I made it outside of the capital for the first time since we got here. The Anglophone Studies Department had a party to celebrate the beginning of the New Year. They arranged a nice get-together at a place about 18 km outside of the capital. It was fun to socialize with my co-workers outside of official departmental activity. It was also the first time in a long time that I had been in the Malagasy countryside or 'ambanivohitra' in Malagasy (which literally means at the bottom of the hills). The pictures are a good representation of what villages look like in the central highlands, the mountainous region of central Madagascar.
I can't tell you how great it felt to be there in the country (although I felt a bit guilty because the rest of the family was still at home in the capital). For me, this is where I feel most at home in Madagascar, because the village Emily and I lived in as Peace Corps Volunteers, Ambatofinandrahana, was on the southern part of the highlands, in the Betsileo region. In the rural highlands you typically see hills ringing villages, dirt roads, small shops that sell basic goods, people working in the fields, reslendent rice patties, zebu ambling down the road, always followed by a boy of seven or eight swatting at them with a switch.
There is peace and relaxation to be found here. There is natural beauty, clear skies and clean air to be drunk in. People live close to the earth, work hard and don't rush things. Village life is by no means perfect. It's true that people in villages in the highlands ought to have better access to clean water, better access to health care, and more economic opportunities, but from my time as a Peace Corps volunteer I have always been struck by the goodness and beauty of the sheer simplicity of life in the village. People aren't always rushing to finish things and constantly harried, people talk to each other more than they do in the states, and people watch out for each other. Of course, there are more backdrops to life in Madagascar, but this is the one that will forever remain closest to my heart. The one that makes me the happiest. The one that makes me feel the most full of life and joy. The one that showed me that I could live a life stripped clean of the unnecessary conveniences of the modern world. The one that showed me the true core of it once those excesses had been peeled back. Since we left Ambatofinandrahana in early 2009, perhaps partly because we had to rush to leave because we were evacuated, I have felt like I left a life of real value behind in the Malagasy countryside. I don't quite see a path before me that takes me back to that very same life, but my current path has brought me very close, so close in fact that I no longer feel like I abandoned a life. I am here, and it sits clearly before me. I can touch it. I can breathe it in.