It's the time of year I really dislike the most. The hospital has closed and so I am no longer a nurse which means I not only have a different job but I no longer have daily contact with the Malagasy people which leaves me feeling disconnected. I've also said goodbye to no less than 50 friends, many of whom I'll probably never see again unless we put in major effort. Now that the hospital is packed up and I'm sitting at a computer every day, I'm just itching to get out of here and start the next part of the journey. It's not that I want to leave Madagascar it's that my reason for being here, my normal day to day life, has been removed and the crew has shrunk from about 450 to 200. It's so evident by the empty dock and deck 8 loaded full of vehicles, that we're almost ready to hit the open ocean.
I am ready because I feel a little like I have nothing left to give this country or many of those around me. The end of field service sucks you dry of emotion with so many goodbyes. I am dried up like a raisin. I look around the ship which is my home and try to imprint each special thing about it into my memory, the cafe in which I have eaten two meals a day for years, the dining room hustle and bustle which is now quiet and calm, my little cabin space which is now the most empty it has ever been, the short commute to any place I go, two minutes being the longest time it takes to get anywhere on board. Then most importantly I am consciously committing to memory the people that are my family in this place.
You might wonder why I've chosen to stay throughout this period and not just taken flight. Although it's been tough and it's not over yet, I find it is part of the process of letting go and closure to the chapter. As each goodbye is said, a page turns to mark the end of that season, whether it be goodbye to patients, day crew, friends or the closure of the hospital. When I look around I see that those chapters have ended- the hospital is empty, a shell of its former busy self. My friends aren't there anymore, I think I see them or hear their voice but it's a mistake when I turn my head to find them.
Setting sail is the second last chapter in this season. It is a physical departure from Mada that gives time for reflection before jumping onto the next adventure.
After a very rainy month our last weekend in Mada is beautifully sunny, with the odd shower and despite the fact that I'm tied to the ship with a duty nurse pager today I have been able to soak in the rays from the dock, enjoying the warm breeze, the puffy clouds floating in the blue, blue sky, the mooring lines slacking and tightening above the rippling sea. Beneath where my feet hang, tropical fish swim along the dock wall and there's a big fat starfish under the sea visible from the gangway.
Last weekend as I was sitting in a vehicle traveling for hours I watched with a keen eye everything passing me on the streets and decided to make a list of things I might have forgotten to tell you about.
Have I ever told you...
How much the Malagasy people like hats? Everywhere you look on the streets, adults and children alike are wearing hats.
How hard the Malagasy people work planting, harvesting, drying, and readying their rice to eat?
How resourceful they are using travellers palms for plates, spoons, wrapping, drying out for weaving baskets, placemats, bags, anything woven? They build their houses from the dried branches laid on top of each other and woven together.
How many pot holes their roads have? One man we met told us that in French pot holes are called chicken nests. I was told the roads only get worked on close to election time, so most roads go for a long time between being fixed.
How much I love seeing the community movement on the streets? They are selling goods, braiding hair, drying rice, pumping water, washing clothes, weaving, pushing carts, herding zebu, standing on the side of the road selling chickens hung by their bound feet or freshly caught fish.
How the peoples’ faces break into smiles when we speak Malagasy to them? Salama, ina vaovao? Tsy misy vaovao.
How clever they are at riding bikes with a second person perched on the front bar, sometimes as small as a toddler?
How beautiful the stretching green landscape and rivers are?
How colourful the woven crafts are?
How the main mode of public transport for long distance is a taxi-bruisse which is a van with four rows of seats? It seats as many people as you can fit across the seat, about 22 altogether. The other modes of transport is pousse-pousse (bicycle pedaled) and tuk tuk (motored).
How my favourite Malagasy lunch or dinner is brochette de zebu or brochette de poulet avec pomme frite or legumes? The best breakfast around is Portuguese omelette, jus grenadelle, cafe au lait and pan au chocolat.
How chickens roam everywhere? It seems no matter where you are, there will be a chicken there scratching around for food. They have long skinny legs and remind me of a T-Rex dinosaur.
How much I love to drink fresh coconut milk from the coconut selling men and women along the beach road? After you finish the milk if you hand it back to them they will cut it open and dig out the flesh for you. It is so delicious. Some stalls even have a fridge to make the coconut milk cold.
Have I ever told you how much I have enjoyed living in this country? Its people are some of the most beautiful I have ever met. It is a land I truly hope I am able to return to in the future, for it holds a large piece of my heart.