This blog post seems to mix my two worlds: my life in Tana as well as life on the road. As I spent a little over a week in Tana before hitting the road again, it seems only fitting that I speak a little bit about the big city that is becoming more and more my home.

First, it helps that I’m starting to meet more new people every week. Just coming back from the field I managed to meet a group of new Americans at work that either just started or came back from vacation when I first started working in Tana.  It has been nice to have a stronger social network at work for many reasons, primarily because now I have a reason to eat more slowly. I use to go to lunch by myself and because nobody was with me I just ate and shoveled away the food. Now that I have company I eat a little slower and have people to talk to, which I think could be a good thing. In addition, to the people at work I’m meeting new people every week (thanks to my awesome roommates) and getting more and more comfortable going out in Tana and other social events because I’m no longer new.

I have been trying to get into a more regular work out routine or, something, if nothing else, that I can just stick to and give some regularity to my exercise. In this regard I managed to find a guy who can make weights. I originally looked in some shops but to buy dumbbells it is really expensive! I found a guy that could make weights with cement so I ordered them for about a fifth of the price. However, on the day that they brought the weights over they weren’t completely dry and one broke while I was lifting it. I even brought a scale out and showed them that they were much lighter than I had requested. However, I nicely and firmly stated that they could make them again at the proper weight and could make them at our house if that was easier. They complied, used our scale, and I got the weights that I requested. They weren’t completely dry before I left, but they seemed ok. Sadly, upon returning, they still weren’t completely dry so maybe there was a problem in the mixture, but I have faith that they will come around. Regardless, I was able to use them the other day to work out and nothing disastrous happened.

I’ve continued doing jump rope, but I’m getting tired of all the jumping and to make matters worse I think it is stressing my already tense shoulders from typing all day. The swinging of the rope for 22 minutes doesn’t tire my legs as much as it does my shoulders. So, I forced myself to wake up early and start running. I’ve only gone a few times and it’s not very far, but it’s better than nothing. I leave around 5:15am and run up (pretty steep in some places) the streets for about 3.5km and then come back down. It only takes about 32 minutes or less, but it’s good to have the increased movement in addition to walking. I’m hoping to start a new regime that will mix the weights, running and jump rope evenly so as to not stress my body too much.

I know it’s weird, but I really do appreciate laundry; laundry that is done without effort or thinking is pretty awesome. I’ve had enough laundry situations in the past that when something really goes well, I seem to take some small joy in it. The week before leaving I was home with only one other roommate and so I didn’t really need to worry about other roommates doing laundry. Then, to add to this joy, Tana has no humidity and so I can wash clothes at night and set them out to dry – something that was near impossible to accomplish in Andapa. Clean clothes is definitely one of life’s small victories.

I finished reading A walk in the Woods, which I can only say that my opinion of it never improved.  Don’t read it. I started reading Moby Dick, but managed to get de-railed because I was still in the middle of Breaking Bad and haven’t been reading that much lately. I thought the end of season 3 was great, but the beginning of season 4 was disappointing. However, as the season progressed it picked up a lot and was really good. But what I don’t understand is that it didn’t really end on a cliffhanger. I know that I’m addicted to the TV show and because I feel that it is at a comfortable breaking point, I feel comfortable taking a break from it all for a bit and maybe get into reading again. I keep on thinking that I’m spending too much time on the computer and that I need to find a hobby, but I haven’t decided what that might be.  Suggestions would be appreciated, but might not be adopted J

Which brings me to the field. I got a new driver, a new car (literally a new car, it was fresh off the port from Tamatave and didn’t have any decals yet) and a new mission. For the past two weeks I spent my time, more or less equally, between communities near Vatomandry and Mahanoro along the East coast of Madagascar.

The first thing that I remembered is that I love the middle to northern section of the East coast. The climate and landscape is slightly different from Andapa, but the culture and language has many similarities. I definitely felt like I could speak more freely and be understood more easily by the beneficiaries during the visits.

