Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Tony D’Sousa (page 7)
 Talking with
Tony D’Sousa
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What happened to you in Madagascar? Did all the Cote d’Ivoire violence comes roaring back to you?

My transfer to Madagascar was really just a selfish thing I did, very cynical. I did not want to return to the US, but had no money. I thought I’d chill in Madagascar until Cote d’Ivoire calmed down so I could go back in, start a falafel shop in Seguela, who knows what.
We had a five-week abbreviated training in Madagascar. The Peace Corps had closed there in ’01 because of violence; we were there to reopen the island for Peace Corps service. Most of the crew from Seguela had transferred, in fact of the eight of us who had crossed the war zone from Seguela, five of us decided to go to Madagascar together, plus another Seg Vol who had been down in Abidjan when the war started. Maybe it was a Band of Brothers sort of thing, even though it was mostly girls. We liked each other. We had a lot of intense history to share. The training was a blast: we didn’t stay with families, but at a resort on this lake. The food was great, we all played volleyball and swam and got healthy. My language gift showed itself off with flair. I was conversational in Malagasy by the fourth week.
Then it was time for service again, and I was sent way down the island to a small town to teach English at the high school. I was housed at a Catholic orphanage, given a small room above the kitchen. The conditions were grim, I had to adjust to Madagascar and cope with the stuff that had happened in Cote d’Ivoire at the same time. The special training at the resort was a sort of reprieve, but alone again at my Madagascar site, I began to think about things that had happened in Cote d’Ivoire, about my friends, and especially about the times that I had abused my position as a whiteman to get things or get away with things, whether it was to make a kid get me a cigarette from a kiosk, or humiliate a soldier at a checkpoint, or spend a night with an Abidjan hooker.
Though I had known the war was coming, it wasn’t until afterwards that I understood how much it degraded and debased human life. I found my own heart of darkness in Cote d’Ivoire, found that the darkness was in me. The war had been exciting; I had been excited and attracted to it. I had looked forward to it. But I had not known what the horror it really was would mean for people, and I had that disgusting black spot in my soul to regret and make me question my own goodness. So I’d teach my classes at the high school and then go up to my smoke filled room (the kitchen smoke ran through my room before exiting the building) on my burlap sack mattress filled with rice chaff, and I’d think about it and think about it. I’d thought I’d been this good, good guy. But I had been just as excited as any of your basic mob machete butcher by the prospect of the war. So for the first time in my life I began to hate myself and feel that I’d fucked up the sacred thing that my life was for good. I don’t know that I still don’t feel that way.
At the Christmas break, I went on this long, long sojourn with another Seg-Vol all through the south of the country, and when she went back to her site in the north, I just kept wandering and wandering, all the way up the highest peak in southern Madagascar, Andrigitra, these sacred granite mountains. Well there are no more answers at the top of a mountain than at its base because the only answers are in the heart. And my heart told me that I had fucked up, and that human life is fucked up, and I was despairing and joyless. Back at the orphanage, I quickly learned that all hell had broken loose in the six weeks that I’d been away, and that I was in a lot of trouble with the Peace Corps. A grenade had been thrown at an Embassy family’s compound, and we’d gone on consolidation, and I wasn’t anywhere to be found. For weeks. This felt very distant to me and didn’t trouble me. Up in Antananarivo, we went through the formalities of documenting my disappearances from site with stiff letters and communiqués from Washington and what not, but I was done and wanted to be done. I was on a plane to Johannesburg in two days. Then I wandered for months through the continent, from Jo’burg to Kampala and back again. I went through Zimbabwe when even the border guards told me I’d get killed in it, went to the border of Burundi and Congo, and was turned back. My money ran out in Mozambique. The war was still raging in Cote d’Ivoire and where did I have left to go but home? I have been back for two and a half years.


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