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mai 2008



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04 mai 2008

Translucent Coat

Where is he, oh mother ?
We left so little time ago,
for the light struck the ground in tiny drops,
And we followed them far away from home.
Now we have returned,
And the sounds do not meet our memories.
One of our geese,
And the other lost.
Oh mother, where is he ?

Roandriagne reroy hagnaia nareo ?

My princesses, where are you going ?

Zahay tsy mimpoly laha tsy miboaky.

We shall not return until our goose comes back.

Feathers stain the path where the sun dripped low.
Do not hide what you have known, mother,
Or we shall go into the sea,
On our own.

Roandriagne reroy hagnaia nareo ?
Zahay tsy mimpoly laha tsy miboaky.

I’ve finished and started my paper on spirit possession. I turned in a copy. Near the end I realized that I could either keep writing forever or stop for a little while. I decided to stop and print it out.

Here is the last paragraph.

« But are any of the stories that we tell purely our own? Aren’t all of our stories collective, in the sense that we share them with those that we know and love? The spirits of moments past speak these stories, but we do not call them as such. We believe ourselves to be whole, with one body and one spirit that moves forward through time. Yet we love and we don’t anymore, we believe and then we shirk these beliefs, we grow up and down again, and all the while time moves in ways that we can’t comprehend, back and forth and through us. So we categorize, separate, and measure it, and we believe that we are always the same, no matter how many minutes pulse past our comprehension, for we must, at any cost, keep the moments from returning to seize us and tell their secret- this time around you are someone different.

This time around, I am someone different. »

I’ve been touched, it burns, and I have to come back. Before Leste dies. She is choosing her successor. There is so much that I want to learn from her. I hope to get a grant and return to Manahy.
In my spare time, Cory and I (we are now unofficially but spiritually an old married couple…yes, we share a purse and talk about bowel movements) are transcribing Joanna lyrics

(If you could hold up a threadbare coat to the light, where it’s worn, translucent in places
You’d see spots where almost every night of the year bear had been mending, suspending at baseness.
Now her coat drags through the water, bagging with a life’s worth of hunger, limitless minnows.
In the magnetic embrace, balletic and glacial, the bear’s insatiable shadow
Left there, left there.)

and not being in Madagascar anymore, so it feels like.
I miss Mora Mora Morandava. Cory and I met these South African boys whom we love. Tinus and Louis. They think that all of the countries in the Americas are part of the USA, and they pay for our meals because girls just shouldn’t pay. They’re our first real friends in Madagascar. We had to leave them in Morondava. That makes us sad.

Two days ago I tied my fiaro around my belt loop. While walking to eat lunch in Tana, it fell on the street, and I didn’t notice for an hour. Cory and I retraced our steps back to the hotel. It was gone. I really wanted to cry. This was my artifact of my time with Leste, of one of the most wonderful adventures of my life so far. And I had been careless enough to lose it. Plus the name of the fiaro is « inseparable » which means that I wasn’t supposed to ever distance myself from it.
I didn’t give up. We walked back to the restaurant. On the way, Cory found it. Someone had stepped on it, but it was otherwise as magical as before.
Ever since then I’ve been sick, though. Nothing serious. I’m not sure what it means. Maybe it’s just a stomach virus, maybe not.
I don’t have many words right now. I feel spent of them. I’m scared to go back to the life I think I have somewhere else- home. I’ve realized that I don’t remember what strange means in the context of my own culture. The idea that there are categories of people within a culture- that certain people are considered outside of a cultural norm, yet exist as insiders to that culture- seems so…well, strange to me. Am I strange ?
A part of me wants to return and sleep for a while, and when I wake up, everything will be as if I never left. But people expect things. It will be exhausting to spill all of the stories, to redefine what I’ve learned, to understand that all that I now take for granted in this new world I’ve become habituated to does not translate in the world I call home. I don’t think living again will be hard, but I’m not a teacher.

24 avr 2008


The Earth is round.
There is fanafody for the soul,
Rustling through your hair.
Taste the scent of death carried on the night.
Death was brought three days too late,
And will sit for three more,
Yet I am still alive,
And the Earth is still round.
Rub it every so often with honey
(tsy misy fady)
and you will get home safe.
Don’t worry-
The pirogue follows the wind,
and so it is never lost.
I met history.
Her skin is pulled down by the memories
Of the world
Which she has never lived.
Her bones are silent,
And in her mouth are the words
She has already decided to say,
But has not yet said.
These words are to save us.

The sun carries up the day and sets it down again upon the Earth. The stars and the moon light up the darkness of day’s rest so that to wake in the night after vivid dreaming is not frightening. This reminds us. We have not died yet, though we are always close.

