Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Awesome Things About Malagasy

I’m in week 3 of Malagasy lessons, which is about the point where you learn just enough to be dangerous. But I am learning a lot, including a bunch about just how Malagasy operates as a language, and I’m loving it. Here are some things I’ve learned and loved (spelling and accuracy not guaranteed):

  • “Sira” means salt. “Mamy” means sweet. “Siramamy,” or sweetened salt...means sugar.

  • Counting: When they got to a million, they were done. “Iray tapitrisa” comes from “tapitra,” which means “all done” or “that’s all.” So, y’know, let’s stop counting. But a billion exists, too… “Iray lavitrisa” comes from “lavitra,” which essentially means “we went too far.”

  • There are a lot of words that come from English, and a lot of them are about school: pen is “penina,” pencil is “pensilihazo.” This is because the British missionaries from the London Missionary Society were the first ones to set up schools.

  • There are a lot of French loan words (or whatever you want to call them), too...but they’re mostly for food. “Dite” from “du thé” (tea), “dibera” from “du beurre” (butter), “divay” from “du vin” (wine), “dipaina” from “du pain” (bread).

  • A translator is “mpandika teny:” one who copies language.

Oh, if it were only that simple!

Stampedes, Riots, and Revelers

Unfortunately, something scary happened at the soccer game here in Tana yesterday -- yes, I'm fine; no, I wasn't anywhere near it; in fact, I was in bed recovering from a stomach bug -- there was a stampede outside the stadium after it hit capacity and the (only) door was closed. Someone died, a bunch of people were hurt. Never fun news to wake up to.

And then, if you're Reuters, the news also says this:

"Deaths at stadiums have been all too frequent on the African continent in the past as poor policing and marshalling of spectators at usually over-crowded venues has provided a recipe for tragedy." (NYTimes, from Reuters: https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2018/09/09/sports/soccer/09reuters-soccer-nations-madagascar.html)

It goes on. Six of the thirteen paragraphs of that article are describing these "frequent" happenings "on the African continent:" in Ghana, Malawi, Egypt, and South Africa.

That's a lot. Almost half the article.

I've been trying all morning to figure out how best to react to this. Yes, it's a news story. Yes, people were hurt and killed. Yes, it's a problem if the stadium only has one entrance, if there isn't an adequate system for tickets to let people know ahead of time if they will or won't be getting in to see the game, if there isn't enough security (or trained security) to prevent stampedes. But still, it's really reductionist to talk about ALLLLLL the other stampedes on "the African continent" for almost half a news article. The BBC does much better from a reporting angle, but...still: "Stampedes at stadiums in Africa occur on a regular basis, often due to poor crowd control in over-crowded stadiums." (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-45465970)

Plus, I can't shake the feeling that there's a problem in how Western news outlets talk about stampedes before African soccer games versus, say, riots after American football games. In recent years, there have been more and more articles about this, from trying to explain the psychology of American football fans rioting after a win (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/02/05/why-do-fans-riot-after-a-win-the-science-behind-philadelphias-super-bowl-chaos/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.4376432bd0ad) to this more direct and chilling Mic article:

"The city of Baltimore has been besieged by riots Monday night [late April 2015] — and police are on the scene ready to serve, protect and subdue.

This has become an evergreen narrative in the aftermath of reactions to state-sanctioned violence against black people. But that it persists sends a troubling message about how officials and, by extension, many of the people they serve regard rioting: specifically, when there's white people involved versus mostly black people.  

Usually, if a riot involves black people, it's connected to intense episodes of where systemic racism is undoubtedly at work. [...]

But when a mob of mostly white people take to the streets, vandalizing cars, storefronts and street signs in the process it usually means someone either won or lost a game.

