It’s been a while since I’ve posted my blog. It hasn’t been because of a lack of things to write about or internet issues; I simply didn’t feel the need to write. Maybe I thought the world would end and so why bother writing another blog, but who knows (yes, the last blog was posted before the world ended…or didn’t end). It’s weird how I think about how I never had any interest in blogs or blogging before I joined Peace Corps. Now, I post a blog almost every two weeks. However, sometimes I just don’t feel like writing. But now the slump is over and I feel like talking about my life in Madagascar over the past few weeks. For all those of you who actually read this thing, I hope you had a great New Year and that 2013 is treating you well wherever you are.

I’ve spent yet another Christmas here in Madagascar. I like how all three of my Christmas’s in Madagascar have been completely different. My first Christmas was spent with other volunteers from my group, away from site. We did some work related stuff, but a lot of it was just relaxing. My second Christmas was in Andapa with Malagasy friends and we just hung out and celebrated. This past Christmas was a mix of the two previous ones, I went to church (thankfully Christmas is only one day a year) and then made a huge meal with both Malagasy and American friends. It made me think about going to church as well. I really would prefer to only pray in the winter because it is just to hot to be covered in pants, long sleeve shirt and tie. Not to mention that this past Christmas didn’t show the slightest signs of wind.

Just like Christmas, New Years seems to be changing each year as well. As always, the festivities can start as early as the 26th of December and they go on through the 8th. A bit long, even by my standards, but it is fun to say the least. I must admit that during this two week period I wasn’t integrating into the festivities, but actually working. However, when the real party happened, I was sure to make an appearance. This year I had quite the mix of hanging out with Americans/Vazahas, going into the Malagasy countryside and just hanging out with Malagasy friends in Andapa. I feel very lucky to have such a loving community to support me here in Madagascar, and I know that it is all of those people that I work with and who I spend my free time with that really make my time in Madagascar enjoyable and worthwhile.

My only concern is that this year I have no resolution. I would like to think that I have reached the peak of excellence and therefore don’t need to improve on anything, but we all know that that isn’t true. I usually I have something lined up, albeit serious or wacky, I usually have something in mind that I want to try and strive for. 2013 didn’t give me anything. Therefore, I will take someone else’s advice and say that resolutions are stupid. You shouldn’t wait for January 1st to decide to improve who you are as a person. For me, 2013 does have a resolution (a catch 22 of sorts) and that is to try and be more aware of my faults and weaknesses and grow from them rather than fighting them; to take care of each issue as I become aware of it, never waiting. I don’t know how I’ll monitor my progress with this, but wish me luck.

The holiday season wasn’t all fun and partying. I managed to come down with the Andapa stomach illness. It turns out that me and about half of the people that I talked to in the Andapa basin had stomach issues. Mine lasted a little over a week and was very annoying. It was the kind of thing that wasn’t horrible so I couldn’t really stop working and take a break, but was bad enough that I felt pretty lazy and overall unpleasant. However, the illness passed and I seem to be fine now, so I guess I’ll have to wait until 2014 for another go.

It’s planting time! We’ve finally had a bit of hard rain and it’s been ideal weather for planting trees in the Reserve. The weather is still unseasonably dry, but we’ve had enough rain for the past few weeks that we’ve been able to put some seedlings in the dirt. It’s a lot of work to go out there everyday and cut back weeds, dig holes and plant, but I find that I enjoy it. It gives me time to really think about everything. My body just goes into autopilot and I physically go through the motions of cutting or digging, but my mind is somewhere else. It’s kind of cool when I think about it – and I’m not digging while I write this – and it makes me think about how people who work in office jobs might benefit from cutting the office lawn. The other day I was cutting some weeds back and I was never informed that the leaves can cut your skin. It took until my hands were bloodied pretty bad that I realized I needed to create a different form of attack. Seeing the look on people’s faces when they see my hands is pretty priceless. I also go to think about a lot of the things that were going on while I was swinging that knife away.

My Malagasy counterpart proved last month that he would prefer to be MIA rather than working. Also, he apparently thinks that if he creates more projects but never finishes anything that that is a good thing. Then he has decided that lying to me and others will help the situation. Long story short and much less emotional, the two of us had quite the argument.

He does have a lot of work, but not too much. His main problem is that he doesn’t want to work, but people give him work to do. I think he would rather just be popular and sit around. I guess you can’t really blame him.

However, the issue is that I end up doing a lot of his work and I know that I won’t be working with him forever. Someday, there isn’t going to be any outside help and who knows what will happen to his Reserve and all of the other projects. I’m worried that our relationship might be strained to say the least, but it won’t stop me from doing my work and I can only hope that it can inspire him to do a little more. It makes me realize that the majority of problems that I run into in my life are a result of communication, or rather, with people who communicate poorly. People really do need to talk and explain things in order for anything to happen.

One project that he didn’t get together in the past two months was to order signs for the limit of Antanetiambo Nature Reserve. It really isn’t the most complicated thing and our options of metal workers in Andapa are pretty limited so it wasn’t the most time consuming of tasks.

