The thoughts and opinions expressed on this web page are mine alone and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.
I keep staring, transfixed, at maps of the globe. In placing my hand on the page between my home in Georgia and the East African island, Madagascar, I find that to touch both shores requires me to stretch my fingers wide as though reaching for an octave on a piano.
In less than two months I'll be Madagascar-bound as a Peace Corps trainee. Because I initially knew so little about the place, my imagination skipped to an image of a jungle laden with leaping lemur Zoboomafoo puppets (Zoboo is Big Bird's counterpart on PBS for those of you long estranged from children's programming). With the help of several informative books, I've been able to piece together a more accurate impression of the island, though it is by no means comprehensive. Ironically, the exotic cultural and natural landscapes described in the books aren't too far from my original vision of Madagascar. One photo of the aye-aye, a strepsirrhine primate, and you'll see what I mean.
Ultimately, out of all the reading I do to prepare me for the journey ahead, I know that living in Madagascar is the only true way to become acquainted with it. I am eager to get there and am ready to be overwhelmed by the flight, the new culture, the language barriers (since the country's two official languages are French and Malagasy), and the many challenges that await me in order to establish a profound reciprocal relationship between myself and Madagascar.
To acquaint myself with Malagasy culture conveyed in their own words, I sought a book of contemporary Malagasy literature, and in it I found a poem in the form of an antsa ("a chant to celebrate royal victory") by Jacques Rabemananjara that struck me [Bourgeacq and Ramarosoa. Voices of Madagascar]. I cannot claim to know the cultural and historical context of the poem or the poet's intent, but I do understand its affirmation of the power of the written and spoken word. In apostrophe, the speaker calls to the island, "One word, Isle / And you vibrate! / One word, Isle / And you leap up / Ocean rider!" By the poem's end, the one word that animates the island is "Freedom". My assignment in Madagascar will be to teach English as a second language, and my hope is that my work will help further the Malagasy in achieving the freedom of which the poet chants, whether it be economic, academic, or spiritual.