I am in Madagascar. I wish I could say I have a full schedule of appointments and teachings on my calendar. I wish I could say I am starting a new program for creating jobs and classes start tomorrow, but they don’t. I know this place has been on my radar for a long time. Years ago I wanted to come and see and I read about them, the Malagasy, the horror of colonization all too familiar. Bloody French this time. Evidence shows human foraging on the island around 2000BC. Now 90% of the 22 million in population live on less than $2 a day. And 90% of the plants and animals here are endemic. 80% of the plants here are found no where else! I felt God say, “Sure, you can go there.” And so I spent some of my very last dimes getting here. I have seen Him repay those dimes over and over. I reckon it’s obedience or maybe I am really stubborn.
Friends Chris and Dawn, neighbors in Mozambique have been here for two years. They live in a beautiful house in the capitol city Antananarivo and their Malagasy is impressive. They get around on scooters just like the one I had in Mozambique. Chris oversees the preschool at the orphanage and Dawn is a nurse for the entire children’s center, caring for around 150 children. This was all a young girls idea about 8 years ago. A radiant British midwife had a dream, a real one at night whilst she slept, about babies being discarded in rubbish dumps in Madagascar. She came here and started something out of nothing and has created a home for abandoned children. I wanted to see it. I wanted to see how it works and how you create something out of nothing as a foreigner. I wanted to see this culture and learn. And here I am.
I recently learned, and sadly was not surprised, that most of the abandoned children have been sexually abused. Children. Babies. Abused. Sexually. I have no box for that. No grid. Nowhere in my brain or heart to put that. I have a box for egotistical male idiots like Trump, but no way to comprehend abuse of a baby by a man. “Men are pigs,” is all that really comes to mind, and I need to book a therapy session with Dr. Mangin when I get back to Nashville. Yesterday, I spent the morning in the Toddler House with two dozen of the most beautiful toddlers I have ever seen. All ranges of skin tones and tight curls to long soft ones, all big brown eyes staring back at me. Most run straight into my arms for a squeeze. One with a flirtatious smile is carried in, he has a palsy of some sort. He is strapped in a chair and a lady patiently wipes his mouth, over and over. He is bright, his eyes dance, he smiles. Jeremy scoots across the room to throw himself in my arms. He has no legs, one arm. He is gorgeous, soft black locks atop his chubby face. I need an interpreter and want to know all their stories. Or do I? We play with play-doh and they take turns crawling into my lap. They speak Malagasy and I, English and we play. When it is time for lunch, my bratty, spoiled American vegetarian self doesn’t want whatever beautiful delicacy is being offered in the form of a cow or a pig or a goat on rice and I convince Chris to go with me to find street food. Street food is the best thing about travelling. Well, one of the best. It takes “dive” to a whole new level and would make Anthony Bourdain jealous. The stalls along the brick lined streets smell more of urine and fecal matter than an aroma of delicious food. The “restaurants” are tiny wooden stalls with a single bench. This one has a few paper Jesus and Mary figures pasted on the wall. We get two plastic bowls of cold pasta with potato salad on top. Already on the table awaits an oily hot sauce. I add it to everything without tasting my food first. “A girl who knows what she wants,” as Jim Taylor once noted when he watched me salt my tomatoes. I just know any sauce someone took time to make and has it waiting on the table has to be good. It’s hot. Very hot. It gives me the hiccups. It’s delicious. The soup is very bland and consists of water and few carrot remnants in the bottom. The pasta and potatoes are nice, but needed that hot sauce. I am told that it is often served between two slices of bread, a spaghetti sandwich. Spaghetti sandwich. Carb perfection. We also added two perfectly deep fried coin shaped potatoes mixed with scallions. The entire meal cost 50 cents. For dessert I was told I had to try koba, a“cake” wrapped in banana leaves. It looked like ahi tuna. It is made with peanuts, bananas, honey and corn flour mushed into a batter and steamed or boiled until the batter is set. It was just okay. I loved the texture, but my taste buds have been ruined forever by Rococo chocolate and gelato.
After lunch, an old tiny Citroen taxi pulled up to take me to the artisan market. We went to a muddy field. Along acres of rice fields lies an endless row of stalls housing colorful market goods, all looking very much the same. It was a disappointment. I wanted to find something new, creative and different. But each stall had the exact same dusty bags, baskets, scarves and little black and white lemurs made of straw. Bummed. My only find were three bright red giraffe weevils, endemic to Madagascar, incased in glass balls. I paid too much, $5 each, but it was my first purchase, a fair price and calculating Ariary in my head was too much. I was also trying to speak what little French I know. I should have paid more attention in French class. 3000 Ariary is 1 dollar. I retrieved 400,000 from the ATM and got the equivalent of around $130USD. I left that muddy field feeling a little defeated for not having gotten my glass balls for a song and for lack of unearthing some creative, beautiful find the world must have.
And that is how I spent my day. The traffic was so terrible it took an eternity to get home. We had the windows down and tiny children in rags ran along the car and begged, pleaded for money. A toddler ate breadcrumbs out of the dirt along the side of the road. I don’t give. I only have the largest amount of money one can retrieve at any time from an ATM, minus $15.50. I make eye contact, I try not to. I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t know what to do with myself. I don’t know what to do with my compassion or my compassion fatigue. I have over a two month Malagasy salary in my wallet. Not having small bills is my excuse. It is a pitiful one. They don’t teach this stuff in college or the church. Jesus would have fed them. Do I need to keep a Santa sack of bread loaves? I don’t know, I’m asking.
Today, I had lunch with Monica. She is deaf and mute. She’s 10 and wears glasses. We speak with smiles and thumbs up. The organization is hoping to put her in a school for the deaf. I cannot imagine how lonely her world must be. And this is my first 48 hours in Madagascar.