As Mic's Zak Cheney-Rice noted in January, these rioters are usually called "revelers," "celebrants" and "fans." They're not even called "rioters" in many cases. They're not derided as "criminals," "thugs," "pigs" or even "violent." Those descriptors, as events in Baltimore Monday night reveals yet again, are only reserved for black people. They're the ones who need to be quelled by militarized police forces. They're the ones who need to be off the streets, immediately. They're diminishing the validity of their cause. Yet somehow, reckless behavior over a sports team, not a systemic matter of life and death, is viewed as a costly nuisance." (https://mic.com/articles/116680/11-stunning-images-highlight-the-double-standard-of-reactions-to-riots-like-baltimore#.AvRu3Q4bh)

The article continues with some really scary photos of "celebrations," some where police didn't even get involved.

I dunno. I've been trying to learn and process a lot of systematic racism and my role in this world over the past four years. Maybe I'm overreacting, maybe I'm seeing things where they don't exist, maybe I'm comparing two vastly different things.

But then again.

Words are important. How we use words matters. How we label people and their actions matters. And just like I pointed out before, if cheating politicians exist all over the world, maybe it's a problem to say that "corruption" only exists in Madagascar and other poor countries, but not the US. Maybe it's also a problem to talk about "poor policing on the African continent" if we can't bring ourselves to call white fans "rioters," and black people fighting for their freedom are automatically labelled "thugs." Maybe it's a problem if I type "riots after football games" and the first page of Google results are mostly news outlets from the UK and Singapore talking about riots after (yes) American football games in the US.

(Surprise, here's a translator talking about how words matter. Who'da thunk? This is breaking news, too, right??)

I'm a Slammer Now?

Leave it up to this country to get me writing and performing in ways I never have before.

I've focused on prose for several years now, so I don't know a lot about the poetry world. From the little I see, though, slam poetry is one of the most awesome (and the most intimidating) forms -- although I might just be reacting to the performance aspect. At any rate...nah, never would've thought that I'd ever have anything to do with it. No way. Absolutely not.

Well of course my first slam experience would be here. In Madagascar. In French. Because why not? There was a writing workshop beforehand, why not.

But then, there was another slam last weekend. An English-language slam. And so of course I had to go. And...maybe write something real quick beforehand, just in case?

It was fun. :-)

Here it is, in all its glory. It's a hastily-written first draft by a beginner, and it gets a little sappy near the end, but it's mine, and it consolidates a lot of the thoughts I've been having for the past few weeks. (Video of the performance exists somewhere, but not in my possession. Yet.)

Enjoy.

First and Third: A reflection on the US and Madagascar

What does “first-world” mean?
The term is tossed around
by well-rounded, well-meaning intellectuals,
but we all know.
First-world is rich.
First-world is luxury.
First-world is developed, finished, no more work left to do.
First-world is a good life, an automatic win,
if you can get in.

But that’s not right, not it at all.
The US of A, this country we call
“first-world,”
what is it first in?
Do we win?
At anything?
Health, human rights, happiness?
No. None of the above.

In education, we’re not first, but 14th.
In literacy, 24th.
In math, 38th.
In gender equality, 22nd.
Economic freedom, 10th.
Peacefulness, 99th.
Life expectancy, 49th, and falling.
Even in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,
the very ideals our country was founded on,
we’re not first.
We’re not even Top 10.
We’re a lowly 19th.

So much for the greatest country in the world.
This “first-world” business only counts for
prisoners,
incarceration rates,
military spending,
death due to firearms,
death due to violence,
plastic surgeons,
breast augmentation,
oil consumption,
wine consumption,
the ultra-rich,
mental health disorders,
and you think none of this is related?
We trump the world in the worst things.
Gold stars all around.

In product development,
first means alpha,
too early, too soon.
Third is better,
third is post-product launch,
third is all the bugs have been worked out.
Let’s take third.

And I don’t want a third of the world to be held down,
held back,
just so that another part can be first.

And really,
there is no third-world,
there is no third of a world,
not just one-third of the world.

When I am here,
do I see a third of the sky? No.
I see the whole sky,
stretching further than I can ever imagine.

When I am here, 
do I sleep a third as long? No.
For the night is dark and deep and strong.

