2015 is now upon us and that means that patience is ever looming within my thoughts and actions in hopes of completing my resolution and improving myself as a person. I say looming because I catch myself being impatient constantly, every day. I never realize just how impatient I am until I tried to become more patient. I notice that I start to get frustrated and then I just think PATIENCE, breathe, and reassess the situation. It’s still January and we all care about our resolutions because life hasn’t quite caught up and revealed why we are the way we are, but I’m trying (I am Mzamani). I feel like this goal will either make me a better person or give me a brain aneurism after a couple months, but let’s hope for the prior.

One thing that helps is that being back at work I’m not trying to meet deadlines, or more specifically, the deadlines of others. It’s nice to sit and plan with my coworkers so that we can ensure that everything has time to get done on its own time. We don’t need to run around trying to do things at the last minute or scramble, but can make a schedule and actually follow it. It’s still early, but what is more exciting is that I think we will be able to accomplish it.

One major victory is that the farm manager and employees are coming around with their energy and motivation toward planning and openly discussing their work. I can’t force people to work when it’s hot (even through positive deviance or by the fact that people in other countries work when work needs to be done rather than purely based on temperature), but we can make better use of our time rather than just sitting in the shade doing nothing. We’ve managed to utilize afternoons to discuss what we should plant and when, potential markets, and any setbacks or challenges that we might face in the future. It really allows for an open discussion so that everyone can contribute his or her knowledge or preferences. I was worried that it might just be a lecture, but the farm manager did a great job asking about the workers’ ideas and they managed to respond. Even better, much it matched with the planning that the farming manger and I did a few days earlier. I’m happy that it’s catching on and I hope that it continues even after I leave. For right now I’m just excited that people are on board to work with me and try some of my ideas so that we can reach our goals.

On a completely different topic, snake discussions seem to have come up more frequently over the past couple weeks. I’m not sure if there is any real reason, but nonetheless people are talking about snakes. I’ve always liked snakes even though I can be afraid of them from time to time. Here in South Africa there are many poisonous snakes and so people have even more reason to be afraid of them (although there are much more non-poisonous snakes). But the fear of snakes doesn’t come just from a bite, but from the fact that people don’t know the difference between the different types of snakes and so they just kill all of them. In California it was always easy to identify dangerous snakes because the rattlesnake was the only real threat in the area. And a rattle snake has a clear diamond pattern on it’s back…that’s if you don’t hear it’s rattle going crazy. A few weeks back we killed a brown snake on the farm, mostly because a coworker thought it was a cobra. The other day someone told me that black mambas were all black (they are actually light brown and are called ‘black’ mambas because the inside of their mouths are all black). One of these conversations happened around the same time that we were talking about spiders and someone mentioned that there are only two spiders that are poisonous in the area and that they are capable of distinguishing the dangerous spiders from the non-venomous spiders. When we compared the two people began to realize that it was a very similar situation – they don’t kill every spider that they see because they know that some spiders can’t hurt them. We’ll see if anything happens with it, but we do have a rodent problem at the farm and if we had some snakes slithering around it might help a little. I’m hoping to get some kind of material or training resource so that maybe we can change, slowly, some of the attitudes up here so that people face their fears and act more responsibly.

My keyhole garden is still standing, but not as many of the vegetable seeds didn’t germinate. I think there were too many seeds in the manure and when I started watering the soil those weeds grew before the vegetable seeds. To make matters both better and worse those weeds are greens or “miroho” as they are called here, which people eat, including my host mom. So she was excited that they were growing in my garden. She was not so excited when I took them out because they were making my spinach a little leggy and preventing others from growing. I bought some new tomato, onion, carrot, and eggplant seeds so we’ll see if any of those grow. Also, we haven’t received any rain in about a week so it’s a good thing that I’m watering every evening and throwing most of my grey water into the compost basket.

