Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Reality Sets In...

An old radio situated on a table outside the school room on the Filofito compound, where I live and work. (Taken 19th of September, 2013 By Ian Stitt)
The early morning view of the Malagasy highlands covered in fog/ smog, it was taken from the taxi brousse going from Tana to Fianar.  This was the first day of travel in the two day journey to Toliara.  (Taken 12th of September, 2013 By Ian Stitt)
                It has been a little over 10 days since I have arrived at my placement.  The reality of the position that I committed to back in January has begun to set in.  It is a reality that although tough to swallow has already shown its rewards.  There is beauty in this place, beauty that is not on the surface, but deeply imbedded in the litter covered soil.  The Malagasy are a complex people, a people with well formed assumptions and fears of anything not predictable.  The silence that permeates the air between us strengthens this thought.  Things often go unsaid, especially on my part.  This may be the toughest part of this experience.  For it feels as if my true self is not seen, not understood, not realized.  If you have ever removed a leg of a table then you know that this table is still functional but unsteady.  This is my metaphorical existence, having the crutch of a majority, more than necessary, existence.  This is a cold thought.  It was best stated in the book How Coffee Saved My Life: and other stories of stumbling to grace by Ellie Roscher:

The view of a small malagasy village and rice fields located in the highlands of Madagascar.  This was taken while I was with 3 other Mad YAGMs on the taxi brousse to Fianar.  (Taken 12th of September, 2013 By Ian Stitt)
“I got through the first few days calling up courage from moment to moment.  I observed without understanding a word.  Every now and then I would try to talk, each sentence a struggle, an embarrassment, a cry for help.  I was herded around, never really knowing what was going on.  I ate, slept, and breathed.  Such automatic acts became victory enough (p21).    Success was redefined.  Going from an abundance of friends, food, family, power, and comfort to none, my situation felt like a primeval struggle for survival.   Every day was new and scary and exciting and exhausting (p22).” 
Life is slow here, things progress minute by minute.  The American experience of reality, where days fly by, is not useful in Madagascar.  Though, this may just be my experience of Malagasy life.  Regardless love abounds, there is a beautiful relationship between parents and kids.  I can’t explain this experience other than by saying that the
The view from my taxi brousse window of some fields while on my way to Toliara from Fianar.  (Taken 13th of September, 2013 By Ian Stitt)
glimmer in a mother’s eyes as she cares for her child is cross cultural.  Older children take care of the younger.  Community is abundant and since the day I arrived I have been accepted, as much as a Caucasian can in a Malagasy family.  I am treated like a son of my host mother, Jeannette and also a guest of honor.  Though I would say that the honor is all mine.  I spend my nights while the power is out in the yard watching the beautiful and enormous amount of stars or laughing with Mickael and Raian as we kick around a ball made of what seems to be bags.  Mickael and Raian joke that it is a “Malagasy ball”, though deep down I know this to be a sad statement on the realities of Madagascar.  It is an enlightening experience to laugh and play with these two young boys without any words.  These are the moments that seem to make up for the inevitably long days, 3-4 hour church services, and unending heat. 

The road I took to get to Toliara, may be the only one to Toliara, taken after a restroom break on the 11-12 hour journey.  (Taken 12th of September, 2013 By Ian Stitt)
The usual 6:15 wake ups to Malagasy hiphop dance music has been a difficult transition.  Though, it did prepare me for the first teen cultural emersion.  I was asked to join the kids of my family for a night at a dance festival, by the ocean.  It was an interesting feeling to be the only white guy, taller than most, at a young adult (loose term for any kid who wanted to attend no matter the age) festival.  I got to experience the tapa tapa (twierk) dance along with many of the others, still nameless to me, that my host brothers and sisters had shown me in the days preceding this event.  There is a tragic disconnect between present American culture and the culture seen on music videos and advertisements.  The adoption and integration of false American cultural fads can be seen in every part of young Malagasy life, from the big belt buckles and flashy jewelry to the orange Mohawks.  Semi-comical and yet tragically real is the realization that I have become embarrassed by the younger American generational fads, just like my parents. 
This is an image of the Little boy and his mother in the seat in front of me on my bus to Toliara.  I was making faces at him when I took this.  (Taken 12th of September, 2013 By Ian Stitt)

