s harvest will be done for me.

The other thing that was cool about one of my SRI harvests is that I don’t think it was the best practice for this particular person’s rice field. However, because I had her do multiple methods, she will change in the future to putting all of her rice in lines. She thinks that if she just switches around the sections it will be better too. So, she’ll do one more year of SRI and see if it works. Regardless, she will change what she was doing before and get a lot more rice in the future.

The fish farm is finally dug! The professional rock breaker came in and broke his major rock so that we could make a proper canal at the top of the pond. We got the guard house built in about a week and it seems to be strong and in good shape. The digging, however, took one month. Part of me wonders if we were taken advantage of to a certain degree by the workers, but it is near impossible to tell. The worst part is that I really don’t trust the main technician and I can’t help but think that he’s just trying to milk this project for as much money as he can get out of it. He just seems too inconsistent. It’s weird; I’m even more frustrated when I think someone is wasting/stealing someone else’s money rather than my own; maybe because I’m physically giving the money to people even though I’m not the owner of the money. It just doesn’t seem right. There are too many good, hard working, honest, and POOR! Malagasy people that need to be given a chance to work, show their skills, and make some money. Granted, it isn’t always easy finding those people.

I’ve continued reading Les Miserables and it’s still keeping my attention. However, I find myself skimming through anything that isn’t directly related to the characters in the story. If it has to do with the history or Hugo’s personal commentary I lose interest. I think Tolstoy got it right with War and Peace when he put all of his own opinions at the end…that way I didn’t really have to read it!

Nadege has started teaching an English class. Kim or I stop in and make sure that he is teaching things correctly and we make suggestions on how to improve or how the students might be helped. It is really more of teacher training rather than teaching and I think it will be much more productive than if Kim or myself were teaching English.

I’ve been much more social now that I’m in Andapa. I know it sounds awful, but I don’t really know if I like it! I’ve gotten so used to living in my little wooden house at night and being a recluse for the night. Now, I’m around people that want to hang out and do things! I’ve made friends with the guy who sells ground beef at the market over the past two years and since our houses are far apart we’ve hung out a bit. We just walked around with his family and visited people in town. Also, one of the women that I’ve planted rice with sells dried fish in the Market. So, she taught me how to pick out the real good dried fish and how to cook it. It did taste good, but I don’t know if I’m quite ready to go down the dried fish route on a regular basis. She also taught me how to make peanut cookies; that’s much more my thing.

The commuting is starting to become more serious. I’m getting into a routine and I’m traveling on my bike ALL the time. I’ve started to notice that I’m getting even stronger on the bike and I can go pretty fast for a pretty long distance. However, with this increase of road time, I think I have an increased probability of getting in an accident. For the most part, I’m just on dirt roads without any cars. However, bikes and motorcycles can get a little tricky at times.

I honestly don’t think that a lot of Malagasy people understand the concept of a road. I think they just see an open surface to travel by and there is no correct place to be. In the middle of the road, walking like you own it and you’re the only one there, yep, that’s what they might do. I don’t know how they can have a conversation by whispering from 200 meters away, but they can’t hear me coming on my bike.

Obviously, as the above paragraph might suggest, I’ve had some frustrations with people on the road. I’ve had bike turn into me when there was no reason for them to turn at all. However, the worst was when I almost collided with a motorcycle. I was tired, making my way home, on the right side of the road, and this motorcycle comes at me (he was on my side¬¬). I tried to avoid him and it almost seemed like he was coming right at me. I really had no idea where to turn. So, I hit the breaks and turned to the wrong side of the road in order for him to pass. His bike lightly grazed my handle bar. I guess that’s a pretty close call. Maybe the teachers in school are supposed to teach students how a road functions. However, the teachers are probably on strike every time this lesson comes around.

Despite the biking and what seems like a chaotic road way, I’ve been running in the mornings. It is still dark when I start, but there isn’t really anyone out other than people who are also running or people who have to go very far to work. It’s nice to run on the pavement in the dark and not worry about puddles. There is really only one direction for me to go so the run does get boring from time to time. However, when the morning is clear and I can see the sun start to rise over the mountains before Sambava, and then return to the sun shining down on the Basin with the little valleys filled with fog and mist, I can’t think of a more beautiful morning run. I would have never guessed that I’d have to come to Madagascar in order to become a morning runner.

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