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Writing

“We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason they write so very little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

This quote comes to you from a book I read while taking a writing workshop in high school with my fellow seniors ready to run out of that place and my teacher too artsy and passionate to care. Lamott opens her book with this quote- this explanation for why students write, why teachers write, why she writes.

We are a species constantly looking for answers. We are a species constantly seeking to share what we’ve figured out and searching for someone to help us understand more. While this longing is always present, an experience like moving to another country spurs this enthusiasm and desire to learn beyond its normal level. It sparks our self-analysis and our doubt for the status quo.

Throughout these past four months, I have relied on this blog as my outlet to write about my process of understanding about a new culture, and subsequently my understanding of our species in general. Thank you for letting me indulge in this inherent human pastime, for letting me share my experiences and for letting me joke about parasites. While lice may not share a longing to write, they do share a plethora of illnesses– and this is serious. Thus, I hope anyone reading right now has taken my stories with a grain of salt. My time in Madagascar was the most enriching four months of my life and allowed me to be the happiest I’ve ever been. However, while the bouts of stomach illnesses and strep are amusing stories in hindsight, the challenges that come with immersion into a completely new world are not always as humorous as they come out in writing. Finding a snake next to my tent at 2 am was terrifying and stepping on a cockroach was disgusting. When we heard about the american government shut down one week after the fact, it was shocking to realize our naiveté and isolation.

Some students dealt with infections and nights spent in the pouring rain without a companion. Some people were astonished by the water conditions they were exposed to, and the brutality of life in Madagascar. We met families that struggle to feed their children and who call rice-water dinner. Yet, with each subsequent challenge, we grew closer as a group and further delved into a society too complex to write about in just one story. We discovered qualities about ourselves that had rested latent in the US and found curiosities, like eating cicadas, that we never knew existed within us.

I’m forever grateful for the group of students and teachers that traveled with me who gave me the support network strong enough to allow me to expand my relationships to the local Malagasy. To those local people, I extend my utmost gratitude for the perspectives they’ve given and their willingness to share their life with me without a moment of hesitation. Today and even during all of the tomorrows to come, I will continue to struggle to identify all that Fort Dauphin and the rest of Madagscar has taught me. I will continue to figure out each day the lasting impacts that the country has left on me as a person, and I will continue to be thankful.

Misoatra betsaka, et à la prochaine, Madagasikara.IMG_7029

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Premier Point: Paris is not Madagascar.

December 12, 2013

Lets skip the shock of life in Europe and start with the bomb warning. Ill give you a minute to re-read that sentence and let it sink in.

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Ok, times up. Let me tell you about the bomb warning that made me almost miss my flight. This is the bomb warning that closed all of Terminal 3 (which was not my terminal, but unfortunately the only terminal through which I could get to Terminal 2). This is the bomb warning that made me stand outside for 45 minutes in my flip flops and fedora along with some fifty-some frenchies staring at my feet. When the warning was over, I dashed through check-in, skipped past the line at passport control and was directed to an empty security line so I wouldn’t have to stop sprinting until I made it to Gate L44 for the final call 15 minutes before take off. This nuissance, this bomb warning, turned out to be a bag unattended.

I’m not even going to begin to compare this to security in Madagascar, but I will say its the first time I’ve been stressed or ran somewhere because I was late for the first time in 4 months. Well done french airlines and your fear of lonely purses.

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Time to back up and talk about culture shock up until this moment of ‘terror’. These are my new impressions of Europe:

Everyone on the RER uses earphones.

Everyone is running somewhere. Not walking or talking, but running with an urgency and distraction mutually exclusive with mora mora. If I plopped one of these street folk onto the road in Fort Dauphin they’d have so much tunnel vision that they probably wouldn’t even notice the chickens or zebu on the roadside.

Cars travel much too fast because there aren’t enough potholes to slow them down.

Public toilettes shouldn’t clean themselves and thank you through a speaker when you choose the energy efficient flush option. I’m happy with my silent outhouses thank you very much.

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While the little things like excessive christmas decorations have taken me by surprise, France has also made limbo land the most enjoyable day I could imagine before delving back in to life at home in the states.

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While there may be a lack of smiles on the metro, when I found Catherine at Gare de Nord, our beaming faces and high pitched screams of excitement could make up for the entire blue line.

We voyaged to Montemarte to see the stunning white architecture while the sun was still low on the horizon. Catherine finally found the vin chaud she’s been waiting for all semester in Paris as we let the steaming pot warm us before admiring the rest of the small winter market.

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We changed metro lines four times just to find the best falafel place at St. Paul. Then, we chose to eat crepes instead… after all, these are the first fresh mushrooms I’ve seen since summer. Plus real french cheese; whats to reject?

