Thursday, February 27, 2014

Correspondences (Email 5 and final)

If you're just now starting to read these 'Correspondences' posts, I suggest going to the first one and starting there since this is a series of emails I sent to a new volunteer coming to serve in Madagascar and it might make more sense since I've posted them chronologically. Enjoy!

9February2014

Hey 'New Volunteer',

So this will likely be the last email correspondence you get from me
before you report to staging. I just wanna tell you: GET ON THE
FREAKING PLANE. It's hard to do and can be scary, but just let your
feet carry you forward and dive into this journey. It's tough to say
goodbye. It's tough to go into this not really knowing what you're
getting yourself into. But it'll be ok. And you're gonna love it. GET
ON THE FREAKING PLANE. I say that in jest, but that's how it all
starts. When you get to staging, seriously, look around you. Those
people in that room with you will become like family to you over the
next few months and years. Sure, you might not be able to stand a few
of them, but that's ok. Take pride in your stage! GET ON THE FREAKING
PLANE. Let yourself get swept up in this. You'll be fine.
Again, mentor day during training is March 15th, so I'll see you at
the training center then. And keep in mind that Peace Corps service is
nothing like Peace Corps training. You're going to be in a very
structured environment for the next couple months, but once you get to
site, you can throw all that out the window. You'll get through it and
life will be grand. GET ON THE FREAKING PLANE!

Take care, safe travels, and enjoy staging, homestay, and training!

James

PS: GET ON THE FREAKING PLANE.

Correspondences (Email 4)

Part 4 of my emailing with a new volunteer coming to Madagascar. I've left out her writings for privacy purposes.

19January2014

Hi,

Yeah, I'm in the capital now at the Peace Corps house (Meva), which
has like 20 something beds for vols in-transit/in town for conferences
and such. My stage is slowly coming in this weekend until Wednesday
when our COS starts. Getting our going home dates and all other kinds
of fun facts! Oh, and we'll be filling out TONS of forms! The forms
fun never ends in PC haha.

The Ag sector (formerly Env/CED) has the most relaxed schedule of any
other sector in Mada. We tend to make our own schedule and it changes
from day to day, week to week, season to season. Planting/harvesting
seasons tend to be the busiest, where I would typically work about 4
days a week. During weeding/winter seasons, usually about 2 days a
week could be considered actual "work" days. Don't forget, the idea of
"work" in Peace Corps (and in Madagascar, in particular) is a very
loose idea. Telling someone some facts about American culture is work.
You learning something new about Malagasy culture is work. You're a
24/7 representative of America, so just being you is part of your job.
It can often be funny the ideas Malagasy people will get about America
just based upon your daily habits at site.

Days off at site tend to vary greatly from days off away from site. At
site, I tend to read a lot of books, play dominoes or cards with
friends, get into ridiculous conversations about peoples' perceptions
of America and the outside world (geography is real fun), cook a
badass meal, do laundry and clean, if you have electricity you can
watch movies, go to a place at your site you've never been to before,
work out, crunch up crackers and watch the ants carry it way if you're
REAL bored. Away from site, going out to eat is great, interneting
(posting pictures, skyping, emailing, etc), having a rum drink or a
warm beer.


James

Correspondences (Email 3)

And here's Part 3 of my emailing with a new volunteer coming to work in Madagascar.

11January2014

Hey 'New Volunteer',

I hope you had a great holiday! Here's a little lowdown about Christmas in Mada:

Madagascar is a fairly Christian country throughout. Traditional
beliefs in the power of ancestors are also held all over the island
and are evident any many holiday/festival times. Christmas is not
anywhere as big of a deal here as it is in America. Yeah, there are
some decorations put up and you'll hear some music, but the big thing
is that people go to church a lot; Christmas Eve services and
Christmas day worship are big. A lot of PCVs will go on vacation at
this time, since being at site during Christmas can be kind of boring
and lonely since the Gasy don't make such a big deal of it. I went to
the beach last year, for example. But this year I stuck it out and had
Christmas at site, I dressed up as Santa Claus and gave out candy to
the kids in my town (which I NEVER do and don't suggest doing on any
regular basis), killed and ate a goose with my best friend at site's
family, played a lot of cards and dominoes, and some guys hooked up a
generator and we watched movies (ie: Rambo). New Year's I think is a
bigger party here than Christmas is. They do New Year's somewhat
similar to how we do. Stay up till midnight drinking, have a "ball"
(Gasy dance party), food, etc. There's a lot of drinking. Particularly
of Malagasy moonshine (taoka gasy). Horrid stuff.

