We have been traveling lately. We took a trip with Emily’s mother to Morondava for about a week in late April when she was visiting. Morondava is a laid-back beach town on Madagascar’s west coast. Emily and I went there once in 2008, during our Peace Corps service, but we had not been back since the recent trip. Morondava is famous for the Avenue of Baobabs, but the town itself, and the area called Nosy Kely (the little island), are also very charming. It’s certainly one of my favorite towns in Madagascar. Everyone there seems perpetually chilled out, and it is easy to get around town (motorized rickshaw or by foot). Sadly, the same cannot be said for Antananarivo at present. One of the best things about the trip was that we got the chance to see our good friend Rado’s family and to see the house that he grew up in. Rado came to the states when Emily and I were still in the Peace Corps in 2008. After Peace Corps we moved to Nashville, and met Rado there, who is from Morondava, along with 25 or so other students from Madagascar. We were happy to stay connected to Madagascar by meeting and befriending them. In addition to being an incredibly smart guy, Rado is also an incredibly good guy who has a ton of friends. His mother described him as tia namana, which is to say that he likes people or likes to have friends. The dialect of Malagasy spoken in Morondava (Sakalava-Menabe) is different than the dialect spoken in Tana (Merina or Teny Malagasy Ofisialy as it is called), but it is easy to communicate with people in Malagasy there. It was a great trip, and I feel truly blessed to have seen the majestic Avenue of Baobabs with family on multiple occasions. When you are there, it really seems as if you are on another planet. (In 2008 we went with our Emily’s intrepid sister and brother-in-law who trekked across Madagascar like seasoned pros.)
We are now in Antsiranana (formerly named ‘Diego Suarez’ and now also commonly known as simply ‘Diego’) because I am doing some work with students and teachers at the University of Antsiranana. It is the northern-most large city in Madagascar and has Madagascar’s second busiest port, after Toamasina on the east coast.
The university sits on the beautiful bay here and seems to have a perpetual breeze and laid-back vibe, complete with goats and zebu grazing on campus. I am currently working with Master’s level students on improving their academic English, as well as meeting with seniors and juniors to help them with their English. I am also doing some teacher development and in general trying to help as much as I can. The dialect of Malagasy here—teny Antakarana—is much more different than the dialect spoken in the capital of Antananarivo, much more different in fact than the dialect of Malagasy spoken in Morondava. There is a good mix of French used in the dialect here—a surprising amount in fact to me at least. Malagasy people in Antananarivo use a fair amount of French, but here there is even more French mixed in with the local way of speaking. In all, the trip has been good and we are managing to see the city as much as we can. Things are fairly stable here in Diego and the university appears fairly lively. Antsiranana is a nice place to visit and work, and I am lucky to be able to do both here. Emily and I did not make it here during our Peace Corps service.
One thing that continually strikes me as unique about Madagascar is the sheer natural beauty of the place. I find it hard to describe all of it, partly because it is so diverse here (you can see deserts, rainforests, mountains, and beaches) and partly because some of the scenes must be taken in with all of your senses and cannot be captured properly by words or by still images. You may have to work to get to some of these majestic spots, but such work is repaid in full by the natural beauty experienced and by the continual glimpses of the many different forms of life that fill out the grand tapestry that is fomba ‘gasy (Malagasy culture).