Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

All Good Things Must Come to an End...

Well. I am approaching the end.

This trip to Madagascar has entered its final 48 hours (not counting airport time). Only two sleeps and two packed days ‘til takeoff.

I’m proud of myself. I’ve made so much professional and personal progress over the past three months.

I’m proud of the writers I know here. The ones who are just learning how to write and publish. The ones who have been fighting in the name of books for decades. The ones who are trying to teach people to read. The ones who have figured out where is best for them to publish. The ones who are running events and editing and doing publicity and distribution all on their own because that’s just the state of literature here at the moment.

I am proud of my independence. Three months ago, I was scared to make this trip. I had remembered all the hard parts about being in Madagascar, I couldn’t remember any of the ways I had started getting used to life in this country. But life here is just like life anywhere else. It’s a culture shock when you arrive, and then you figure out how to mitigate risks and where to buy food and who to ask questions of and how to have fun. I’ve spent the past six weeks living by myself in an apartment in Tana, which has given me the confidence I needed. I know a bunch of bus lines. I know a couple shortcut staircases and alleyways. I know how to cross the street. I know how to avoid hawkers. I know how to look like I belong.

Last time I left Madagascar, I was convinced that I would never belong here. It’s pretty clear I don’t look Malagasy (blond hair, blue/green eyes…practically the opposite of Malagasy, if physical features can have opposites), and I couldn’t speak more than 15 words of the language, and I just thought I would always be an outsider.

But this country welcomes people with open arms. The Chinese and Indians (known as sinoa and karana here) are even considered the 19th and 20th tribes of Madagascar. I may look vazaha, I may always be a vazaha, but there are vazahas who belong here, too. I may not eat enough rice, but the woman at the epicerie and the woman at the veggie stand and the man at the butcher shop and the craftwoman I bought my computer bag from all know me now. I do belong here.

A couple months ago, I took the taxi-brousse to Fianarantsoa, and I was terrified of making the trip by myself. Last week, I took the taxi-brousse to Mahajanga, and it was a completely different story: I bought my own ticket, ate at the roadside hotelys along the way, figured out the Wifi (or not — it was broken), and wasn’t worried about arriving after dark.

The state of translated Malagasy literature is also improving markedly. There are so many exciting projects in the works. I finally got off my utopian high horse and accepted that I’ll never be able to translate everything that I want to, so now there’s a small (and growing) network of translators who are looking over all the books that I’ve gathered from this country, especially everything that isn’t readily (or at all) available outside of Mada. Three young writers have already been paired up with translators. Two translators have already picked books to work on and pitch. And I signed a new contract during this trip and have started the pitching process on two new books, as well.

I’m ready to go home and keep working.

I’m going to miss this place, but I’ll be back.

All good things must come to an end…but they can also happen again.