To be a vegetarian in Madagascar is very easy. At most volunteers'
sites, meat is often not an option due to lack of electricity and,
therefor, refrigeration. Vegetables here are seasonable and mostly
organic. In fact, the veggies here are pretty awesome. So are the
fruits (get ready for lychees!). You may encounter some cultural
events in which beef is served but it's totally ok to turn it down.
The one problem that vegetarians encounter is when eating at a
Malagasy restaurant or at a local's house and there's no vegetarian
option. So, you might sometimes have to just bite the bullet and eat
the meat. In Mada, you also don't have to worry about whether food is
"free-range" or not, there aren't really any meat factories. Biggest
thing about food in Madagascar: get ready to eat a lifetime supply of
rice in your first 2 months. "Life is rice, rice is life".

To deal with attention and stuff like that: yeah, staying in your
house is always an option. Digging into a book, writing, listening to
music from home, listening to the BBC news on shortwave, cooking
something totally badass that takes a lot of time to make. You'll find
creative ways to take care of your self. If all else fails, get a
bottle of rum and kick back.

Electronics: bring a laptop, MP3 player, camera, a big hard drive (and
flash drive), and USB chargeable speakers. These are your PC
essentials. Don't come here without them.  A lot of PCVs have Kindles
and love having them. A lot of PCVs also have iPhones and love having
them. You can get basic phones (talk and text) here for relatively
cheap. If you bring a phone from America, you'll still need to get a
SIM card for one of the Madagascar phone companies or have your phone
unlocked to function here (I didn't do this so I'm not the most
knowledgeable about phones). Radio is also a great thing to have at
site since the BBC comes in on shortwave, you bring a radio or get one
here. I charge everything once a week when I go to my market town, but
a lot of volunteers have sources at their sites to charge at (ie:
solar panels, someone with a generator). Phones here function on
credit, which you can buy most anywhere. It comes on little cards with
a code number, you enter the code number into your phone and send it
to your service provider and you immediately have phone credit. For
example, you load 2000Ariary (about $1) of credit onto your phone and
you can get about 15 text messages or 3 minutes of talk time within
Mada. To call outside of Mada, you'll run through your credit so fast
it won't even be worth your time. 2000Ariary will get you about 15
seconds worth of call time to the US. Texting is an ok option, which
costs about 400Ariary/text. I do this from time to time with my
family. Also, the phone companies offer call/text deals that you can
get to economize your phone use. You'll get hooked up with all that
during training, don't worry. PC will even hook you up with a basic,
but sturdy, phone using your move-in allowance once you get here.

Money: As an Ag Volunteer, you're going to likely be placed in a very
poor area. You will also likely be the most wealthy person in your
village. In my village, for example, the most anyone makes in a very
good month is around 200,000Ariary. The PC Mada monthly allowance is
about 460,000Ariary (around $230) a month. It's very easy to get by on
this, but it's also very easy to blow it with a trip to the capital or
to your banking town where you might wanna splurge. Be prepared to be
a budgeting master. You will be given a bank account and a debit card
(and checks) when you finish training. Every month, PC deposits your
monthly allowance into your account and you can pull it out from any
of your bank's ATMs or another bank's ATMs (with a charge) throughout
the island, not just in your banking town. Your banking town will be
the closest town to your site with a bank. Very similar to having a
checking account in America, except there's no such thing as
over-draft charges here cause you can't pull money out if you don't
actually have money in your account.

Things are starting to feel a bit crazy here for me and the folks in
my stage. We have our Close of Service (COS) conference in 2 weeks!
Wrapping things up. I'm sure it's starting to feel wild for you now
too, leaving next month woohoo!!! Eat as much of the food that you
know you're going to miss as you can get your hands on. There will be
a day where all of us mentors come out to the training center during
your training to talk with our mentors so we'll get to hang in
Mantasoa here in few months. Love that place!

Again, please don't forget that these are just my opinions about my
experience here. Everyone's service is unique and you may find things
to be quite different than how I describe them because of your
perspective and experience. And that's part of what makes PC so great!

Take care and don't be afraid to ask any questions that you're curious about!

