Oh Canada!I see, to my dismay and shame, that my last post was October 2011. Now, whilst I beg the caveat that I still feel like there are days I catch myself writing 2002 and not 2012 on my dates so should be excused from some time lapses, I want you to fear not dear reader – I have turned over a new leaf and will solemnly swear not to let you down like that again, if you will in turn take my humbly apology and forgive me.
Now, much has happened – where to even start? This might take a few posts to catch us up and soothe the distrust that lingers betwixt us. That’s ok. As I said – I’m committed.
Since my last post, I’ve been to Canada (for two whole months!) and back. When I came back to Madagascar, I moved to the Tamatave, on the coast, which – if you know just a teensy bit about me, which of course you do, my faithful three friends + mother – I am a big fan of coastlines all over the world. Let me rewind today to my time in Canada, because I have been meaning to tell you about this for a while.
The first day back in Madagascar, I walked into the office of two lovely ladies with whom I work and was greeted with enthusiasm. One asked me “So, how was Canada??”
Me: (dreamily) “It was… (sigh)… Canadian.
Now that I am safely back in the tropical world, where the cold, wind and rain are but a dream, I am mostly pleased – it’s hard to be discontent when your commute to work involves a five minute walk through a Eucalyptus grove, pungent with the aroma that people back home pay exorbitant fees to smell in a room that mimics the humid, full air here that I get for free. And just wait until clove season. Wow, I can’t even describe it. Imagine riding on the back of a motorcycle, and the smell of cloves rushing to you through the heavy, humid air on the pothole ridden street. It's what I imagine Christmas in Australia must be.
As beautiful as it is, you know that there’s really nothing like going abroad to help you understand where you came from (I think Mandela or Tolkien once said something very profound and eloquent to that effect – trust them to take all the good quotes before I could even get here). Going home for those two months, made me appreciate the wind and the rain (sometimes, it is nice to be able to go a day without showering several times to wick off the sweat and heat). But the weather is inconsequential to the little things that make life sweet. I could easily gather a list of those things about Tamatave, but today, I’d like to dedicate this ode to Canada, and in particular, my hometown, Vancouver.
You miss the strangest things when you are away. Allow me to name a few – so that you don’t feel too jealous of my free aromatherapy deal.
1. Sidewalks. These are not known in Madagascar. Back home of course, we all complain about the broad cement slabs they’ve paved over paradise, but if you value your life – you’ll not speak too quickly on that subject. One of the reasons I love Tamatave is that I feel that it is wider. The streets are wide and there is occasionally a path on the sides of them for pedestrians, where maybe even two or so people could walk side by side. Not so in Tana. People often ask me if I feel safe and I tell them that while I wouldn’t be stupid and walk around with ma’ bling n’ stuff, all alone at night, what concerns me is not theft, but traffic. I am more worried that I’ll get hit by a car in Tana than I am about getting taken for a ride. The city has extended spidery legs around the hills that it covers, narrow streets with houses built often right on the edge. There is a shallow gutter that you can walk in in my neighbourhood, but it wouldn’t matter if two cars are passing each other – one or the other will need that gutter space to make it through, at which point you are clinging haplessly to the cement wall of the house or shop across the street and hoping not to get speared by one of those thorny bushes everyone seems to have here. I love that most people don’t feel the same thrill of danger I do when a car comes whipping by them a foot away at 65kms/hr.
2. Tap water: Every day when I was home in Vancouver I got up and my primary cup of coffee was knocked out of first place priority drinking with a tall glass of cool tap water. You don’t miss it, until it’s gone. It’s a very disconcerting and panicking feeling when you get home late at night and don’t know if you have water to brush your teeth with, let alone gulp down should you be struck with a sudden wave of thirst as you often experienced as a 6 year old child just before bed. Sure, those strange moments where your tongue was as parched and cracked dry as the Sahara have largely disappeared – but drinking water, as was the case with the childhood desire to stay awake all night, when you realize that you can’t, that’s when you must. How I long to go into a restaurant and have them seat me and pour a glass of ice water in the same swift, efficient movement. The empty bottles that float around endlessly and cling, flattened, to the side of the road here are neither economical nor environmental. I tell myself that they provide free containers to the local populace, who then in turn make use of them as the building blocks of each and every product you could hope for – from flooring to toys. Yet, I have seen too many indignant documentaries and came of age in David Suzuki’s BC. There is a part of me that just can’t quite sleep easy, knowing the quantity of plastic it takes to keep me hydrated. Or maybe it’s still just a ploy to stay up later.
3. Pickles! One just came with my lunch the first time I was out at home. I didn’t realize how much I had missed a good, juicy dill on the side of a plate with a handsome burger.
4. Soft Kleenexes: I know it sounds needy– one Kleenex is as good as the other, right? Oh but wrong, so wrong. The tissues available here in Madagascar are so scratchy, my nose hurts after one! The trouble is that I am a habit nose-blower. I don’t know how this started, I blame my mother, who seems to have nurtured this which is not in others’ nature with her own need for copious quantities of Kleenex boxes, but now when I visit someone else’s house and there isn’t a box in the bathroom, I think how odd they must be, and perhaps just a smidgen too cavalier about hygiene for my tastes. But in Madagascar, what is the use? You may as well use paper towel (oh the humanity!). Even the ones with tissues avec l’aloe plastered in the side are a mean trick. They may have been spritzed with some aloe scent before leaving the factory, but there is nothing soothing or comforting about those scraps.
5. Milk: Fresh, pasteurized, cold, normal 1% milk. It’s not Hennessey I’m wanting here, it’s milk. And not a lot: note that my semi-lactose stomach can only take so much. Just enough to top up the cup of coffee! It’s not so very demanding is it? But surely, for all those zebus, there is milk in Madagascar? You query. Oh there is, it’s called UHT: Ultra-high temperature. That means that it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Ever. And you think that ultra-long life comes without exacting a perilous price in taste? How is that even possible?? You demand. I don’t know. It comes from Germany. Trust the Germans…
6. Cafes: Among the supreme pleasures of west coast living is sitting idly in a coffee shop, watching the rain drip by, in time with the coffee. Even their exorbitant prices can be forgiven for what is essentially a hot cup of coffee-themed milk (but there you go again – milk, so ubiquitous to us from North America, turns out, is a precious commodity elsewhere). I can’t quite place my finger on the whole of it. It’s the calming jazz music, the baristas that want to be your best friend for the five minutes you loiter in front of them, and the fact that you are welcome to stay as long as your heart desires. I could wax eloquent on the philosophy I have about coffee as the social glue that keeps us together, but I’ll just reiterate for now how wonderful it is to be beckoned in from the cold to the warm glow of a place meant for talking, sitting, watching and thinking. That space is not to be taken for granted.
7. You know what else is not to be taken for granted? People – some of them just can’t be replaced and it’s a real, darn shame they can’t be in two places at once.