It’s inevitable. No matter what we do things just change. Sometimes we think these changes are good, sometimes bad. I think it depends entirely on our outlook. I might have something change in my life that seems bad, but overall could be very good, or could allow for better things to come in the future. An initially bad change could open up the door for something really good so to speak. It’s hard to know when more change will come and how we will meet these changes. Ultimately, we always have a decision and we can choose to change or we can try to stay the same (staying the same can be good too). Maybe, through our actions, we will be able to make good decisions (good changes) and feel a little less helpless as the world and people change around us. I feel like a whole lot of changes happened in my life over the past few weeks, more on a personal level rather than anything, and I’ve really been trying to be aware of my decisions and how my actions affect my life and others around me (if you haven’t started singing the David Bowie song ‘Changes’, now would be a good time to start).

For New Year’s I said that I didn’t really have a resolution. However, I back stepped on that somewhat and decided that my non-resolution was actually a rather difficult resolution in itself. When I got into a heated argument with the Guard of Antanetiambo one Saturday afternoon it made me realize that I wasn’t taking that goal to heart and that I had to rethink a lot about how I was interacting with others and myself as a person.

The Guard of Antanetiambo had been frustrating me for a full week (if not longer) before the explosion. I’d found his attitude, work and overall interactions with others and myself disrespectful and unnecessary. I thought that he was trying to take advantage of us and that he was being lazy. However, those are merely criticisms and not solutions. Although my explosion let a lot off of my chest, it wasn’t the most productive way of handling the matter and it made me realize that I needed to think back to my resolution and to my goal of trying to be aware of who I am and how I can improve at all times; and then do something about it.

No one’s perfect, and although I’m late, I feel that I’m on the right track. Lately, I’ve tried to be much more conscious and patient with everything going on around me. I’ve also decided to slow down a bit and just take in everything that is going on. I think the major reason that I got so stressed was that I was trying to do too much by myself. I really needed to manage what I could and let other people play their roles or let some things wait a little longer, until the time was more appropriate (and just let some things not happen at all).

In doing so, I’ve managed to become a little more mellow, a little happier, much clearer of mind, and hopefully, a little wiser. That being said, I’m still far from perfect.

Here’s what’s happened since this reflection…

I think I should just get a tent and move to the forest. I’ve been in the Reserve pretty much every day of the week. However, the lands getting cleared and we’re getting trees in the ground. We got 50 litchi trees from a tree nursery in Sambava as well as 400 hard woods from MBG. At some point, we’re going to run out of land that is okay to clear and we’ll have to find some other place for the trees. It’s not that the trees wouldn’t fit; it’s just that we don’t really want to clear the entire Reserve all at once. It’s good if visitors have something else to look at. Sure we can explain to them that we are removing invasive species and planting some really good trees, but who am I kidding, tourists want pictures and a bunch of cleared land with seedlings planted is nice, but not the most photogenic, especially when you tell the people back home that it’s a ‘Nature Reserve’.

I’m also pretty proud of my planting skills at the moment. If there was a top chef equivalent for planting, I’m pretty sure I could make it to the final round. I seem to intuitively know how many trees and how many holes I need to dig. The other day I didn’t count how many trees I took to plant. Then, when I started digging holes, I didn’t count either. When I stopped digging holes and started planting the trees I was only off by 2 holes (I dug extra). It’s still exciting now, but I have a feeling I might start to burn out when hit the 5,000 mark. The weird thing is that my body really doesn’t mind the planting. I can only hack away for so long with a machete before I get tired or board with the work. But planting, I just seem to fill the baskets, dig the holes, and keep repeating until my body says, “let’s eat lunch, so that the next meal you eat isn’t dinner.” I like to think that this means that I like to create more than I like to destroy, but sometimes I really like to destroy…

Another cool thing about planting and clearing all of the land is that I get to see all of the bugs. I’m not a big insect person and I’ve always hated spiders. However, there are some really cool looking and cool colored insects and spiders crawling around out there. I do feel a little bad when I’m taking a break from the slashing and I see them scrambling around. It’s kind of like I just brought a tornado on their home. Granted we’re planting and giving them a new home, so maybe it’s more like a home makeover…they just have to wait a while for the construction to finish.

Deciding and giving the dates for all of the students to collect their trees from the Andapa nursery was much easier than choosing the dates and organizing everything so that they could plant their trees. In just two afternoons, I was able to meet with the 10 schools involved, meet with the teacher/principal who is responsible and get dates for the students to collect their trees. I think it helps that they all know who I am and the work that I do, so they are not freaking out at the sweaty white guy who just came into their office and doesn’t know how to speak French. In the next two weeks all of the students should have their half of what we all planted and then I’ll just need to figure out how I’m going to transport the other half to Antanetiambo.