James

Correspondences (Email 2)

Here's the second email from my correspondences with an incoming Peace Corps Madagascar Volunteer.

23December2013

Hello again!

Yes, it's true that Peace Corps is not always sunshine and laughter.
One of the things that's most frustrating for me is the inability to
be anonymous wherever I go. I don't know what you look like, but I'm a
tall, white guy with a beard and long hair. I stand out everywhere I
go in Madagascar. As is the case with most PCVs, it's near impossible
to just go into a cafe, sit down and have a coffee, or go into a
restaurant and have an undisturbed meal, without Malagasy folks coming
up to you and trying to start up conversation just because you look
different. And yes, that's what all PCVs want from their PC
experience: to interact and converse with the locals, to learn about
their life and their views. You wouldn't sign up to do PC if you
weren't interested in that. And you will have SO MANY opportunities
for that. But there are times where you just wanna blend in and not
stand out and draw attention to yourself just because of how you look.
And women draw more unwanted attention than men do. Don't worry too
much about this, though, because a lot of the times you'll enjoy the
semi-"celebrity" status you get as a PCV and you'll meet a lot of cool
people through those random conversations. But sometimes it's nice to
just be left alone. Let me know if you wanna know more about this.


Malagasy is indeed unlike any other language we in the Western world
ever study in high school or university. It has it's roots in
Indonesia, and is an "Austronesian" language. Even though Madagascar
is closer geographically to mainland Africa, the language and the
people of the island are more Polynesian than they are African.
Malagasy people, for the most part, do not associate themselves as
being "African". They're Malagasy, something very different and
unique. Therefor, the language is difficult to learn when you first
start learning it because we have no frame of reference. But it gets
MUCH easier once you've got a few basic phrases and mechanics under
your belt. So keep looking at those packets!
There are officially 18 dialects on Madagascar. During your training,
you'll start learning the "Official" dialect, which is spoken in the
central highlands by the Merina tribe, traditionally the most powerful
tribe on the island. The training center and home-stay are in Merina
country, so you'll hear it throughout PST. Once you get your site
placement (usually about halfway through training), you'll be placed
in a class for your specific dialect depending on where your placement
is. All dialects understand Official. Don't worry too much about
dialects; you'll get trained in your specific one and once you get to
your site it's all you will hear and use, so you'll get used to it
wherever you are. You WILL adapt! Haha. I was trained in Official
because of my proximity to the capital, but we use Betsimisaraka (East
coast dialect) greetings and vocabulary at my site.
French is the official language in the schools, government, business,
and when doing numbers, so almost everyone here has a basic
understanding of French. If you speak French, it will help you in many
circumstances (ie: you don't know the Gasy word for something), which
is great when you're in training and still learning. But try not to
use it as a crutch too much. Peace Corps has some great street cred
throughout Madagascar as being the only foreigners who truly put forth
the time and effort to learn Malagasy. To speak even a little Malagasy
will quickly earn you the respect of many people. I'll start up a
conversation with someone in a town that I've never been to and 80% of
the time, the folks are like, "Wow, you speak Malagasy really well.
Are you Peace Corps? Yeah, you Americans really learn Malagasy
quickly, the French never even try." The Malagasy language has adopted
many French words into it's vocabulary and you'll often find yourself
mixing Gasy with French. This is more common in bigger towns than in
smaller villages, so don't count on it too much at your site.

I brought sunscreen and bug spray. PC gives you as much as you need of
all that stuff. I also bought "tropical" clothes (you know, those
stupid safari shirts). Don't bring any clothes with you that you
wouldn't wear in America, cause you won't wear them here either. You
know your style, so wear what you like and what you're comfortable in.
Plus, there's what's called "frip" or "fripperie" here in Mada. Cheap
clothes markets on the streets. Almost all of my clothes I wear now
are from frip cause 1: your clothes are going to break down, 2: it's
fun to look for cool stuff in the markets here, 3: it's cheap and fun
to haggle with sellers over 25cents. In the highlands, the dress is a
bit more conservative than the rest of the island, particularly for
women. In the coastal, and therefore hotter, areas of the island, it's
a bit more lax for the simple reason that it's dumb to dress
conservatively when it's 99 degrees in the shade.

