I was talking with my younger brother the other day and we were reminiscing about his trip last summer to Madagascar. As you can tell from the photo, he loved being a “vazaha”, the Malagasy word for foreigner. But parts of the things he experienced there still bother him.
Because Alison and I know it so well, we are sometimes surprised by the things that affect the people that come to visit us in Madagascar. Since we started in Peace Corps in 2003, we’ve had many visitors: parents, a best friend, a sister, and a brother. And each of them had their own fresh take on the country.
Most couldn’t get over the poverty. This is a natural reaction for anyone, we went through it as well. But Alison and I are always amazed at how quickly kids without shoes or in ratty clothes become so commonplace that you don’t even notice it anymore. It can be bothersome, because you would hope that it would always be shocking to see that sort of poverty.
But I think a big part of becoming immune to those sights is moving beyond seeing just someone’s appearance to getting to know them as a person: with names and dreams and lives just like you or me. Not being able to afford shoes, let alone basic medicines and food, is only an external circumstance: their hearts are exquisitely human.
It has been a great privilege to be able to experience Madagascar through the eyes of those who have come to visit us. The monthly interviews with our micro-lending clients reminds us that these women, though they are poor and lack education, have the same hopeful dreams for their children that our parents have for us.
For me that is the beauty of travel and new experiences. While the world is a big, complex place, every person has a little spark of that common humanity waiting to be discovered. With or without our shoes, don’t we all dream the same?