Madagascar in all of its complexities and beautiful facets is still a dream.  It is unimaginable that my existence here, though short, will last an unimaginably long, rice filled, year.  However, it does help that Milou, the puppy, has taken a strong liking to me.  She curls up and falls asleep usually near my feet as it gets dark every night.  It is comforting, though the fear of getting bitten by the ticks that are thriving on her is a bit disconcerting.  This is especially true for my host sister, who remarks that nearly every one of the bites, itches, or tickles of my skin is a result of the bugs from the dogs.  This does not stop me, for I see it as a calling to show the Malagasy that their abusive nature with dogs is not necessary and is actually counterproductive.  My host mother agrees when I say that the Malagasy and especially the family look to me as an example of how to treat the world.  It can be seen in the fact that trash is no longer
This little girl is related to the young boy and his mother in the other photo.  She had bad car sickness and was getting sick the whole ride, though she smiled through it.  (Taken 12th of September, 2013 By Ian Stitt)
being thrown on the ground but into a pile to be burned and the fact that the dogs are no longer being kicked.  Let’s hope it continues!  

This is a view of the front of my humble 2 room house on the Filofito compound.  It is nicely located on the back side of the school room and next to one of my host sisters houses.  (Taken 19th of September, 2013 By Ian Stitt)

Jeannette, my host mother, is a medicine maker and these are a couple of the workers standing on the machine they use to extract the herbal remedies from the plants.  (Taken 19th of September, 2013 By Ian Stitt)

This is the dog Tolie, looking as cute as ever while relaxing in the shade on a hot Malagasy day.  (Taken 19th of September, 2013 By Ian Stitt)
This is Milou playing with a piece of fabric that she found on the ground.  She has taken a liking to following me around and falling asleep between my legs.  (Taken 19th of September, 2013 By Ian Stitt)

These two are my loves, Tolie and Milou(the puppy).  They have stole my heart and I am currently training them to sit and lay down.  It is not an easy job for these two!  (Taken 19th of September, 2013 By Ian Stitt)

This is my host mother Jeannette and her grandson Joshiano.  Joshiano does not know how to crawl or walk yet but loves to dance and mumble.  (Taken 19th of September, 2013 By Ian Stitt)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The journey continues…

                The journey continues…  There has been an immense amount of experiences since I last connected with you.  Though I am unsure of how exactly I want to go about telling you about my experiences.  It has been a tough, amazing, and over stimulating experience here.  As I was writing my thoughts down, it occurred to me that everything I wanted to explain could be described in terms of sounds.  The music that greets my ears at every turn and time is not what we Americans consider music.  Music to Malagasy is not something you can capture on a recording or selected on a portable music device.  Music is much more, an experience, a total engulfing of the person and group.  This is to say that it totally permeates the objective bounds that we place on it.  Music is social, which if you were to experience Mada would be a comically obvious statement as Malagasy seem to be always doing something.  It could be 3 in the morning and the sounds of trucks honking and pousse pousses driving by would be audible through the open window.  I would be lying to say that this was welcomed although it is has become an accepted Malagasy experience to this point. 

                The market has been a continual adventure with its multitude of fresh veggies and fruit as well as an eclectic mash up of everything else imaginably necessary for a normal Malagasy life.  The strange assortment of trinkets is not the interest of this conversation, though adds to the image of the market.  The
The Mad YAGM crew showing off their purchase at the Antsirabe market.  The food was used to make a dinner possible at our host homes, stir fry!  (Taken the 31st of August, 2013 By Zack Stewart)
isles dedicated to veggies and fruits seem semi scarce at first glance, until you immerse yourself in the beautiful sights and sounds of the busy merchants and customers.  The smell is a mix of fresh food and rotting trampled on waste left from previous days and encounters greats your nose.  The veggies are as fresh as can be imagined, seemingly straight off the farm.  The sellers try to entice you in with their French/Malagasy words and gestures.  The dance created between the customer and seller as to the adequate price to pay for a kilo of carrots or a bunch of greens is an interesting and foreign thing to us Americans.  It harks to the experiences of the Juarez, Mexico market back when it was a relatively safe experience to engage in.  The awareness of your pockets and personal belongings pays its toll as the heightened awareness seems to make you paranoid, though the sight of all the amazing assortment of food possibilities seems to make you loosen up your hold on your wallet for a tactile inspection of the food.  Ideas of future meals brings warm comfort and almost contradicts the abrupt smell of the meat sellers next door, as if a hogs head or brain was not enough to hurry you along.  As I have reflected more on my interactions with the market I have realized the beauty of the auditory experience that the hustle and bustle of the market creates.  It may seem odd to you as to why I am hinting at these experiences musicality to explain my understanding.  It will hopefully become clear that music and sound is more than a complex wave form but an all encapsulating social experience here in Madagascar. 