When Leste was still a child, she fell very ill. She saw things that weren’t real, and when she ate certain foods, like meat or chicken, she bled from her mouth and out of her eyes. She went to a wise man in the village, called an ombiasy. Once she explained her problem, he confessed that he wasn’t the right person to help her. He sent her instead to the village healer, an old woman who was also possessed by spirits of the ancestors. The woman told Leste that she was sick because her body was fighting too hard against spirits that were seeking to live permanently inside of her. When Leste heard this, she became very upset. She didn’t want to let the spirits live inside of her. She wanted to lead a normal life. In fact, she wanted to believe in God and follow the cult of Christianity. She refused the wishes of the spirits and grew weaker and weaker as a result. Finally the village elders gathered to discuss Leste’s problem. They decided after much debate that she needed to accept her spirits, or she would die. They assured her that the spirits had chosen her because she was the wisest young girl in the village. After much thought, Leste agreed, and the spirits made a home in her.

Many years later, Leste had become one of the most powerful people in the village. She was not only the medium, she was the spiritual and social leader. She had acquired numerous spirits, of which only some were known by name by the rest of the villagers. These were Njarahibe, Mozeriny, Maromaliniky, Rojovola, and Magnotakaky. Njarahibe and Mozeriny were the most prominent spirits. Njaharibe was a spirit of the forest, who was actually still living as an old woman of the Mikea tribe in the Morombe forest. Mozeriny was a water spirit who had decided, as a young girl, to go into the sea and never return after her father had mistakenly killed a goose she had dearly loved.

One night Leste was woken suddenly by a knock on the door. Two sea people entered her house. They told her that very soon some people from the next village would be calling on her to help them with a difficult birth, as Leste was also known as the best sage-femme in the region. They instructed her to go with them, to find a branch along the path, and, once she was with the expecting mother, to tap lightly against the mother’s abdomen with the stick she had collected. Just as Leste heard another knock upon the door, the two visitors disappeared.
Two women from the next village stood outside the door. They explained that they had been trying to birth their sister’s baby for days, without the slightest progress. Leste went with them, collecting a single stick along the path. She did just as the water people had instructed, and the baby came instantly.

During this time, a girl from a land far away was just starting to live. She didn’t know that soon she would be going on a journey that would lead her to Leste’s village. In fact, she didn’t even know that people of Leste’s kind existed.

The years passed. This girl grew and stretched. She stretched so much that she felt like she didn’t fit into the shell of her own home anymore. She wanted to explore other people’s homes. So she left.

She saw a baobab bigger than a house and taller than a five story building. Outside of this forest, she found Leste. Leste lived in a small house with woven mats on the floor and a baobab bark roof. Leste’s skin didn’t stick to her bones. It hung in soft folds, as if tugged downward by a gentle gravity. When the foreign girl asked Leste if she could know about her spirits, the medium said no. She was afraid that her spirits, especially Njaharibe and Mozeriny, would be angry with her for telling their stories to a stranger, and that they would even kill her. She told the foreign girl that because she was not of this land, nor of this ancestry, seeking to become it would come at a high price. The girl was sad. She left, and while she sorted the memories of what had just occurred, she realized that she could not have expected to be welcomed by the spirits. She had to accept that she was a stranger in this land, with no ancestors to call her own. Hours later, Leste called her back into her house. At this time. Leste wasn’t Leste any longer. She was Mozeriny. Mozeriny spoke to the girl in a soft, high voice. She poured fanafody gasy down her Lambawany and called her daughter. The girl closed her eyes and let the smell of incense and the sound of Mozeriny’s voice fill her. She was floating. When she opened her eyes, Mozeriny was holding a tiny white cloth satchel attached to a string. The assistant tied it around her neck. This was to keep her calm and safe from any evil intentions.
The next day the girl had to leave the village. Before setting off, she went to say goodbye to Leste, who was sitting inside her house. As the girl entered, Leste smiled. Her face opened and her eyes spoke. They said that, even though this girl had posed a great threat to the spirits, Leste was fond of her. Leste grabbed the girl’s hand in both of her own with a powerful grip. Velooma, she said. The girl echoed the farewell.

07 avr 2008

Water Functionality

Cory and I arrived in Morondava after 18.5 hours in a mini van-like vehicle, travelling through the night. I felt slightly ill the entire time and couldn’t really sleep. Every time I dozed off I ended up losing balance and banging my head violently against Cory, who somehow remained asleep. Lucky. Perhaps the best moment of the trip was before it began. We befriended all of the drivers and their friends and hooked up Cory’s ipod to the van stereo. Then we rocked out to Bohemian Rhapsody. All of the people that had been previously trying to sell us food or any number of other strange objects crowded around us just to watch. The second best moment was when we stopped at around 4 am to protect another broken down taxi brousse from bandits. We all stopped and looked at the stars for a while. There were so many. It was beautiful. On the way in, we also saw so many baobabs. They are so strange and so wonderful.

