Wednesday, September 11, 2013


This past weekend I got to experience that first hand.  We spent the weekend in the countryside with a Malagasy family.  We had meals with them (complimented of course by rice), we interacted with them (an exaggeration, meaning we struggled along attempting our Malagasay, which was met by both puzzled looks, laughter, and/or responses we couldn't understand), we went to church with them (meaning we sat in pews trying our darndest to follow along to a service in Malagasy while realizing how terrible our posture is against the rough wooden pews).  Some things proved harder than others, but needless to say we all survived, and enjoyed the experience

One of the things that really caught my attention was the traditional Malagasy stroll.  We probably lived about a half mile outside of the village in the valley, which was visible from our house on the slopes of the mountains which surrounded the rice patties, and what looked like toy houses and micro-machines dotting the landscape.  So we had to walk into town with our Malagasy home-stay coordinator for the weekend, Jon, and our host father.

Imagine you walking to class or from the parking lot to place of business.  That's what I consider to be a normal walking speed to be.  This is obviously a relative speed, given the fact that my mom could probably demolish anybody in a "normal walking speed" race, especially if the place of business is Talbots.  Now cut that speed in half and you'd probably get your stroll speed.  At this speed you could enjoy a cold ice cream cone (the only ones they have here are melted color medleys sold on the street, beware the Good Morning Madagascar affect a choice of food like this could have on your digestive tract) or even happen to enjoy the county fair, carnies, live iguanas, pig wrestling, and all the other perks of any good county fair.

Cut that in half and you have the traditional Malagasy Tsangatsangana (song-a-song-a-na).  Excruciatingly slow step by excruciatingly slow step you come closer to your destination... nowhere.  They have an end destination of nowhere.  They walk.  Slowly.  Nowhere.  This was mentioned to me before I came to Madagascar, I thought, that sounds fun, I've wandered before, hiked, enjoy being outdoors.  That sounds like a great way to spend an evening.  In practice, it is quite different.  

My premiere tsangatsangana was difficult.  Slow step by slow step, I felt like a frozen tortoise attempting to swim a pool of molasses made only better by the companionship of my American friends, who I not only know well from 2 weeks of orientation, but also happen to speak my language, that's always a plus.  It was awkward, uncomfortable, having to balance on one leg for every step is no easy thing, but, as an obvious turn in a blog as you would expect, it got me thinking.

The Malagasy have an interesting way of going about things.  Everything from listening to music to how they describe their family is more of an abstract concept that is fluid and flexible about the company of others in a general experience.  It's like the tv series "Lost" which is just a bizarre and terrible series within itself so I don't recommend seeing it just read wikipedia on it, sorry to the fans of which greatly outnumber me, I am sorry, but apparently the end concept of the series is that it doesn't matter the destination, just journey.  The Malagasy employ that concept whole heartedly in their everyday lives.

It can be uncomfortable and awkward from an American point of view.  Even one who sees himself as pretty laid back on the point of laziness to begin with.  To walk and not have a destination?  Come on, I'd just rather not walk to begin with.  That or I'd rather just get a move on and get to where I'm going to go.  The Malagasy challenge that concept whole heartedly.  Let's take a walk and experience that together with no destination, drinking up the world and people and lemurs around us (just a joke, unfortunately we have not seen lemurs yet).

So, during our tsangatsangana together via blog or newsletter or however else you might be stalking me  (smiley face) I invite you to slow down your busy lives.  Take a moment for yourself, reflect, think, relax.  Even if its just a quick minute or an hour long walk, take a moment to let go of your next destination, and think of the experience.  In the end, you're the person you are not because of where you are or what you have, but the experiences and interactions you have along the way to the present.

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