Good boots. Sneakers, flipflops, sandals, flats, heels, pumps,
whatever else, you can find them all over the place here. But a
quality pair of hiking boots is key. Don't buy them right before you
come if you don't already have them. You'll get blisters like crazy.
Bring what you already have and that are already broken in or get them
now and start wearing them. You're gonna wear flipflops/sandals 90% of
the time here (at least I do) so you're feet are going to lose their
close-toed shoe callouses so you want whatever boots you have to
already be broken in to your foot for when you're going on hikes.
And I'm not kidding about the rainjacket. There are lots of
"rainjackets" here but they're not really waterproof. Bring one that
you know will keep you dry in torrential downpours.

One more tip, avoid white clothes (shirts, socks, undies, pants, etc).
They will stain and be stained until Judgement Day. You're gonna be
washing your clothes by hand so save yourself the trouble. But, as I
said, bring what ya like.

Also, please don't forget that the information I provide you as just
my experience and my experience alone. One of the greatest things
about serving in the Peace Corps is that each volunteer is different,
every experience is different, and you make your experience exactly
what you want to make it. Therefor, there's no such thing as a bad
country or bad site to be posted at. It's in your hands to make your
training, work, and overall 2-years experience as awesome as it can
be. Just be ready to be flexible.

If you haven't seen it yet, check out the BBC-Earth Series on
Madagascar. Great way for you yourself to see where you're going and
to show your family and friends how lucky you are. Just keep in mind
when you watch it that there are actually people on the island (some
22 million) and that most of them are very poor. Check out
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ma.html
for general economic data. The average monthly income for a family of
4 at my site is around $60. Also, start Googling information about the
political situation and the elections happening right now. Elections
were held last week! Final results should be out in about 3 weeks.

Take care and happy holidays!

James

Correspondences (Email 1)

Hello all,

Been a while! Over the past few months, I've been involved in Peace Corps Madagascar's mentor program where current volunteers are placed in contact with incoming trainees to provide them with advice and insights into Peace Corps life here on the Red Island. So, since I haven't posted a blog in a while and I'm too lazy to write up my thoughts, I'm just going to copy and paste my email responses to my mentee right here. I think these correspondences will give all you folks back home a bit more of an idea of what two years in Mada is like. Enjoy!

14December2013

Hey 'New Volunteer',

Sorry I haven't gotten in touch with you yet! Several other volunteers
and I were leading a girls camp in Tana this week so it's been REAL
busy.
First: Congratulations for being selected to serve in Mada!! This
island is one of the most unique countries that Peace Corps works in
and you're going to find it to be a wild, beautiful, frustrating, and
very fulfilling place to work.
I arrived in Madagascar on March 1st, 2012. 21.5 months, but who's
counting? I live in an area of Madagascar called the Eastern
Rainforest Corridor. If you look at a topographical map of Mada,
there's an escarpment running almost the entire length of the island
along the eastern coast. This causes moist air from the Indian Ocean
to rise, condense, and fall as rain throughout that entire region for
a large part of the year. There is a main highway (Route Nationale 2
aka RN2) that runs from the capital to the East coast. This highway
passes through Moramanga, which is my banking and market town where I
can get internet and stock up on food, supplies, materials, tools,
etc. that aren't available in my village. The Parc National Andasibe
(one of the most renowned parks on the island) is located about 25km
to the east of Moramanga. I live in a village called Anevoka about 7km
to the east of Andasibe where there is another forest called
Maromizaha that I primarily work with. My village has a grand total of
200 people living in it. Even by PC standards, this is a very small
village haha. I don't have electricity, running water, or a sit down
toilet. This is to be expected as an Environment/Ag volunteer, though
several sites do have some, if not all, of those amenities. I do get
pretty good cell phone service at my site and you can expect to have
that at almost every site throughout the island. On of the great
conveniences of my site is that it is actually on the RN2, so
transportation is often not a great hassle. The way I like to put it,
I can eat breakfast at my site and have lunch in the Tana, a rare
situation for most volunteers.
As I said, several other volunteers in the East region and I just
finished up a girls camp in that capital. We all brought 5 girls from
our sites to Tana to receive trainings on sexual health, life skills
and goals, nutrition, educational opportunities, and just generally
showed them a great time in the big city. We went to the zoo, a cinema
(small), the US Embassy, and did a tour of the sites in the city.
Wherever you are stationed on the island and whatever sector your in,
you can do a camp like that with funding from USAID through PC. So
much fun!
Projects: Here are two that received funding from PC to do, but there
are many other small projects that I'm involved in that require no
funding. I've helped a group of women farmer's form their own
cooperative where they are growing medicinal plants in areas of
hillside that have previously been slashed-and-burned for rice
cultivation. I got them funding from PC to provide them with all of
the tools and materials they needed to get started, as well as helped
them find buyers of their produce in the capital.
Several years ago, the Mormon church built some water pumps in my
village and in the area around it to provide folks there with clean
drinking water. They all broke. So, with help from PC, we just
finished repairing the pumps and placing some new protective boxes on
the faucets to prevent future breakage. You will learn all about how
PC will help you to fund projects during your training.
As I said, I live close to a rainforest. And, this being a rainforest
in Madagascar makes it one of the most amazing places in world. I can
hear indris from my house (YouTube it or watch the BBC Madagascar
series). So I work with Malagasy guides who take researchers and the
occasional tourist into our forest. For the most part, I teach them
English and we do some intensified rice farming when it's the season
(you will also learn about this during your training).
Other than that, I consider one of the biggest parts of my job to be
integrating into the community, feeling the rhythm of life here, and
becoming a part of it. It sucks sometimes, I won't lie to you. But
it's worth it.
You can find me on Facebook, if you like. I usually get internet on
average about once per week so you know when you can expect a response
from me.
Good luck with getting ready! I remember getting all of my stuff
together before coming here and that it was a very exciting time (you
have a lot to be excited about!). Don't stress too much about clothing
though, you can get everything here and it's cheap. Good shoes and a
rainjacket you should definitely bring with you though.
Feel free to ask whatever questions you like!
Take care,