                I have reflected on this next experience in a letter I recently wrote and found it a relevant snap shot of life here in Mada.  It was a short interaction with a couple of impoverished boys I met on the street
The view of the rice fields from the main road outside of Ambohibary.  Ambohibary is a small town outside of Antsirabe and was the location of our overnight home stay. 
(Taken the 7th of September, 2013 By Zack Stewart)
that stuck in my mind.  Though to put it like this makes it sound as if this was a unique experience, which it was not.  I occasionally see these two boys outside the gates of our compound and every time I venture outside the walls I seemingly experience something similar.  To this point, the language classes have taught a lot but not enough to explore these boy’s lives through solid conversation.  These two boys are probably 7 and 9 years old.  Their dark brown skin and clothes match the world around them.  Their clothes are covered with the reddish brown dirt that seems to slowly be consuming the streets and sidewalks of Antsirabe.  Their clothes are dirty, old, and torn showing the extended wear without a wash that the clothes are forced to endure.  The brightness of their eyes and smiles seem to contradict their impoverished life.  This to me seems to create a thought that perhaps their life may not be as impoverished as I may assume.  Though their needy hands and words pull at my heart, I realize that not much good will come of either of us if I give in.  It is a harsh reality.  However, one that I think will encompass my Madagascar experience.  

                Madagascar is a place not adequately described by any comprehensible statement.  It is a culture commonly associated with Mainland Africa though is more adequately described as a French-Borneo confection.  The language resembles that of a tribe found in Borneo.  It was an interesting experience to encounter the rural Malagasy lifestyle.  The original tribal beliefs, based in ancestral importance, were a truly unique and special to experience.  The country side was covered in what will soon become fields of rice
This is an image of the beginning of the Famadihana, the tradition Malagasy ritual of the turning of the bones.  The bones of ancestors are removed from the tomb praided around the town and then placed back in the tomb wrapped in a new cloth.  The celebration occures every 5,7,or 9 years depending on wealth and includes dancing, drinking, and constant music.  (Taken the 7th of September, 2013 By Zack Stewart)
stretching for as far as the eye can see.  The inhabitants seem to be curious of a large group of Vazaha visiting their small town.  The host family and neighbors seemed to contradict this fascination with a surprisingly welcoming and patient approach to our American lifestyle and minimal Malagasy skills.  The family seemingly took us in as a member of their extended family and showed us no short of amazing servitude.  Our interactions over cooking or warm fresh whole milk really brought to light the true beauty of the Malagasy fomba (said fumba, meaning culture).  It was definitely a highlight of the trip to experience a traditional ceremony of re-wrapping the bones of ancestors in a new lamba (cloth).  The dead are removed from their tomb and partied with for a day re-wrapped with a new lamba and then placed back in the tomb.  It was an especially interesting experience because of the amount of alcohol and dancing at the ceremony.  A celebration of the ancestors life, though because this tomb had become too full 2 of the 3 families using the tomb decided (could afford) to built new tombs and move their ancestors into the new tombs.  It would be a lengthy thing to describe this experience fully.  The dancing and constant music while moving the bodies was an oddly beautiful sight.  The bodies of souls past seem to crowd surf the family as they dance and sing their way to the new tombs.  Malagasy save up these extravagant celebrations for years in advance and go broke putting them on.  It is an oddly foreign concept to me though beautiful because of the pride associated with Malagasy families.  No expense is spared, for example the lamba used to wrap the bones are made of hand woven silk and a sign of great wealth.  

                It is my hope that with these few snap shots of Malagasy life that you may begin to understand the journey I have only begun to experience.  In keeping with the musical theme, Johnny Cash said it best in his song “Wayfaring Stranger”
I know dark clouds will gather 'round me,
I know my way is hard and steep.
But beauteous fields arise before me
Though it is tough, I hope for the day that I can truly say
This is a place where I don't feel alone
This is a place that I call my home...  (“That Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra) 

The sunset over the cityscape of Antsirabe, Madagascar.   
(Taken the 26th of August, 2013 By Ian Stitt)