We had a really good meeting with Antanetiambo about the future and direction of the Reserve. I don’t know if any changes will really happen, but we can only hope that everyone will play a much bigger role once I’m gone. It’s hard doing Peace Corps work/development work because you can really only do so much. Thinking back I almost wonder if I’ve done too much on my own. At some point, people just begin to rely on the work that we do and then we leave. Really, we need to get as many local people involved and invested in our projects as we can. It’s a hard thing to do though and really hard to sit back and let something fail as well. I’m always working with people and the majority of them understand everything and keeps going, but I think I’m a big motivator for them. I’m the one that keeps them in line and says, “It’s not quitting time yet!” I’ll try to figure out how much is the right amount of pushing, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to slow down, or watch anything fail.

Following that note, somewhat, I’ve had an ongoing battle with the daughter of the owner of Antanetiambo. She has decided to quit school. Yeah, I’m not going to let that fly. She’s already in high school, and should she finish the next 3 years she will have her high school degree and her future will have that many more possibilities. However, I think that she, like many Malagasy women, are content to just sit around the house and do simple chores and not much else with their lives. I also think that the Malagasy culture isn’t harsh enough to whip some sense into her. She still has a house and food and is taken care of by others. I think if she really had to provide for herself then she might realize that going to school is actually a pretty sweet gig.

I spoke to her this past Monday for the first time because it was first that I had heard she quit school. Apparently, I’m last on the totem pole and it turns out she hasn’t been in school for a month. At one point she was sick (not debilitated though) and then there were some family issues that brought her mother away and left her as the only one to watch the house so both of those reasons made sense. Also, both of those reasons got drawn out and took much longer than they should have.

I don’t know if there is something else going on, but I can only think that there is some other issue that she doesn’t want to share. We chose to speak again this past Thursday after our talk on Monday and it was clear that nothing changed. To make matters worse, I was talking to her the whole time, but she wouldn’t talk to me at all. For about 90 minutes I felt like I was just talking to a tree. However, I put in my time and I showed her I cared. It turns out that she was going to school less and less before Christmas break and so maybe she can’t catch up. I think if she needs to take the rest of the year off, that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be easy. You can be sure that the two Peace Corps volunteers in Matsobe aren’t going to let her next 6-8 months be anything close to a vacation; if it were up to me that girl would work so hard she’d be happy to be sitting at a desk and filling up a notebook!

A cyclone passed by Madagascar a few weeks ago. It was good for Andapa because it gave us a lot of water, no flooding and not too much wind. Basically, it made it so a lot of people could plant and it didn’t destroy anything. I’ve been hearing from locals that say they think that maybe 2 more cyclones might pass by Madagascar in the next month, but I really have no way of knowing the validity of their statements. I’m not too worried about my house and flooding. I’m just worried how crazy I’ll go if I have to sit inside for 3 days or so.

In the wonderful world of reading, I’ve moved out of the Game of Thrones books. I finished the fourth book, which I liked, and I don’t have the fifth on my kindle yet, so I decided it was reason enough to take a break from the series. I’ve started reading Spark, which is about exercise and brain activity. It’s really cool to think about all of the positive effects exercise has on the brain and learning. It’s really crazy to think of exercise as being a supplement for all of the drugs that companies seem to be selling these days. It’s also cool to see how it can give someone added control in their life. It makes perfect sense to me, as I’m exercising all of the time, and has even given me some ideas so that I could change this exercise a little to enhance my learning ability. Maybe Peace Corps should incorporate some morning workouts while we are in training so that we can acquire Malagasy more easily?

I’ve made my return to basketball (I took about 2 weeks off because the work was exhausting me and I didn’t have any time) and really happy to be on the court again. I’m not so happy that I let the team borrow my basketball. I could ask for it back, but it really doesn’t make that much sense because they can use and enjoy the basketball much more than I can. However, it is a bit annoying when I get to the court at 4:30am and nobody is there…and I don’t have a basketball. We’ve started working on more drills and getting our skills better, which I’m really happy to see. I think that some of these kids are really on to becoming good players. If nothing else, they seem to enjoy playing the game and that’s all that’s important. I’ve decided to run every other day to offset the basketball practice and keep me in shape as well. Carrying 50 trees at once in two baskets across knee high water keeps me strong, but it isn’t really as aerobic as I’d like. Besides, after reading Spark, I realize that I need something other than just straight aerobic thrown in the mix (I think my 18km a day on a bike counts as aerobic exercise).

On another positive note, some players on the team expressed interest in helping me plant trees. I think it’s a mixture of, they want to see Antanetiambo and whatever plants or animals they can see, they want to learn how to plant, they want some physical training, and finally, last but not least, I think they are somewhat interested in the work that I’m doing. As always, I’m happy to share what I’m doing and get more people involved, so maybe some weekend in the future I’ll get some of the guys out there and see if they can match me in trees planted (I know, I need to be a little less competitive).

As for a fun fact, I walked by some people the other day and they said that if you didn’t see my face, you’d think I was Malagasy by the way I spoke. I guess my language skills do keep on improving…or maybe people just need something to talk about.

And, in case you were wondering, everything is cool with the Antanetiambo guardian and me. We aren’t fighting and I think we are even closer than before. I see the guy 6 days a week; of course I was going to get over it and I’m happy he got over it as well.