James

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Poison

        In Madagascar, if ever you want everyone in your village to know something, inform the ladies that own and operate that little stores. These stores are the center of all gossip and news about the village and national events. For example, I went to Mme Marguerite's store in my village the other day to have a cup of coffee. While sipping the way-too-hot cup of way-too-sweet blackness, she whispered to me about a scandalous event that had taken place in the town just the previous afternoon (I had missed the evening edition the day before, obviously). A boy in my town of about 14 years old was left in charge of preparing lunch while his stepdad went out to work the fields, getting ready for rice planting. The boys mom was out of town in Tamatave, the coast city, for work. Upon arriving back home from the fields, the boys stepfather serves himself some rice from the pot. Upon smelling the rice that she had just placed on his plate and was about to consume, he noticed a strange smell coming from the rice: rat poison. Apparently, the boy had tried to kill his stepfather. The story goes: while the man was out in the fields working, the boy discovered a note addressed to his stepfather, a note from another woman who was not his mother, possibly a love note. Angered, the boy purchased rat poison, added it to his stepfather's rice in an attempt to kill him for his cheating ways. The boy got caught, the gendarme were called, the boys mother was called, and that's all I know cause I stay out of the village drama. And again, this is just what the store owner told me, so take it with a grain of sea salt. Lesson 1: If you're gonna cheat, smell your rice. Lesson 2: Don't try to poison a food that should have no smell with an odorous poison.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Where does it not itch?

         For about a week, I was lucky enough to work as an interpreter for a medical mission in the Tamatave region of Madagascar. Tamatave, aka Toamasina, is home to the biggest port on the island and is the doorway of most all economic activity here. The medical team was made up of 8 Americans who form the Caring Response Madagascar Foundation (CRMF). For about 10 years, they have been coming to Madagascar and giving clinics and providing medicines to Malagasy who otherwise could not afford care. Five other PCVs worked with the team to interpret for the doctors and the ailing patients we saw. My first day on the job, we went to the prison in Tamatave to give a clinic there. Criminals be warned: a prison anywhere is no place you ever want to be but a prison in Madagascar and the conditions therein should serve as a strong deterrent for even the most petty criminal. As fellow PCV Sam Williford put it, It looks like the scenes from the future in "The Terminator" just without the skulls. I was teamed up with a doctor named David, a pulmonary specialist. This was his first time practicing third world medicine (it was mine too). Most of our patients that day complained of chronic stomach aches, worms, and weight loss, all likely effects of poor living conditions within the prison. However, the most memorable case was the poor fellow with a full body rash. David called over our fellow physician, Jack, who has been practicing developing country medicine for 10 years, to observe the case. Jack took a quick a look and gave a quick diagnosis: it was the worst case of scabies he had ever seen. The guy was covered from neck to foot in the affliction. David prescribed him several topical and oral medications and recommended that he be separated from the other prisoners for about a month due to the contagiousness of his condition. I called over the prison nurse and informed him of the need to isolate this particular case before other prisoners became afflicted. He informed that it was indeed possible to put the prisoner in a place where he wouldn't spread the scabies to others. After thinking about this for a minute, I realized that, in other words, I had just told the prison to put this poor SOB into solitary confinement for 30 days. Never before, nor never will I again, sentence a man to 30 days in the hole.

