lost in transition
I am homesick. ● There, I said it. It may surprise some of you but this is literally how I feel right now. What's more confusing, for both you and me, is why I'm feeling homesick when I am sat here also "home". Well my friends, this is what I call the classic "I've just come back from the other side of the world and I am feeling severely lost in transition" blues. If you are also a human with more than one home, on either ends of the cultural spectrum, then you may be all too familiar with this feeling of limbo. It is a feeling difficult to explain in words, let alone in 5 minutes when someone asks "How are you?". Naturally, I will attempt to, but bear in mind this is neither an exhaustive nor a solid definition - more of a work-in-progress and ever evolving one.
🌴 Welcome Back. ● wish I was there?
It's been two and a half weeks since I've landed back into the Western World (aka London) from my other home (aka Madagascar) and life is both confusing/frustrating and exciting. Before you read on, it might be worth "doing a bit of Googling" on Madagascar, or reading back on some of my other posts to get a feel of where I'm coming from here, ya get me.
Since coming back into my western life, familiar feelings have rolled in - which by the way, happen every time I've come back from Madagascar after any length or purpose of trip. The main difference this time is that I'm actually talking about it - to whichever unsuspecting victim I feel comfortable enough to mouth diarrhoea to. In the process, I've both learnt things about myself and those around me - mainly through the range of reactions people have when I tell them something unfamiliar, which seem to go anywhere from empathic understanding to unwavering ignorance.
"So, how was your trip?" ● It was a solid 8 out of 10, thanks for asking.
- I was a proper tourist 📸 ● And boy did I love every minute of it. I have never in my whole life seen so much of Madagascar in one trip or 15 days. It was an absolute treat to say the least. Unique landscapes for days: highlands, mountains, rice fields, desert, canyons, beach, ocean, rainforest, waterfalls, baobab alleys, and more. Unique animals for days: eight kinds of lemurs (rare AF), probably one hundred types of reptiles (chameleons, lizards, crocs, tortoises, snakes, ya name it), and countless birds and insects (including spotting the rare giraffe insect - Nicole 1, Local Guide 0). Exploration for days: we hiked across and through so many beautiful parts of Central, South and Eastern Madagascar from the drylands of Isalo national park, Anja reserve, and Reniala to the beaches of Ifaty, to the rainforests of Andasibe. Glorious.
- I got to hang out with both family and pals 💝● There were many moments where I laughed hard and smiled often. Mum travelled with us (me plus three pals from the UK and Norway) and not only played guide/mum/translator/hero but kept the energy levels up and positive as we travelled across Madagascar on top of each other (one car, six people, fifteen days, LOLz). At one point my pals even learnt a Malagasy song and locals who heard us were like WTF that came out of nowhere. Good times. We also had a brainy I-don't-forget-anything linguist with us who's ability to link everything meant he was pretty much fluent in Malagasy by the end of the trip - OK, not quite, but still impressive. And to top it off, I got to have quality not-over-a-crackly-phone-line chats with gramps (oh, my heart).
- I got to eat all of my favourite foods 😋 ● Firstly, mum's cooking. It is beyond bangin'. That is all. Secondly, getting to eat foods that I can only find and cooked in my favourite way in Madagascar - oh hello fresh in-season fruits, guava jam, ravitoto (ground cassava leaves in coconut milk), Malagasy TAF coffee (that's right, it tastes different and is delish), Bonbon Anglais (my pals said tastes like Irn Bru), peas! (they are not sweet and so good), fried tilapia, and the holy grail RED RICE. Dayum, I ate well and still will because I've hauled a whole supermarket's worth of my favourite jams, sakay (chilli paste), and dark chocolate to devour back in London - great for easing off those homesick vibes.
- I was warm 🌤 ● bar a couple of cold nights when I decided I was too lazy to get out of bed to put more clothes on, I was enveloped in warmth the whole trip. My favourite moments include 1) the sun on ma back as we walked across the desert flatland amongst the canyons of Isalo, 2) the sun on ma face as our Vezo pirogue calmly glided out to sea in Ifaty, and 3) the sun on ma arms and legs as I lay down on a warm rock face at the top of Anja reserve alongside ring-tailed lemurs. OK, the lemurs in that last one weren't physically lying next to me but I like to pretend that they were - instead they were licking salt off the rocks nearby. Same thing.
