I’ve spent 20 minutes just trying to post this damn thing…

I really don’t know how to start this blog because part of it was meant to be posted at the end of October. However, the version of word that I have on my computer didn’t match with the internet café and so I felt like posting a blog that just contained a lots of squares and other shapes might not be as interesting to read. Then I didn’t know if I should change everything to the proper times or tenses and I thought that it really wasn’t how I wanted to spend my time. Then I tried to post it again in November but the internet was being spotty and wordpress wasn’t letting me login. Then I spilled water on my Mac and had to come to the realization that the Mac is dead and I might not be able to get some of the things off of the hard drive. And now…we’re here; at the moment that this blog grew from just about two pages, to this epic tale that has been my life for the past month. Here we go!

Everything below this happened in October:

This past week has been a mini wrap up of all the projects that I’m working on (I guess it really isn’t a wrap up of anything, just a little trick I’m playing on my mind so I don’t think about work while my brother is visiting).

Sadly, I had some issues on my side of the work for the nursery, which is not only embarrassing, but I feel guilty about. A few people didn’t come through with seeds and some of the seeds that I did have weren’t of a very good quality (spoiled) and so we couldn’t plant this past week. However, we talked about the next few weeks, about the 3 weeks off that they will have because I’m either busy with my brother or not in Andapa and then we will start up. Assuming that people don’t continually lie about the seeds (the weather has been good for a long time so that excuse is gone) I should have a large quantity of at least 3 new varieties of seeds by the 13th of November at the latest. By the end of November, I should have enough Cocoa to plant and then by December, we can start with the Papaya.

In addition to that I’ve come across more criticism because I haven’t transplanted yet. I really don’t know why some people just don’t trust me to do the work that I’m supposed to do. However, whether it was true or not that multiple people said it was okay to plant this past month(botanists and other professionals included), the month of October so far has provided 19 days without any rain, 3 days with very brief, light, negligible really, rain, and then 3 days of rain (5 days I forgot to mark the weather). It just shows that if you haven’t lived in this area you really don’t know what the weather is like. I’m still happy we waited regardless of what other people might suggest. It makes more sense to me to work with the weather rather than fighting against it. It’s much nicer for me to justify my position rather than explaining why 850 seedlings are dead.

I’m still fixing dates with schools, but I finished the majority. I only have 3 schools out of 12 left to choose a date for planting in the Andapa nursery (now I just need to build it). I’ve met with multiple Directors, Principals, Presidents, and Students these past 3 weeks and it looks like it has more or less come together. It amazes me how eager and excited many students seem to be and yet how very few opportunities there are for students to really do anything extracurricular. I hope that they really do enjoy this project (they have to show up) and I can try to plan things in the future.

The Mobile Cultural Center came to a close this past week. It’s both good and bad that it is moving on. It is a lot of work to make sure everything goes smoothly and even worse that everyone excepts me to be there during every hour of the day teaching English and doing other things that really aren’t related to my work here. However, I think the people in Andapa really didn’t get to use it as much as I would have liked and if it had been here longer or if we had a chance to plan a few more things I think it could have been an even bigger success than it was. I was happy that I didn’t have to give a speech during the closing ceremony.

I passed out the pink rice to all of the farmers that I knew. Each person got seven cups of rice to try and plant in their own rice field. I’ll be very curious to see how it grows and what technique people do when they plant it. Roughly twenty people received seeds so I should know around March how the rice is growing and most people will harvest in June.

I get to brag for a little bit as well. It turns out that Peace Corps in Washington D.C. actually reads our volunteer report files that explain what we are working on. They read mine in the last trimester and really liked the tree nursery program that I have going! I was super excited that someone was on board, because I think it is a great program and so different from all of the other tree nursery programs currently in the area.

One very big positive that is not remotely related to my VRF has been that I’ve been able to get my toilet fixed. It’s been more or less broken for the past three weeks and for whatever reason, it took that long to get someone to really fix it. It was leaking water and so my bathroom was just perpetually a mess and soggy. To make matters worse, it was leaking the water that was supposed to be flushed out or in the toilet bowl, so the water wasn’t exactly the cleanest. I’m happy to have a dry bathroom floor that smells as good as a bathroom can smell and just doesn’t feel disgusting all of the time. Amazing to think that two years with an outhouse never gave me any issues; except for the occasional snake on the way.

