Music is my first language; it’s how I understand and relate to the world. When I listen to music, I feel things I can’t describe in words. The sounds, the blending of notes, encapsulates and pulls at emotion better than any language.
Each place that’s influenced me, each important event, is marked in my mind with a song. It’s a song that we played over and over again to get us through dark times. Or, it’s a song we sang at the top of our lungs while driving, dancing, running, hiking, whatever. Still, to this day, I can listen to these songs and sing along without getting tired of them.
There’s only a handful of songs that do that for me.
But I couldn’t find that song in Madagascar. I don’t know why. I’ve listened to dozens of great songs, and learned a handful, but nothing pulled at that part of my heart where words don’t reach. That one song that is imprinted in my heart was somehow missing…
…and I’m wondering now if it made me feel somehow less than settled here. Or maybe I couldn’t find that song because I wasn’t settled. Nervous, anxious, couldn’t relax, couldn’t let music speak to me. Couldn’t put my roots down. I had this honest, angry thought that maybe I just don’t belong in a small village of Malagasy people…because I’ll never be Malagasy. No matter how good my language is, how much I dress or eat or act like the locals, I will never be one of them.
And then, just recently, it hit me like lightning: Well obviously. I can never erase my skin or my face or my heritage, or rewrite my past, or will myself into being born in another part of the world instead.
But what I can do is learn, and try, and allow that learning to inform my behavior, my thoughts, and my responses (I almost said reactions, but I’m working on responding rather than reacting.) I’m still me; I’m still Melanie. I’ve been Melanie all along. Only, now, I’m Melanie who speaks Malagasy and sometimes braids her hair and dresses in colorful clothing and understands a little more about a little part of the world.
Which brings me to this song: this beautiful, Malagasy folk song by two singers written and performed by two musicians from the East Coast of Madagascar: Mika and Davis. The lyrics, roughly summarized, are as follows:
How are you all? It’s so good to see you. What’s up? What’s new with you all?
—There’s nothing new here. Our health is good.
There’s not a lot we’re bringing with us. We’re looking for goodness, we’re looking for happiness, we’re looking for wonder, we’re looking for love, we’re looking for things that will make us happy. That’s what brought us here…
There’s nothing to make us sad. And there’s nothing that should make us fight. But we missed you all, so we came to visit.
–Oh, it’s good to miss people. Thank you for visiting.
We’re happy to be here. We’re full of happiness to see you. We’re so happy to be with you.
I can’t stop listening to this song. Watching the music video, that little part in the depth of my heart came alive again and told my brain this simple lesson: You can belong to people who aren’t like you. That’s what makes friendship real. True friendship, the kind Malagasy call “havana,” meaning family from different blood, means that ‘I see your difference, I enjoy it, I learn from it, I appreciate it, and I accept you with it. With all of it.’ That is what this song means to me.
And that’s what this journey has been for me…me seeing my blaring difference, feeling like a white-bellied fish laid out on the ice in a grocery store, yet people saying to me, “just be here with us.”