Morondava is gorgeous. Sleepy. Beachy. For the moment we are staying in bungalows on the beach. Sunsets and sunrises are golden. The director, Rowland, hooked us up with a Canadian named Mark who works for ANGAP, an environmental organisation. He then directed us to a Belgian couple who own bungalows in a small village about five hours away (by pirogue…canoe, sometimes with sail, sometimes with motor) called Ankevo. We spoke to a woman from Angap who then directed me to an even smaller village about 3 hours away from Ankevo by pirogue called Manahy, where there is a wise old woman who is possessed by tromba spirits and who controls all of the « fady » (tabous) of the village. She is that wise old woman you’ve always heard about in stories. A real one, and I’m going to meet her. There are also an old woman and an old man in Ankevo who have the tromba. So, basically, I’m going to sleep in Ankevo in a bungalow with Cory, but travel when I can to Manahy. I’m going to let the spirits lead me. I’m going to ask around and find mediums. If that leads me to other villages, so be it. I can hire a fisherman to take me in his pirogue.

For the next two and a half weeks I’ll have no email and very little cell-phone connection. This will be my last entry, until I return with some stories. Until then…

Be careful of baobabs,
My child,
And the roots that reach to the sky,
For they are too far to touch,
but too close to wonder.
Be careful of what is not large enough
To make you small,
But not small enough to clutch
In a single hand.
Be careful of seeds planted,
Wishes sown,
Dreams dreamt,
And suns set.
Be careful of invisible
Be careful of hearts
That beat too fast
Or not fast enough.
Be careful of silent words
And words that break silence.
Be careful of others
For they do not know you.
Be careful of yourself
For you do not know what you want,
Only that you are wanting.
Be careful of wanting too much.
Be careful of sleep,
And poison.
Be careful of weapons,
And love.
Be careful of seas without end
And fences that lock.
Be careful of your joy,
Your memories,
And your sight,
For these are commonly lost.
But most of all,
Be careful of baobabs, my child,
And the roots that reach to the sky,
For they are too far to touch,
But too close to wonder.

04 avr 2008

Dancin in my Lambawany

As my pre-independent study project week in Tana draws to a close, I have time to reflect on my experience here so far, and what I’ve learned, what I’ve become, how I’ve changed. My mada scars, you could say.

I think there are three major things, and many more that would be more difficult to pinpoint, and probably won’t be recognizable until I return to where I’m comfortable.

I’ve learned to be rich. Here in Tana, I’m a vazaha. That carries a lot of weight. I’m learning to carry that burden, to accept it, and to use it to my advantage. As I return to Tana, I realize that in many ways I have become cold, insensitive, smart. Yet, this attitude allows me to accept and be a part of the reality here. If I am a vazaha to you, that is what I am. I am composed of much more, to myself and to those who wish to know me. But if I am just a vazaha to you, that is fine. I have shoes, and you’re begging on the street. That’s just the way things are. I’m extremely wealthy, and I can buy expensive ice cream whenever I want. There’s no denying that or pretending that we’re all equal, or even that everyone has the opportunity to attain that wealth. That is a purely American idea. Here, if you are born on the street, you stay there.

I’ve learned not to be shocked. There are so many things here that just happen. They used to upset me, baffle me, even outrage me. Now they just happen. For example, the other day Cory and I went to reserve our seats on the taxi brousse that will take us to Morondava on Saturday. Once we reached the « station » hundreds of men started crowding around our taxi, shouting various locations. One man started running alongside the taxi, and when we said we were going to Morondava, he jumped in the front seat.
Another example- while in the taxi be a while back, our chauffeur drove slowly into another taxi be deliberately and didn’t stop for a good 10 seconds. The other taxi be driver looked at him angrily, we all got out of the vehicle, transferred to another taxi be, turned around the wrong way on a one way street, and drove away.