     Following the day at the prison, we went out into deepish countryside to a place where a few sisters, with the help of several NGOs, had set up a fairly functional medical clinic. We spent two days at this location seeing patients. One of the biggest ailments that the sisters diagnose and treat in their area is tuberculosis, a disease that has pretty well been eliminated from the American household conversation. My physician partner, David, being a pulmonary specialist, and I received most of these TB cases. Most folks who came in to us complaining of chest pains, coughs, and fevers mostly had already been diagnosed and given treatment by the sisters, a service that the sisters provide completely for free, thanks to international donor support. Most folks that we saw simply hadn't given the treatment long enough to take effect; someone afflicted with TB must undergo 6-8 months treatment before they are cured of the infection. One lady that we saw came into us complaining of TB like symptoms. I asked her if she had done a TB analysis at the clinic and she said yes. I then asked her if she had begun taking the treatment once she had been diagnosed with TB and she told me no. When I asked her why she had not received the treatment, she simply replied that she didn't know and danced around the topic. I went to one of the sisters and asked about this ladies case and why she had not received TB treatment. Sister Christine then told me that this one particular lady was "crazy" and has refused treatment because she was afraid of taking medication. As I'm sure this lady had been told before, I had to inform her that if she did not take the treatment she would likely die a very slow and painful death over the next 2 years, and also be a risk to those living within her community. When asked, she informed us that others in her household were also infected with TB and were also not receiving treatment. We told her that they also would likely be dead in the next 2 years. David informed me that in America, if one were infected with TB and refused to take treatment, you would likely be put on house arrest (or taken to prison) and forced to take the medicine to cure the disease because when it comes to public health, we will tend to sacrifice the rights of the individual over safety of the public. This lady, however, due to her fear of medication, will likely not live to see 2015 and may also infect many others in her community.

      The first patient that David and I saw in the countryside clinic was a 61 year old man who was skeletonized from malnutrition and sick with TB. After checking the patient's vitals and performing an exam, David had me tell the family of this man that he would likely be dead in 2 weeks and that there was nothing that we nor the hospitals could really do for him at this point. Well, who would have thought that this humble, naive PCV would ever have to give that kind of news to someone. The next patient David and I saw was 15 year old boy with jaundiced eyes and a distended belly. This poor kid was afflicted with TB, malaria, typhoid fever, intestinal worms, amoeba dysentery, and malnutrition. We had to inform the parents of this boy that there was nothing within our power that we could do to help him but that they (the doctors) would pay for him to go the hospital in Tamatave. This was his only chance at getting the treatment he needed. I don't know what happened to this kid, but I hope he's getting better. That's one of the problems with these kinds of medical missions where doctors come on these mission trips with their clinical expertise and their free medicines and their money for hospital visits and their very big hearts, but there's never much possibility for follow up.

       We saw many other patients that week, but I'll leave you with just these few examples. On another note, during our work with doctors, we were housed at the ONG St. Gabriel, an organization on the outskirts of Tamatave that is run by Indian immigrants. The folks at St. Gabriel (Sylvester, Edwin, and Selbom) are some of the most welcoming individuals I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. The food there, morning and night, was some of the most delicious I have ever tasted in my life and I will forever remember how content and at home they made us feel at their place. If you've never eaten home-made Indian food, get off your behind and get some. Also, Malagasy people take note, the Indians and Pakistanis are kicking your butt with the whole quality of rice thing. Get on it.

    I miss all you folks back home very dearly. Looks like I've got a ticket to Rome, Italy here in about 2 weeks. Austin and Jill Rios, Jared Grant, this mug's coming and he's hungry. See ya soon.

Take care everyone and stay outta trouble,

James