My father loved gadgets. When I was a kid, he had a Polaroid camera that was almost as big as a shoe box, but he would take it with us to family gatherings and events so that we could have pictures printed on the spot making the memories tangible. I recall the snapping sound of the film being pulled out of the camera, impatiently waiting three minutes until you could remove the developing cover off of the image and the wonder of seeing it magically appear right there in front of you. Technology has changed a great deal – it’s now smaller, lighter and easier to use – but the wonder is still there. Polaroid now makes a hand-held printer that is about the same size as an iPhone, uses Bluetooth to transfer images and prints business card sized photos on the spot. I had an older, clunkier, more finicky version that never lived up to the expectations but the new version is spot-on for delivering the same magic and wonder during this kind of travel.
While traversing central Madagascar with our driver-guide, Tovo, we stopped for lunch under a large tree on the outskirts of a small village. A young woman, likely close to Lucia’s age, curiously eyed us from a hundred or so yards away and waved enthusiastically. We waved back and she came closer. Again, we waved and smiled. She came even closer. I asked Tovo to see if she would want a picture of herself. She jumped in excitement. “Yes, she would” he calmly replied as she sprinted off. Closer to the village, two younger girls, probably 10 or 11 years old, watched us intently but with greater trepidation. Where the young woman approached us, they held back. I gathered my phone and printer from the car and walked towards the village. As I approached the younger girls and held up my phone to take a picture of them, they dashed in to the bushes, apparently afraid of what I was going to do. I had assumed that they wanted their picture taken too, but was incorrect (at least initially!).
The young woman returned carrying her infant son as she wanted a picture of him, not of herself. With great pride, she held him up for the photo. I took the picture of the two of them, but she only wanted the baby’s image. We retook the picture with only him in the frame. By the time the printer had been started and the photos taken, a small crowd had gathered and squealed excitedly as my printer produced the small image.
Seeing this miracle, several other young mothers quickly brought their babies for a picture and the shy younger girls gained enough courage to let me take their photo. There were laughs, comparisons of skin color (the two young girls were amazed by Lucia’s light skin), and lots of charades to communicate. It was a genuine and memorable experience which would not have occurred if not for the gregarious and inquisitive nature of the first young mother. We would have simply moved along after we finished our sandwiches, never having this interaction. I could not help but think of the David Attenborough line from many of his BBC Earth episodes, “Fortune often favors the brave.”
A similar experience happened a couple of days later in a more remote part of the country. Again, we had stopped for lunch on the outskirts of a small village overlooking a large rice terrace. Seeing us, one brave young farmer approached and struck up a conversation with Tovo. After some pleasantries, a second farmer joined in and our driver asked if it would be okay to offer the photos to them as well. They were excited about the opportunity yet posed solemnly for the photos. As the first image printed, the younger of the two men broke in to laughter. Tovo translated his words as, “He cries disbelief because he usually has to travel more than two hours to have a photo!”
As with the previous experience, once the first photo was produced, a crowd quickly gathered to have their photos taken. This experience was different though because it was primarily young farming men where the first had been children and young mothers.
One farmer was pulling a tiller behind two large zebu (cattle/oxen like animals ubiquitous in Madagascar), prepping his muddy field for planting rice. He removed his pink sequined hat and wanted his picture taken with his zebu. When he saw how muddy he was in the first image, he quickly ran to his house, grabbed clean clothes, rinsed off in the irrigation ditch then wanted a more formal picture taken.
In looking at the images later, I was struck by the difference in his posture from the initial image to after he had cleaned up. There is obvious pride in the size, strength and quality of his zebu. There was a great round of laughter when one of the younger men, possibly the younger brother or cousin of the proud farmer, brought his zebu out to pose for a photo as well. When the image of him with his smaller, less robust, baby zebu emerged, the whole group broke in to laughter demonstrating the commonality of sibling rivalry around the world.
With each of these experiences, we all were smiling when we got back in the car. It feels good to give something, even a small picture, instead of only taking from the places we visit. Mac commented that we had probably made their day with our technology – Tovo, our guide, said that it may have been the highlight of their month. I am happy to have carried on my father’s tradition of creating tangible memories of a shared experience.