Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

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).

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.