Madagascar is a country at once sultry and real – the rain came in last night around midnight and poured for about an hour. I laid in my tiny little bed – narrower than a single or a twin bed – and wondered if the corrugated roof would hold, since so many of them are rusted through with holes. But ours seems to have done a good job! I shared the little bed with Samsara, one of my homestay sisters, and it was a hard night’s sleep. I probably woke up four different times!
The mother, Shana, is a midwife, and someone came over around 1 a.m. with a sick baby that she administered medicine to, but still the baby cried in pain for about an hour. Then, I got up around 3 a.m. with a terrible stomach ache and used the toilet, which doesn’t flush so we use a bucket of water to flush it, but that didn’t work either. I suppose Fidron, my host dad, heard me and he got up to take care of it, which naturally made me feel even worse, but I admit I was rather irritated about not being able to sleep well.
I woke again at 5 a.m. as I have every morning since I arrived from the roosters, even though it’s still dark at that hour. Basically people wake up super early here – whether in the country or in the city – and make a ton of ruckus! They holler onomatopoeic absurdities and test their vocal range in a cacophony that starts the morning off in ultimate chaos. It’s pretty amazing that despite the loss of an hour of sleep, I actually really like the communal alarm clock strategy of the Malagasy! When one rises early, they’ll hear the world around them get gradually quieter as the day begins to unfold. By the time I leave the house around 7:30, it’s rather calm.
Though my night was a bit traumatic, the first evening at my family’s house was capital A-wesome. I wouldn’t be able to tell you an exact address since the streets have no names here – in fact they’re more like sandy paths that curve like a maze, then stop and continue again in between wooden shacks that are divided by fences made of in-the-round branches that reach about six feet tall. Coconut palms, guava trees and huge cactus-like trees grow in between everything. There are roosters and hens and tiny cats running around everywhere, and children playing, and women huddled under their eves displaying random goods, just a half foot away from where flip-flops and barefeet traverse.
After arriving at my house, the papa, Fidron welcomed me and we all sat down – I guess nany (Mama in Malagasy) Shana hired a photographer, because some dude was there taking pictures. They have a dark house with shallow ceilings – the walls are made of very rough wooden boards that look like they’ve been planed with a machete or some kind of hand tool, cuz they’re so uneven. What are about the size of 2 by 4’s are slatted along the post with nails and that’s
I started off the conversation by gifting the family with most of the presents I brought: of all of them, the wooden puzzle box my boyfriend made when he was a woodworker completely dazzled them.
The grown boys’s eyes were totally fixed on it, and each of them gave it a try. Dada Fidron absolutely loved it, and put it all back together again, replacing the bourbon balls I made and snuck inside, so that when nany Shana returned she could do it too, and then he explained to her in Malagasy how my fiance and I made the bourbon balls before leaving, and that he made the box by hand. This was all very appreciated by them.
Then we all went outside and dada Fidron fried fish in a tiny wok over a small barbeque pit low to ground – thats how all the cooking is done here. The coal comes from a native tree to the spiny dessert that is quickly becoming endangered, and the city usage of coal is to blame. Well, as he cooked, a special seat was prepared for me, while the kids all sat on the ground – they really treat me like royalty, its a bit overwhelming, but all meant with the utmost kindness too.
Before sitting down nany directed me to twist a coconut off the tree. As I did so with utter glee, all the smells and warmth and smiles of the neighborhood precipitated down on me and I felt so good that I had finally arrived. This is what I couldn’t have possibly imagined Madagascar to be like, but at the same time, its all that I’d hoped for. I looked up in the tree, and saw dozens of green and blue geckos crawling around on the baby nuts. I removed the gold and green coco and handed it to Jacquot, the 26 year old son. He took a scythe-like knife to it and hacked the skin off, revealing the husky fur. He handed it to dada who poked a hole in it, and then handed it to me to drink.
I closed my eyes and thought of my darling boyfriend Daniel who is studying abroad too in Ecuador, thanked everything in existence for this moment and started to get all giddy for it was all so beautiful and I felt so lucky.
The night went on like this for a while, the brothers sang American pop songs through their thick accents on their guitar as the sun fell and we had a huge dinner. The women ate after the men and me, and they sat along the wall in chairs while we sat at the table. They provided me with my own room, and a medium Master padlock and key for the door. I fell asleep late in the tiny humid room under a white mosquito net they had hung. The vinyl sheet on the floor flapped in the wind of the lightweight door into the next bedroom as I pulled it close and weighted it with a piece of lead ballast on the floor.
My homestay family have 9 children in total but there are more like 20 people hanging around at any given time. This is just the home life! I hope to write again soon and send all my love out to my Mills sisters.