I posted overnight while most of you were asleep about how things have gotten a bit easier here in Madagascar since my struggles in immigration. That said, I’ve had a chance to reflect on what I’m seeing here in the Western part of this country and thought I’d share those thoughts, too. The words are from this morning and the pictures are from today.

Lake Kavitaha is Madagascar’s second biggest lake.

Following 65 years of French occupation, independence returned for the Madagas people on June 26, 1960. The French landed in the Northwest part of the country in 1895 with 14,000 troops. They intended to colonize the island to claim for themselves its rich natural resources. By the time they reached Antananarivo ? about 300 miles away from the coast ? 10,000 soldiers had died, mostly from Malaria. Despite their weakened forces, they quickly overwhelmed the locals with the sounds of their cannons, which frightened the warriors. After only a single day of fighting, Madagascar would become a French protectorate.

Despite nearly six decades of independence, there are still many struggles in this country.

The beauty is hard to miss.

Two tunnels ease traffic jams in Tana (Antananarivo’s nickname sheds excess syllables). As Joe and I drove through one yesterday, I struggled to breath. Like many other economically challenged countries, pollution control is not a ‘thing.’ Cars and trucks bellow huge volumes of black, acrid exhaust. In a tunnel, it just sits there with nowhere to go. As I coughed and struggled to see, I noticed a mother and her two infant children sitting along the road inside the tunnel. It was warmer than being outside.

Here, we struggled on Highway 1 to get through a traffic jam. Traffic outside of Tana is still challenging

At another point on our journey along Highway 1, we passed through a small village. Suddenly, to our right, we spotted a wedding party. At the front, the bride and groom, who couldn’t have been older than 14, walked slowly, looking frightened. Joe was quick to point out he’d never seen such a young couple getting married. My sense was that they had been told to get married. Behind them were probably 75 or 100 revelers who appeared to be enjoying themselves far more than the two at the front. The traditional wish for a newly married couple here in Madagascar is to say you hope they’ll have  seven girls and seven boys. Joe and I laughed, realizing the couple we’d just seen had plenty of time for that.

Soon, on our left, we noticed another procession in the same village. This one was a group of about 50 and, in the center, six men had a large wooden box hoisted on their shoulders. A coffin. Apparently, it’s advisable to bury your loved one on Wednesdays because that’s the best way to limit the chances their soul will haunt you. These guys weren’t taking chances ? it was Wednesday.

This waterfall, called Chute de La Lilly, was named for a young French girl who drowned here during the colonial period.

As I’m writing this, though, it’s early in the morning on Thursday. I just woke up, shivering. It’s about 48 degrees here at Lake Kavitaha and the rooms in this hotel are neither insulated nor heated. The shower, which boasts a window with plastic instead of glass, provides lukewarm water.

In case you’re wondering, the curtain is pink with blue dolphins.

This isn’t exactly  luxurious, but I won’t complain. It’s beautiful and mind-opening. I am unspeakably grateful to be here.

That said, I struggle with that concept – gratitude. Not because I’m not grateful. I am. I struggle because I get too ‘busy’ back home. I get swept into my daily life. Then, when I do have free time, I spend it watching a YouTube video, scrolling through my Facebook feed, binging on a new Netflix original – it all gets in the way of gratitude. I don’t invest it into thinking about how fortunate I am…

The French aren’t occupying my homeland. I’m not sitting in a tunnel relying on a dark cloud of car exhaust for warmth. I’m not a 14 year old forced groom. I’m not in a casket being carried along Highway 1.

Instead, I have a warm house and hot water, incredible life experiences, and unknown opportunities ahead of me.

Seeing a geyser like this one near Ampefy where I’m staying serves as a reminder to be grateful.

As my mother said when I was younger, I can sometimes be “purposely obtuse.” She meant there were times I would intentionally ignore something. Times, she’d observe, that I would miss something on purpose.

For example,

“Please get the butter and bring it to the table.”

“But Mom I can’t find the butter.”

“Don’t be purposely obtuse, look in the refrigerator.”

I have been distracted lately – purposely distracted. It’s a lot easier to numb out on, say, Netflix than it is to sit quietly and reflect on gratitude. And it’s even easier to do nothing rather than express my gratitude.

It takes stepping out of my comfort zone for me, traveling around the world and getting out of place, to realize just how fortunate I am. I don’t travel because it’s “fun” (although it often is) but because it’s challenging and forces me to change the way I think, act, and feel (it always does).

After a trip, I never return home the same as before I left.