For whatever reason, this year I’ve thought more about the past than any other “new” year. This year really feels like a ‘new year’ or that I’m coming to some turning point in my life, making the next step towards something.

Thinking back, 2013 wasn’t a really good year for me. I had a lot of work issues, health issues, and then a few personal issues. There were a lot of negative experiences that I guess could be coined as learning experiences that give us a chance to grow (but sometimes I get a little tired of growth). But growth is inevitable and so is change and all we can do is keep on keeping on and see what the future holds. The negative is often as important as the positive.

So…with a statement like that I’m sure you’re thinking that I’ve made some big decision or experienced some major event. Nope; and I don’t think I need to have. I’ve thought a lot more about work and my future, but nothing is set in stone and as I get older I’m actually becoming okay with that. I’ve jumped around through so many different kinds of work and been happy in most cases that I’m not worried about the future. What I think I want might not really be what’s best and the best thing to do is to just go with the natural flow of things; the future doesn’t freak me out.

That being said, I’m hoping to do two things for 2014. I want to learn French and I want to keep in better touch with friends and family from the United States. Both are related to the fact that I think a life oversees is still appealing and that I should take advantage of it for as long as I can. In many ways, I think I’ve fallen in love with Africa and Madagascar especially. There is just something about this country that I find appealing, real and comforting (I know, I’m crazy. How can anyone find this place comforting???). Therefore, I’m thinking that if I want to work here, or anywhere in Africa, I need to be able to speak French.  I don’t need to be perfect by the end of my contract or even perfect by the end of the year, but I NEED to be more proficient in the language than I am right now. And, if I can speak French and English I can go most places in Africa. Besides, I live with a bunch of French speakers; I should take advantage of the situation.

The second goal for the year is to be in better contact with friends and family from the United States. Looking back on 2013 I realize that I kind of fell off of the face of the Earth. I quit keeping in touch with a lot of people and in many ways quit caring. I don’t think that is necessarily bad that I don’t need to go on Facebook and stalk my friends’ lives every second, but I do need to find a middle ground. There are so many people back in the States that have been such an important part of my life and I really am interested in what they are doing. That being said, maybe they don’t care and don’t really want to keep in touch, but I’d rather make the effort and try rather than just giving up. Let it be noted that I planned to post this blog at the beginning of January and then fell behind, so we’ll see how things go.

Let me rewind a little and talk about the holidays (I meant to send this blog at least 4 different times). I had a good Christmas and New Years. I caught up on A LOT of work, which is really a big relief and was all I could have asked for. I spent Christmas with friends in Tana and then went to Mantasoa for New Years. New Years was a lot of fun and super relaxing until the end. It was cool because the holidays were spent with people that I didn’t know at all before I moved to Tana.

We went to a place called Mantasoa Tour, which was really nice at first, but the owner was not a nice person. We had too many people sit in a bamboo chair and so the bottom of the chair broke. Bamboo is really cheap here, so we thought it would cost 20,000 Ariary at the most to fix the chair. Because of the inconvenience, we also thought that charging 50,000-60,000 Ariary would be appropriate. When they told us that it would be 150,000 Ariary that just seemed absurd and we voiced that we didn’t think it should cost that much.

It turns out the owner was mad that we didn’t want to desecrate Lake Mantasoa everyday by renting his speedboat for an obnoxious price and so he already hated us. He also didn’t like that we wanted to cook for ourselves rather than buy his food (why else would we rent a house?). So, in his great sense as a person and business owner, he said if we didn’t pay for the chair that he was going to get his shotgun so that we couldn’t leave – and of course the whole time he was yelling. Real stand up guy. I think I know why his business might be failing…

However, the worst part about all of this was that I’m pretty sure at some point one of the workers or the driver of the van stole my camera. I was paranoid about losing it the entire weekend and I made sure to put it with other electronics in a small backpack. But, I didn’t make sure to close the backpack really well. Looking back, the driver unpacked and packed our things way too many times, one of the workers was looking odd behind the van at one point during all of these conversations and arguments, and then the driver seemed to send me off rather quickly when he dropped me off in Tana. I really don’t think I just lost the camera.

What’s interesting is that I seemed to get over it rather quickly. For about two days I was really pissed, mostly because of the feeling of someone going through my things and just taking something. Also, it is annoying living here in Mada, because you can’t always just buy a decent replacement.  However, I am talking with people coming and going from the States and should have a replacement sometime soon-ish (maybe February). It’s mostly good that the field visits are over and maybe I’ll wait to travel until I have another camera.  Until then, my life will be undocumented.

Long story short: if you ever come to Madagascar, and then while in Madagascar you decide to go to Mantasoa, I would not suggest that you go to Mantasoa Tour. There are better places and better ways to spend your vacation.

Although there haven’t been any major problems, I still have some concerns about the election results and proclamations that are coming out. Madagascar has a new president, and it seems like everyone agrees for the most part, but we’ll see what happens. I really hope that whatever the results may be that the people don’t fight and just try to move on peacefully.  Besides, I’d really rather not be evacuated from Madagascar.

Two weeks ago I was in Ambositra, on what could have been my last mission for the next 6 months. I’m a little tired with the field visits and I am happy to be taking a break. I’d like to travel on vacation, not travel for work.  However, my visit was combined with another visitor and so the planning was an issue and I wasn’t able to speak with as many technicians as I would have liked.

I know it’s the same old story, but the language is so weird in this country. That combined with culture and social dynamics makes it near impossible to really predict how any of my visits will go. I really didn’t expect for it to be easier to speak to people in the South rather than people who live four hours south of Tana. What’s odd is I felt that they just didn’t want to make the effort in a lot of instances. They didn’t want to try to understand me and so they didn’t. In some instances I even thought that they were afraid of me.

That brings up the issue of validity. I sometimes wonder how accurate or correct are the responses that I’m receiving. Combining language, cultural, contextual, and giving satisfactory answers I wonder how much is really lost between truth and fiction.  However, someone explained to me that regardless of what they say, and in some ways how I ask, whatever their response is, is probably their reality. It doesn’t really matter if it is correct or not, that’s what’s in their mind and we can still work with that. As long as we know the general idea we can make improvements.

Now, for the past week, I’ve been back in Tana and should be here for a while. It’s kind of nice to not have to think about anymore planning and maybe even get into a routine for a little while. I am still compiling info for all of my reports, which should keep me really busy for the next month or so, but I’m hoping that I can relax a little bit after that.

I was going to get back into exercising last week, but I got sick. I don’t think it was anything too serious, just a sore throat that managed to clear up on its own. I’m hoping to start exercising more this week though and force myself to run again in the mornings. I would like to get back into running shape, especially if I plan to do the distance run May.

What might be difficult though, (sorry mom) is keeping the blog posts each month. I enjoy my life in Tana, and I think I’m happy, but I need to think a little bit harder about what I want to write about. I will always remember my creative writing class during my sophomore year of college. My professor asked me what made me angry or upset in life. My response was somewhere along the lines of I’m generally pretty happy and not too upset about anything. His response: “That’s a horrible quality in a writer.”

Only time will tell.