I haven’t written about some of the odd things that happen in my day to day life so I suppose I’ll list them now; fair warning that these two just happen to be toilet humor. First, the kids are very excited to say hello to me in English and I’m as supportive as possible so that they feel confident and interested in learning and speaking English. However, some times are better than others – depending on whom you talk to. Mornings are obviously the best time to throw out the greeting because you can’t go wrong with saying ‘Hello’ and asking how someone is doing because you know you’re not being excessive. I assume this is why I receive greetings even when I’m in my latrine. Maybe they saw me walk in, maybe they notice the padlock is off, or maybe they just sense my presence, but whatever it is the kids still greet me in the mornings when I’m tending to my daily latrine duties. What’s difficult is when they ask how I’m doing. I always seem to say that I’m fine or good, or whatever, even though the first response in my head is closer to the action that I’m participating in and not lighthearted conversation. The second situation still confuses me, even as I write this. My friend and I were waiting for some people and he looks over and notices that a dog is about to take care of some business (no latrine for the dog and we didn’t ask how he was doing). He reaches over his car and says, “Nick, quick” and reaches out his hand with his pinky first. We lock pinkies, each person pulling toward themselves and he just smiles and looks at the dog. He says to me, “I don’t know why, but as long as we hold this the dog won’t be able to do it.” And, sure enough, after no more than 30 seconds of our pinkies locking and watching the dog squat and look around, it finally ran off without finishing the business. I don’t know what happened – if anything – but one can’t help but wonder if what we did actually control the situation in any way, shape, or form.

But enough of that, it has been crazy hot and dry the last week. Although it didn’t get California Central Valley summer hot, it was unpleasant and everyone was talking about it (so you know that it’s serious).  I managed to get sunburn, drink 5 liters of water in a day, and generally sweat that said 5 liters back out the whole week. Sitting in an office without air conditioning and sometimes no ceiling fan wasn’t very fun either. It was the kind of week that makes me long for winter…until winter is here and I complain about the short days and the cold.

Despite the heat, I wanted to start exercising more regularly and so I went running and jumped rope a few times. Overall, I’m out of workout shape, but in decent work shape so it all works out (if you can work that out). It was nice to exercise the first few days of the week because I was just in the office, but once I went to the farm it didn’t make sense to do additional exercise. And I was soooooooo hungry that you would have thought I was training to be an Olympic swimmer.

During my early days in Madagascar I seemed to write a lot about food because I had so much free time and because I needed to survive. This time around I think I’m less worried about survival because I figured it out before and because I have access to so much more food. However, cooking will always provide stories from my life and this living situation provides another. I use an electric stove that seems to remind me, at random, that it’s electric. Every once and a while I’ll stir up the rice in a pot of water before cooking or turning on the stove and I’ll receive a shock. Sometimes the shock is negligible, other times it seems to have a little more intensity behind it – it makes you wonder how bad do you want that rice? Nevertheless, cooking is always a guessing game because I never know when I’ll get the shock and when nothing will happen. I’m sure one day I’ll grow up and food and cooking won’t provide any hazards. But I can’t help but think that that would be so unbearably boring. I already dislike cooking; if I didn’t get shocked or have to plan meals it would become so mundane. Maybe that’s why some people buy take-out and don’t cook. They should try shock-cook therapy.

As work moves along we are moving forward with constructing the nursery. Things still don’t come along as smoothly as I hope or think that they maybe should, but I’m optimistic that we will have the basic frame finished at the end of the month and then just need to finish the tables and to plant seeds (if we ever get the seed trays). Planning for the farm and home garden project are moving forward and I’m impressed by the improvements that people have made toward planning their projects and work schedules. I’m seeing people take more independence and responsibility, as well as accountability and foreseeing potential obstacles. There is a noticeable difference in attitude and work production from October and November to now. Whatever we’ve done, something clicked, and they are improving their overall professional capacity. It looks like 2015 is already shaping up nicely and hopefully we can keep up the good work.

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