I’ve learned that spirits exist. I don’t really understand it, but I know they exist. There are people here who believe that spirits can return to possess the living. Basically, their conception of time allows them to believe that a particular moment of the past can exist at any time, perhaps slightly different than the original moment- but who believes in original moments anyway ! What a new and fascinating definition of history. For the Sakalava people (traditionally, of course), the past, as they know it, can’t exist unless it is interacting with the present. The spirits return to inhabit living bodies that speak, play, and act along with the entire community. This is their way of preserving collective history. Puts those text books to shame.
There are things about tromba that just can’t be explained. There are people who change their dialects, even their languages, while possessed. It can only be understood in its own context- by those who engage in it. I’m going to find those people (hopefully). I want to find out about the mediums, mainly, but also about anyone who wants to give me a tromba story- even if it is indirect, which they most often seem to be, in my experience. My topic is tromba narratives- specifically, how the tromba creates personal narrative histories and facilitates their expression by the mediums who engage in it. I know already that tromba is ideal for preserving collective history- but what I’m really interested in are the individuals who literally give up their souls for a time in order to tell that history. They characteristically don’t remember anything that happens when they’re possessed, and the stories of their spirits must be told back to them by witnesses. They essentially become history- living artifacts. Imagine your life if entire sections of it existed solely as someone else narrated them to you. I believe that most of my life exists as a narrative- but I tell it to myself. That’s a big difference !

So, Saturday I leave for Morondava. The way things work here is you go where you want to go, you talk to people, and then you figure out where you’re living and how much information you can retrieve. I’m getting used to this system. No rapid emailing. No assured living situation.

Yesterday I went with Priska, Cory, Lauren, Andrew, Christina and Nick to record a rap song. This is a song we’ve been conceiving intellectually ever since we realized that Priscilla was destined to become a star here in Tana. The song is a series of rhymes about the Lambawany- a traditional shawl-like dress that women wear along the coasts.
Where did we go to record ? A Malagasy rapper’s house, of course ! (Something I truly love about this country- the connections are outrageous. My mom, for example, has been at both a wedding and funeral with the president, Marc Ravolomanana). Andrew, who has already been in the culture program and is now in SIT ecology, did his ISP on Malagasy music last semester, so he spent a lot of time with this rapper and they became friends. When we mentioned our Lambawany song, he enthusiastically invited us to record it. And- to top it all off- we pay a small fee to put it on the radio !

Tomorrow Cory and I are heading off to Morondava, to begin our separate adventures. A 20 hour taxi brousse ride, overnight. I’m ready !

A la prochaine…

31 mar 2008


Back to Tana again… How I’ve missed my family here.
(I’d like to note that I’ve officially forgotten how to type on the American keyboard)
We left for Mahajanga on March 12 on the « Tata » (our beloved bus). It took about 15 hours in all to get there. We made a stop in Ankarafantska, a forest and national park. We camped in tents and told scary stories, which made me want to study modern American folklore, and at night the crickets came with their sirens. Seriously the loudest crickets I’ve ever heard in my life. One of the girls in the group, Samantha, told Priscilla about mothman, a ten foot tall man with moth wings from West Virginia who speaks oracles, and since then we’ve created a whole saga around this character. A graphic novel is to come later.
Then it was on to Mahajanga, a beautiful beachside city with an enormous baobab in the center. Yes, I saw my first baobab !!!! Find a copy of Le Petit Prince and look at Exupery’s drawing of the baobab. That’s almost exactly what I saw, minus the small volcanoes and golden haired boy, plus a few cars and a paved road. If you can’t find a copy, imagine fifteen medium sized tree trunks attached to a small house.
Mahajanga was pretty much a grande fete. It was hot and lethargic during the day. Everything closed for three or four hours during the afternoon. Then at night the people came out to stroll au bord de la mer (pretty much a big boardwalk). I had four siblings in my family. I liked my sisters but didn’t care much for the brothers. One of them ignored me, the other tried to get me alone with him whenever possible. My living situation wasn’t far from the village- I lived in the living/dining/ main room, and the bathroom was a shack outside with cockroaches and spiders galore. But while in the village I was constantly guarded, in Mahajanga I was given complete freedom. There was also a large extended family. My favorite was Mirela, my two year old cousin. I entered her life as Vazaha ! and ended as « Ayi, tsy vazaha . »
Every other evening at around 6 the delestage (power-outage) hit, and all ten of us crowded into a car and travelled au bord de la mer, where we ate brochettes (barbecue banana, meat, manioc). One evening at around 5 my mom started to braid my hair. The sun set and she still hadn’t finished, so we left to find light at the boardwalk. The whole process took a good 3 hours. Almost 40 braids !
Cory, Priscilla, Lauren and I got into our usual messes. We met an Italian French vazaha named Marco who fell in love with Priscilla and from then on we were treated to as much pizza and as many margaritas as we wanted. His friend was Jean Paul, who ran a hotel in the centre ville. Because we were leaving so soon, JP decided to move the pool party he was planning to host a few days forward. I, unfortunately, was suffering from sun stroke and slept through it. Supposedly it was incredible- with a whole sheep on a spit and everything. As I said, Mahanjanga was one big vacation. Mora Mora is what they say here. Imagine the service at a bad gas station five times as slow. Getting any work done was almost impossible, and somehow we had more work than ever.
The day I got sunstroke I went to Katsepy, an island near the city, with the gang. While there we met a medium who told us to give her 10,000 ariary and three THB Fraiches (basically Mike’s hard lemonade) so that she could summon forth the spirits (a bit suspicious…most mediums ask for something a bit stronger…like Malagasy rhum). I asked her questions, using Priscilla’s dad as interpretor, based on the reading I had done on spirit possession. She seemed a bit taken aback and when I was finished asked me if I was writing a book. The whole experience made me realize that tromba was indeed a part of the tourism industry, especially near Mahajanga, and that if I really wanted to see anything I was going to need to get beyond that.
Then we drank from coconuts and watched men load omby into pirogues (they capture the cows and stack them in small canoes to transport to the city).

