Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond


How can I tell the story of this place?

Its red soil that browns the skin better than any sunshine tan. The sky so large it circles the globe and comes back around to wave from behind, the same huge sky. The backyards and courtyards that do more than double-duty, as gardens and pet spaces and toilets and trash heaps and places to relax in the evening. The taxis that might be the most trustworthy means of transport, if you can pay the cost. The forever flickering lights, the water supply that may or may not be cut on any given day. The . . .

The list is too long.

How to tell the story of an entire country, an entire people, in one short story, when no stories yet exist in English? Or very few.*

How not to feel helpless, in the face of some who need everything, but most need little outside help? Just some mosquito nets for the tourists, really.

Just outside of this city is a paradise, as there is just outside any city, if you travel far enough. And here as anywhere, there are city children who have never seen the countryside, and country children who have never been to the city.

Here, as anywhere, the goal of education is to show our children just how great and wide and grand our world is, so that they can do anything they want, go anywhere they like, and treat all peoples of the world with respect. Even--especially--their own eventual children, biological or otherwise. But how is this any way to raise children? Without shoes even for church, without a school within walking distance, without any other source of heat but the hearth in the bedroom/kitchen?

How is this acceptable for us? How does the world feed such a vicious cycle? What are these people, whose only task is to survive? And what are we to them? We, who have the means to evolve beyond, to progress further? Us, there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I? Everyone must be responsible for themselves, yes. But without a bit of care for everything and everyone else on this globe, how can we ever survive?

And yet, where do you draw the line between an excess of charity and keeping yourself afloat?

What to do in this strange and fascinating and fantastic country, where the flies buzz around your dinner in anticipation of you?



*Note: the "few" is this: Voices from Madagascar, a wonderful anthology with bilingual French/English text on facing pages. It's a good start, but it was published over a decade ago by a university press and is now, for all intents and purposes, out of print.