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* tsy rano ity! (this isn’t water!)

August 5, 2015

I was fortunate to have grown up in Madagascar during a time when it was much safer than it is now. My last year or two in high school there, some friends and I decided it would be fun to ride bike up to Tsivory, a town I’d actually never been to. We figured about a day and half ride so left about noon. Taking a “shortcut” we were soon dealingthorn in tire with flat tires as it wasn’t driven on enough to keep it clear of the thorns which were puncturing them. My brother had 5 or so alone. Each time meant stopping, taking the tire off the bike, the inner tube out of the tire, identify and patch the hole and then repeat the process. So we didn’t get as far as we’d hoped the first day. It was growing dark, so we decided to set up our tents on the top of a grassy hillside. Then, as we were doing this, a man from a nearby village came over and convinced us to not camp out for the night, but rather stay with him. This was not a small thing as it meant he’d not be sleeping in his house as he was giving it to us for the night. And not only that, but in honor of our staying with them, they killed a goat for the rice they also served us. This all took quite awhile, but we weren’t going anywhere.

When it was time to eat, they brought a giant bowl of rice, the cooked goat and greens. A feast i that part of the world. We stayed where we were, sitting on the floor around the edges of the small house we’d been given for the night. By the light of kerosene lamps made out of recycled sweet milk tins we ate hungrily. The elder ate with us, watching us closely. There wasn’t a great deal of talk as our host spoke no English and only my brother spoke much Malagasy

We were thirsty as we weren’t carrying enough water. We had a filter with us, but most of the streams we’d crossed over were dry and we’d also had to use some of our water to find the holes in our tires (a total of about 10 that first day). [Why we hadn’t abottlesked our hosts for some water to filter for drinking, I don’t know.] One of my friends, seeing what appeared to be a bottle of water in the middle of the floor eagerly poured some of it into his cup and took a big gulp. Silence. Then a gasp and a whole lot of coughing on his part that went on for some time. “Tsy rano ity!” he finally managed to get out, which meant “This isn’t water!” No, it wasn’t. In fact it was “toaka,” a very high proof of home made alcohol, most likely made from distilled sugar cane or bananas, also provided to us in honor or our visit. The elder had watched this all happen and began to laugh quietly. “Tsy rano ity!” he said and kept on saying the rest of the meal. It took awhile, as it had been quite a “shot” of alcohol he’d swallowed, but eventually our friend also laughed with him.

None of the rest of us touched the bottle the rest of the night, though the elder enjoyed some of it.

To this day, now some 40 years later, the phrase “” gets a wry smile from my friend.

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