I came back from the SAVA region and the stomach problem that I brought with me seemed to be a little more serious than I had originally imagined (or hoped). It lingered on for a few weeks and I ended up going to the doctor and getting some tests done. I didn’t have any serious issues (according to the tests) and it was probably just a bacterial thing, but unpleasant nonetheless.

Because it didn’t go away very quickly, I decided to take some worm medication too (it had been a while since taking the medication, not so much time has passed since I’ve been eating questionable street food). So, my body is definitely detoxed and cleaned out and now it’s just trying to get back on track and back in sync.

Although I was still a little sick, I went to the Hash run after my week of ‘working from home’. It was nice because I hadn’t gone in a while and it was funny because it was an “April fools” costume hash. There wasn’t any specific theme, we just had to have a costume of some sorts. My roommate Daphne and I didn’t know what to do so we just put on hats and masks and capes. I don’t know what we were supposed to be, but we definitely looked odd.  To intensify that notion we were confused about what was going on because it was a surprise run for one of the hashers. They were setting up beer/alcohol stops for him along the way and we ended up going with those people rather than going to the start of the hash. Next thing we know, it’s just the two of us and another guy (who isn’t really in costume) walking around through the outskirts of Tana. At the time I was pretty sure that the people who saw us thought that we were pretty weird. When I saw photos I could confirm all of those feelings.

So, when we got to the station where we were supposed to wait for the runners, we were surrounded by a bunch of confused children and adults just trying to figure out what was happening. To kill the time we spoke with the people and played with the kids. Once again, I’ve learned that boys will always be entertained by fart noises and handstands. It’s just that simple. So we played around a bit and waited. Once the runners showed up we were able to surprise the one guy and give him his alcohol and then run the rest of the course.

Following the Hash, I went back to work, as my health was getting better (but by know means any better after the party that followed the Hash). I attended more workshops, which were nice, informative and good learning experiences for me, but difficult because they were all in French. Thankfully, when we break off into group discussions I just choose the all-Malagasy group and we speak in Malagasy. It’s difficult to attend these workshops though because I sometimes feel that it’s all ideas, but no actions. People give suggestions in a very general capacity, but never any specific suggestions or plans of action. It’s not my workshop, and I don’t really have enough of the technical vocabulary in Malagasy (and definitely not in French) to get this point across, but it is frustrating nonetheless. I just get tired of hearing about more training and building capacity rather than specifics on how we would carry out those things so that they are more useful than in previous projects or activities.  The biggest positive, for me, is that there is a snack and lunch provided…I guess that says a lot about me.

I finally got some followers for walking from work…even if it only lasted one day. There are two women that work at the office that live near me and they often say that they see me when they are in the bus. They talked about wanting to walk with me one day and I always said they were welcome to join me, but it never really happened. One afternoon, I left the office a little earlier than normal and that’s when they were leaving and they decided to walk! First of all, I was blown away by how nice they were, and second how good they spoke English! It’s funny because I never really had any long interactions with them, but over a 30-minute walk we were able to really have a good talk. I’m not sure if they have walked again, or if they ever will, but I was happy that they realized that the time it took them to walk was the same amount of time as the bus and they could save money if they didn’t pay for bus fares everyday…

It was another year in Madagascar, and another birthday. It’s amazing to think that I’ve spent my last 5 birthdays in Madagascar. In 2010 I was outside of Moramanga coming back from our technical field trip during our Peace Corps training. In 2011, I was in Tana and had finished training the new group of volunteers on SRI. In 2012, I was in Tana again because of extension physicals and paperwork. In 2013, I was in Andapa, wondering if my knee was ever going to be functional again. And then finally, this year, I was in Tana yet again (but because I’m living here). It wasn’t until I thought about all of the birthdays that I realized that I’ve spent three of them in Tana and that I only had one with Malagasy people. In some ways it makes me a little sad, but in other ways I think that it might have been for the better sharing my cultural event with people who understood the culture.  We had a nice party at our house the Saturday after my birthday and we actually celebrated four birthdays in our house. As always, there was a theme and this time it was: “In 10 years I’ll be…” Of course, I was a French rapper…because that’s what I’ll be in 10 years.