When I am here,
do I eat a third as much? No.
There is food in abundance,
a mountain of rice at every meal,
and always good company to share it with.

When I am here,
do I feel a third alive?
No.
I feel it all, everything,
joyous and quick and sharp and whole.
My heart is full and fit to burst,
at the first sign of smiles,
the first sign of green,
the first sign of love.

I have been here, and I have seen:
People here do not
work just a third as hard,
or mourn just a third as long,
or laugh just a third as loud,
or dream just a third as strong.
Here, there is
the whole sun,
the whole day,
a whole life.

But why even try to differentiate?
Why keep driving wedges down to separate?
We aren’t that much different, the first and the third.

Call it corruption, call it lobbying:
we both have politicians who cheat.

Say, you don’t have money to see the doctor,
say, you can’t afford insurance to see the doctor:
you both might die.

Call it kabary, call it a speech:
we can all talk for a long, long time.

Covered in red dust, covered in mud:
all our children play outside.

After all...first and third,
they’re both steps on the podium,
medals get awarded for both places,
it’s a huge accomplishment
no matter how you try to define it.

But then again…
If just a third of this world
can work together,
to help the rest,
we can all share first place
at the very top.
There’s room up there for everyone.

Don't Worry, I'm Not Here to Steal Your Literature

Things are starting to happen fast here. Last week at this time, I was in Fianarantsoa. Between then and now, I’ve talked to two journalists, both interviews have been published (https://www.lexpressmada.com/20/08/2018/allison-charrette-traductrice-madagascar-peut-se-faire-connaitre-avec-sa-litterature/ and http://www.newsmada.com/2018/08/22/allison-m-promotion-de-la-litterature-malgache/), and there’s a third hoping to do a TV interview soon. I’m...turning into a minor cultural celebrity? This is a very strange thing, especially for someone who actively despises the idea of ever being famous.

But hey, people are interested! And that’s a really really good thing -- not for me, but for Malagasies. Because if I can be the hook, the attention-grabber, the reason that people here start paying attention to their own literature, then that can help the authors and editors and publishing houses here who are fighting to find readers, to create readers from a population that is no longer really accustomed to reading.

And apparently, I must be doing something right, because the first interview even attracted some critics. None that I found out about myself, because they’re all writing in Malagasy, but some friends here were good enough to translate for me. The basic gist was: “Oh, so now we have to listen to a vazaha about our literature, too? Just like we already are about everything else?”

Obviously, there’s no point in giving any sort of official response. But here’s the unofficial one:

No.

Of course not! You don’t have to listen to anybody.

Sorry to disappoint you, but my primary purpose in translating is for American readers, for other readers all over the globe who speak English and know nothing about Madagascar. I’m working for them, to teach them things, to help them discover new books and new worlds. My goal is and always has been to diversify literary offerings for Americans, not to launch the careers of Malagasy writers.

However, it’s a mistake for anyone to try to close themselves off from the rest of the world. If we share art and culture and, yes, literature with each other, our lives can only be enriched. We Americans, we need Rabearivelo just as much as Malagasies need Shakespeare.

And I would never tell a Malagasy author what to write. That’s up to them, always. All I can do is take their text and try to render it as faithfully as possible into English.

But...if my work happens to help Malagasy authors along the way, too? That’s awesome! If my presence here means that Malagasy authors get more attention? Brilliant! If I can share what I know about marketing and distribution with Malagasy publishing houses, so that they can do their job more effectively and find more readers and sell more books? Win-win-win-win-win. If I can bring a new perspective to the already-rich conversation on how to increase the literacy rate here, that would be amazing, especially for those people who will be able to learn to read and write.

It’s ultimately up to Malagasies to fix the problems here in Madagascar. I can’t do anything about that, and I wouldn’t presume to waltz in with *the thing* that will *obviously* solve everything. Similarly, it’s my responsibility to work on problems in the States. But sharing information with each other makes everyone’s jobs easier.

