It was another sunny day north of Antananarivo (aka Tana), and I was looking forward to the five kilometre walk to the airport from the Croc Park as much as I was glad to finally have my pack shipped over.
It was my third day in Madagascar, and I felt like I was walking through an article in National Geographic. Homes were carved from rock and sculpted in solidified earth that seemed to blend the buildings into the road itself, like a canyon, funnelling pedestrians, bikers and even stray chickens along the gullet.
I passed men, young and old, who balanced all manners of supplies and loads on their heads or over their shoulders, and women of all varieties with baskets balanced with poise. A young girl struggled with a jug of water on her back, but muscled along with a purpose, and I could still hear the laughter of the boys playing in the long grass behind the row of homes and open-front shops
Unlike Tsaralalana and the northern part of Tana where car exhaust fumes invade your sinuses and virtually obliterate all else from detection, the air was remarkably fresh, carrying light scents from rice paddies and morning harvests, and only the occasional dust cloud when an odd car or taxi-be rumbled past down the eroded, choppy road.
A cow grazed impassively between two buildings from a shock of emerald carpet, raising its head only briefly to take note of my passing – but it could have been the cart loaded with long bundles from the morning’s harvest pulled along by a pair of young men, or even the taxi-be that zigged and zagged from one side of the road to the other, mindfully navigating its way around the gullies carved by rain that initially got its attention. Still, she studied me for a moment before deciding that grazing was more favourable.
Being a 6 foot tall white female with a funny hat, it’s safe to say that I looked as foreign as I felt, but I was greeted with pleasantries, bonjours and saluts the whole way. Earthen homes slowly evolved into buildings of slatted wood and painted stone or cement with metal roofs, but I was as often passed by carts pulled by cows or young men as I was by a Mercedes, BMW or Toyota SUV or taxi-be.
Young boys scampered along a walkway which would appear and disappear from the shoulder of the road, playing with toy cars pulled along by strings from sticks. Three girls played with stones on a porch, giggling when they saw me and crawling over each other in a mix of excitement and shyness when I asked if I could take their picture.
Children ran up to just to look and smile and wave. Some would curl their fingers over their mouths, coyly hiding their curious grins.
A beautiful young woman bathed her daughter in a tub in front of her home and spoke to me in French. She was as impressed with my choice to walk as I was that I could carry a conversation in another language, albeit weakly.
Of my 10 days in Madagascar, I am most fond of that particular stroll. It could, in part, be thanks to that crystal clear, sunny day, or perhaps be that it was my last hour of being unencumbered by the weight of my pack, but there was something far more profound.
It was an opportunity to see a whole other way of life that, though the poverty could be criticized as unsavoury by “Western standards”, I saw an opulent richness in something far more valuable while carrying on with their everyday lives: a tranquil contentment that I can only with any certainty call ‘happiness.’
And I am grateful to say I was able to absorb some of it.