I feel like I’m always saying the same things about Tana, but I guess my life is more or less the same when I’m here. I’m being more social and getting more friends as the weeks go by and I feel like I’m finally at a good point where I know a lot of people and don’t have to worry how to spend my time or what I will be doing or if I will feel comfortable. Also, I have a lot more work to do now and so I can always spend my time looking over something or typing something up because I’m always behind on everything for work.

We planted some things in our garden and the squash is growing, but I’m not sure if anything else will grow or if it just takes a little longer. I think it will be cool to actually have some food from the house rather than having to go to the market all of the time, especially because I will be in Tana all of the time starting in February (unless I go on vacation) and will have to go to the market much more often than I am now.

Work is going well too. I think my transition from Peace Corps to office is complete. Although I don’t necessarily enjoy it, I can withstand 10-hour days in an office no problem. I think I’m becoming a professional at sitting, but as long as I still walk to work and exercise it doesn’t seem to be too big of an issue.  I still notice funny things in the office all of the time too. A few weeks ago an Intern noticed that they left the plastic on the white board. People thought that the board just didn’t work and probably hadn’t used it in over 4 years. Kind of funny it took him sitting next to the board in the final year of the project to realize that someone just needed to take the plastic off. Also the other day I saw a calendar that had a very interesting picture choice of a child half naked on the beach. It almost seemed like a parody of a swimsuit calendar and I wondered why they had chosen that picture to capture the month of November.

I was a tourist a little bit before I went into the field. I went on an organized tour to Mandraka Park, which is about 60 km out of Tana. It wasn’t really that beautiful, but it was really nice to get out of the city and walk around for a while. It was also nice to hang out with some other friends that I hadn’t spent too much time with. Along with being a tourist, I guess some of the people in Tana thought the same thing because I almost got robbed the week before I went into the field. I was trying to get into a bus one morning in a new area and all of the buses were full and so we all had to rush and cram to get into the bus. I didn’t get in on the first attempt and someone pointed out that my bag was open, which was really nice and I closed my bag and realized that I needed to be more careful. Then when I tried to get into the bus a second time, I spun by backpack around and noticed that someone was in the processes of opening my bag and taking things! He saw me see and so he stopped and I was able to close everything up and make sure nothing was missing and he walked off (at the time I wasn’t sure if it was him so I didn’t accuse him). As more buses passed that were full, I finally decided to just take a taxi.

Going into the field was an interesting experience. I was excited because it was the closest thing to the Northeast that I was going to get. The weather, landscape, and language are pretty close to Andapa.  However, early on, as always, I had some serious issues.

First problem, and I knew this would happen eventually, I got a driver that I didn’t really like. He kept complaining about everything and was just hard to talk to and seemed over protective and afraid at the same time. We had a big argument a few times about something that neither of us could control (and as I expected and confirmed now that the trip is finished, wasn’t an issue to begin with). I eventually just called him Sergeant Stick Up His Butt (in my head of course – I still have some manners) just because he was so hard to work with. However, even though we had an argument, he did want to talk about it and figure out why I was mad in order to improve, so I did respect that.

As for the planning, I’m not sure this will ever work itself out. Not only did people not do what I asked them to do, but also they lied and didn’t do what they said they would. The first few days were a mess and then I just quit caring. I realized that they didn’t respect my time with them and that I had no reason to try and change or improve the poor schedule that was created. I planned and confirmed as much as I could while I was around the office and then the rest of the trip went as well as it could go.

I spent two weeks in one region with one NGO and I got a ton of information! I have been only spending a week or so with other NGO’s and so I didn’t realize how much information I could get now that I know what I’m doing. Being able to speak the language (the dialect was almost the same as Andapa) and knowing what questions to ask really helped me out to not waste too much time and just get what I needed. Plus, I’ve been doing this for the past 4 months so it really seems good now. I even made a diagram at the office that might be able to explain what a best practice and lesson learned is to other people in the future. One of the days I spoke for 4.5 hours straight with beneficiaries (because of poor planning) and I was impressed that I was able to make it through without spacing out. Everyone seemed really tired (the beneficiaries were exchanging times to talk depending on the activity that they are involved in) and so they held up fine, but field agents were getting tired and I was fading by the very end.

It was also my first time back in a “real” village, as I like to call it. Often, I’m visiting places that have experienced multiple projects and organizations. Being helped is a way of life; some of them were born into it. I had the real pleasure of going to a community that never had a previous NGO or project help them and they only started in 2012 (late for the project). It was really nice to see how genuine and hard working the people could be. How happy they were to show me and talk to me what they’ve done and how little they just asked for things. Although it was a very positive experience, it was kind of sad when I thought about the comparison. There are a lot of people here in Madagascar that just expect continual foreign aid. In their mind the project never ends because someone is always going to be helping them. I think they no longer think about bettering themselves for their own sake, but more of taking advantage of the opportunity. It’s always good to ask because eventually someone will give it. That being said, it was nice to experience some real people for a while.

Interestingly, that same day I came to a small realization that I’m representing quite a lot when I go to these remote locations. Of course I’m representing myself, that’s quite obvious. But also I’m representing the project, the NGO in the area and then the NGO in Tana. On a bigger scale, I’m representing all American males. And then, in some ways, I’m representing all foreigners. It’s kind of scary to think about this and the responsibility that comes with it. I am the Vazaha and everything is stands for when I visit a place that might not see a lot of foreigners.  My 5-second interaction with someone on the road or how I phrase a question during an interview can really influence how a community will view me and all others with a similar background to mine on a much larger scale. Needless to say, when I thought about this I tried to be a little bit nicer (not that I was mean before).

I spent a lot of time in the car. It was interesting to think that I had a 14-hour car ride day that didn’t seem that bad and then there were days that were 8-9 hours in the car that seemed short. I think I’m getting used to the traveling and I’ve been using the time to think. Sergeant had a USB stick so I put some songs on that and we listened to American music and spaced out as we went up North to Mananara.

It was my first time in Mananara Nord and my first time on the famous road. It is a really bad road, but I didn’t think it was the worst. It’s mostly just bad because it’s so far and you have 5 ferry crossings that don’t go as smoothly as one would hope to have. Granted, a few places near Mananara Nord could be really bad, but we were lucky to have relatively dry weather and so we didn’t have too many difficulties. In addition, the road was along the coast and was extremely beautiful! There were a few times that I wanted to stop the car to take pictures, but just settled for taking them from the car. It is definitely a very splendid coastline.

My trip ended in the same disorganized fashion that it began, but I didn’t really care. I was really happy with all of my findings and ready to go back to Tana. Since I was on the East coast I brought back bananas, plantains and litchis.

It’s so nice to eat good fruit! Tana really doesn’t have that many good options for fruit and it is really sad. They could ship the good fruit in, but it’s like they prefer to just sell the bad stuff all of the time.  So I was able to bring good bananas to work, cook plantains for breakfast and eat litchis at all waking hours of the day! I think it’s good that litchi season only lasts about a month. It keeps the appeal of the fruit and I honestly don’t think that my body could handle 12 months of litchi consumption – no self-control. Also, now that I have a freezer, frozen litchis are pretty much the most phenomenal food on the planet. 

Back in Tana meant back to work and back to being social. The rainy season has arrived so every afternoon is a wildcard. I have realized that my schedule of 7:30am – 4:30pm or 5pm is really good because it allows me to do everything. First, I’m much more of a morning person, so starting work early is really good for me. Second, I’m in the office during the time that most people get things done or need to contact me. Third, I’m home before it rains and I’m home while it is still light so that I can exercise if I want to. I seem to have found my routine.

Finally, I was jumping rope the other day and I noticed something strange on the tree. You can imagine my excitement at the time because usually I jump rope and nothing changes. It’s actually kind of nice to just listen to my iPod, but also be aware of the sound of the rope and the muscles in my feet, calves, shoulders and forearms.  The object looked almost like a branch or dead leaf, but was a strange shape and didn’t quite fit with the tree. I wasn’t going anywhere so I just kept jumping and staring at the object. Eventually, it moved and I realized it was a chameleon! This really blew my mind at first as to how a chameleon ended up in our garden/in our neighborhood, but then I heard that a previous roommate had brought the chameleon to the garden. So I watched him as I did my workout and then when I finished jumping, I decided to take a picture.  It was amazing how instantly he changed colors! He was a very dark brown or black color and as soon as I got close he immediately changed to green. The more I moved him and got close the greener he became. I let him go and then he moved to a more yellowish color. Finally, after I left him alone for a bit he was back to the dark color. However, I could never get a picture because every time I got close he would change. A really cool animal.

It was funny because I posted the pictures on facebook and then made some comment as to whether there is racism in the chameleon community. However, I got to thinking about it a little more (I had lunch by myself that day) and I wondered what it would be like if humans could change their skin. Would we all look the same or would we still want to be different? Or would we all have the exact same idea of what it is to be attractive? It made me think about fashion because people still have their own fashion and not everyone decides to dress the same. However, dress is still something external. What if we could change our skin and eyes and hair? Would we all just become one race eventually over time? Then I thought about this with chameleons and thought if they have a general idea of what is ‘attractive’ to other chameleons. Is there something within their genes that they instinctually know what colors to choose in order to attract a mate? And what about the one in our garden that has lived almost two years in solitude? Does he still know what it is to be attractive, or has that changed in his chameleon mind? Or is it something that is never lost or confused, but forever changing depending on environment?

 On that note, happy Thanksgiving! To all my American friends: please over-eat for me!!!