Plus, I like these people. Why wouldn’t I want to see them succeed?

Men. (A rant.)

Ugh.

The journalist’s driver who coveted my bilingual French/English dictionary. No, but really, I have never seen such a blatant example of coveting in my life. At first it was just “oh, this is nice” while leafing through it, but then the repetition, the insistence, the claiming, pulling it to his side of the table, putting his phone on it, no matter how many times I said “This is actually going to the Mobile Library when I’m done with it, and I need it for work until then,” or “I’m sure one of the bookstores in Tana has one, there’s a couple with growing English sections.” I was told later that he was talking to my host in Malagasy (in front of me), trying to get her to make me part with it. That when a Malagasy dictionary came up in conversation (the best one there is), he said “nah, don’t care, I want this one.” That when he was given a book from the house’s library (she’s trying to purge), he spurned it and said “no, I want that dictionary.” Hands off. It’s mine.

The artist who ignored my companion at the painting exhibition. We walked in together, he came to greet us, but literally turned his back on her to talk to me. Whether it was ageism or racism I don’t care, it wasn’t right. And then to say to me that I was the second person to come through that day? At the very end of the day? When four other groups of Malagasies walked in over the next five minutes? It’s not only the white people who count, Mr. Arab Malagasy. Don’t you dare express interest in my literary work when one of your country’s literary giants is invisible to you on the other side of the room.

The candidate for president who asked a well-known writer to translate his manifesto into French, but then railed that they didn’t have it done immediately -- “Who the f*** cares if it’s proper French?” And then to not pay them? Or even credit them for their work? You’d think that as a presidential candidate, you’d been concerned about your image, at least enough to appreciate that they were willing to take the time to make your prose sound beautiful in another language -- the language that, most likely, most of your donors will read. And as we creative types like to say: Eff you. Pay me.

There is truth to the generalization in Madagascar that women run everything and get none of the credit.

Oh sure, maybe I’m just sore because I couldn’t abide the sharp increase in catcalling on my trip to Fianarantsoa. It wasn’t a difference in location, it was a difference in companion -- it was the first time I’d been walking around a city with another young woman, instead of a guy or an older woman or a group. It’s enough to make me turn to vigilante justice.

I’ve met plenty of wonderful people and decent human beings here. I feel loved and welcomed. But the society (not just here, but everywhere) that makes men feel entitled to power, or women, or labor, or even dictionaries, is abhorrent. A society where women barely exist in government, where there are zero women drivers or bus conductors, where women are ignored, or vilified, or raped, is untenable. 

Fuck the patriarchy.

Serrer les dents

The longer I stay here in Madagascar, the more I am just astounded by what people here are doing for literature. Writing books and getting them published is difficult in any environment--we in the States love to complain about it, mostly because it's true--but there are additional hurdles here in Madagascar that American writers and publishers have never dreamed of. Things like no commercial printing presses, and precious few other ways to get books produced. Things like no established grants or fellowships or stipends or anything from the government--the poor Ministry of Culture is routinely underfunded--so every fundraising effort requires new ideas. Things like a tiny readership for any book, because so few people can afford books here that reading as a pastime has dwindled to almost nothing.

And yet.

People here are dogged, tenacious, willful, even stubborn. They grit their teeth and muscle through to get books published, write new ones, and train the next generation of writers. They hit the pavement every single day to make things happen, and it's so impressive.