- It was mentally exhausting 💩 ● the reason the trip didn't reach 10 out of 10 was purely down to the level of mental exhaustion I experienced. I have never brought "foreign friends" home with me before - too complex and long a story to explain here - so this was a big step for me personally. To say I was anxious before the trip is an understatement - I wanted my pals to have a great holiday, but I was also conscious it would not be anywhere like the world they're used to, where everything is pretty much on tap relative to Madagascar. This would be a proper adventure, but still a relatively comfortable one the way mum and I had designed it. What exhausted my little brain was 1) making sure my friends were OK/happy, 2) being a bridge between helping mum be a tour guide and translating cultural references and experiences across the group, and 3) striking a balance between family time and friends / tour-guiding time - all whilst trying to have a holiday myself. Looking back, it was a lot to navigate in one go on a two and a half week group tour.
Mental exhaustion aside, there is no doubt that it was a fab trip. I now have a even stronger respect, love and appreciation for my other home and my peoples. I learnt a lot as well - it's funny how you think you know things and then re-hearing the history of where you come from makes you realise there's more to absorb and appreciate. The best part now though is I have friends here in the UK who may not fully understand my background, but have experienced a slice of it for themselves - a unique bond which I will always be grateful for. When Nic asked me a year and a half ago whether she could join me on my next trip to Madagascar, specifically to "see it through my eyes", I got quite emotional that someone actually cared that much that they wanted to see this other world that I came from. I am fully aware that going to Madagascar is not like going to the south of Spain - so for a "brit abroad" this would not only be testing but a proper eye-opener if you've not travelled in Africa before - so I am thankful she asked, and even more thankful that she fully embraced the experience.
🌍 Reality Check ● things you should know if you ever want to explore Mada with me.
Trip over, I've had a couple of weeks to reflect on what I need to tell people if they do (and you should) choose to travel to this amazing island - yes, I am biased but if you want to experience and see things you've probably never seen before then add Madagascar to your list. I'm not saying "never seen before" in the way a travel agent might sell a trip to Fiji to you - more in the way that being a long-time isolated island, Madagascar has its own long-time developed unique ecosystem resulting in unique life and nature (why you'll have heard that 80% of Madagascar's flora and fauna can only be found on the island).
Anyway, now that I've seen Madagascar both through my British and Norwegian pals' eyes and as a bridge-guide for foreigners, I have many tips so holler if you fancy a chinwag on your next trip. In the interest of time, and short attention spans, here are my top three observations for what to expect as a foreigner in Madagascar (from my perspective and what my pals said and did).
1. Madagascar is an island of (joined up) islands. ● Whenever people ask me that classic question "What's Madagascar like?", I am usually stumped and just stare back blankly or fumble around for words. This is not because I've lied about coming from there, or I can't find any good words, or I'm just slow and special - this is mainly because it is genuinely hard to describe in a single sentence (or 10 minutes for that matter). So, I decided to ask my pals at the end of our trip how they would describe the island.
👩 ● "So how would you describe Madagascar when you get back home?"
👪 ● "Errr... where do we start."
👩 ● "Right! Usually, I just say if you're thinking of the DreamWorks film or that it's a bit like Mauritius then it's not like that."
👪 ● "LOL. I think asking that question is like asking: What's Europe like?"
👩 ● "Oooh interesting, how do you mean?"
👪 ● "Well, every part we've travelled through has been different - like it's own little country, different landscape, different tribe/peoples, different specialisms."
👩 ● "Are you talking about Carrot town again..."
👪 ● "Yes, and Aluminium town, and Rafia town, and Sapphire town... but also just overall it's like travelling across different countries in one continent called Madagascar."
🙈 ● "I don't want animals touching me." ● Yeah, good luck with that. At the minimum, you will get bitten by a mosquito. And if you're lucky, a lemur might jump on you.
🙊 ● "This is natural chewing gum." ● Whilst exploring, you will be introduced to all sorts of plants and fruit which are natural and safe-to-eat-if-they-have-an-outer-shell. Some will be recognisable (oh hello juicy pineapple), some will not (oh hello tapia fruit) - just be ready to go for it.
