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It's a long climb, to get to the bottom of things

don't you worry your pretty little head

MADAGASCAR | Monday, 8 November 2004 | Views [430]

hello! welcome to madagascar! i know it's been awhile, but there are no predators or dangerous animals on the island, so don't worry bout me!
i think i was separated at birth. the people here love that which does not make sense almost as much as i do. i hit a slow start, bronchitis (too much excitement for my runty lungs) but after a few days of CNN, i got out an about in antananarivo, or tana. the city here is a roller coaster, waiting for you to take it on. you board simply by leaving your hotel. there is no way to abort the loop de loops and cyclone turns until it safely lets you off again in front of your hotel. the in between, my friends, is where the action is. i know the main roads up the hill. they turn in different ways going back down. sometimes in the middle of what you thought was uphill, you go down a hundred steps and back up again without losing any vantage point on the city below. i usually find one of the two guideposts: the burnt out shell of the queen's palace on the highlands, or the reappearing lake which always seems to block what i thought was my way back home.
breathlessly i follow the twists and turns until i find myself at home again, exhilarated by the nonsense of it all.
the trees here decided long ago to compete with the beauty of the roses below and have turned their leaves to a shade of purple. the houses are built on awkward angles as though they wish they could tumble down the hill with reckless abandon. and some days, the cars all park facing up the hill like a one way street. though the next hour they will all face down. the money is counted in malagasy francs, officially. easy for a vahaza like me to be confused in a store where everything seems ridiculously cheap- you see, they count their money in an unofficial way. the ariary. which is a multiplication table of francs times five. ever wanted to be a whiz at math, just try buying your groceries five times over!
after a few days of phone tag, i met brice, a friend of one of the folks i met all the way back in dakar. brice did wonders to help me get over my culture shock. his parents are malagasy, but he is considered to be a bit of a foreigner as well, because he lived and studied for a long amount of time in france, then america for a few years as well, even stopping by chicago for a brief and not entirely well guided stint (i can't wait for a day when perhaps he and his fiancee will come visit and we can really show them how wonderful chicago is). we went out to a fantastic malagasy restaurant and compared america stories and malagasy introspections. it was a blessed relief to ease back into french by having someone to speak english to for a few hours a day. and i got to practice my french with someone on my level, anja, a vivacious five year old who took me in stride and made me remember the colors and read a book with me, one i could actually understand in french!
after a few days, i found myself once again in the throes of peace corps- what's a girl to do? every stone unturned in this galaxy of a wilderness is covered in americans. and in the paralyzation of culture shock, you quickly go from searching them out to desperately wanting to immerse yourself in strangers who know nothing of marlboro dreams and MTV hallucinations.
the malagasy are the most beautiful people. somewhere in between africa and indian, chinese and polonysian, and yet distinctly their own.
everything is alive here. the plants, the sky, the air, the dead are even alive and pulsing through the energy of it all.
i headed out to the rainforest to escape my preoccupation with the american election. (never good to fixate on that which you are helpless to change, i thought).
i headed out to the village in sunshine, in two seconds, it was pouring rain. i met a crew of road workers who asked me to ride on their steamroller and chat. i could have walked faster, but the friendliness here is infectious, so we laughed our way down the mountain. that night, i hit the darkness of the forest, only to find the paparazzi tourist flash. i was so filled with sympathy for the poor dear little mouse lemurs, blinded in their search for a good banana to lick. and i had my first experience of giving blood for conservation of natural resources. leeches. lots of them. i took it all in stride. ok, i was a little paranoid that every drip of sweat down my neck was a leech crawling towards my face. but i never screamed, not even once!
i saw so many lemurs the next day. big fuzzy teddy bears flinging themselves through the trees. so cute, so alien.