Before leaving Mahajanga we spent one last night at Marco’s and spent some time with JP. We went to his amazing Ethopian friend’s villa and passed a thoroughly relaxing evening with her and her chic french friends. Because of my lack of toilet paper (no, my family wouldn’t purchase it for me, and yes, I did steal it from an overpriced tourist restaurant bathroom), JP gave me an autographed roll.
From Mahajanga we took a flight to Nosy Be, perhaps the number one tourist attraction in Mada. We stayed at a hotel in Hell Ville, the city where all the real Malagasy live while they work for the tourists that stay in resorts along the beach. Every evening at about 7 there was a power outage in the hotel. The first night we were there we tried to find a bar/club and ended up being warmly welcomed into someone’s birthday party. We sang karaoke and ate cake.
There is a perfect beach in Nosy Be, and also a perfect island for snorkeling, although too many tourists have fed the lemurs, so they poop on people.
The last night there I met Patrick, a wonderful boy who worked as a chef at what we called the Vazaha bar, who thought that meat was bad for people, and who loved to dance. So, of course, I became his friend. We went to a club, and oh brotha could he dance ! Talk about Sakalava magic…It was actually pretty intimidating. So now we are going to be correspondants. He will be my « mada news ». Patrick liked to speak in metaphors.
This week is the last one before I depart on my own. That is scary. A la prochaine…

11 mar 2008

Ne regrettez jamais

I’ve had another exciting week. It was “music and dance” themed, so we had a different musical group come in each day. The first one was evidently “merina,” which is the ethnic group of the Highlands (ie Tana and surrounding area), which I’ve come to associate with a sort of rigid, western striving, often racist frame of mind(yes, racist against Africans). This of course is a huge generalization, as my family in Tana more than makes up for any other Merinas I’ve met. But the contrast was evident between the first musical group from Tana and the second Sakalava group from Northwest Madagascar, close to Mahajanga- where I’ll be heading in a few days. The Merina and the Sakalava were the two tribes that battled for a long time over possession of Madagascar. The Merina pretty much won, due to their involvement with the “west” in all its forms, but the Sakalava have more land as well as a royal family, and spirit possession! (which I’ll get to later…)

So the second group was called Kwoezy, and they were incredible! They were…well, what I imagined real African dancing to be. And they invited us all to dance. One of the girls pulled me into the middle of the dance floor, and I did- well, my signature “possessed” dance (as Cory explained to me…I dance as if possessed by a spirit), and they loved it! The leader of the group, who played the djembe, got up and started to dance with me. C’etait fou. No worries, I have a video.

The next day a group came from the south- Vilon’androy. They were also wonderful, if not as overtly sexual as Kwoezy. This time they made us sing acapella, and that was just so liberating. Being here has made me want to sing all the time…I wish the US was a singing culture! I realized yesterday, as one of my brothers here in Tana played some Beatles songs on his guitar, that I know very few songs by heart. That is sad. And even if I did know them, who would sing with me? How wonderful it would be to grow up with a set of songs that you could sing with anyone. I’ve refound my voice.

