Friday, May 28, 2010

Reading a Novel

April 28th, 2010

So I was feeling like I needed a break from Madagascar, having one of those days when I'm struggling over what it is that I am here to do. So I decided that reading a novel might be good for me, to help me think about something else for a while.

I got out Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri, which turns out to be short stories. That's good for me, since I've been reading so slowly. So before dinner I finished the first story, which brought me to tears! Not exactly the escape-into-a-novel that I was hoping for...

So I read the second story while dinner was cooking, and it wasn't as sad because it was less personal to me, and because the characters were more hopeful and quirky. The best part was Mr. Pirzada (an immigrant to the United States from Pakistan) saying, “What are these large orange vegetables on people's doorsteps? A type of squash?...And the purpose? It indicates what?”

I can just see the curiosity and confusion of someone unfamiliar with our rather strange tradition! Reading a story set in the USA while living in Madagascar in this small village brings all the many differences face to face for me. Things like refrigerators, microwaves, doorsteps with decorative pumpkins, couches, relationships involving divorce paperwork, television news, grocery stores, gyms and sweatpants and makeup, sidewalks, the four seasons, libraries where kids read books...

Here we have candlelight, water in plastic buckets, markets built from patched together wood and metal scraps, people crowding into small rooms to watch videos powered by a generator, mosquito nets, handwoven baskets holding rice, handwoven mats to dry the rice, drunken men talking loudly in the dirt road late at night (i.e. 9pm), kids playing games with rocks and balls made from discarded plastic bags and banana-tree bark...

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