Denis Waitley once said, “Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” My experience in Madagascar has been nothing but extraordinary and mind-opening. I have learned a substantial amount of knowledge about the richness of this country; such as its breathtaking biodiversity and authentic culture. But I have also had the privilege of learning a lot of things about myself and I thank being disconnected from social media for this. Just as Denis Waitley mentioned, “happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude” and it was not until this week that I learned the true meaning behind simplicityand living in the moment.
Learnt the simplicity of living in the moment
During our first couple of days in Madagascar, we were all told by our instructors that we were going to have an entire week to work on collecting data for a research question of our choice. With time, seconds turned into minutes, minutes turned into hours, hours turned into days, and days turned into weeks… and before we knew it, we were just a few days before the most anticipated week of them all: Week IV.
As many of you have read from Kevin Price’s blog post earlier this month, I am known as the Child Whisperer amongst my group and words cannot express how thankful I am of this label. When I first arrived to Madagascar, I was completely taken away by the children’s care-free spirits, loving personalities, and optimistic attitudes. With time, my love for the children started growing tremendously because they reminded me of when I was a child in the Dominican Republic—when I was living a simple life and enjoying every moment without a single hesitation of the past nor the future. With that in mind, it was without a doubt that I was going to focus my research question on a topic that revolves learning more about this country’s outstanding culture.
My research question focused on evaluating if there is a generational difference in the perceived effectiveness of natural remedies versus synthetic remedies when it comes to malaria and diarrhea amongst three different generations of Malagasy females from three different villages. As a Dominican woman, I have always observed that in my culture older generations tend to lean more towards using traditional remedies for resolving medical issues than synthetic remedies. For instance, vapor rub! (It works, trust me!). Particularly, I surveyed 30 Malagasy females from three different villages and ended up with a total of 90 completed surveys in total. It was quite an experience! Since I can go day in and out speaking about my experience, I will speak upon what valuable lesson I learned from every village I visited throughout my long week of data collection. I spent my Sunday and Monday in Manokakora with my absolutely fabulous and hilarious guide: Herry. Before heading to the village, I was extremely anxious because this was my first time going into a village without the company of my fellow study abroad folks. Our drive from CVB to Manokakora was approximately 20 minutes, excluding the numerous stops we made along the way, and I can reassure to you that my anxiety level only increased the closer we got to the village.
However, all of that subsided when I was welcomed with hugs and cheers from the villagers as soon as I arrived in Manokakora. It was at that moment that everything sank into place and I was ready to start off my day! Manokakora is a breathtaking village full of enthusiastic and joyful villagers. I was able to bond with majority of the villagers and learn more about the Malagasy culture (even practice my Malagasy!). One of the greatest highlights of my visit in Manokakora was meeting Bebe Ruru, an amazing elderly woman who reminded me of my own grandmother. As soon as I arrived in Manokakora, she gave me a beautiful and uniquely special hat that means a lot to her. I felt like a Princess.
Bebe Ruru’s hat make me feel like a Princess
At the end of our day, Herry and I would go to the Market Place to check out different stores and cool places that people normally don’t know about. So, while at Manokakora, not only did I get to survey three different generations of women, play with the children, and learn/speak Malagasy but I was also able to strengthen my connection to my spirituality by learning more about myself and meeting inspirational individuals with purest intentions ever.
For Tuesday and Wednesday, I went to Tanambao. Similar to Manokakora, I was welcomed by heart-warming children! The King and Queen of the Tanambao village welcomed me into their home and were very accepting of my research. My trip to Tanambao was the most emotionally triggering out of the three villages I visited. As many know, I love to dance! So Wednesday afternoon, after I finished conducting all the surveys for Tanambao, I decided to teach the children Zumba in the pouring rain! My rain jacket definitely did not help keep me dry but I did not let that stop me. The children and parents were all having a good time and that is what mattered the most! After teaching them Zumba for approximately an hour and a half, it was time to head back to CVB. This is when the tears started rolling down my cheeks. As I exited the village, all of the kids surrounded me and shouted “Ta-ee-na” as I walked down the slippery slope. I couldn’t help but feel heartbroken because I knew this was the last time I was going to see them considering that I only have about two weeks left in Madagascar before it is time to head back home. What Tanambao taught me is that sometimes the things you believe in are insignificant or small—but can actually mean the world for someone else. Tanambao showed me that we should never devalue an experience but that we should cherish each and every piece of it. In my case, teaching the children Zumba was relatively simple; however, to them it meant the world and you could see it from the smiles on their faces whenever I would do a complicated move and from the laughs whenever one of them freestyled to Folaka La Cle by Mario.
Hard to leave these kids after a session of zumba
The third and last village—Nanda, showed me how to appreciate the world we live in. For example, I am obsessed with the sky! I am absolutely mesmerized by the wonders of the outside world. It fascinates me how precious life is—how I can just look up at the sky and feel that all of my problems subside. When I was in Nanda, I finished my surveys at about 6:30PM and as many of you know, it is winter time here in Madagascar so as soon as the clock hits 6:30PM, it is absolutely dark outside! Nanda does not have any streetlights nor any form of human-made interference that would affect the appearance of the sky. It was at that moment—as I looked up at the clusters of stars lying directly above me, that I realized how precious this moment was. I would do anything to have a view like this in New York. I was mesmerized—completely taken aback by the beauty that surrounded me. At that very moment, everything seemed perfect. The laughs, joy, tears, and memories—all perfect. I felt homesick. Not because I wanted to leave Madagascar but because I finally found a homein a country away from home.
Within a matter of four weeks, you have taught me a lot about what makes you, you. But you also taught me more about myself than I have known these past couple of years. I want to thank you. Thank you for allowing me to indulge in your beauty and explore your horizons. Thank you for opening my heart again. Thank you for being you. I will be returning soon!