Also, I’m changing my project. I love baobabs and I love stories. But…SPIRITS! It has hit me hard, all of this spirit possession talk. I’ve had too many fascinating conversations to ignore it…this is what I’m most passionate about right now. The tromba- this term is used to describe the spirits that inhabit people’s bodies, as well as the activity of speaking to the spirits. Usually the spirits are the spirits of royal ancestors, but more recently they have taken on the form of more modern characters, such as boxers, prostitutes, etc. There are mediums that have the tromba, that is, they are possessed by one of these spirits or more than one (never at the same time), and they speak with the voice of the spirit- literally, they are no longer themselves.
I think more specifically I want to study the way these mediums use the tromba to exercise the many, often battling facets of their identities, as often the spirits that possess them express problems that are part of their “real” identities. Therefore, the spirit or spirits is/are used to express (usually narratively) the facets of identity that perhaps can’t be expressed normally(due to shame, oppression, etc). They also balance this personal story with a collective one, as most of the spirits are historical characters, therefore they are the voices of a specific time period in Madagascar’s history.
Sorry that was a bit confusing…it is all still mixed up in my mind. There is an anthropology prof from Barnard who has already studied spirits in Madagscar (I’m reading her book now). I think I might go back to the town in nw Madagascar where she went, called Ambanja, which is Sakalava territory (so I may get some dancin’ out of this, even outside of the tromba ceremony, where music is a major factor), although I still want to go to Morondava to see the ave of the baobabs and stay in a bungalow. We’ll see…

I had a rather overwhelming weekend. I went to a club in Tana Friday night with my close friends here- Cory, Lauren, and Priscilla (who I call Priska, as well as everyone in Tana. She is seriously famous on the streets…). That was especially wonderful because of the amount of Mika played. The old French men with their very young Malagasy women, however, was not an appealing sight. Tana is also eerily empty after 8 pm.

Today I had some wonderful conversations with my family, two of which were with people slightly drunk on toaka gasy (my dad and his brother). At first I talked with Jon about the mindset of the Malagasy people, and the changes that he wants to see in the political system (which I don’t even feel comfortable writing here, for fear of the wrath of Ravolomanana- the president). Then he played some Nat King cole for me on the guitar. Next I spoke with my dad’s brother about the tromba. He has witnessed quite a few ceremonies, one of them in response to his friend’s husband being witched by a bartender. We ended a rather circular, not so informative discussion by him giving me a big hug and remarking upon how white I am…He did tell me not to worry about being possessed myself, so that was comforting, as I’ve been told more than once now that people are scared for me because it’s the young girls like me that get possessed by evil spirits.
Then after dinner my dad told me all about his musical father, his love for gospel music and jazz, and his philosophy in life. Supposedly my dad is a master accordeon player! He told me that I should keep drawers in my brain for each thing I love to do, and that I should never have to prioritize the things that I love or give up any of them. He (almost violently) repeated- “ne regrettez jamais ta vie! Même si tu fais du mal, fais le bien!”

This week I see my first baobab…

Until then, some rather strange poems that hit me last week.

“Lightning lay him down
Deep down in the ground,
For the soil is fertile in this place,”
She whispers, her face
Leaning against the mirror.
The reflection she misses
Is not as clear
As the sorrow in her fisted
Hands. “Oh Lord,” she sighs and prays-
But doesn’t believe he raises
the dead up, now that papa’s gone for
good-“Does that mean that we’re
gonna be saved?” I cry,
but she doesn’t, won’t say.
She could never tell a lie.

Endless sleep
We will make of this life
A bed, and a table, and a light,
And when we wake we won’t remember
How the fire leaked to embers
Or the moon that passed unseen
Or the beauty of the dream
That woke us.

01 mar 2008

Post 2

Katsaka hair
Dance again
The wind will blow our songs away
And when we sleep
Only the night will hear us breathe
For the day is singing elsewhere.

Kintana, light my little girl’s smile
May she learn the words of before
And when the day breaks our windows
She will be ready to follow
The heart beat of this village
Pounding against the mortiere.

When the clouds split
The mud will run
The voices will rise
The water will fall
Let us silence our hands and feet
Let us sing.

So, I already typed up a long entry, and I lost it somehow…
In summary…

We just got back to Tana after wild adventuring for 10 days. I was in the village of Fiarenana, 4 hours away from Tsiromandidy by taxi brousse (a small truck with a wooden bench in the back, which I shared with four others and lots of luggage and rice/sand sacks). Riding was sort of like what I always imagined Laura’s experience to be in Little House on the Prairie, except a little more dangerous due to the recent cyclone. We had to stop four or five times to let the amazing helpers push, pull, and magic us out of large mud ruts. At each village (we stopped at 3 before mine), an incredible amount of smiling children materialized instantly. At Fiarenana, a long line of children ran after the taxi as we entered, screaming. It was a wonderful welcome.
My mom Alice greeted me. Basically, Marian Vitale, Malagasy version. I had a love/hate relationship with this woman. She was overwhelmingly kind, but also exasperatingly coddling and always there.
A list will help.