With full stomaches and only one day for adventure, we stumbled upon a thrift shop I couldn’t resist. It may not have matched the grandeur of the Malagasy flea market but their were more fur coats than mosquitos in southern Madagascar.

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Veloma

December 11, 2013

I saw Simone again. I spotted her purple leggings and white tunic across the street and ran in front of two taxis and a truck to give her the biggest hug possible without squishing the baby. We shared stories from the past month in our broken Malagasy/French communication and sought out lychees far too expensive. We stocked her up with Ramen to bring home to ensure that the baby is the spaghetti ball we always joke about.

Its a girl. Christiana, named after her father, is due in January. I already told Simone that it will certainly be January 11- my birthday. If we did end up having luck as remarkable as that, then I think its undoubtedly a sign I’d meet my Malagasy relative one day.

After sending her off with too many hugs and a kiss for Christiana, it was back to packing. Back to frantically collecting photo prints, packing, writing goodbye notes and throwing out extra sunscreen.

We had a meloncholy dinner topped off with a banana split. IMG_7519

We chatted on our beds until fatigue won the night and I caught a shuttle at 5am.

Just like that, Tana was over. One day. One night. One dinner and one last hug for everyone. One shuttle bus window for blowing kisses and miming sans mots. One carry on, one checked bag, one ariary bill left in my pocket. One new hat and one popular passport.

Madagascar cannot be summed up in just one word, but the semester ran by just as fast as the last day in Tana. The plane is even faster as I’m floating over the ocean, and just like that, I’m floating between worlds. It hasn’t yet clicked that Madagascar is over. I can’t yet imagine the shocks I’ll see at home; my friends in winter coats, my house with a real roof and carpeted floors, food that comes from a grocery store… the smallest differences and the underlying cultural disparities have yet to come. The tears are still sitting in their reserve behind my retinas because floating is an easy excuse to forget everything beyond the ocean…IMG_7420

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Vezu means Sailor

December 5, 2013

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Sailing off of Cape Cod isn’t always the easiest task. Often, my dad and I can’t catch the wind and there aren’t any waves to carry us… but no matter what ocean or lake, thats the thing about sailing. You can control the jib, the main and the rudder but you can’t control the waves. The best gust may come when you’re not ready with the boom, but if you’re interested in moving – you take it. You swing the sail and go with it; you let go of the robes and let the wind carry your boat in the direction it wants too.

Of course, if you’re not interested in moving, you can take down the sail. You can choose to reject the weather opportunities and simply float instead. While you may not have initial control of the wind, you have choice; you have control over what you do with it.

I’ve heard that experiences are thrown at you. Experiences are unexpected but not wild. Our experiences are tame in the sense that we choose to value and pursue what interests us. As long as we consciously weigh the decision to accept an opportunity or wait for the next, we also allow our value judgement to evolve with our experiences.

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We found a cricket today on the bus while I was searching for my headphones. I saw my black namako and scooped it up with a tapestry. We’re still holding on to it. She’s sitting on our cloth as we ride in the sun and the passing wind and she naps. She barely moves, but I swear she’s not scared. I think she’s chosen to accept us. Unlike the crickets we ate at lunch (no, not kidding), we’ve chosen to befriend her and admire her glossy skeleton. I point out the anatomy to Henri and Emma (thank you neuro 266) and she looks back sitting still and stretching her antennae with as much curiosity as an insect can muster. She has the choice to jump, but maybe she found interest in this experience. She didn’t’ throw us out the window, or rather, she didn’t jump out the window when she had the chance.

I’m rambling. But to be fair, I have been on a bus for 12 hours. My point is that while I wasn’t informed of the excessive bus ride, I chose to come to Madagascar. SIT popped up on my computer screen and I choose to click accept. Instead of letting down my sail, I allowed this trip to grab the canvas and take it away. I didn’t expect to see red clay for miles, I didn’t expect to find brain parasites. I didn’t expect the people that have crawled into my life and I didn’t expect to eat a cricket. But thats the way it happens. The waves come and go, so while we can be prepared with our ropes and rudders, we don’t control the tides. IMG_7503

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A moment

December 4, 2013

Think King Kong. Think Grand Canyon. Think Grandeur and Mighty Joe Young. Now take all of the sights too enormous to explain and compress them into a moment. Add mustard skies, malleable shadows in the hills and branching silhouettes; and you have now.

Now, we stand in the wind and let this moment pass. We don’t stand in sadness knowing it won’t last and we don’t dwell on the city we just left thinking of the past. We think now. We think of the sunset too magnificent for a picture. We think of the valley below filled with spirits and wonder where they’ll take us next.

Today is unknown territory, neither home nor Fort Dauphin. With eight days of paved road, we aren’t quite meant to navigate or even think at all. The days are meant to digest while our experiences insidiously shape our future.

