Madagascar in the Season of Lightning

Christian Ranaivoson faces the rainclouds in the Bay of Antongil, Madagascar. November 2014. Photo by Cara Brook.
Christian Ranaivoson faces the rainclouds in the Bay of Antongil, Madagascar. (Photo by Cara Brook)

“It’s not down in any map. True places never are.” –Herman Melville, Moby Dick

In Malagasy, the fahavaratra corresponds roughly to the season that we in the West like to call “summer.” But it’s a different sort of summer from any I have ever known. Varatra means lightning, of the sort that strikes the ground, and with lightning comes rain such as I have never seen. It pours from the sky in heavy torrents, rips giant chasms in the city streets, claws through the roof in rivulets that there are not buckets enough to catch.

I stare out my window at the dusky Antananarivo skyline and watch through the ceaseless downpour as the lights go out in one dramatic sweep across the city. Tapaka ny jiro! a neighbor calls out. The power is cut.

What’s Old Is New Again

I’m back once again on the far side of the world and settling into yet another five months of Madagascar. It seems incredible to me that less than a week ago, I was deep in the snow flurries of what my Vermont-borne housemate called “a proper winter,” and now, I find myself enveloped by the long humid days of Malagasy summer.

It’s my first time ever visiting Madagascar at the height of the rainy season, and I feel every sense alive with its newness. There are fruits I have never seen before, street snacks I have yet to try, buildings that have been swept away in a few weeks worth of flood. It’s a country I know, and yet, as always, it is different, challenging, new—in Madagascar, I never cease to learn.

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