Most overwhelming moments:
1. Witnessing an exorcism in the village protestant church.
Near the end of the service, the girl a few people down from me in the row started to have a violent seizure. The fifoazana (female pastor/nun) started to scream in Malagasy. The only word I understood was Satana, but that was enough to get it. Supposedly this is normal in the FJKM church, and this particular exorcism was most likely planned and expected by everyone in the village. Except for the disturbed Vazaha.
2. Watching an old man vomit blood.
In the beautiful bamboo clearing where everyone in the village comes to “mitoto vary” (pound rice in a mortiere with a large wooden stick), I saw an old man vomit up large quantities of blood. Then they took him to the doctor on the back of a bicycle.
3. Vomiting off the balcony of the house where I was staying.
In the middle of the night, for the first time in 15 years.

Best moments:
1. Playing “Vichy” (sp?) with my 11 year old sister, Idealisoa, and the other kids. Never have I appreciated so much the power of games (yes, Andrew, I finally understand). I was thrown into a group of screaming children and left to fend for myself, not knowing any of the verbal cues being thrown my way. After 10 minutes, I was fluent in Vichy. It was awesome.
2. Dancing/singing with the village kids.
Right after I got there, I was taken outside and put into the middle of a circle of singing and dancing children. They all know the same songs…and they have beautiful voices. I learned some, recorded tons, and taught them the chorus to Lean On Me. And my dancing is thoroughly appreciated in this country.
3. Communicating, or attempting to.
Whether exasperating, ineffective, or wonderfully successful, trying to communicate in Malagasy or silently was always rewarding. Smiles are powerful. I interviewed the fifoazana exorcist woman. We shared beautiful moments of understanding.
4. Stars.
I learned the word Kintana after going to the outhouse one night and coming back completely stunned. I made a lot of silly hand gestures to get my point across. I said tsy misy kintana New York…

Alright, I had more but I was thwarted…I am glad to be back in Tana. I missed my host family here, especially my mom’s exciting stories. We talked for over an hour last night about her life and the power of literature. She finished L’histoire de l’amour. She had to read the end more than once. L’irréalité devient la réalité….

18 fév 2008

Post 1

I’m glad that I’ve waited to post here, even though it has been more a result of slow internet and lack of time than anything psychological. But I feel that I’ve finally reached a good mental place…I’ve gone through four main stages- euphoria, exhaustion, depression/shock, and now I’m just content, here, finally, in this strange place.

1. Madagascar is not really a part of Africa, according to anyone here, and from what I can ascertain.
2. People are racist everywhere.
3. Most of the people in the world can’t do the things they want most desperately to do, even if they have all the talent in the world and work hard every day of their lives.
4. Being born in the US is a privilege, no matter how poor you are, relatively.
5. Colonization is sickening and makes it easier to communicate.
6. Shoes are important and expensive, and many people here don’t have them, and that usually means that they’re poor.
7. Milk is not a given. Nor is cheese, butter, bread, lights, functional hole punches, a Visa stamp or safety.
8. Currency makes money seem like a toy.
9. My hair is scary.
10. Chameleons hurt when they crawl on you, and they even leave marks, but they are so amazingly colorful and cool that it doesn’t matter.
11. Lemurs can sing.
12. Hiragasy- “Malagasy song”- is perhaps the most beautiful song/dance/story performance I’ve ever experienced.

I learned the other day that my host mom’s great grandfather was secretary of foreign affairs to the last Merina queen of Madagascar. Merina is the tribe of the Antananarivo region, where I live now. They gave him a house, right by the Palais, where my “sister” Mirana and her husband Jon live now. Whenever I refer to names of family members now, I’m referring to my family here in Tana, to avoid any confusion (sorry real family…). My older brother Aina is supposedly a musical master, although he doesn’t live here, so I’ve never heard him play. There are two grandmothers who live next door- one of them has the “folle-folle,” according to Mirana, or is super crazy. The other one is 95 and writes poetry and still teaches piano when she isn’t sick. I’m pretty sure I know which one is which, as they both look out of the windows at me when I get home, and one of them smiles. I think that’s the poet. I have a little cousin Antonio who plays piano, takes ballet, and loves to describe animals as well as tickle. He also sings in French. My brother Titi, or Tiana, the youngest, is planning to study painting in Paris. It’s a specific painting that has to do with cars. I’ve seen his drawings, he’s great! My dad works for the national television network, and is a pretty wild guy. The first time I met him he was covered in car grease, and whenever he sees me he gives me a very spirited, “CA VA?!” He studied in Paris, as did my mom until she had to go back to Tana to give birth. Mirana, my sister, is married and expecting a baby in May. She also wanted to study in France, but her Visa was rejected 3 times. Now she runs a company that manages electricity throughout Tana…(I’m not exactly sure about the company). Her husband Jon is super smart, makes websites. He created Malagasy facebook. He berated me for having a Mac! Makes me think of my friends in the US. He is also pretty fluent in English, so I practice with him sometimes. We had a deep discussion about limited opportunities here. “No one will listen to your idea, but everyone says hello to each other.” My mom loves to read, so I let her borrow my French version of The History of Love. She is almost finished with it, and says that it is “vrai literature.” Her uncle was assassinated by the French gov in the rebellion of 1947. She is an incredible story teller. She also read my gift of a decorated Le Petit Prince the night I gave it to her, and remarked on how much of a philosophical story it was. They are all so welcoming, so accepting.