I've only been here for a short while, and yet here's what I've seen in the past two weeks alone:

  • A non-profit association that's existed for over six years and has been publishing books for the past two years is spearheading a new initiative: a federation of writing associations and unions, in both Malagasy and French, to coordinate their efforts, cooperate on projects, and share resources.
  • A center for mothers and children in one of the ghetto areas of Antananarivo is preparing a show for Christmas. A couple of writers are volunteering their time to come in and teach several of the kids, ages 8-14, to write and perform slam poetry as part of the show. (I got a little taste of it on Thursday when they performed their works in progress for their peers. It was intense, in the best possible way.)
  • A bookstore that opened just three years ago is coordinating a "booksellers' picks" list from all over the Indian Ocean region, to be featured at the Salon du Livre in Paris next year.
  • A well-known author is planning to re-release one of her best-known titles in a new edition with illustrations and photographs, and publishing it here, in Madagascar, instead of France.
  • A few of the associations in the brand-new aforementioned federation are already laying the groundwork for a new project next year, to bring a mobile library into one of the most rural and hard-to-reach areas in the country (160km northeast of Tana...a minimum of three days to get there).
  • There's a new event being planned to celebrate a recently published posthumous work of Madagascar's most famous and beloved poet, which will feature the critical work of people who until now had remained in the shadows.
  • And I'm here, too, getting connected with writers who are interested in translating directly from Malagasy to English--we'll be working on polishing their translations and finding places in the US and UK to submit, query, and look for grants.

Pretty good for an "impoverished Third-World country," huh?

Strike that. Pretty good for two weeks ANYWHERE. Go Madagascar, you show the rest of the world how it's done!

The Common Threads

In Madagascar...

There’s a woman in the next village over whose toddler son is very sick. He had a botched circumcision. And he’s not getting treated because the woman doesn’t have money to take him to see the doctor.

The other day, we went into town for the Internet cafe, and when we got back to the car after a couple hours, it wouldn’t start. Someone had stolen the battery. My host said, at least they didn’t take the tires, too.

These could easily be examples of “how things work in a Third-World country.” Poverty. Poor medical care. Riffraff on the streets. Etcetera.

But...the same things happen in developed countries. In the States especially, there are so many people right now who can’t afford health care. There are reports about people in rural communities lining up the day before a free dental clinic opens to get their rotted teeth pulled, because they can’t afford to have proper dental work done. [https://www.thenation.com/article/american-decay/] Late last year, in a town near where I live in Rochester, there were a slew of car burglaries, people breaking into cars at daycares when parents were inside dropping off their kids, to take purses left inside. [https://13wham.com/news/local/felony-lane-gang-targets-womens-identity-in-car-break-ins]

There are actually pretty enormous similarities.

The only real difference I see is that we in the States (supposedly) have systems set up to help or prevent these situations, whereas few, if any, systems exist in Madagascar. Instead of not being able to afford insurance to see a doctor, people in Madagascar just straight can’t afford to see the doctor. In the States, car batteries aren’t worth as much as smartphones, and smartphones are equally widespread, so that’s what gets stolen instead. Rich people in the States don’t pay much in taxes because of lower tax rates; rich people here don’t pay much in taxes because they’re able to pay a smaller bribe to government officials for them to look the other way.

Things that go wrong in the States are often the result of established systems not working or being broken. Things that go wrong in Madagascar are often the result of no systems existing to try to fix the problem. But the same things go wrong. It’s not a matter of this “Third-World” country being a haven for crime and corruption and poverty, but everything’s great and safe and gleaming bright in the kingdom of democracy. And it’s not just people all around the world being pretty similar, all wanting the same thing, all having the same hopes and dreams--the basic foundations of many societies around the world are pretty similar, too, no matter what level of “development” they’re at.

Besides, in the span of a week, I had a rich white lady in France and a poor black man in Madagascar each cut me a sprig of lemongrass from their respective gardens to infuse for my tea. If that doesn’t say that countries are basically all the same, I don’t know what does. ;-)

Willful Blindness

It's an interesting thing, being in a country that's so different from what you know. Especially as a white Westerner in a poor black African country. There are a lot of misconceptions that come along with that, and I think that many/most of them come from a lot of reductive travelogues that have been written over the years. Over the centuries, really. This started way back with European explorers keeping journals that detailed the "primitive" "native cultures" they "found." The whole assumption that European culture is more "civilized" has led to a whole host of other ignorant assumptions about anybody who doesn't fit that norm.