My brother arrives today!

Everything below this has happened in November:

In fact, my brother did come to SAVA and got to see the part of Madagascar that I live in. It was nice as always to be able to share a small part of my life here with those you are involved in my life in the United States as well. He got to see some of the projects that I’m working on and some of the local people. He also got to experience the November 2nd Day of the Dead celebration at the Andapa cemetery.

As far as vacation goes, we ended up going to Marojejy and Cap Est for a few days. Marojejy was really nice and it was cool to be back because I hadn’t been there in over two years even though it is so close. It was my first time in Cap Est and I really liked it. It was so cheap and relaxed down there that I could see myself going back again some other time.

But once Cap Est was done, it was time for me to come back. I actually managed to leave early in the morning from Cap Est and make it to Andapa all in one day by public transportation – pretty lucky. Once I was back in Andapa I had nothing but things to take care of and think about. The past week feels like it could have been a month, but it’s good to stay busy. I’ll be happy when I can relax in a few weeks.

However, vacation is always good for me because it shows me what real foreigners are like. I’ve been in this country long enough that I take a lot of things for granted and a lot of weird things as just being normal. I’m integrated and acclimate to my surroundings. When I get to spend time around people who are new to the country or just tourists it really gives me a different perspective. Takes away some of the frustrations as well.

Of course, I had to see how the nurseries were doing. Once again, my seed contacts failed to produce. So, I simply told them to keep looking and contact me when they get something, but that I’m going to ask other people. Luckily, I found other people and I’m still waiting on more contacts.

We’ve recently acquired Cocoa, Kitata, Tsiramiramy, Vampindela, Tafononana, and then more Mandrarofo and Tsara Ravina seeds from the NGO Graine de Vie. We also got some Rotro seedlings and hope to get more things in the next few weeks as well.

The actual nurseries were doing okay. One nursery is really busy with vanilla right now and so they weren’t able to work and then the other had a funeral to attend on the day we were suppose to work, so it will wait until this week.

Two days ago I found out that a pig had gotten into the Matsobe Nursery and destroyed some of the trees. Not only is it bad that it ruined the seedlings, but now I have to go through all of the trouble of talking to people, getting details and then talking to the authorities so that we can prevent future pig mishaps in the future. We spoke to the local government head and sent out a message with the local town crier that if we caught any pig, cow or other animal in the nursery that we would put the owner in jail – I guess there are some benefits for working with a protected area.

I finished the student schedules for the tree nursery in Andapa. There will be ten schools participating (a mix of middle schools and high schools) in the nursery. They each have their half-day scheduled and they will go to the Town Hall and plant in the plant bed. We have roughly three visits per week so the nursery should have 3,000 plastic pots filled with soil and seeds by the middle of December.

The majority of my time this past week has gone to the construction of the nursery. I had to cut giant bamboo down from RABARY’s land near Matsobe and then push it on my bike to Andapa. Then I had to clear the whole area so that it was free of weeds and trash. Finally, we had to construct walls to keep people out of the area and then construct the actual bed. I’m very thankful for all of the help that Martin, the Town Hall guard, gave me because there is no way I could have done it all alone. Our first group of students will come on Wednesday afternoon, so we’ll see what happens. I’m just hoping for some dry afternoons…

The doctor from Peace Corps, Dr. Alain came to visit us in Andapa. I think I’ve been here long enough and my house is nice enough that we didn’t really have too much to talk about, but he did help me out with some medical questions and clarified a few things. At the very least they were very nice to help me transport some gunnies full of soil to Andapa, which saved me a lot of time.

I started playing basketball again. It’s been a lot of fun the few times that I’ve played. Sadly, I can’t lend the ball out to people any more just because in the 1 week that people borrowed it, the ball seems to have aged over a year. I’m actually really surprised how worn the ball looks and I don’t think anyone switched it with their own. So, I occasionally shoot around at 4:30 in the morning when nothing is going on and there aren’t too many people around. It’s a nice change to the running…if I get back into that.