However, I had some serious planning issues that came up with this trip.  First, this group of NGO’s should have been the most prepared out of all my visits so far; they sent me my schedule, they had supposedly already collected best practices, the sites weren’t that far, and the language was similar to the dialect I knew. Only the dialect seemed to work out as well as I had hoped. Second, I had some people who got to see me a little upset because of ignoring me as well as giving me the information too late. I’m happy that I was able to express myself and get the information that I needed, but I don’t like that I had to be upset in order to get everything that I needed.

For the most part, they didn’t really understand why I was coming to visit them. They weren’t sure of the schedule themselves. And then, I was unclear in explaining the purpose of my visit or they didn’t understand so that after my visit they decided to share their best practices that they’ve found rather than telling me before the visit. A real headache, but a great learning experience, and what is most important is that I was able to collect the best practices and lessons learned and recommendations on my trip.

With all of this confusion, I went to Mahanoro from Vatomandry a little earlier than planned in order to clarify my schedule and  further explain what I was doing, which turned out to be a good idea. They had given me the schedule, but nobody seemed to know that I was coming and nobody seemed prepared for my visit the following week. However, I was able to meet with a few agents and then clarify what my plan would be. It conflicted with some meetings, so I just ended up going solo (with my driver) out into the countryside to meet these beneficiaries that were told that I would be coming to visit them.

It actually  went pretty well. I was able to talk with some people for a long time (over 3 hours in a sitting) and get a lot of questions answered. I think they liked getting a visitor and once again the dialect similarity really helped to get my questions across, ask further questions and understand their responses. The lack of efficiency at times did bother me a little bit, but I was happy to know that I didn’t require any help during the visits in order to do my job. It was nice to meet some communities that don’t get a lot of visitors either as well as speak with community members that were really excited about what they’ve been doing over the past few years. I did have one day with the whole team and we were able to see a community celebration of the integration of the activities within the project.

Some odd things to note about the trip was that the Malagasy food in Vatomandry was a lot better than in Mahanoro. I’m not talking about a small difference, but I’m talking about really good food in Vatomandry and really bad food in Mahanoro (granted after a while we did find a better place to eat). I don’t really know how two cities that are only an hour and half apart could be so different in food (they’re both on the coast), but they were a world apart.  In Vatomandry I didn’t know which choice I should choose, in Mahanoro I didn’t know which of the three choices would be the worst. I was in the sun a bit more than usual and for the first time in about 3 years I realized that I really don’t burn that easily, it was just the doxycycline that I was taking that was making my skin so sensitive. I am actually quite happy to be able to walk around a little bit without having to cake on the 50 proof sunscreen, looking like a mix between an alien and Casper. Also, the driver that I had this time seemed to be a better fit for my personality and we didn’t really have any problems. He was practicing his English, but French seemed to come out a bit too much; and what was annoying is that he knew that he was speaking French, knew that I didn’t, and for some reason thought that his little exercise was going to help somehow. He found out very quick that I didn’t care much for it and so he stopped. In general, we seemed much more alike than my other driver and it went well to be stuck in the car with him for two weeks. Figured that towards the end of the trip he found out that he would be transferred and so I probably won’t see him too much in the future.

In addition, my trip out into the country reminded me of a lot of little things that happen with Malagasy people that really make me smile and enjoy my time here. First, going back to my driver, we were waiting for lunch and I saw him staring at a tree. He was smiling and then walked up to the tree he stood under a branch and laughed. He looked at me and said that the branch was the same height as him and just laughed (quite impressive that he thought he was that tall from a shot distance). When he walked back to me he looked at the branch again and simply said, “I’m short”. Second, I was walking around with a women’s farming group to go look at their garden when one of the women got a stick stuck in her dress. She walked for a while with it clinging on and then had a short little battle removing the stick. At some point all of the old women just thought it was so amusing and started cracking up and talked about it for a good minute. I couldn’t help but smile and enjoy it as well.  