🙉 ● "I'm a light sleeper." ● Yeah, good luck with this one too. Animals, surprisingly make noises - be it the dogs acting as security guards in the cities or the various animals who come out at night (oh hello Miss Owl and Mr Cricket). So either pack some ear plugs or enjoy the noise-filled ride.
3. Get comfortable out of your comfort zone. ● If you want to make the most of your trip to Madagascar, you need to readjust your expectations of what "comfort" is. If you're born and bred in the Western World then your "basics" will not be the "basics" of a developing African country. Again, this sounds obvious but the level of grasp on this fact varies from person to person (me included by the way). Here are some examples:
🚰 Water is not always a given ● both in quantity and quality (cleanliness and water pressure). However, when it's available make the most of it. Of all the stories I've told since being back, water has the most interesting reactions - "Is it that bad?" Firstly, just because water pressure is poor and can't reach the 2nd and 3rd floor of my mum's house which means I use a bucket and cup to wash like everyone else with the same problem, it doesn't mean it's "bad" - it's just a solution to challenge, and guess what - I am perfectly clean every time (hair washed and all) with one-and-a-half buckets of warm, clean water. Secondly, if you have water, you my friend are part of a very lucky proportion of society. One of the most heartbreaking bits of this trip was watching children try to stop our car, not for sweets or money, but for a drink of water. So before you hesitate on that bucket, remember - not everyone has constant running, warm, clean, and high pressure water.
🍕 Pizza is not the best choice in Madagascar ● which may come as a surprise to some, pizza and McDonalds are universal right? Wrong. Malagasy people eat rice, and whatever they can rear and grow (oh hello veggies, chicken, duck, zebu, fish). So, don't disappoint yourself by ordering pizza and pasta for every local meal because I can tell you right now you will be disappointed - we don't know how to make that chat, but I hear Italy does. Having said that, if you do want a great pizza - mum and I recommend Chez Arnaud in Antananarivo which is owned by a french chef who makes close-to-the-good-stuff pizza (this trip, I had pizza with smoked duck breast and mum had pizza with garlic snails - high end AF). And, on a side note - if you do order pizza and pasta (despite my warning) and then don't like it so you don't eat it, please always ask for a doggy-bag because someone somewhere on your trip will be hugely appreciative of food.
🚻 Ako with a view ● there's a saying in Malagasy which goes "humans not chickens!" when travelling on the road. If you shout this, it signals to the driver that someone needs a little bladder relief, because we're humans not ako (makes sense). As service stations are few and far between, and well, service station toilets are rogue, then your bathroom my friends is nature. This is when those squat exercises come in handy, as well as your ability to not-give-a-shit (pun unintended) because no-one-cares. Top tips for #AkoWithAView include: don't be shy, be quick, do a full squat, bring toilet paper or tissues JUST IN CASE, and make sure to pick your spot wisely (behind a tree or a bush, in amongst long grass, softer ground because no one likes splash-back, and ideally with a good view). There may be more tactics but these usually work a treat and are much more enjoyable than actual "toilets" - particularly if you're not a fan of the classic hole-in-the-ground jobby. And if you're thinking I'll just wait till we get to our next accommodation, then good luck with that.
😎 WHAT AN ADVENTURE. I've learnt a lot. I've also come back to my other home and this "other world" even more appreciative and humble about the kind of life I get to lead everyday in this glorious city of London. I don't always like that it takes a trip back to Madagascar to bring this to the forefront of my mind but I feel lucky I even get the experience to ground myself as regularly as I do. I know this kind of experience is not for everyone - I am very aware that not all of my close pals would enjoy and survive Madagascar, and that's OK (I still love y'all) - but if you do get the chance to get out of your comfort zone, it's always a great test of character and endurance. If you were to tell 12-year-old Cathia that at 30 she would go on an 8h trek across a canyon lined desert land with deadly scorpions living under the rocks she'd be walking around/on, then she would have laughed in your face. But that's the thing, I loved it - not just when we finished the hike and I hadn't been bitten and died, but actually during the whole thing - feeling on edge, but knowing that I was in the midst of an experience of a lifetime.
P/S ● Photo diaries to come, just bear with me while I sift through the 872 photos yeah.
🙆 Thank you Madagascar, you da best. See you soon!