Monday, June 30, 2014

Over Madagascar

I  have been home for over a month and practically every day I have opened my notepad and resolved to write a follow-up or concluding chapter of the Madagascar experience. Unfortunately, it feels like my creative juices have run dry. Perhaps I have not  adjusted properly to my normal circumstances.  In any case, I have lost the clarity of mind I felt so vibrantly while I was away. So to help kickstart my brain, I sorted through the more than fifteen hundred photos I took. I listened to the entire CD of authentic Malagasy music Clement, my guide and I recorded. I've reread my previous posts and examined the souvenirs I brought back.  Yet, in spite of the effort, I can not stop the dulling of memories. I am left with vague visions of landscape and animals, imprecise impressions of people, dumb platitudes about Madagascar society, and am out-of-touch with the sounds and odors that made the country distinctive. One experience though does suddenly come to mind and may help me offer at least something I learned.

One morning during the middle of the trip, I was on a private tour of Isalo National Park with a bright young naturalist whose name I no longer recall. We hiked up into high rugged dry terrain of plateaus separated by sheer cliffs of red, yellow, pink and white strata which drop vertically into deep narrow canyons. This topography, known as massifs, is considered to be among the most scenic and dramatic landscapes in the entire country and was not what I expected at all. At first glance, this un-tropical spot looked like it could be mistaken for landscape in Arizona and, if it were not for the presence of mud hut villages and herds of zebu, African oxen, I could see in the distance, one would expect to see road signs measuring distance to Phoenix.  Along the trail the guide and I stopped at viewpoints and scanned the horizon. We shared water and snacks and, interspersed between his narrative about the indigenous plants and animals that we encountered, he spoke, like so many of his type, of his dreams and aspirations to see the world. I had heard such sentiments many times before by others like him on this and other trips. The obstacles these young third world, environmentally conscious, people faced to satisfy their desire to discover the world beyond their neighborhood were numerous. Not only thwarted by impossible financial limitations, commitments to wives, children and extended family to be ever present providers, created a moral dilemma which left these bright curious people frustrated. His tone saddened me and made me feel undeservedly privileged. Exploring the world for me was a passion and a somewhat frivolous hobby, but for my naturalist guide discovery was integral to his identity and career development. He pointed out a "walking stick" on a branch which I had a difficult time spotting, even after he pointed and traced with his finger the insect's outline, and then indicated a small exotic-looking lizard whose head bobbed up and down. Later he told me of the life cycle of the golden-webbed spider.  He explained some of the theories of these animals strange behavior, which he communicated enthusiastically in English, but have could have done so as easily in French, German or Malagasy. The sun was now high in the sky and we reached the edge of a precipice. The view was expansive. I suddenly felt faint and overloaded from the rigors of travel and need to rest. Surrounded by ancient geologic Cambrian formations teeming with trilobite, ammonite and pre-dinosaur fossils, I lay down on my back, rested a bottle of water on my belly, dangled my feet over the edge, and looked up at the sky. I saw shapes in the clouds that looked like people I had known. I recalled the faces of my parents, sister, children and intimate friends and took an assessment of my life. My guide let me lie there for perhaps a half an hour or longer and made no effort to interrupt my reverie. He stood quite some distance away in the shade of a hillock. I winced from the pain of some recollections and felt gratitude for the imbalance of my life's positive fortune. It was then that I realized I had the ability to help a deserving young naturalist expand his experience and help him tour America in order to derive the benefits of world travel as I have.

I couldn't help that guy. He had committed himself  to a five year contract with his park service and also his wife had a second child due, but I have subsequently  made efforts to foster someone else. I have offered to pay a round trip ticket for a deserving fellow from Colombia I met several years ago to spend a month here. It is a work in progress and a struggle though to accomplish this in ways I hadn't expected. I'll keep you posted.


  1. I was feeling too rattled when I read this post the first time (last night) to do more than glance at the pictures, and I probably paid less attention to the first one than to any of the others. I assumed it was a just landscape picture and didn't even allow the actual subject to reach the level of consciousness. But when I looked at the enlarged version of it this afternoon, I finally realized it's one of the most unusual "selfies" I've ever seen. Now it's the picture I keep coming back to.

    It's a photo of your feet in hiking boots, hanging over the edge of the cliff, during that half hour you were resting and contemplating the clouds in the distance. It's a visual record of the moment you wrote about, when the train of thoughts you described so beautifully led you to the decision that ends this post.

    It's a very good decision too. I'm looking forward to further developments as it plays out.