After four years, here I am, back in Madagascar. A night flight over Africa and then, in the first light of a new day, I see the northern coast of the “red island”. The dawn illuminates mountain ranges, valleys with small mirrors of rice fields and even smaller villages connected by a network of rusty roads. I’m back and full of expectations. Nothing has changed here, only the sunburned grass of the dry season that I saw in 2009 has been replaced by lush green vegetation. Now it is the rainy season down there.
The national road from Antananarivo heads south to Ihosy. The taxi-brousses are still as uncomfortable as they used to be. However, I am pleased to see that I have not lost my old traveling habits … after a few kilometers, I no longer care about being pushed and twisted on my tiny seat. I just immerse myself in the magical landscapes outside, one after the other as they pass by… and in the life on the roadside. Children running around, steaming and burning piles of bricks, mothers preparing a dinner on fire and young boys rushing through the landscape with a herd of horned zebu cattle. With the window slightly open, I am exposed to the evening breeze, which brings with it many different smells … the deep smell of smoke from the charcoal on which someone is cooking his dinner by the road, the acrid smell of smoke from the piles of bricks … the smell of coconut oil in the hair of a young Malagasy mother sitting in front of me with her little child … the smell of sweat that tells us that the day was hot and we have all come a long way … the smell of the red soil of Madagascar that penetrates through the clothes to the skin and sometimes, for some people, even through the skin to the heart.
Nothing, or almost nothing, has changed here. I still eat rice as my morning, midday and evening meal. This time, however, it is enhanced with a few fried grasshoppers. Here in the south they destroy the crops, so it is only fair to take a little revenge on them. Along with the rice water, toaka gasy occasionally appears, distilled at home or by a neighbor. Clear or yellowish, in glasses or tin cups, but always very strong. And before we drink it, we always sprinkle a bit of it towards the east, in memory of the previous generation of the family, the ancestors, who apparently dwell in the east.
I walked through remote villages, around rice paddies, strolled through the endless savannah of Madagascar’s south, watched cockfights… and to this day I regret not having bet, because I would have won. I found out that the best morning coffee is the one you roast yourself in an old earthenware bowl and grind in a wooden mortar… and I learned how to do all this diligently, although here in Europe you hardly ever come across green beans of delicious Malagasy coffee and African rice mortars.
Most importantly, I was there to share life with the people…life that is often harsh and hard, but at the same time burgeoning and vibrant. I hope to return one day, not for the undoubtedly beautiful mountains and savannah, but for the people. Veloma finaritra, Madagasikara!