souvenirs from madagascar

It is a city like so many in Africa. With a sadness that saturates everything, until it is visible in the rooftops, the bright-colored clothes on laundry lines, the busy traffic. Trash lines the streets. Houses, made of anything and everything, are bursting at the seams with more people than they can hold. Taxis pass by, overflowing with people, luggage, chickens. Children laugh and shout, making a game of an old tire and a stick. There are smiles. There is laughter. Yet, that sadness is still there. It's palpable--reach out and take hold of some. Put it in your pocket as a lasting souvenir. You'll never forget it, that's for sure.

But it's also a city unlike so many in Africa. The rolling green hills stand out, but that's not really it. In the countryside, on the outskirts of the city, the houses look more like homes, but that's not really it either. The people and their culture are more Polynesian than African, a striking difference. Their facial features are bold, yet soft. Their eyes shine, yet seem dim. Their smiles genuine, yet subdued.

I've never seen rice fields before. They are the vibrant green of limes, and look as soft and inviting as a lush carpet. I'm intrigued by the random clusters of homes built up on a foot or two of packed soil in the middle of the fields. Cows, wading up to their shoulder blades in the soggy foliage, enjoy lunch on-the-go as they munch their way across the field. I've never seen anything like it. It makes me smile. Add that to your pocket. Another souvenir.

I am overtaken by an oh-so-familiar smell. It is distinct, but indescribable. It is memorable, yet impossible to be fully recalled. It is the smell of Africa. In spite of all the differences, I remember I am still here. I am still in Africa. Can you smell it? Once you breathe it in deep, it stays with you. Should you ever smell it again, you are instantly brought back to the very first time. Nothing compares with the smell of Africa. Bottle it up, cork it tight, and put it in your pocket. There will be days you'll long to uncork it, press your nose against the mouth of the bottle, and breathe it in to your Africa-starved lungs.

Truly, these are the best souvenirs.