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.

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!

"Beyond the Rice Fields" Giveaway

I promised it would happen, and here it is! The first couple times I did this, I called it something ridiculous. And tradition must be upheld. Please, prepare yourselves for:

The Third Not-Nearly-Regular-Enough-To-Be-Called-Annual-or-Biennial-or-Monthly-or-Anything-Else A.M.C. Giveaway!

*assorted cheers and trumpets*

Isn't it pretty??

Isn't it pretty??

The Prize: Two (2) randomly-chosen people will each receive one (1) paperback copy of Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo, translated by yours truly, published by Restless Books, released this month. Each book will be signed by me and inscribed however the winners desire.

The Entry(-ies): There are two ways of entering, each of which grants you one entry (so every person can enter up to twice).

  1. Beyond the Rice Fields is the first novel to be translated into English from Madagascar. Without translation, the English-speaking world would have no Naivo, and no Madagascar. In light of this revelation, comment on this post with your favorite non-Anglophone writer, who you'd never have been able to read if it weren't for translation. (Bonus brownie points if you #namethetranslator!)
  2. To help spread the word, tweet a link to this post. Must either tweet at me (@sunshineabroad) or include this hashtag: #NaivoGiveaway

The Deadline: One week from today! Thursday, December 7, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

The Rules: After the contest, I will randomly select two entrants (by assigning a number to each comment and Twitter account and using a random number generator), and announce the winners on this blog on Friday, December 8. I will then contact the winners for their email and mailing addresses. Anyone with a valid mailing address anywhere in the world may enter. Limit two entries per person.

The Why: Did I mention this is the first novel EVER to be translated into English from Madagascar? And that it's amazing? (True fact, not my very biased opinion.) That's why.

Good luck to all!

Manao ahoana!

That's how you greet someone in Malagasy. But, like many languages, they tend to smoosh some of their sounds together, and they drop the last vowel of every word like it's their job. So it's really pronounced more like "Manaoon!" Yes, with the exclamation point -- Malagasy is a very sung language.

In addition, as it turns out, Malagasy has more English influences than French. No one's sure of exactly why, but the British did definitely have an earlier presence on the island. Maybe that explains the fact that they pronounce their months almost exactly like us, even if the spelling is pretty different.

Also, the Malagasy alphabet only has twenty-two letters. They dropped the unnecessary ones, as they say:

  • C can be replaced with either K or S
  • U is out, because their O already makes the long "u" sound
  • W can be replaced by their O, as well
  • Q is just dumb

(That is, verbatim, what I was told about Q.)