Mango Season, A Metaphor for all Things Wonderful in Life

On November 1st, it was though someone had flipped a switch and the rains began to fall. Six long months and many a fruitless rain-dance had produced hardly a drop, now, the opening of the sky is a daily event, one that requires due consideration for the afternoon schedule. For these are torrential downpours and venturing out in them is much akin in my my opinion to snorkeling: extreme difficulty breathing, high likelihood of drowning, thus high risk to low reward.


Fortunately for the captives of the resulting mild afternoon hours, when only the dull roar of rain lashing the roof fills the ears, a three-fold blessing comes hand-in-hand with the change of seasons: mangos, mangos, and more mangos. For months I had watched them grow heavy on the trees, kicked them under-ripe down the back roads of my town, eaten them as an accompianment to street-corner brouchettes. For months indeed I tendered my patience and then, suddenly, as the rains arrived, the mangos ripened and Nothern Madagascar was swimming in both. Four for ten cents at the market, or better yet, send out a brigade of neighborhood children. Fresh mangos on a rainy afternoon: one starts to think this island life ain't so bad...
In fact, I have begun to suspect lately that there is a larger metaphysical scheme at work here: that shifting global weather patterns, a butterfly flapping its wings in Australia and a ripe mango falling on my roof Madagascar, whales migrating up the coast and "stars that go" criss-crossing the night sky, have all, in some vast and untold manner, properly aligned in their patterns to ensure that all is simply well in the world right now.


Given, I am two months behind in my knowledge of the world's dysfunctions, am only vaguely aware that America's current political gridlock makes Madagascar appear a smoothly operating democracy,and persist in the delusion that I will be able to get a job back in America, but who are you to rain on my "mangos as an expression of universal goodwill" parade? Who are you to demand that I get over my Peace-Corps-tree-huggin'-hippie-metaphysical-shenanigans?


While I wholeheartedly refuse to do so, I can offer some logical and quantifiable reasons why the turn of seasons has brought a sense of peace and purpose to my life in Madagascar (besides, of course, fewer trips to the water pump!). It is a hardly a rare affliction for volunteers, but for much of the first year I have felt that I was simply floundering: butchering and bungling the language, struggling to reconcile my training and personal expectations with the broader goals of Peace Corps and the needs of the community, often owerwhelmed by my failure to create a cohesive understanding of my role here. It was difficult and for months I felt I was just treading water and keeping my head above, waiting for the pieces to fall into place.


Which to a certain extent, they finally have; though let's not get carried away, this is hardly a 3-D, scale-model Big Ben we're putting together here. Rather, it is reaching a point with the Malagasy language that I deem adequate for continued survival; not holding forth discourse on the space-continuum but it will do. It is starting environmental education programs at the local elementary and middle schools and watching your first supervised game of tag degenerate into complete mayhem as the students run home from school to hide. It is seeing a few small projects make headway and feeling like you just forced the Mississippi to flow backwards.


Underlying these tangible and tempered signs of progress, however, is a broader sense of being at peace in my village life. The Malagasy word for it is 'tamana,' meaning settled or content in a place; urban dictionary would probably go with 'gone native.' It means moving slow in the heat and accepting a mud house will never be clean. It is the recognition that time spent in another's company is never wasted; that this whole notion of wasted time should be up for reconsideration. Above all other things, though, it means patience. Patience with the pace of life and the slow roll of progress; patience while the rains roll in and the mangos ripen. Patience while the workings of the universe, intricate and unknowable, bring to you what you need.



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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.