Wednesday, April 23, 2014
On the Road with Clement and Me
The cool temperature of the highlands and the fertile rice fields of its valleys have given way to a spiny wasteland. We are approaching the end of National Route 7 in the southwest of Madagascar just above the Tropic of Capricorn. Driving at a leisurely tempo, Clement, my guide, is humming and singing softly the words to the traditional folk songs from the CD in the player which we bought several days ago. As usual, I am watching the landscape and the people along the road, snapping an occasional picture, when I become aware that I feel frightened. It is an odd sensation I have had before on trips and arises when I am too far away from the safety of the world I know. As if Clement senses my anxiety or he suddenly feels his own, in his gentle Malagasy-English accent, he articulates what I see. "Sad, very sad" he laments and makes first a clicking sound with his tongue and says "The people have no water." Along the desolate road I see locals, mainly children, pushing carts loaded with 20 gallon jugs. Some appear at first like ghosts out of the shimmering heat, miles from the nearest house or community. They are headed for tiny dark red mud or straw huts, which are clustered in small groupings around a charcoal burner in order to deliver an essential which I have taken for granted. I reach into the pocket of the passenger side door and pull out my plastic bottle of "Eau Vive" and take a swig. The water is warm. The car thermometer says its 29 C outside. I eagerly anticipate the sighting of the ocean, which I feel by its different color and texture will help soothe my mood and, when over a bluff it comes into view, I realize I'm looking west and homeward. I flash back to a vision of my childhood. I'm standing above Torrance Beach in Southern California. The sky is bright and cloudless and I am looking at the blue of the water to the horizon. It seems endless, which is both exciting and a little unnerving. Here the section of ocean before me is called the Mozambique Channel. I'm told it is 400 kilometers wide before it washes up against the east coast of Africa. I push away the thought and, for a moment, preferred the chance to see the familiar distant outline of Catalina Island.