Today is to process. We process the mornings of class at Libanona and the nights spent with fathers watching soccer. We allow the new people in our lives to make their lasting impression on a level beyond their wooden souvenirs and carefully wrapped lamboana gifts.

We are here, standing in the sunset on the way to Diego, to prepare for the explosion of going home. But as the last of Madagascar sneaks through us, we accept whatever comes. If not, we may not see it at all. Even King Kong can pass by unnoticed if you forget to look past your eyelids. The Grand Canyon is no more than an anthill if you never notice the depths.

Now- is already gone. The moment has passed just as 15 weeks have come and gone already. Yet, time is only a label; and 15 weeks can fit the experience of 15 years if we looked in the forest hard enough to find Mighty Joe Young.

As my friend says here, sunsets are “stunningly, blazingly beautiful, inherently bittersweet, and above all, fleeting”. Yet every sunset holds its own place in our memory and or hearts, never to disappear in a simple wisp.

P.S. That friend is pretty incredible. If you want to see her experience emmadagascar.wordpress.com 

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Before the end

December 3, 2013

Lets ride horses.

Lets find our best friend and make french toast. French toast with a charcoal hearth is even better with cinnamon… lots of cinammon. Strawberry jam can replace maple syrup and kitchen dancing can replace the ambiance of a french bistro.

While the morning is still here, lets work over mangos. Madagascar is for school too, and while we’re at it lets make that paper in French. Mamans correcting while Papas’ looking for our horses.

Evenings are for cake. Evenings are for speeches and songs, lip-syncing and belting. Songs are for guitars and traditional dancing. On the way home, just be sure to pick up an ice cream for Buni because sometimes frosting isn’t the only sugar fix out there. Sunset strolls, bellowing dresses and Maman’s glistening pearls get us to the kitchen table where the tablecloth is carefully ironed and waiting.

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Once the weekend has fallen down the mountain side out of site, lets look for Tuesday instead. Tuesday’s not the first day, not the last day, hump day or Thursday. But this is our final night. Presents and packing, laughing and midnight snacking will get us through until morning. When Wednesday comes, we’re ready. We’re ready to walk across town to stumble upon the man the paints our house. This is the first time his 8 month girl has seen a white vazaha, and so white chocolate is only fitting for the occasion.

White chocolate would also go great with french toast. Mmmm and raspberry jam… lets make a note for next time we end up in Madagascar.

Across time we find friends to send off with bookmark gifts and letters that will never lose meaning. Failing to find a taxi back will only mean arriving home just in time for your french toast companion to surprise you again at home. Surprises call for celebrations, and celebrations call for hot chocolate. Does this cocoa intake sound excessive? Compared to lychees we’re barely overdosing. But where is Buni and his sweet tooth for all of this? Mamy be

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The last goodbyes are the ones we hear from coworkers; the ones that say see you next year. The ones that hug you so tight in the picture all you can do is lean in and smile.

 

A goodbye isn’t a personal moment. Saying veloma is a team affaire with handshakes and kisses.When its one person, saying veloma is more like a nod. The last moment saying goodbye to that one friend is more like saying: until next charcoal hearth breakfast and hot chocolate.

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Now everyone is gone on the other side of the plane window and all thats left is my promise for horses. In Tana, throw your bags and take a seat in the TATA bus where you can shut your eyes for an afternoon and forget weekends and celebrations, Tuesdays and painters. Three horses beer feels cold in your hand and sends chills down to compliment the sinking sun. You can even ride six horses tonight, theres only 10 km to go.

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Injection

December 3, 2013

I had chills. They started in my legs and insidiously made their way up through my arms until they reached every neuron that would fire. I was distracted and forgot to look up, awkwardly fumbling upon the pavement, I had no idea what time it was without the sun. The laughter from the street came in small bursts, as if my ears were out of balance. Maybe my gait was out of sync.

Children forgot to stare and adults forgot to act surprised at my presence. The banana truck forgot to come, and the market shops were still closed. Taxi’s rumbled by without honking in the cobblestone alley and my vision was so blurry that smiles didn’t pop. Fresh baguettes didn’t smell and smoke didn’t bother to get in my way. Sweat coated my t-shirt even on a windy day.

It was like a vaccine. The fever comes after the first injection, but after the initial burst of chills, sweats, and misery, that vaccine is in your body for life. Just like that, Madagascar is in my blood now and forever.

My run this morning wasn’t charming and it wasn’t the cheerful morning I’m accustomed to here…even the sun knew to stay asleep. But this was the fever. Not the bad kind of fever, but “marary soa”; a good sickness. The tropical storm before the rainbow, or the flood before the Tandroy harvest. After a week on the road in goodbye confusion, the chills will pass; the blurry vision will be gone and I will finally look back on this much stronger than before. Fevers never come back after the first injection and fevers never stop people from getting vaccines. Not even Giardia can touch me now.

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