Four months in country and not a peep. To all friends, family, and readers I apologize. At this rate i’ll have a grand total of about 6 entries by the time I leave. I guess I’ll have to make them good if you’re going to read them all. Basically, the main reason for lack of posts is because I live in a quaint shanty (I mean no insult to those who love their shanties, for I do love mine too) that doesn’t have electricity.
Therefore the majority of my laptop battery life goes into splurging on 2 movies and some work before it dies. You are currently benefitting from unused battery life and the effects of malaria medication.
So how to sum up four months. I’ve gone through 10 weeks of training with 38 other Americans and I feel pretty good about it. There’s been plenty to write about but to be honest there weren’t as many of those moments where you stand back and say this is what makes it worth it. However, that’s changing. In the past few weeks my language has been improving exponentially. I’ve started leading the discussions with the people I work with and throwing out new ideas (It’s like I never even left the office). My house is finally feeling like a home. Just yesterday I installed wall-to-wall straw mats because the mildew had finally dried out. Also, I’m sure my town thinks I can only say Akory aby? (How are you?) but I’m going to throw them a curve ball with 3 meetings next week, Ice breakers and all. This has all culminated in me being more comfortable at my site and being able to understand things a lot better. Just yesterday after a full day of hiking in the protected preserve, as we’re walking home across the hilltops my coworker paused and looked out. On one side was this relatively untouched jungle and the other side was fields of savannah that in his lifetime had been primary rainforest. A pained look came across his face and just like that the language barrier was broken. He whispered a hushed “why?” that I barely heard and didn’t need to hear. There have been funny moments too. Three of us paused walking down a path and looked up at two jetliners that we’re going to cross paths. I had noticed them a few minutes earlier but my friends encouraged me to stop and we stood there for 5 minutes in unified amazement and curiosity as they came within at least 10 miles of each other (I swear).
So how about where I live. I live on the southeastern coast of madagascar. You probably can’t find my town on a map but I’m 30 mins from the next biggest town called Farafangana. I’m 7km from the beach. It takes 1 1/2 hours to get there and I’m determined to find a shorter way. There are waves but according to the Malagasy there are sharks and to their amusement I swim anyways (because there are rivers with crocodile and to my amusement they swim anyways). I’m not sure how big my town is yet, hence the meetings. There’s a market on Wednesdays, one church, an elementary school and two bridges. I can flag down a taxi-brousse whenever I need to go into town for supplies and the closest volunteer is about 20km away. I have two great neighbors with large families (6 kids and 7 kids) I just found out the size of the families and the fact that they’re brothers 2 days ago after knowing them both for 2 months now. I work with them everyday and they pretty much look after me and make sure I don’t do anything stupid.
I also work, sometimes. Everyone at URS i’m sure you’re wondering why I left the sweet corner office and 6 figure salary. There’s a lot of days where I wonder the same thing. Right now while i’m still taking baby steps and learning about my community and how I can help them help themselves, I work at the Special Reserve. It’s about 10,000 hectares of protected forest. Last week I walked survey lines through it. To put it bluntly I would rather bail sampling wells. No knock on bailing wells but this is monotonous work and we don’t even talk while we’re doing it. I haven’t seen any wildlife. I’m sure eventually I’ll find those subtle nuances that make it so appealing. I’ve also been involved in a project of delivering supplies to local villages that will hopefully encourage them to stop using the forest as a 24hr Walmart. We’ve delivered 200 saplings of a high yield variety of coffee tree, 20 rakes, 20 shovels, 10 bee houses, 2 watering cans and a large bag of seeds to 5 villages so far. It’s actually really enjoyable work and I get to go back and teach them how to use all these sweet freebies in a sustainable and efficient manner. (Hold on one second I need to dig a parasy out of my foot…….Ok and back) So, I’m doing work and I’m hoping that I’ll only do more as time goes on.
Lastly I’ll give you my day to day routine. Note at any given time I probably have BBC radio on in the background. It’s my crack.
• 530-630: During the week this is when I get up. Any one that knows me can recognize that this is highly unusual, unless frisbee or Brad Thornton and Kenny Chesney are involved. I walk 100m down the road to check and see if I have any phone messages from the night before (I don’t get cell phone service in my house) I say hello to everyone and everyone tells me how I check my phone every morning, my language skills aren’t good enough yet to point out the repetitiveness in them pointing out my repetitiveness. I then return home full of warm feelings from all the friendly messages and make breakfast.
• 715: I have pancakes about 3 times a week and the rest of the time it’s usually a mixture of what ever is still sitting on the stove from the night before and rice. I then pack a backpack of water and supplies for whatever might be in store for the day.
• 800: Bike to work. Lately I’ve just been hiking into my backyard (the jungle) but other days I bike about 5km down the road to the Park Office. Where Madagascar National Parks (MNP) and NGO Durrell work.
• 845: Arrive at work and lay around while I wait for second breakfast to be cooked. This is usually rice and my stomachs tolerance for large quantities of it is steadily increasing. I think I can eat 3/4 of a cup now. Sometimes I’ll play a game of Platank? Bocce?
• 930: Eat second breakfast and then start working for the morning.
• 1200: Stop for lunch. If I’ve been hiking in the forest then this is the first break and we’ve hiked a little over 3km. It’s rough going
• 1330: Back to work
• 1600: Head home usually exhausted from a combination of the sun and trying to speak Malagasy (it usually takes all day to get one point across)
• 1630: Arrive home hot and sweaty from the bike ride and immediately take a bucket bath to cool off.
• 1700: By now I’ve either eaten dinner or am preparing it. If i’m lazy I eat something called sedaap something similar to ramen. If I’ve been to the market recently I’ll have something with zucchini, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, or carrots. There’s almost always rice or pasta with every meal.
• 1800: Now I decide if I want to go to bed or find some small task to occupy myself for an hour while my food digests. Usually I find something to do but there are a few nights a week where I’m laying in bed reading or listening to the radio by 6pm and asleep by 7pm.
Overall, I’m enjoying myself and I’m hoping that I can follow up this post with other short stories, and maybe some more pictures too. Sorry for the lack of posts but feel free to ask any questions on here or shoot me an email. Also letters are always welcome. My new address is:
Brother Paul Johnson
Hopefully I’ll have a new post in the next two weeks, until then….