A Lesson On Slowing Down

"Ino ty vaovao?" is a common greeting used throughout the big red island. Despite your location on the island, you'll likely hear a variation of this greeting, meaning "What's new?"

The typical response is "Tsy misy" or "Not much." But most likely the person will be persistent for a conversation and you'll be asked a second time, just in a slightly different way: "Ino ty maresaka?"  You'll probably respond with the same answer, because nothing significant has happened within the three seconds since the last time they asked you, so you say "Tsy misy". You smile, wave and are on your way.

In Malagasy culture, people highly value conversation with friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and guests. Making the time to get to know the people around you is considered very important and there is a lot of time allotted for this throughout the day.

“Ino ty vaovao?”
”Tsy misy.”
”Ino ty maresaka?”
”Tsy misy.”
— typical conversation with a friendly stranger

I grew up in northern New Jersey, a 30-minute train ride from New York City, so I inherited a "go-go-go" mentality. In high school, I played twelve seasons of sports. In college, I worked fifty hours at the school newspaper, plus a full course load. After graduation, I was working three part-time jobs.  That was my "normal" and I became a person who thrived when busy. So I couldn't help but feel a little panicked when I arrived in Madagascar, where I had so much time and no idea how to fill it.

And then I learned to slow down.

Way, way down.

I learned the value of conversation. I got used to stopping in the market to ask about the sellers' days and their children. I sat down on a straw mat outside my house to chat with my neighbors over watermelon. I went for long walks, greeting everyone I passed. Time spent having casual conversation didn't seem like "wasted time" any more but an investment in the people around me.

Here are some ways I learned to sloooooow down in Madagascar:

1. Mipay aloke // Find some shade: The sun is especially strong in the southern part of the country and as much as the Antandroy are used to it, everyone loves a cool breeze and some coverage from the tamarind tree. Where you will find shade, you will find company. Sounds like a win-win to me.

2. Manao deba  // Have a conversation: When someone would ask, "What are you doing?" when sitting with neighbors on the ground, I used to say "nothing," with a tinge of guilt. They would correct me, reminding me that we are "manao deba" or having conversation and that it was worthy of our time.

3. Mitsangatsangana // Go for a walk: An all-time favorite hobby among Malagasy people is going for walks. Grab a friend and walk as leisurely as you like, with no particular destination in mind, and talk about just about anything. 

4. Mamangy-vangy namana // Visit a friend: I can't remember that last time a friend randomly showed up at my door in America to hang out, but here in Madagascar, I get visitors multiple times a day. While I still hold on to my American value of personal space, I admire and appreciate my visitors who stop by to say hello.

It's not always easy, but slowing down on this island and taking a break from the hustle and bustle of my former American life has taught me a good lesson. Being productive doesn't always yield visible results, but sometimes the simple act of asking about someone's day can make a huge difference.

Maybe I won't be leaving work to sit on a straw mat under a tamarind tree when I get back to America. But the next time I'm standing in line at Starbucks for a cup of coffee, I won't be so hesitant to turn to the person behind me and ask, "Ino ty vaovao?"


 "This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge"