In Senegal everyone wears shoes. There are roundabouts, people in uniform successfully directing traffic, roads absent of potholes and painted with reflective tape down the middle, and buildings that remain in a constant yellow glow from the warm street lights that prevent it from ever being fully night. Everything feels so dramatically different from the world 5,000 miles east in Madagascar, where streets cling tightly to the smell of burning trash and car exhaust, the people’s bare heels flatten out firmly on the ground after years of wear, the stars shine in bright juxtaposition to the ink-black night sky, and the sun sets burn in a hot fire who’s intensity is only challenged by the welcoming smiles of the Malagasy people.
I miss Madagascar, especially my family where my sisters Prosline, Anitha, Christina, my brothers Prosli and Jo and my parents Pros and Hery all still sit in their small house on a well traveled street selling carefully constructed and polished wood carvings, and knowing that a few days ago I sat with them and sold the sculptures too. I miss sitting quietly on miniature wood chairs and watching women selling potatoes or greens from the baskets they balanced effortlessly on their heads as they advertised their products in a song that echoed on repeat as they strolled by. I miss ridding in a pus-pus with my sister Prosline as she said hello to schoolmates and family members, who just happened to be everyone we saw. I miss talking to her about daily life and learning that she wants to become a judge and attend college. I found it very hard to leave her and my home in Morondava , but leaving Madagascar the way we had to left me with an emptiness in my being and a lack of the sense of comfort and ease that I constantly felt traveling around Madagascar. I never had to think ‘oh, I can handle this’ because there was nothing to handle – there was just living. I never felt like I was ‘just getting used to things’, because being there changed my whole perception of what had changed. Finding an ants’ nest in the bathroom was not something to scream about here, I just didn’t put my towel in the direct line of travel for the ants and then I was unbothered. I miss living in a small home where I shared a bed, where the room I slept in was also just the whole house because there were no walls, but feeling incredibly privileged to be able to sleep in a real bed and under a roof funded by my host father’s hours of wood carving that also supported the childrens’ education. I miss seeing my instructors feel so comfortable in a place, watching them easily toss jokes back and forth with pus-pus drivers, argue over the price of bananas, and light up with enthusiasm over the opportunity to share everything they know about Madagascar to us.
It feels so strange to be thrust into a new country that we were not expecting and which was not expecting us. It feels incredibly bazaar and almost as though I am cheating on Madagascar, the country I flew thousands of miles from home to explore its rainforest, where biodiversity blossoms in a cool humid atmosphere, its the towns with hot mofo balls sold in make-shift stands which lay scattered along all the streets, to sit in a taxi brousse for hours and watch the country transform from forest to mountains to desert to beach as I sped by on a twisted road. I was fortunate enough to see a grain of sand in the mountain that is Madagascar.
Now I sit here in Dakar, Senegal where my pen slips between my fingers because of the sweat and there is an intense thick heat which I had not imagined. I know little about Senegal. I know everyone dresses in bright shades of gold and vibrant colors which stand out against the sand colored buildings and that everyone appears glamorous even with beads of sweat forming above a wide grin where warm eyes greet me. I know my instructors are as eager to learn as all the students are, and now we get the opportunity to see how they learn. I know the sound of the call to prayer, and the silence that follows it. I know that I will give my heart to Senegal as I did to Madagascar, learning the culture and the language and of the small things that will captivate me. I know that what I learn here in is more beneficial to me now because I have the knowledge of another country. I hope to give back one day to a country that gave me so much, with people who showed me a new life, and to my instructors who guided me through so much. For of all this, misoatra betzika, Madagascar.
(misoatra betzika=thank you very much).