Since my last blog I’ve spent my entire time in Tana and by the end of this week it will be the longest I’ve spent in one place since June 2013.  As worried as I was about staying in one place for a long time, it seems to have been a fairly welcoming and smooth transition. I’m burning out a little bit on work and writing reports, but it’s also a good learning experience for me. I’m remembering that office life is a little more redundant and boring and that it’s important to plan my daily work and tasks appropriately so that I’m not just doing the exact same thing everyday. Needless to say, I’m about to survive my first full month in Tana, in a really long time, and I think that if  I don’t have any more missions I’ll still manage. 

But life in the office isn’t just me sitting at my desk writing reports, sending emails and staring at facebook to take a break. It’s quite interesting to think about this whole life that I never really integrated into the past seven months and just now am starting to realize.

First, I figured out the donuts in the office. Well, sometimes there are other foods too, but the donuts are the best bang for your buck. There is food on our floor of the office and we use the honor system for taking food and then writing how much you took. Of course, it took me a few days of seeing the food until I finally asked, and once I did, I was hooked. Needless to say, I’ve been pretty regular on eating a donut each morning and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a snack free morning.

Second, I’m on a schedule for lunch now as well (don’t worry, I think about other things other than food). It’s kind of nice to go to lunch around the same time, with the same group of people and just have a nice relaxing conversation. When I was traveling in the field I never knew when I would eat lunch, what would be available, or if I was going to have to skip lunch. Not to mention that my water drinking habits were piss poor (pun intended) and the nutritional quality of the food was often lacking. Don’t get me wrong, I’d go on another field visit in a heartbeat, but I am enjoying the regular eating habits for the moments. If nothing else, lunchtime is glorified because it’s 30 minutes in the middle of the day that I’m not in the office typing away.

Third, the people that work in my office are really cool. I spoke with people in the office beforehand, but having more time in Tana and seeing everyone each day has really improved my office relationships. All of the Malagasy people that work there are so nice, funny, and real. It’s actually quite amazing. Not only are they a smart group of people that seem to know what they are doing, but also they really are fun to work with. It’s nice to know that we can just talk to each other when staring at a computer screen gets to be too much.

But to work in the office, one has to get to the office. I finally did the calculation, and I walk around 3.2 kilometers to work each day. I walk home too, which means that I walk 6.4 kilometers or around 4 miles everyday. Now, for whatever reason, I didn’t realize this the past 6 months. I don’t know why I thought it was closer or why I thought I walked a shorter distance (I know how fast I walk), but this kind of shocked me. I think it’s good that I’m walking this much and it makes me wonder how many Americans walk 4 miles a day, let alone 4 miles a day to get to and from work. I’m just happy that it works out.

But the walk isn’t always great – as I’ve stated in other posts – and sometimes it can be problematic. With the weather, sometimes I just take the bus because I’d rather not be soaked in the rain or splashed by muddy puddles as the cars go by. But on a daily basis I seem to come across a few things that don’t change too much.

1. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again: people just walk into me. Now there is a wide range of possibilities for this encounter. The person sometimes doesn’t look where they are going and so they are just bulldozing everything they don’t see. Sometimes, the person is looking directly at me and forgets that they are in fact walking and in fact walking into me. Then there are all those tough guys that have to prove their manhood by taking up half of a sidewalk even though they weigh around 100 pounds and have the frame of a wood elf.  Also, the groups of people that think they are playing red rover. And you don’t want to forget the people that have in their head that I will want to pass them on the opposite side so they cross the sidewalk to walk directly into me. Makes sense, right? I seem to come into contact with all of these people on a daily basis and I have to admit that it doesn’t get any less frustrating as time goes by.

2. Students. Walking at the same time as the school gets out is like punching yourself in the face. Not only do they spread out so that even cars have to avoid them, but I’m pretty sure there are rocks in Death Valley that move faster than these children. As to whether the rocks are more aware of their surroundings than the students that just got out of school… I think would be an unfair insult, but there are days when I do pose the question to myself. Thankfully, because they move so slow I just have to jump over a few moving cars, avoid puddles, skip past some beggars and crazy people, and basically cheat death so that I can get around them and once again walk at a normal pace.