Finally, I’ve decided to make another effort to learn French and Malagasy. My plan is to learn one new Malagasy word everyday; two new French words everyday. The French, when I have a decent repertoire of words I will try to learn more grammar and actually learn the language. The Malagasy is just so I fall out of the lazy rut that I’ve been in the past few months where I don’t feel like I’m really learning anything new. I plan to study the words when I have time and then test my knowledge of them after about 30 days (I think 35 days fit on the paper).

The school visits are a little over half way done and I’m actually enjoying them quite a bit. The very first day I was terrified because they were all fifteen minutes late and I thought they might not show up. However, they did and they really seemed like they were into it. That’s what I’m most surprised and happy about. The kids really seem interested in planting and learning how to plant the seeds. I think that once they see the trees growing they will be really excited too. I’ve had anywhere from fifteen to fifty students visit at a time so it is pretty challenging to keep track of all of the kids and decide on what is really important for them to do correctly and what things I can let slide. I don’t really want to be a Nazi and hassle them to do every little detail exactly right. They can see when the seeds grow, or don’t, what they did correctly or incorrectly.

I’ve also been able to see the power of a good education. Ten schools are involved in the program. Judging from the school and how much students have to pay the education that the student receives can vary. The Catholic school is by far the most expensive school in town and has some really good resources and I’m sure some good teachers. It was amazing to see them plant the day after a different school and just see the different way that they perceived the program, paid attention to detail and doing it correctly and really understood what the nursery was all about. Could just be the kids, or it could be that they’ve been taught how to learn.

The Andapa nursery is keeping me in decent shape. I have the Matsobe nursery putting together all of the soil for them. They got a wheel barrow in return for preparing soil. However, the soil is very heavy and it isn’t necessarily ready all in one day or too goo that it sits for a long time. So I’ve made a point of riding my bike to Matsobe everyday to bring at least a little bit of soil, or bamboo to build the tree nursery bed. It use to be that I was only in Matsobe around five days a week, but I think I’ve at least passed through everyday for the past three weeks. It’s a lot of time on the bike, but it really isn’t too bad.

We have begun to cut down weeds in Antanetiambo. Although the weather seemed like it was going to change and start raining it has still been dry. It has actually been too dry and everyone is hoping that some rain will come soon. We are just clearing land, without burning, so that we can plant seedlings. We have eight hundred that we bought and then all of the trees in the nurseries so we will need to clear a lot of land.

We have been meeting pretty consistently every two weeks to talk about Antanetiambo and the Fish Farm, thanks to Kim. I think it has been really good to hear about what the guards are working on and keep our projects on task.

We are going to try and make the fish farm sustainable. I really hope to help put together a plan for the fish farm so that by the end of next year there won’t be a need for any foreign money to keep the project going. I definitely think it is possible and it is possible to make money in addition to paying for all of the expenses, but it will depend on my counterpart as too how much really gets done in the future.

My friend Matt has this thing where his friends and family will grow a mustache for Christmas time. I told him that I would participate this year. It has already been a month and the hot weather and beard aren’t the most comfortable, but I’m going to stick it out. When I shave my head I feel like I look a little bit like Stone Cold Steve Austin. I haven’t quite decided how I feel about that.

I finished watching all six seasons of LOST. I think that it was very smart from a marketing point of view. You watch the whole thing and then after you’ve seen the final episode, you are just like WTF, and then need to watch the whole show all over again. I’m happy I watched it, I thoroughly enjoyed the series, but I would have like to be put at ease, not to feel like I need to start all over again. I haven’t decided what series I will start next.

I got a puppy. I named him Obama, and that’s a good thing. Apparently in Malagasy culture that would mean that I hate Obama, but that isn’t the case. Anyway, Obama has been pretty well behaved for the most part so that’s nice. The only problem is the occasional punk kid on my compound that wants to torture him in some way. I really don’t know why the kids here want to be so cruel to animals, but they are. Maybe it is just that they aren’t stopped like they might be in the United States.

Litchi season is in full effect and I think that I’m better off being in Andapa for it. In the countryside people just have the trees and it is really hard to stop yourself from eating a thousand of them. But, if you need to buy them it helps control the intake a little bit. So, there are litchis, mangoes, pineapples and bananas all ripe and ready to be consumed. The only downside is that it can be a little difficult for me to find my eggplant.