I have been at my site for a month now. Probably a good time to write something and let my friends know I'm still alive!
Time is playing one of those tricks on me where I can't believe that I've been here for a month and at the same time, feel like I've been here much longer.
I've spent this past month beginning to get to know my village. There are some great people here, including a bunch of fun kids. I've been out to people's fields, been to a few meetings, entertained kids (and adults I'm sure), and even went to the village fundraiser dance party that went on until 5:30am (I went home at 10:30...way past my normal bedtime here)!
Despite all of the good people and keeping busy with things, the first three weeks I was thinking a lot about why I am here, and missing Niger (and even the US!), and really questioning whether this was where I wanted to be for two years. A big part of me feels ready and wanting to settle into a place and into meaningful work for a long time, but Madagascar doesn't feel like that place and Peace Corps isn't quite the long-term/meaningful work kind of committment that I want. I'm tired of putting energy into things without being able to grow roots...
Well, I was thinking a lot about things like this, and I came to the point where I decided that I can't go each day analyzing everything, and this is where I am right now, so at least I need to refocus and be positive about what I can do here and now. I can re-evaluate later, but for now, not everyday! So, the day after making that decision, I left my house with my shovel/hoe thing (called an angady) and a bag, and went collecting manure from the road to start my compost pile. As I write this, my compost is decomposing away and makes me happy whenever I see it. I finished reading the chapter on the humid tropics in my Permaculture Design Manual and got lots of ideas for my garden, too.
I'm really not ready language or culture-wise to start any big projects yet, but my garden is a great way to begin and a good way to start talking to people about farming and food. I have 23 by 9 meters to work with - a pretty big space! Plus, possibly some land that a young woman in my town may let me use on a hillside for rice/cassava/corn/bean farming. Much of that planting starts in October-ish, so lots of time to plan. Lots of ideas for things are coming to me, but we'll see what the community is interested in. I'd like to do something with these teenage girls who no longer go to school - maybe linking them to leadership and mentoring of some of the younger kids. They are so smart, strong, and amazing, but have little outlet for creativity or thinking independently.
There is also a lot of potential for agroforestry, on the steep slopes where people grow their rice. I know that one woman might be interested, so eventually we may be able to start working on things like that. For now, I'm still learning and just trying to get to know people.
Each day is a little different, but the daily routines involve getting water from a stream about 5 minutes away in the morning and evening. I've been doing a lot of good cooking, mostly beans and rice, but my mom sent me chocolate chips, which have been a wonderful addition to pancakes now and then! : ) I eat rice every day but don't get tired of it. There are lots of fresh fruits and vegetables - no market in my town but I can find a lot of things at the little stores that we have, and going to the big market (in the town where I do my banking/internet/post office) I can find lots of color and variety.
To get cell phone reception, I walk up a hill past the stream to the top of some rocks. From up there, I have a view of all the surrounding green hills, the rice fields, small mud and wooden houses with thatch roofs, and the schoolyard where kids are playing soccer with a ball made from a stuffed plastic bag tied into a round shape. If I listen closely I can imagine that I hear the waterfall 20 min walk south of town. The hills are mostly covered in eucalyptus, all the original rainforest is gone. People make charcoal from the eucalyptus and sell it to big trucks that come through and take it to the capitol. There is a small area of protected forest south of town--one of my jobs is to work with the community group that is in charge of managing it, but I have yet to see the forest or to meet with them as a group.
In the evening, I close up my house when it gets dark and light my candle, eat dinner and wash up the dishes and write. With no electricity here, most people go to bed early and wake up early. It's a pattern that feels good to fall into. I've been also reading some - currently Wendell Berry's The Art of the Commonplace, a gift from my sister. It's good and makes me thing a lot about agriculture in the states.
My days are good and full, despite all my thoughts about everything. Funny how now that I'm "settled" somewhere for 2 years, I start wanting to be somewhere for 10, 20, or 30... : ) Right now rain is falling and my yard is a mud puddle, but I can imagine how nice it will be when my garden is planted and growing with pineapple, papaya, beans, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes... I'm glad to be going slow with learning the community and building some friendships before I start working, though two years feels like an awfully short time to actually do anything, other than enjoy all these small things I like about life. So I guess that's what I'll focus on for now. Kids, food, making compost, and watch the rain.