3.Right of way doesn’t really apply to anything in this country. Thinking in relation to cars as well as people walking, I don’t think there are any rules about who has ‘the right’ to go first. I think it’s pretty much always just up for grabs. Although there will be an occasional walker who will let me pass, most just keep on moving. This is only problematic in tight traffic situations where you have to walk on the inside of the sidewalk between a wall and a parked car.  Most of the time, I see someone enter this space and I let him or her get through before going in so as to avoid an awkward situation where we both need to go into violent convulsions just so we can get past each other. However, to my fellow walkers this isn’t always a rule of thumb. Numerous times I get almost all the way past a car and someone just decides to enter the small space face one. Now it’s go time. They kind of look at me surprised and I just shoot a look like – what did you expect? We shimmy, shake, twist, bend, do the convulsion dance and then pass each other. I really do think that it would be easier if they just waited one second and let me finish passing them. Even more confusing is that they usually aren’t moving too fast and very few people here are ever in a ‘hurry’.

4. The talkers. I’ve said it for the past three years and I don’t know what it is, but it’s the season for people to open their mouths. Maybe people have resolutions to be more open rather than being quiet and conservative, but they can’t do it more than a few months. Regardless, I’ve heard more harassment and annoying comments in my walks over the past month than I have over the course of the previous seven. And it really does happen every rainy season.

One night, as I was late leaving the office, some guys pretty much shoulder charged me. It was a cool evening; I was in the middle of my walk and moving at a rather grueling pace and just walked through the bump, but definitely noticed it. We both ended up turning around (I think he expected me to jump into the middle of the street to avoid him of course) and looked at each other. He said something to me in French in a rather antagonistic voice that I quickly responded with a what/why in Malagasy. When he didn’t respond I simply asked if he didn’t have any eyes or if there was something else that was the reason he walked into me. He immediately looked at the ground and then kept walking. That made me realize that he was ashamed (I don’t think I intimidated him) because he just thought I was some foreigner that he could be rude to. I think it helped that it was kind of dark and that he couldn’t tell if I was just a light skinned Malagasy, or in fact a full bred vazaha. Regardless, I wonder how all of my ‘problematic’ walkers walk next to other Malagasy people and not the vazaha.

5. The smiles. It’s not all negative on the road. Yeah, some walks are better than others, but there are the days when I’m genuinely happy to be walking on the street.  First, on my walk home I can almost always eat my emotions. I’m usually tired and kind of hungry when I leave the office and I always stop to get a little sandwich on my way home. I’ve also mastered eating and walking at the same time so as to not let those students catch up with me. Second, the motorcyclists; they make the funniest faces as they are swerving in and out of traffic illegally. The other day I saw a guy with his tongue out and it reminded me of Michael Jordan playing basketball. The guys pushing the carts tend to crack me up too. The other day I was walking in the opposite direction of one and I hear the two guys joking that they should go into the gas station to get some gas (for the wooden cart/rickshaw that they were pushing and pulling) because they were tired. I couldn’t help but laugh. Finally, I always tend to smile when a car almost hits me because the driver is checking out some girl that is walking by. I hope that I don’t die one day because some girl on the other side of the street had a nice ass. I feel I deserve better than that.

Finally, I’ve noticed over the past few months that they’ve been renovating all of the bus stops, which I think is really great. However, as all of these bus stops are renovated I can’t help but notice that the road seems to be getting worse and that cars are either crawling or driving on the wrong side of the road in certain sections.. I’m not sure how much good these nice bus stops will do if the buses can’t even make it down the street.

Also, now that I’m back in Tana, I’ve had a chance to take care of a few things that have been lingering over the past few months that I just didn’t have any time for. I had been meaning to go to the doctor forever and so I finally got my warts on my hand and foot burned off as well as antibiotics for the strep throat that I seemed to have been battling on and off for the past 6 months. So it felt good to have that taken care of. It’s also nice that healthcare is so cheap here that I don’t need to stress about seeing a doctor.

I also finally got some new clothes. I have to say; I don’t know how many westerners would feel comfortable buying pants in Tana. It’s real simple; there aren’t any dressing rooms. So, you walk around the market, you look at pants, kind of know your size and then you have to try them on. So that involves taking your pants off and putting the new(er) ones on and seeing if they fit more or less in the open. I wonder what would happen if there were clothing stores in the U.S. that just opted out of dressing rooms? I needed some pants, so I showed my white legs to all and finally have enough pants to last a workweek!

I’m still learning a little bit of French, but I’m slowing down a little bit. I’m managing to make words each week, so as long as I keep that up I think I’ll be fine. I’m practicing a tiny bit more with people, which I think will actually be more beneficial than anything else. What’s funny, is that I’ve recently had a lot more Malagasy people tell me that my Malagasy is really clear, so I guess I’ll take that as a sign that I need to focus on the French.

Now that I’ve talked about walking and working in an office, I really hope something exciting happens in the next few weeks so I have something else to write about…