Tamana ve anao?

As a big fan of language and words, I am always tickled to learn of foreign words that don’t have a translatable word in English. Today I learned of “tamana.” It has a meaning that resembles something you’d find in the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (which is a wonderful project, by the way), only positive.

Tamana is a word in Malagasy, which is the native language and people of Madagascar. It means to feel at ease and happy in a foreign country, while still thinking fondly of home, but not actively longing for or missing it.

Someone can ask you: “Tamana ve anao?” They would be asking: “Are you tamana?” And you would answer either yes or no: “Ya tamana” or “Tsia tamana.”

My friend who was explaining the word to me was surprised we don’t have an English word for that concept. The best I could come up with was “to not be homesick.” I don’t like the word homesick and I find the meaning of tamana to be much more beautiful and sufficiently complex.


Getaway Girl

It was time to go away for a weekend. Five friends and I took an extremely bumpy, two-hour taxi brousse ride to Mahambo, a beach village. Every time I began to doze off during the drive, I was jolted awake by one of the plentiful potholes.

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The Vanilla Café, the hotel we stayed at, had a restaurant, bar and bungalows made from bamboo and traveller’s palms, which are fan-shaped trees that are also called ravenala. Most houses on the eastern coast of Madagascar are made almost entirely out of traveller’s palms.


I have always wanted a photo of me hiking through nature in a foreign country with a surfboard. It made me feel like being in one of those surf safari documentaries. Although when I actually got out with the waves, I looked nothing like that.

Sidenote: Many of these pictures weren’t taken by me, but by my friend with a waterproof camera.

Some local dudes who owned/worked at The Vanilla Café brought us to their surf spot, waxed our boards and gave us lessons.

Surfing actually gives me loads of anxiety. I’m sure every time I go out that I will die, but I still love trying whenever there’s the opportunity.

The sun was absolutely scorching that day. I got my worst sunburn yet. But these dudes whipped up this little shelther in less than five minutes. Not pictured: A herder and his zebu grazing nearby. The beach was completely empty otherwise.



Snorkeling was quite murky, but the reef was beautiful none the less.

Chameleon! Contrary to common belief, chameleons don’t change color to blend in with their background. Their color changes based on their mood. I’m glad I am not a chameleon.

This black-and-white ruffed lemur is unfortunately semi-captive. It has an open cage but swings around in the nearby trees as it wishes. This type of lemur is known for its loud and raucous call.

 We woke ourselves up at 4:30 am to catch the sunrise. Then promptly grabbed our surfboards and went for another session.

On the ride back, we made a stop in Foulpointe at Fort Manda, the last remaing fortress in Madagascar. Built in the early 1800s, the walls are made from coral, sand and eggshells, with egg whites used as cement and it’s furnished with British cannons.





Today I was talking to someone about stress. His input on the subject was: “I don’t get stressed-out.” 

“How do you do that?,” I asked. 

“I just don’t carry my worries around in my head.”

“So what I just heard was: You’re a bloody sorcerer.”

The Importance of Mopping

Volunteering was my intention for coming to Madagascar. I’m working for a beautiful organization called Mercy Ships that runs a hospital ship called the Africa Mercy. They sail to different African countries and spend approximately a year at port in each providing free healthcare onboard to people who desperately need surgeries and dental procedures.

I have no medical expertise to speak of, so I volunteered with housekeeping. It’s not a high-reward job like I imagine the surgeons and nurses must experience. They get to stitch people’s lives back together and nurse patients – not back to health – but to greatly improved health. I’m not a chaplain tending to people’s souls or an accountant keeping the ship finically floating.

I mop the floors everyone walks over. I wipe the toilets they sit their butts on. I disinfect the handrails they drag their germy hands across. I empty the trash bins they fill with sticky notes, snack wrappers and examination gloves.

When people say every job – large and small and medium-sized – matters, it’s true. The ship has a limited amount of time to treat as many people as possible and the workers doing the treating and the organizing of the treating shouldn’t spare a moment to worry about overflowing garbage or dirty floors or unsanitary bathrooms. My team and I keep things moving. Plus, my team consists mostly of local Malagasy people, so I get the privilege to work with them daily and have constant cultural exchanges. I learn from them and in turn, they learn from me.

I am happy to be a small gear in this extraordinary healing machine.


The view from my office.


New Year’s Toast

With depression, often the pain is mysterious. I ache (emotionally and sometimes also physically), but I don’t know why. I try to assign a culprit. For example, it’s because my day isn’t going swimmingly, or I think of painful things that have happened in the past, or it’s because I’m lonely, or perhaps because I haven’t accomplished what I want to career-wise. The reality remains that it’s usually just chemicals. My depression is chemical. But my heart doesn’t understand chemicals.

But sometimes pain is tangible. And it’s because I sat out by the pool without sunscreen on a particularly scorching day in Madagascar. I told myself: Hey, it’s the first day of the new year and you have the day off, so why not relax at the pool. The sun will feel good. It’ll boost your mood. 

I forgot what my Australian friends told me. The sun is hotter in the Southern Hemisphere. There is less ozone and less pollution to block the UV rays and the earth is closer to the sun during the southern summer, resulting in a much higher UV index than a sunny day in Washington state.

Here is the result. That non-red space at the top of my thighs, by the way, is where my notebook was resting.


So here’s to the sun and sometimes actually knowing where the pain comes from! It’s helpful, but it still burns and leads to cancer.