Context

The part I like most about travelling in faraway places is the delight of seeing things out my ordinary. Like a fish shop that also doubles as a patisserie, or the primary school that is called ‘arc towards the future.’ This name resonates particularly with me because of the book I am reading, Small Arcs of Larger Circles, recommended by Sita. It is a collection of essays written by Nora Bateson, the daughter and granddaughter of, respectively, Gregory and William Bateson. All essays look at context from a variety of perspectives. And it is exactly context I am taking in here.

My laryngitis, which started nearly as soon as I stepped off the plane, just like during my visit some years ago, has been well managed with a corticoid pill which I put under my tongue every morning and evening. It was only on my first day of visits and interviews that I croaked. One of my colleagues told me that I night be allergic to the enormous amounts of Sulphur in the air. Since Saturday I have been in the healthy plein air of rural Madagascar where the only pollution that exists is of the psychological kind. There are no abandoned plastic bags, broken flipflops (nearly everyone is barefoot), derelict cars or empty water bottles littering the side of the roads. Everything is used until it disintegrates. Even the water with which the rice pan is cleaned is served as a kind of tea with our meals. It is called ranavola which means water money. I supposed because it is rich in vitamins and minerals.

The good and healthy part of being here is like the nostalgia to good old times that actually weren’t all that good. It masks the countless dangers people here face: there are the diseases (pest, leprosy, malaria, TB, diarrhea) that incapacitate and/or kill many of the babies and a good number of the adults. There are the caimans hidden in the rivers which, when overflowing their borders, come close to human habitation where small children toddling around are an easy target. There are the road accidents – we saw a few car wrecks where the driver surely could not have survived. And then there are the brush fires that one can see at night on the prairie and that can suddenly cut you off with nowhere to go. I used to use brush fires as a metaphor for starting change but here it is not a positive thing.

Everything requires an view of the context before judging – this is my big learning from this trip. I knew it in my head but now I also know it in my ‘tripes’ (=insides) as the French would say. The same tripes that got exposed to all these new foods and so shaken up along the road!

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