As we drove through the highlands on the way to our weeklong village homestays, we listened to the Paul Simon album, “Graceland.” Listening to “The Boy in the Bubble” and looking out the window at our beautiful surroundings, thinking about what had transpired the day before, a line in the song really resonated with my experience: these are the days of miracles and wonder.
Before sending us off into our respective villages, we had a few days to prepare in the nearest city to the village sites. This city, Antsirabe, happens to be the place where my grandfather started a radio station and is home to my Dad’s earliest childhood memories. One of my aunts was just recently here and noted that in her opinion, it is the most beautiful place in Madagascar. From what I’ve seen so far, I agree. Located in the highlands, the volcanic soil makes the vegetation particular lush and the air is so refreshing in comparison to the polluted urban center.
On our first day, the program organized a dropoff activity where they divided us into teams with a list of places to find on our own before meeting back at the hotel for dinner. Not being a competitive person (cough cough), my group decided to do some additional exploring before returning to the hotel (which was okay because we basically had already won, finding all the places faster than the other teams). During our exploration, we visited a market and stumbled upon one of the larger Lutheran churches. An event was happening inside the sanctuary so instead of going in, I thoroughly examined the whole exterior, wondering if this had been a church my family had ever frequented.
The next few days didn’t leave much time for further wandering on our own as we had many scheduled visits to organizations and also had preparations to make for the upcoming week. On our last evening in Antsirabe, I skyped with my family briefly before rushing off to a visit to an English club. I will be returning to Antsirabe for a month in April to complete my independent study project, so my Dad described to me where I could then find the radio station and his childhood home in relation to the old Lutheran Hospital. On the way to the English club, I asked our director if he knew where the hospital was and he didn’t know. I figured on my return trip I would consult a map and go searching.
We arrived at the location of the English club and there were many buildings in the same compound. The building that housed the club had the word “radio” written on the exterior followed by some Malagasy words I didn’t know. I asked our director if he knew what radio station it was and he didn’t. I looked around at the surrounding buildings and I felt my heart beating a little faster; but there are many radio stations so I felt silly getting excited. When I return in April, I thought, I will find out whether my gut was right.
I was placed in a class with advanced level one students and, being the daughter of a very experienced and talented English teacher, I tried to channel my Mom in how I spoke and addressed the students. Many of them were very eager to practice their English with me and they asked me many questions, including: why are you so tall? I’m single, are you married? Is it true what we see in movies about young people in the United States? Are you a Democrat or a Republican? Why did you chose to come to Madagascar? In response to this last question, I explained that I have always wanted to come to Madagascar and told them all about my family connection to this place. I asked the teacher if he was familiar with the radio station, Radio Voice of the Gospel, and he said yes! I waited eagerly as he translated the name into Malagasy and I was so happy when all the students nodded excitedly and audibly acknowledged that they knew it too even though it is not running at the moment. “You know it?!” I asked, and the teacher responded, “I think it is right on the other side of this wall.”
I could hardly control my emotions as I conveyed my joy and surprise! I peered out the window to look at the house that was exactly as my Dad had described not even an hour before via Skype. All the students seemed to share in my excitement and I was overwhelmed; if I had let myself, I could have cried in happiness, but I saved this for later when I was not leading an English lesson.
After the class, I confirmed with the English club coordinator that it was the radio station and that they rent the space while it is not running. She pointed out the hospital buildings and I did a little further exploring around the station, the house exterior, and the garden. I imagined my grandparents in this place. I admired the building that may have been built by my grandfather and his father. And I thought about my Dad as a little squirt running around this compound and making those earliest childhood memories. I knew that all of this existed and that I would eventually find it, but I was not prepared for this discovery at that particular moment and therefore I think I was that much more affected by the experience. I felt as though my family were there with me because my heart was warmed as if taken in an embrace by those whom you love and who love you in return. It was truly incredible.
Driving in the car the next day I was still thinking about the experience and processing the miraculousness being here and this unexpected discovery. You are right, Paul Simon, these truly are the days of miracles and wonder.