But the biggest revelation that came out of this last trip was that I might have found some clarity or a direction for the future. I spent the first week of travels sitting all day. I would go to sit at meals, sit in offices, sit in the car, sit during interviews and discussions, and then sit in my hotel room before going to sleep and then proceeded to continue sitting the following day.  I began to realize that with all my moving I wasn’t really moving at all.

It made me think of my time back in California before I went into the Peace Corps. I had thoughts of going to law school and I got a job as a legal assistant for a year. The  job gave me great experience, but it didn’t pay too well and so I continued doing landscaping work on Saturdays. In that time I soon realized that a job as a lawyer didn’t really interest me and that I didn’t enjoy going to work Monday through Friday, but I noticed that the Saturdays were never a problem. The physical labor was nice, that using my body and hands was both calming and energizing; it didn’t feel like work.

I came to Peace Corps and had the blessing to live in a loving community that gave me the opportunity to farm rice, plant trees, build cook stoves, help watch over a Private Reserve and more importantly keep moving every day. I had a few people tell me that I was working a lot while I was in Andapa, and in some ways, I guess I often worked seven days a week quite regularly. But for me, it wasn’t work, it was something that I enjoyed.

In some ways maybe my love of Madagascar might have got confused with this previous knowledge of my love of exercise, physical activity and being outside. I took the job that I have now because I thought (and still think) that it’s interesting and worthwhile and I would still be in Madagascar. On an intellectual level, the job is great and don’t get me wrong, I don’t at all want to become a grunt of sorts, but would be very happy to continue thinking – critically or creatively – on a regular basis. The job I have now I do enjoy, but I’m just not sure if it’s the path I want to take.

After one week of sitting I woke up early on Saturday and ran on the beach of Mahanoro on the East coast. As the sun brightened up the clouds over the ocean I joined the few other people strung out along the sand and ran north with no course in mind. Instantly, once I started moving I started feeling better; the cool morning breeze flowing in my lungs, the light perspiration drip from my forehead and rest on my temples, sand lightly massaging my feet and the burn in my calves as I pushed off the uneven surface further along the coast. I realized that this is what l want. Not necessarily to be perpetually running, but to be using my body. I don’t need money or prestige. I don’t need to build up a network or rise in the ranks, to a certain extent I wonder if I even care if I’m successful (which is quite a difficult word to identify/classify). I don’t really know what this means at the moment, I don’t know if this renewed affirmation will keep me in Madagascar, send me back to California, or lead me to some other part of the world. I guess only time will tell.  

That being said, I returned to Tana tired and with a cough. Too many long days of speaking Malagasy and breathing in dust (I know I make it sound so attractive – but I do enjoy it).  So I went back to the doctor and got some medicine. I figured that I might as well use my time wisely and so I managed to get all of my health questions/issues dealt with. I had a wart on my finger that didn’t seem to be responding to the medicine Peace Corps gave me. However, I was prescribed an essential oil that seems to be doing the trick and after 5 days it already looks a lot better. My eyes have been feeling tired and I’ve had light headaches. It turns out I need glasses. I didn’t make any mistakes on the eye exam, but once the doctor put some lenses in front of my eyes the world became so clear! I was really amazed at how fuzzy of a world I’ve been living in. So, I don’t think I’ll be wearing glasses all the time (and I’m not ready to be sticking contacts on my eyes), but it will be good to have them while I’m writing and reading notes or on the computer.

Other than that, I’ve been in Tana for a week and then leave for Manakara on Saturday. We had meetings and I’ve had a ton of work to do so it’s good to be busy, but I need to be conscious of all that I’m doing and plan a little better to figure out how I will spend my time. In the next few months I’ll need to complete more reports and give a few presentations, which is all part of the office life I guess.

One thing that I started (to help de-stress) was attending the Hash run in Tana. It was my first time every attending and I had a lot of fun.  It was great to meet more people and expand my social network, but also to get outside and run a bit and see some other places just outside of Tana. And…you can’t complain about having all the beer afterwards. I’ll try to go as often as I can while I’m in Tana and not on the road; and definitely when I’m just around Tana from February until June. I guess I might be a drinker with a running problem…On, on!