I’m not really sure how it happened, or why I agreed to it, but I’m growing a mustache for the UTOP run that I’m doing in early May. Well, I know that it was related to other people that had mustaches for a friend’s going away party (that I didn’t go to) and then I was suggested to get one for the UTOP. Although I agreed, I know that a mustache is not a good look for me. So, I’ve just quit shaving and will have my sparse beard until the night before the race, when I’ll take care of everything. Thankfully, I only have about 3 weeks left and then I can shave. The other positive is that it has started to get cold in Tana and so my facial blanket is actually kind of nice.

What’s interesting about the facial hair, and I noticed this in Andapa as well, is that, at first, people don’t really catch on that you’re the same person as when you’re clean-shaven. When I first started growing the facial hair a lot more people started saying things to me on the street. More people harassed me walking and running and it was like I was entering the neighborhood all over again.  When it first became clear that I had a beard and wasn’t shaving about 5 random people said “bonjour” to me on the street, something that hadn’t happened…ever. However, after a few days/ a week they seemed to know who I was and they didn’t find any reason to go out of their way to say hello, to be courteous, or, conversely, to be an epic asshole to me.

As the UTOP race (30 km) gets closer, I’ve been running a lot more and trying to really train because I know that I was really late to start training. After the birthday party I decided to stop drinking so that my body doesn’t get too tired and I think it’s a good decision because waking up at 4:45am is not fun. And yes, it is dark at that time. However, there aren’t a lot of people or cars and I like the feeling of being alone on the road in the morning, amongst the dim lights and shadows. I don’t find any fear in it, but rather find a lot of comfort as I just listen to my breathing and slowly climb the hills. It’s like a world with no distractions.

The thing about running in the dark, quite obviously, is that you can’t see too well. I think a mixture of it being dark, me being a little sleepy, and then being tired from running straight up a hill, tends to transform street dogs into the weirdest things. There was a dog on top of a trash pile one morning and from a distance I swore it was a giant turkey. Now, I don’t know why anyone in Tana would just let a turkey wander around, but that’s definitely what it looked like. Another morning, there was a dog sitting in the middle of the road and it looked so much like a little toddler trying to do a headstand that I honestly slowed down a bit to wonder why this kid was out in the middle of the road at 5am. With my new run, I have to run down a bunch of stairs and I think this has helped my night vision because I haven’t fallen to my death yet.

The other nice thing about the morning run is that each morning is different from the last. There are mornings where it is all darkness and clouds and viewpoints only provide blurry lights along the hillsides. There are clear mornings with the stars still out and everything is crisp and cool. There are mornings that mix the two, and runs when the sun decides to join me. The other day it was clear above me and bright blue, but around Tana the entire area was surrounded by low lying, black, ominous clouds. It’s amazing what the world has to offer when one takes the time to wake up and see it.

So, I’ve been running about 10-11km each day with a lot of hills and then walking to and from work with all of my things for another 7.5-8km. After work I jump rope and then lift some weights. I knew that all these things contributed to me being in shape (and being skinny), but I had no idea just how much they really benefited me until last Saturday.

There are multiple “rova,” or old palaces in Tana that are on 12 of the hills surrounding the city. A roommate suggested that we run to the one in Ambohimanga, which is about 20-25km from our house. I thought it would be a good idea, so I followed through with it and we made plans to actually do it.

He had gone before by bicycle and so he kind of knew the way, but after a while it became apparent that there were some lapses in his memory. We ran about 5km or more in the wrong direction before we got on track and even then we still needed to stop every once and a while to make sure we were going in the right direction.

