December 13, 2011

Faces of my Kids











Che Che






Baby Dudu (accompanied by his mama Erafiny)

One Vazaha, Two Vazaha, Three Vazaha, Four

A Refutation of the Malagasy Myth that Foreigners Fit Five Across
One vazaha*, two vazaha
three vazaha, four
can you fit in one vazaha more
without putting one on the floor?

One vazaha is comfy
he's got room to swing his arms
he can peer out the window
and work his subtle charms

Two vazaha are settled
and appreciate the company
they can conversate across the space
and sit without touching a knee

Three vazaha are getting toasty
but still have room to breathe
it's getting fairly close now
they're sitting sleeve to sleeve

Four vazaha are comfy cozy
each in his own way pressed
it's bordering on painful
everyone's a bit stressed

The Malagasy people claim
that five across is easy
but Americans aren't skinny
our hips weren't made for the squeezy

Five vazaha aren't pleased
now we all feel like crying
each smiles but is thinking
  that five across is like dying

One vazaha, two vazaha
three vazaha, four
add that one vazaha more
and their falling out the door


Rose-Tinted Glass

As much as we all may joke about Peace Corps goggles (it is not a joke: it is an affliction!), many of us have switched those spectacles for another pair of late. Long ago, when it meant little to me, I heard through the usual twisted, time-distorted chain of Peace Corps wisdom about the rose-tinted glasses. These, the legend went, slip down over your eyes during your last weeks in your village; they distort your once reliable vision and suddenly you find all that once irritated you to no end now terribly endearing. As the conclusion of my two years lay yet far off, I patently disbelieved in this rose-tinted phenomenon.

But then, without warning, it happened. Awww, I caught myself thinking, this is the last time I will be harassed by that guy for English lessons, that woman for plastic containers, that kid for dictionaries I lent out a year ago and never got back, and that drunk who harasses me just for the hell of it. Shucks, this could be the last of seven hundred times that I explain to my neighbor that I do not speak French (really, not a word), the last of five hundred vague acquaintances to demand "gifts of the road" (oh come on guys, I was gone ten minutes!), the very last of a hundred times I have had to lug two giant buckets of water up a never ending hill (who invented this torture slalom?!).

Possibly it is relief, or could it be these strange feelings are what is known as emotions? For now, I cannot help but dwell upon how I have moved through seasons in this place and with these people. Through the seasons of my Malagasy; through days of ceaseless, drumming rains and dry, endlessly dusty months; through mangos, apples, oranges, and the dark, dark days without bananas. We have moved from polite hellos to "what's cooking?," from tompoko (my lord) to drako-eeee (girrrrrrrrrrlfriend!). Parents no longer ask me to teach their children English: they ask me to adopt them and take them to America. (I say that the paperwork for that sort of thing is awfully complicated).

What is also surprisingly complicated is the application of this term "emotional closure" which everyone throws around with such confidence. I am not quite sure what it entails. I can eat my way through the last of my American food stash, can clean my mud house and pack up my odd assortment of belongings. I can give away my maps, my books, and my soccer balls, can take portraits so that I will not forget the faces that filled my days. I can, and have, bid my farewells. But when I say that I am leaving, people look mystified and reply, but you just got here. My kids cock their heads, only momentarily stumped: yes, but when are you coming back?

I remember in the beginning (and sometimes towards the middle and even occasionally at the end) when the days would drag on interminably. Now- and I am aware it sounds like Peace Corps is paying me to say this- I do not want them to go. It is bittersweet to watch them slip away. I am without doubt lost in the rose-tinted haze.

Time, it seems, has toyed with me since my arrival in Maromandia. Even in my final days I oscillated between a desperate desire to leave this very second, and a strange, dangerous desire to stay forever. I will never forget stepping out of the Peace Corps car on my first day and allowing a long string of expletives to parade through my mind. Where did the two intervening years go? How is it that I find myself watching the town- an unremarkable dot on an unread map to most, a million experiences to me- pulling away out of the rear window? I will not forget this feeling either of moving forward and knowing that Maromandia will stay right here where I left it.