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)

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