The boiling hot shower is streaked with trails of reddish-brown dirt that’s been bonded to my skin for the past several days. I take a series deep breaths in the therapeutic warmth of the water, thankful to be back at the cozy, quiet, and hospitable Radama hotel.
The day’s journey was a sudden reminder of just how dangerous a two-lane road winding through the hills of rural Madagascar can be. Outside of Fianarantsoa we passed an overturned semi truck belonging to the biggest brewery in Madagascar (Star Brasseries), quickly being picked apart by an excited crowd. Men, women, and even a few children stuffed liter-sized bottles of Three Horses Beer into their shirts and bicycle baskets while stray dogs sheepishly lapped at the containers that had shattered in the crash.
Further down the road, we arrived moments after a motorcycle was struck by an overcrowded taxi-be, or minivan taxi. Pieces of plastic and glass were strewn about the road; fuel from the motorcycle spilling everywhere. The rider was dazed, but lucky to come out of the accident with only one broken leg. The ToughStuff crew quickly taped the leg up and made space for the man in our overcrowded truck, so that we could take him to the nearest hospital in Fianarantsoa.
As the number of kilometers on the signs to Tana began to wind down, I realized just how close I had become to the rest of the ToughStuff team over the course of the trip, despite our language barriers and upbringings on opposite sides of the Earth. Some of them promised to start Facebook accounts to keep in touch, others wrote down Malagasy phrases in my notebook so that I could practice before my next trip to Madagascar.
The most meaningful gesture came from our genial driver, Ivan. He promised that as soon as we made it back to town that he would have me over to his house to meet his wife and week-old baby daughter…
I dry off from the shower and head out into the streets of Tana to find his house; Ivan is waiting for me on the cobblestone street with cell phone in hand. Before we walk through a small wooden gate that leads to a row of concrete buildings, he pauses and hesitates before saying “My house is not very big; but I hope you don’t mind – you’re very welcome here.” It’s a humble and sincere reception.
We work our way up a narrow spiral staircase to a third story apartment that has a kitchen, a bedroom, and a rooftop balcony. It’s nice by Malagasy standards – the furnishings are minimal, but there is a beautiful view over the city. Ivan’s wife emerges from the bedroom with their newborn daughter wrapped in thick cotton. She apologizes that there is no food to eat, but instead offers me a selection of Coke, Fanta, and Sprite that’s been tucked away for the arrival of a guest.
I sit and soak up Ivan’s surroundings over our conversation and drinks. He’s an extremely hard working and proud man; he left for a week of work only two days after his daughter was born (much to his wife’s disapproval). He acknowledges his fortune to have such a beautiful family and a good job that he loves – although his salary still requires his wife to run a cooking business out of their apartment for extra income.
Still, I can’t help but wonder what kind of world his daughter is entering in to. Her country now stands at a political crossroads, with every move being monitored by the global community. A place once considered to be an isolated island that is now more connected than ever (digitally and through commerce). A place that will hopefully be advanced by the success of social enterprises like the company that her father works for.
I think of the children that weren’t as lucky to be born into good families; riding on their mother’s backs, in search of a vazaa that will hand out money for medicine. Was I wrong to keep walking? Would it have made a difference anyway?
We finish our soft drinks, say our goodbyes, and I leave Ivan and his family to enjoy the rest of their Sunday. As I walk out of the apartment, I consider myself one of the luckiest travelers in Antananarivo. An invitation into a new friend’s home is always special, but the afternoon spent in Ivan’s home was the perfect end to the warmth and hospitality I’ve felt from day one in Madagascar.
I came knowing nothing, with bags haphazardly packed – touching down in a foreign place… I’m leaving with a few friends and a distinct sense of a place that’s no longer very foreign after all.
If you missed any previous posts in the East of Africa series, be sure to check them out here!