It always amazes me how beautiful Tana is once you get out of the city. We left early in the morning and the sunlight, clouds, rice fields, and mountains were quite amazing. The people yelling stupid/obvious things are never that beautiful, but it doesn’t ruin the landscape. We didn’t go very fast and it took us about 2.5-3hours to get there. I waited for a bit for my friend to arrive because I got there first so I had some water (I didn’t bring any) and ate some crackers (I didn’t eat breakfast). My friend arrived and we walked down to the bus station and he got some food. When the bus was about to leave I decided that I wanted to run back to the house.

I don’t know if it was a good idea or not, but I felt like I wanted to try. I knew that I needed to try to push myself to run a long distance just so that I knew what the pain, fatigue and discomfort would feel like during the race. I started running, and, surprisingly, it didn’t feel too bad. I don’t have a watch and I don’t know the exact kilometer range, but after a while I did start to get tired. Then I slowed down in pace. Then it got a little uncomfortable. Then I told myself to just keep moving. This was right before entering town and then after about 2km into town (maybe 3-4km from home) I just decided that I was going to fall over if I kept running (this was somewhere between 40-45km in total).

I stopped running and my legs just went straight to Jell-O. I kept moving – oddly my breathing wasn’t too bad – and just walked through the weird feeling. It was a very tiring and uncomfortable walk that felt like I was moving extremely slow. After a while, I felt like I might faint, so I knew that I needed to get something into my system. One of the many things that I love about Madagascar is that there is food stands EVERYWHERE. I found a place and ordered some juice. I had a cup. Asked for another. Tried a different kind. Then asked for another. The lady selling the juice kept making sure that she knew how many glasses I had because I don’t think she’s used to this kind of customer. I ate some bread and drank another glass and then went on my way. I knew that I wasn’t going to faint at this point, but I didn’t really feel great. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I stopped at another place and got a Fanta and a yogurt. Now, why in my right mind I really thought that a Fanta and a yogurt were going to help my situation, I’m not really sure. I needed food, so it helped in that regard, but the carbonation and the dairy was not the greatest for my empty stomach that had just endured about 4.5 hours of running. I finally made it home and realized that it took me 2.5 hours to come back. That means that I probably ran for about 2 hours and then walked for about a half an hour.

I was exhausted and felt like shit, but at the same time, my legs didn’t feel destroyed, my ankles were sore, but working, and my knees were tight, but not painful. I showered, stretched, and then laid down. It was at this moment of lying down that I don’t really know how much time passed, but I just spaced out. I started listening to music and thought about going to sleep, but just kind of stayed in nothingness. It’s kind of cool to think about it in retrospect, but I was pretty tired at the time.

In the afternoon, I played poker with some friends and people that I just met. It had been a long time since I had played, but I didn’t do too bad and I managed to come in third place and make a little bit of money. It was good to have something to go to so that my muscles could keep moving a little bit. More than anything, it was my first week of not drinking until after the race. It amazes me how often people drink alcohol. It isn’t until you step back from it that you realize how common it is. It’s not that they’re getting wasted, but it is such a part of life, especially here in Tana. I’m happy to have my detox and I think my body might survive this week because of it.

As for work, I’m just writing reports, editing reports, asking people for information that I need for a report, getting statistics for reports, thinking about how much I hate reports, feeling happy when I finish a report, and then doing other things as well because the intern left and so I’m the next guy to ask to get things done. Altogether, it really isn’t too bad.

What will I do in the future? I don’t know. I still haven’t decided anything, but I know that I will be home around the middle of June. I would be very surprised if I were to come back to Madagascar and I think at this point that I need to get off of the island for a bit and see something else. I don’t know how long I’ll be in California or the United States, but I just know that I want to be home for a bit and that if I don’t leave Madagascar now, I might never leave. It’s better knowing that I can always come back rather than staying here and thinking about what else could be out there. That being said, I still haven’t bought my flight home. I’m waiting until the end of the tourism fair in May because I might win the drawing for a free flight to France…yeah; I’m still that cheap, and not in any real rush.