I also love all of the students in my program. I am closest to Cory, Priscilla, and Lauren. Cory goes to Columbia and we ride to school in the Taxi Be every morning (the taxi be is a small van circa 1970s that fits about five people too many) because her family lives close to mine here in Tana. She is pretty awesome- went to a French school and grew up in the Berkley area, where her parents currently own a biodome in the middle of the redwoods. She has been to a lot of places, lived with a family in Tahiti, and also speaks Swahili, also half slave descendant, half hippi, half spice girls lover, half French, half American. Priscilla is also amazing, grew up in Colombia, came to the US at age 8 and learned English in less than a year, but her parents still only speak Spanish. She is pretty crazy- drinks a little bit of the water here so that she can “get used to it.” Lauren has short bleached white hair and is a true “punk,” but not really at all! Goes to Vassar, really smart and nice. Both Cory and Lauren are also into Joanna Newsom…whoop whoop. According to Cory, I’m the nicest person she’s ever met! So, that is a bit strange to me. I don’t really consider myself a “nice person” so much as a good friend. But I guess I am pretty darned nice. Anyway, it was good to hear.

Yesterday we trekked through the rain forest on the East coast- by Andasibe- and heard and saw lemurs! It started pouring rain at the end. Our guide seriously took us to the middle of the forest, way off the path. It was pretty exciting. At the village we made friends with the kids. One girl, Telin, gave me a magazine cutting of a drawing of a red haired girl in a city eating sushi. That was pretty cool. I also handled a big boa constrictor (I wore it like a belt!), and let chameleons walk all over me.

In Tana most of the kids on the street literally live there. They don’t wear shoes and when you walk by they follow you with their hands extended. Every person who talks to you wants to sell you something, or perhaps they are laughing at you or telling you to go back to Paris. That was hard, but now I’m used to it. Our favorite places to eat are what we like to call “Vazaha central.” Vazaha is the common term in Malagasy for foreigner. There we can find buttery, cheesy things that tend to make me sick. It is strange feeling so wealthy. An amazing meal, with dessert and drink, costs no more than 15000 AR, which is around $8. To the Malagasy, 200 AR is about a dollar.
After dark, there are hardly any lights and almost no one out on the streets. We are discouraged from going out at all after 7, because we will almost certainly be mugged/raped/at least accosted. There are no street names here, so when you are in a taxi you give your neighborhood and a landmark. That is mind boggling to me! There are also no traffic lights or street walk lights. I’ve witnessed someone being almost run over/almost been run over too many times.
Yet at a certain hour, Tana is a beautiful place. A hodge podge of colorful buildings sprawling up a mountain. Most people are actually friendly, if they aren’t trying to steal from you or sell you something. And who can beat a foot long egg and cheese sandwich for $1!?

Classes vary according to professor. Some are intriguing, some are downright tiresome. Our main team of teachers is wonderful, though. Malagasy is really exciting. There is no verb for “to be”! It is a really musical language, people add sounds whenever they want to, just to add to the musical quality. For example, hello is “manahoana” (pronounced just manahown), but people add the “ay” or “oh” sound at the end as they please. There are also only three tenses- past, present, future. Present is just the infinitive of the verb! The hardest part is speaking, as the language fluctuates so much from person to person that it’s hard to get a grip on it. I’ll get some practice soon though, as next week I’ll be staying in a village where most likely people will only speak very basic French. I’m so excited! No running water or electricity. Stars and pooping in the woods!

Okay, that is all for now.
From a journal entry:
“I’m scared, really, to contact the outside world. It makes me uneasy to see the time move. Only two weeks! It feels like at least a month.
There is so much freedom in living in a world that you are unfamiliar with, with people that don’t know you. You can make yourself into someone else.
At the same time, it’s scary. Who are you, really, apart from the world you know and the people that love you?

Call me Vazaha
But who am I?
White skin, turned red from your sun.
Fire hair and a mouth that laughs
I am a cry from far away,
Listen hard and the echo falls.

Call me Vazaha,
But who are you?
Dark skin, cleaned by the rain.
Large eyes and a mouth that laughs.
I hear your cry, from far away.
Be silent, I am listening.”

27 jan 2008

Jim Bond