You won’t always love your fellow Honko volunteers. You’ll come from different cultural and socioeconomic contexts, you’ll have different senses of morality and values. Each person will have annoying habits which drive you crazy (you have them, too, and are driving them equally crazy). You will think they are holding you back from fully experiencing Madagascar, because you end up spending so much time with other Westerners and speaking English instead of Malagasy or French. It’s sort of like having brothers and sisters; you hate having them around, blame them for ruining everything, and never get a moment’s peace. But, sort of like with brothers and sisters, once you leave them you realize how much you needed them. When you are stuck waiting for five hours at a police station in Ihosy because your taxi brousse to Tana had illegal rocks on it, and the drunken guy who has been telling you how in love with you he is for the last two hours puts his son or your lap and walks away into the night, you will very much miss the people with whom you would have shared this experience. It is harder to laugh at crazy situations if there is no one to laugh with. It is then that you realize that if you had had no one to speak English with, who shared with you some of the same background and who was also learning about Mada with you, you may have gone crazy. If they hadn’t been there to make you laugh at yourself, you would have taken everything too seriously. You might not have made it. Being totally immersed in another culture is a different and wonderful experience, but it is also exhausting and frustrating and lonely. You don’t have annoying Western brothers and sisters to make you surprise spicy noodles on your last night.
In my mind, there will always be an alternate universe in which we never leave Honko, where we sit around and eat beans and play rummy and laugh until our stomachs hurt. None of us would have been friends outside of Honko, and I don’t know if we’ll stay friends after, but I am grateful for my silly, stupid, hilarious Honko family. Here are a few travel notes: The taxi brousse to Tana is a much cheaper option than the flight. Much cheaper. And it is truly a great way to see the beauty of Madagascar, and you’ll understand why Lalas is going on and on about how rich and lush the East Coast is. You’ll probably appreciate it even more than I did, since I lost my glasses to a crab in my last week. But it is very, very long and you can really get delayed. It would probably be better to make stops in Isalo and/or Ranomafana to break up the trip. If you are a woman, be prepared to defend yourself a bit. The drunk guy I mentioned before (who eventually did come back for his kid) would wait for me to fall asleep and then caress my leg and I had to keep waking him up and pushing him away. I began to reconsider my commitment to nonviolence. There was also a strong smell of fish, feet, beer and cigarettes which made my backpack so smelly that the woman in the dorm at Madagascar Underground asked me to put it outside. That being said, go to Madagascar Underground when you do get to Tana. It will be a welcome refreshment after the brousse. Whatever you choose, it will always be an adventure in Madagascar!