I live in one of the most unique places on Earth. Things that exist here in Madagascar sometimes don’t exist anywhere else in the world. In fact, a whopping 75% of plant and animal species in Madagascar live nowhere else on the planet…nowhere!
But this is also a place that can feel quite sad. It is so beautiful, but there is also so much pain. This is a place where political instability constantly seems just around the corner, the roads and the garbage get worse and worse every week and sometimes there are only 10 or so small children begging on the street between my house and the supermarket 2 miles away…but more often than not the number hovers around 20. We constantly live with the profound awareness that our lives are so easy compared to those around us.
So, as you can imagine, despite the beauty and incredible uniqueness, living here can be complicated. It’s easy to feel like there’s no hope. And, as much as I hate to say it, maybe there isn’t. But, then sometimes I see something really nice or beautiful or sweet and I think – “Who am I to say there’s no hope. Truthfully, there’s hope everywhere. We just have to open our eyes to see it.”
The other day I witnessed a man, crippled by polio, slide quickly under a bus to retrieve and return a cell phone dropped by a young woman on a motorcycle. I drove past a 30-something dad tickling squeals and squirms out of his little girl as he took a break from selling a small hill of beans on the side of the road (yes, literally, a hill of beans). I saw a group of barefoot and ragged construction workers set about organizing a pick-up soccer game in a field, laughing and pushing and calling – disguising, or perhaps forgetting, the fact that one small cup of rice had likely been their only meal that day.
As expats, we have this particularly unique advantage – we’re almost always surrounded by stark contrast. Even those of us who live in relatively developed countries are faced with the notion of here vs. there, us vs. them, the-way-we-do-things vs. the-way-it’s-done-there.
Of course, on the one hand all of these contrasting sights and sounds are shocking, but on the other hand, they wake us up. We can try to ignore them, but only so much. At the end of the day – it’s just too much to ignore. So the question becomes – what do we do with this?
For me, this exposure to so many different realities has served as an invitation to wake up. If we choose to allow it to be so – it can be an invitation to experience the full range of emotions that come with seeing things that repeatedly don’t make sense. It can be an opportunity to say, “This really bothers me and this doesn’t. Why is that?” Each one of these experiences, each time we look towards what we’re seeing and not away, bring us closer to better understanding ourselves and that keeps us better engaged in our respective journeys.
It takes effort, but we benefit from looking closer. We might be surprised to find that the answers we’re looking for come in places we’d never expect…or, in the ups, downs, ins and outs of the places we never expected to be.