But it's an extremely pervasive narrative, especially having been educated in the States. And, just like systemic racism, it seeps into your brain and starts messing with your own thoughts, convincing you that your experiences in, for example, Madagascar, aren't valid unless you just see the extreme differences between that culture and your home, all the poverty and want and lack and oh-how-quaint-life-is-here.

I fell victim to that the first time around four years ago, definitely. (Sadly. I'm sorry.) But now that I'm back, I've started actively looking for things to disprove my earlier assumptions/misconceptions. Here's what I've got so far:

  • Yes, there are in fact addresses. Kind of all over the place, on all sorts of different buildings, in both the city and the countryside. It's standardized, too, even if there isn't daily/regular mail service like at home.
  • Ditto for street signs. Either official or not, there are a bunch in the city for specific streets. And then there are signs on main roads that point the way toward different neighborhoods (in the city) or towns (in the country).
  • Yes, there are women who drive scooters and motorcycles. It's not just men. Remember, helmets and protective gear tend to be (and should be!) pretty gender neutral . . .
  • There are women breastfeeding EVERYWHERE -- although to be fair, I was pretty blind to this in every culture until I had my own child.
  • Yes, there are actual grocery stores, the way I normally think of them, instead of “just” markets. There’s even a Malagasy chain. (It’s called “Supermaki.” The maki is the classic ring-tailed lemur. :-D)
  • Yes, there are plenty of other vazahas, even in non-vazaha areas. (Although, this trip, I truly do still have yet to see another white woman.)
  • There are even funeral processions, cars with their hazards on following a hearse and everything.

So yes, even if I feel out of my depth here, completement dépaysée, that doesn't mean there aren't any similarities between here and home. Just because I didn't ever set foot in a supermarket last time, doesn't mean I can't go buy more shampoo here if I run out. And I don't have to go to a special Euro-import store, either. It's just normal.

I will no longer be willfully blind to the parts of Malagasy society that overlap with American society, and I can actively work against the misconceptions stuck in my own brain. Life here is just life.

I don't even need to sleep under a mosquito net. (Yet.)

SLAM!

Don’t let anyone ever say that literary production in Madagascar is minimal, doesn’t exist, isn’t up to snuff.

Maybe there aren’t as many publishing houses as in a Western country, maybe printing books is sometimes prohibitively expensive, maybe there are extremely few people who can live off of their writing alone.

Let me tell you, none of that matters. Malagasies are just as creative and impressive as people all around the world.

Case in point? SLAM POETRY.

On Friday, I went to a 2-in-1 event organized by CRAAM, a cultural organization, and Madagaslam, which is pretty much what it sounds like: the premier association for slam poetry in Madagascar. There was a writing workshop at the university in the early afternoon, followed immediately by an open slam. HOLY CRAP IT WAS AWESOME.

First, the workshop. One of the Madagaslam organizers was going to give a whole history of slam (in and outside of Madagascar), but we started late, so about two minutes in he went, “Should we just write?” Resounding yes. So we came up with seven topics we could write about: education, politics, nose, love, money, friendship, and travel.

Most of these people were there for the first time. And believe me when I tell you that they got roughly one piece of advice: it doesn’t have to rhyme. The end results?? HOLY CRAP THESE PEOPLE CAN WRITE. We had about fifteen minutes, and a couple people presented at the end, and what they came up with was astounding. Not just the content, but the rhythm, the repetitive sounds in some cases. I went up to two of them to exchange contact info, asking if they were writers. They tried to brush me off.

I’ve been in workshops and situations like this before, where people come up with some amazing piece of art in an extremely limited window of time. But this is just proof that so-called “third-world” or “developing” countries are not actually lagging behind the US or France or any other “developed” country in terms of artistic prowess. They lack some resources, sure. But not skills. Even without any formal training. Humans everywhere have amazing capabilities.

