Friday, January 25, 2013

The Conclusion to the "Long, Lost Blogpost"


You may think I’m late here, but in Madagascar it is totally normal to wish someone a happy new year all the way up until February.  I’ve even seen someone do it as late as March.

Did you have Happy Holidays? I enjoyed mine, taking a trip out to Ile. Ste. Marie, an island a little to the north off the east coast.  I enjoyed some snorkeling, beaches, waterfalls, and seafood.  Years ago, the island was a pirate haven, so one of the other attractions is a cemetery where pirates are buried.  The worst of the pirates was buried standing up so that he could never rest for all the bad things he had done.  The island you see below was a stronghold for pirates.  They were self sufficient here and due to the direction of the wind, it was easy for them to defend but difficult for intruders to attack.

Pirate Haven

Ste. Marie Sunset

Anywho, back to the story…

In the weeks and months after my return, I got focused and started another project to build four public latrines. This turned out to be more complicated than the well as there are different techniques and more parts to build. Despite this, I settled on a solution with a couple of the men in my village and we are finished. All the pieces were acquired from a local sanitation NGO and driven by truck to my village.  With the assistance of a technician, villagers assembled the pieces and built the super structures (house on top).  I think the reason this project has taken so long is that relying on volunteer labor is unreliable.  It can be hard to convince the poor, who spend everyday working for just a little more than a dollar, to contribute their time.

Latrine construction

Finished, flushable, ventilated latrine

Other things keeping me busy: I’ve done training with a new group of guides at the forest in environmental education, trail maintenance, and signage. Once the guides finished their training, we held a series of environmental camps with school children from surrounding communities. I think these are valuable. The benefit is two-fold.  Not only do people from the surrounding community come to feel closer to the reserve, but also the message of respect for the environment is passed on to the next generation.  It was awesome to see the increase in capacity at the park. Previously, I had tried to do similar events, but without supporting staff they could never be of high quality.  Now that there are guides, a whole load of new things are possible. I am dreaming of better trails and signs throughout the park.

Environmental Camp with local students

In November, my friend Leah came out to visit.  Before I left America, we both had applied to Peace Corps around the same time.  Unfortunately, Leah had an athletic injury requiring surgery.  Her application got delayed and eventually disqualified.  Despite this, set back she has been very supportive of me over here, following my experience closely, and sending many a letter and package (Thanks Leah!).  During her time here, she was able to see my site and a few parks on the way.  We got lemurs on our heads, killed a chicken, got stared at and called “Vazaha,” spent hours waiting for a taxi-brousse, and enjoyed many other experiences unique to the life of a PCV.  After witnessing all this, she still plans to sign up when the time is right.  For me, it was cool to have a visitor.  Being someone else’s guide made me realize just how capable of navigating this country and culture I’ve become.

Leah with a lemur on her shoulder, smiling despite it having bitten her finger moments before

So here I stand. I have spent the last 20 months in Madagascar in a rural village. I have just a few left. Increasingly, I find my mind divided between this place and my future.  While I am very excited to go home, I also realize how hard it will be to leave this place.  Many volunteers choose to extend or stick around and look for a job with an NGO or business venture. I can understand their reasons and have considered it myself. There are many things to love about life here – the combination of being in a tropical paradise, feeling like you are really contributing and changing something, busting through the cultural and language barriers, and making friends despite all obstacles. On the other hand, there is also the feeling that I’ve been away from home for a very long time.  I finished college three years ago, and since then have volunteered through WWOOF, Americorps, and Peace Corps.  In total, I’ve lived the student/volunteer life (ie. been broke) for 7 years.  For this reason, I’m leaning towards finding employment…very very very lucrative employment (anyone got any leads?). Of course, I’ll keep you all posted as to which direction I end up choosing.

Thanks for reading!

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