the trails were absolutely incredible. i have no idea how the huge groups of twenty senior citizens manage to traipse through the steep muddy inclines that i barely manage to not break my neck traversing. but they do, walking sticks and all. they were in hot pursuit, but my guide managed to keep us in a bit of isolation. beautiful wilderness so silent and strange. the rainforest is like a tangled mess of hair that had been wound into dreadlocks on the surface of the earth. and the plants and the animals lost their need for an independence a long time ago. i don't think the tree frog even knows it is not the tree when it stays still for a few hours.
i managed to outwit even my own intentions and went to the american research center to find out the results of the election. then i hit the rhum coco for consolation. i am still hitting the rhum coco. part of me wanted to see riots and john kerry refusing to conceded and americans standing up to their faulty electoral college. i have to explain to everyone how this happens. how we try to help other countries have democracy with having a clear cut winner of a presidential election for an entire decade. but i can't know what it is like back home. how peace is grudgingly made.
i met a group of other tourists, one of whom was travelling the same path as i. so we now have been traveling together for four days. from rainforest, through desert heated mountains, to the coast. Marc, my travel companion, reminds me acutely of my brother only much more hungarian. and he has the added bonus of having the same temperment as i- the wonder and amazement combined with a go with the flow sense of adventure.
we went to ranohira, which means the shower, or water of the lemur. i love that image. at the shallow pooling waterfalls, the lemur comes and washes his little armpits drying off with the giagantic palm tree leaves.
the taxi brousse there was a novel in and of itself. we were turned back at the city limits of fianaratsoa by the police and our driver had to go back by himself to get paperwork while we all waited by the side of the road, watching our bags fade into the distance with anxiety. then we were off again only to stop for three hours by the side of the road while our driver purchased twenty sacks of zebu food. and then loaded them all onto the top of the van until the tires wished they could be worms and slink off into the ground beneath all that weight. while we were stopped, i marveled that i had not seen a proper sunset since arriving in mad. two second later the grey sky was hot pink. we are talking the nailpolish color little girls prefer. and the lavender aftershocks were just as gorgeous as the warring riot of pinks and oranges. this country is unbelievable. we were off again again. the driver, who had previously liked to blast eminem, began to show his renaissance and chose instead to crank up the celion dion tunes. he rewound "my heart will go" on twice in order to sing along with proper abandon.
we were laughing so hard we cried the next two hours. the four hours after that we cried out of hunger and butt pains.
but isalo, the national parc of grand canyon status, was finally at the end of the road.
only they only had one room. with one bed. there is a speed of getting to know someone at which you just are too tired to care anymore. and camping out in the canyon for the next night, the tent was the most ridiculously small piece of tarp i have ever seen. so i now consider myself to HAVE a hungarian brother. we laugh at everything. it is too surreal to believe. yesterday the sun set in two directions at the same time. the east AND the west. both were equally as pink and purple and orange. the laws of science no longer apply. the stars have become rabbits having babies, and they streak naked across the sky every twenty seconds for your eyes. fireworks have never been this exciting. everyday has been rain and sun and rainbows to show their brushing elbows.
i have averaged walking fifteen kilometers a day. and yet i lose no weight. it is too much to believe. i am no longer on the same planet i left. though there is a little bit of reality. having to actually drink purified iodinizied water that was so refreshingly beautiful to splash into after attempting a tarzan swing from the ledge above. having the grass attack your feet with knifelike precision as you pass from the green movie sets of waterfalls and sandy palmtrees to desert heat, scorpions, boa snakes, and vertical inclines that my lungs and my midwestern flatfeet cannot believe i overcome.
but everyday, i wake up thinking that i am the luckiest girl alive. and wonder how long you can possibly hold onto this feeling of complete contentment. it has been almost a month of competeing days for the best of my life. and with that, i go to see what is underneath the waves of the indian ocean.if you look on a map of madagascar, tulear is where i am. who knows where i will be when you hear from me again. probably in paradise. love and still lots of missing yous, emily

Tags: antanantarivo, emily predny, finaratsoa, lemurs, madagascar, parc nationale ranmanfana, predny, tulear

 

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