Then, the open slam. I was simply blown away. There will probably be video up soon on the Madagaslam Facebook page [https://www.facebook.com/madagaslam]. I was going to record a few people’s performances (with their permission), just to have for myself, especially the ones in French, in case I wanted to try translating them. I was thinking, to preserve my phone battery, to give each one a few seconds and then stop if it wasn’t amazing.

I recorded every single one in full. Even the ones in Malagasy. I can’t explain the power these poets have, standing in front of their peers, declaiming at the top of their voices the problems with their country and the great things about life.

This is art. Just because they’re not in a hip little cafe in NYC doesn’t mean these people aren’t extremely talented artists. Just because a good percentage of the books published by Malagasy authors are printed either with thinner paper covers or in France doesn’t mean the literature isn’t amazing.

And isn’t that why we translate? I’m only one person, so I can only do so many things. But this is why translation exists and is a good thing. Let’s allow everyone to enter the global cultural conversation. Everyone has good and important things to say.

Manahoana...Again

I'm back! Back to the blog, and back in Madagascar. I'll be here until October, and let me tell you, it's already been quite a trip.

I've been here once before, for almost six weeks back in 2014. That was back when this blog was a little more active, but if you look at the archives (or if you've been following for a while), you'll see that I barely wrote anything at all about that trip. Seems a little incongruous, considering it was literally a life-changing trip: my first time in a developing country, my first time anywhere on the continent of Africa, and the trip that kick-started what has become my professional niche (at least for now).

It was a difficult trip. I was yanked out of any semblances of a comfort zone, and I found it hard to adjust. But it was also one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I met so many wonderful people, and saw so many wonderful things . . . I just couldn't figure out how to write about it.

This lasted for a while. How could I write about the good parts and ignore the bad? Or, perhaps worse, how could I write about the bad and have that be the only perspective that many Americans/Westerners would have on this country that already struggles to craft any image for itself to the wider global community, besides lemurs and poverty?

I saw an interview a few years back that was a prime example of this. (It might have been Benedict Cumberbatch on Top Gear, but I don't remember exactly, and I don't currently have a fast enough internet connection to figure it out.) Whoever it was, he'd been asked about a trip he'd taken to South Africa, where he and some friends had gotten carjacked and abducted on a highway at night, they'd had hoods over their heads for a while and guns pressed up to them every so often, and he'd really believed he was going to die. But he added very quickly that he didn't like telling that story, not publicly, because there were so many good people in South Africa, and he didn't want the audience's assumptions about that country to be that it was all violence all the time. Granted, I didn't get kidnapped or anything, knock on wood, but I didn't want my struggles to be the only things people knew of Madagascar.

But at the root of all this, really, was my chosen role as a translator. What good would my stories be, when I could tell the stories of the people here, in their own words? The real stories of the real lived experiences of the real people in this real country, instead of some quick travelogue jotted down by someone who flew away almost as quickly as she'd arrived? This is what I've been doing for the last four years: telling Malagasy stories by Malagasy authors. Because they know best. It seems like a "duh" thing to say, but that's the truth. Why would I want to let my own stories get in the way of theirs, especially when I have chosen to dedicate my professional life to telling other people's stories in a new language?

So that's what I've done. I've tried to keep pretty quiet about my own experiences in Madagascar for a while, because there was such a lack of Malagasy voices in English. However, that's finally starting to change -- the first novel is out in English, and there are a few more in the works (more on that when I'm allowed to talk about it!) -- so my voice will no longer be the only one that many English-speakers have access to. Plus, there are a few Malagasies writing directly in English, too (they're listed on the Madagascar page of this website, which I'll link to once the internet is faster!).

So . . . I'm here. Again. For a longer trip this time. And although I still feel rather ridiculously out of my depth, there are things that I can write about, that I can feel comfortable writing about. I want to write about this place, and I can easily share little snippets of different parts of life here. (What I can't do is try to summarize the entire culture and people and food and art and life of this whole wide country in one huge over-arching essay. So why try?) I can write about little things as they happen, the same way anyone does in normal life on a blog or social media. Because any life, all life, is so much more complex than one page on the Internet.