It took me a little over one week to order signs, get them painted and then have them installed. My counterpart should know how to do these things. Any person should be capable of doing these things – if they want to work.

We finally had a litchi grafting training. It’s been a long time overdue and should really help the Reserve to get some added income, have more litchi trees and it was a cool thing for me to learn how to do. Litchi seeds don’t produce good fruit and so all litchi trees need to be grafted. Seedlings are pretty expensive to buy and people pay good money for them.

We learned how to cut back the bark, add moss, tie it on and then that’s pretty much it. Obviously, there are a few particulars that are important, but it is something that is simple. That’s what was the biggest problem organizing the training. Everyone tells me that they know how to do it, but none of them are willing to do it and think that it will be successful. Then, when you ask them questions, their responses seem to change. Two weeks later we cut the branches and planted the branches in plastic pots. The leaves looked a little withered the other day, but hopefully they grow.

Now we now… and knowing is half the battle (I hope you get the reference).

My search for seeds has blossomed yet again. I’m talking to anyone and everyone as we are set to plant in the nurseries again next week. I’m really hoping to get some good trees as the people seem to be eager to keep planting. I’ve also had a lot of compliments from people in Andapa who walk by and see the nursery that was planted by students. They always seem so surprised that the trees are growing. I try not to take offense, but I do wonder if they thought I was just setting up a project that was going to fail miserably…they don’t know me at all.

I cleaned up the Matsobe nursery the other day as well. The weeds were starting to grow into the beds and so they had to be cleared. It was nice to just be there alone and cut stuff back and clear my head. It also looks a lot better now that it’s cleared. We will start back to work in the nursery this week. We will start to plant some of the trees as well.

The worst thing about 2013 is that Obama, my puppy, died. Yep, he only lasted around a month and a half. To make things worse is that he was probably poisoned. He got sick really quickly, wouldn’t eat anything and then just disappeared. When we found him he was already dead. The reason why I suspect that he might have been poisoned is because another puppy on my compound had the same problem and died just a day later. I know it could be a number of things, and I really hope that it was just something natural, but I’ve seen so many people do horrible things to dogs (and to my dogs here) that it is very hard to rule out the possibility. I’m going to wait and see where I’ll be in June before I even consider about a replacement. Maybe I should get some people from PETA to come live in my house and educate the community.

I got some new neighbors. We haven’t really talked much yet, but the adults seem fine. The kids on the other hand are a bit of a handful and think that my house is a playground. Of course, I told them nicely the first time that they can’t just run around on my porch and look into my house. When it happened the second time I was about as angry and mean as I can be. I think they will at least wait until I’m not home to run again. It really shouldn’t be a problem that kids play on the porch, but the problem is that they don’t respect other people’s things and too many times kids have ruined things or damaged the house. I know they aren’t going to pay to repair anything and I’d really rather not pay to repair anything either.

A little over a month and a half ago the basketball hoops near town hall were taken down and moved to a new location. I was a little upset because my house is so close to the town hall and so I didn’t need to go very far if I wanted to play basketball. However, to my surprise, the hoops came back and so did basketball.

One morning I was out there pretty early shooting around and some guys came and wanted to play. They were involved in a basketball tournament that was going on and they wanted to practice a little. I ended up playing a pick up game with them and it was a lot of fun. As I was leaving they said that I should play with them in the next game. I was a little shocked and shy because I haven’t played basketball in forever. That was the first game I had played in years. I just laughed and said that I’d maybe come out.

That night I went to watch some of the games from the tournament and I saw some of the guys who played in the morning and they told me that I should play basketball with them the next night. So, the next day, I showed up to the games, night really sure what was going to happen. But, the team showed up and put me on the roster.

I was embarrassingly nervous. Not only was I the only white person out there and getting stared at and having people make tons of little comments about the vazaha playing basketball, but I only had two mornings of practice!

I played decently in the first game, mostly helping them on defense and we won. The next day I was exhausted and I think I wasn’t able to help them as much in the next game and we lost in the semi finals. We played two games after that just on our own and we won one of them and lost the other. One game was on a dirt court with some pretty janky baskets, so I think the other team had a pretty good home court advantage.

What I’ve really enjoyed about the basketball, besides playing a sport that I actually enjoy, is that it has introduced me to a whole different peer group in Andapa. Until now, I would really have said that a majority of my friends were still in the countryside where I lived for two years. Now, I’m getting to know more people that are my age. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to know police, government officials and shop owners, but it nice to just have friends to hang out with and joke with.

The best thing for me is that Malagasy people aren’t that tall. I’m not at all the tallest person on the court, but here in Madagascar I at least have a small chance. Now if only I could get them to really show up and practice rather than just shooting around; we might actually get better. We have been playing some mornings and some nights and more then anything it is just fun to get out there. As for my skills, I have a long way to go before I become Michael Jordan, but I might not be too far away from a Scottie Pippin.