November 21, 2013
Today I had to leave the artisanal market after finishing only half of my english lesson with the Malagasy vendors. I saw the french speaking woman at the hidden lamba shop in Tanambao and still couldn’t pick a design to buy. I bought a bundle of lychees, but left half behind. I couldn’t find the doctor I was looking for at the pubic hospital. I came home too early and ate too soon (jam and rice, if you’re wondering).
Do any of those activities seem complete too you? There’s nothing close to being finished here in Madagascar, yet I somehow find myself with only two weeks left in Fort Dauphin. My negligence to write is nothing that should be taken personally… when I am unable to finish my lychees during my siesta market stroll, there is a deeper problem brewing. I barely finished half a page about the origin of private hospitals today for my report, so you can imagine that its been difficult to try and put this entire experience into words.
The last blog excerpt I have is about Faux Cap…that was a beginning. Since then, my two weeks of independent study in Fort Dauphin have passed without a break and passed without doubt. But that’s the heart of my problem; I have zero doubt that I should be here. Madagascar has given me so many new beginnings, so many new friends, mentors and family members, that I can’t fathom those ending. The weeks pass with such speed and intensity that it is impossible for me to give you a timeline of events.
Every other morning I take an hour long taxi-brusse jammed with sweaty neighbors to a rural hospital. The other mornings, I go to the private clinic in town to interview patients with neurocysticercosis or to make prenatal care visits. I play soccer at 5:30 on Saturday mornings with my team and try teach english at the market with my nonexistent spare time. My life here is no longer the ‘mora mora’ in the sense I once described: picnicking on the beach and spending hours on the road eating coconuts with the program. However, even though I barely have time for the occasional morning run, ‘mora mora’ is so fundamental in the Malagasy lifestyle that I still notice that time freezes when you need it to. Or at least when the Malagasy spirits sense that it should.
Time stopped when a baby boy stared at me through the taxi-brusse window. He just stared without blinking or waving as the car engine slowly revved and he held my gaze across the window pane. Yet, at the last second, he smiled. His smile popped. It popped like the girls gold earrings in the market alley and the alternating metal teeth of my friend in the village who gives me manioc.
Time stopped when I had to watch and decipher the rules of our soccer drill. I froze when I realized that they warm up differently here, turning stretching into a dance rather than a regimen. After practice, ‘mora mora’ came back once again when finding cold water presented as a unique activity in itself. I almost didn’t understand when the team asked to walk me home, just to spend more time together.
In the mornings, my ‘mora mora’ moments come earlier and earlier with the sunrise, but they are more important than ever. Malagasy time gave me the chance to hold my breath when Simone drove away to live in Tana. When I ran towards the market, I was given two 11 year old friends to race with, and as we sprinted up the hill I forgot everything else besides the two boys flanking me. These are the two boys that showed the town that I’m not just the visitor vazaha, but welcomed here as one of them. My skin may make me stand out as tall white girl, but the meat vendor knows I will always come to him for zebu, and the women next door knows always to show me the best basil.
When Morella, my second mom in Manambaro (the rural village where I work) tells me to stay here and when the doctors tell me to come back after college, I know they’re saying it light-heartedly. I know we’re joking, but I don’t know if they realize how hard that is to hear. Technically, I am a pre-medical student here. I live with a malagasy mom, a dad, a brother and I do homework at night. I go to practice and get colds like any American teenager. But everything is different. I have seen how lizards frequent the patient rooms of the hospitals, and how I can wear sandals in the operating room. I have seen the vaccines arrive late and the pipette tips run out. My research so far has elucidated all of the material differences here, even if we do use the same drugs back in the US for brain tapeworms. Nonetheless, what I have discovered through my project is nothing what I expected when I wrote my proposal to SIT. For the anthropological part of my paper, I originally wondered if religion played a role in healthcare. Now I realize its not labeled religion at all, rather an inherent belief system that may penetrate this entire country.
In America, we seem occupied with labeling churches, priests and organizations with each particular denomination. Here, even though a church or hospital may be lutheran, the specific label has nothing to do with the practices. The label simply means, you are welcome to believe in what ever God or higher being you choose to pray to, here. As long as you pray for good health, the name of your church or even your god is insignificant. Here you can seek help from the spirits with a traditional healer, pray with the leader of the missionary hospital, and then receive treatment at the public establishment. Belief in each type of care is unrestricted as long as you find success somewhere.
I tried to understand why people travel to Manambaro for hours, or even days, when hospitals exist right outside their homes. After all, doctors in the public system are paid more and often receive better technology from the state. So why do I hear over and over again in interviews that Manambaro is their family hospital and that they feel welcome here? While salaries don’t come on time and medicine is sometimes stolen in transit, the oldest doctors here will tell you, “we are a people of smiles”. The doctors and nurses welcome the patients with all they have because the fundamental christian believe of the hospital has not changed: “Doctors treat, but Jesus heals.” While even I don’t include Jesus in my religious practices, I can relate to ideology that this phrase represents. People here don’t think of healthcare as repairing broken parts of the body. Rather, care implies tending to the body, the soul and the mind as a whole entity.
When I asked one patient why his family believes in the care at Manambaro, he responded, “no one dies here”.
I’ve seen death in Madagascar. I’ve seen paralysis on the streets, blind eyes and disappearing stomaches. But maybe death in the way we think of it doesn’t really exist. There is a theory here that there are 4 births in life; conception, leaving the mother, adolescence, and death. Notice though, that they are all considered births, even though the last is labeled “death”. The cycle is like the banana tree. When a banana tree dies, dozens of others are born as the root connections left in the earth directly give birth to the new network of trees. In Madagascar, the banana is sacred because giving life to new children is paramount. Ancestors will always be respected and called upon for guidance, as long as there is always the new generation to take root and continue the family.
So there you have it. From lychees and soccer, to patients and bananas, these are my small beginnings. I don’t have a full story for you or even a cohesive letter, but hopefully in the next two weeks I will be able to muster a goodbye. For now, that is.