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Our Own Milky Way

As I sit on the plane with Today’s Hits pulsing in my ears, the distance between myself and my home for the past six weeks seems to grow exponentially. The stories I collected in Ambatomanga seem as long ago as my childhood and the rocks I turned in my hand at Isalo seem as distant as the glimmering stars I craned my neck to see in Betafo. I feel complaints about minor inconveniences creeping up my throat — it feels far too easy to settle back into the comfortable crevices of my previous life.

How do I hang on? Hang on to the magical, difficult, beautiful moments on this island that cared for me with more kindness than I have ever received before? It is easier to pretend it was all a dream I slept through motionlessly or a movie I watched in a dark theater. Detachment seems like a step towards integrating back into my familiar world.

However, the truth is that I cannot detach from my experiences because I have changed. Even if the snapshots of memories fade away, the Malagasy people’s unparalleled compassion has left an impression that will never erase. Their uncompromised, unconditional happiness will always linger on the corners of my smiles, and the vibrant coastal energy will always pump through my veins. Likewise, the countless hands, big and small, smooth and wrinkled, held out in search of an escape from hunger will always be engraved in me. Even if I wanted to, I would not be able to detach myself from these six weeks in Madagascar because they are now a part of my identity.

My duty is to shine a light on this part of my identity. That is the least I can do to give back: to share what’s been given. Truth can be told or hidden, and my duty is to tell. The ten of us students are ten new, shiny witnesses of a realer, more complete view of our earth. Through the microscope of the communities we engaged with, a bigger world was revealed. Perhaps we are insignificant in the greater scheme of things, but I feel special and privileged to have been confided these truths.

Madagascar is the farthest I have ever traveled from my home in Korea, but I am bringing it closer to home than I had ever imagined I would. Yes, the detailed memories may fade like how the individual stars of Betafo may be forgotten, but I will forever remember and recount the sprawling Milky Way I stood under, marveling at its impossible beauty with thick tears dripping down my cheeks.