A Walk to Work

Commended in the Bradt New Travel Writer of the Year Competition 2024.

The following piece was commended in our 2024 New Travel Writer of the Year Competition. You can find the full list of long and short listed entries – including the winner – here.

“Courage!” I tell myself the French expression I have picked up for “be brave,” as I prepare to face the whirlwind that is Madagascar, as if it will give me the dose of gumption to propel me out the door. I think I can make it, I assure myself, about to embark on my daily walk to work.

As soon as I leave, there is a quick shift from inside to outside, the chaos of the world swallowing me up whole with one big gulp. I am immediately immersed in a sweet scent of cloves that takes me back to Christmas at home, sticking cloves into oranges to make the perfume ball that is a Pomander; the French term  “pomme d’ambre” — translating to “apple of perfume.” I have stepped out into the world and into a perfume ball. Inhale deeply.

My first stop is at a seller’s stand to pick up a small rice donut for breakfast. A group of women sit around, giving me cheeky smiles. As soon as I greet them with Salama, they laugh with glee at my poor attempt to communicate. I yell the same greeting at the other seller across the street and add an enthusiastic wave, her caramelized coconut treats displayed in a neat line, her usual eye mask in place, streaks of clay under her eyes, oddly reminding me of a baseball player.

As I round the corner, I see the second hand clothing stall of the lady with her big round hoop earrings, hanging up the most trendy styles at the front to entice her customers, her hair immaculately braided and her shop in tip top shape. The small boy from across the street yells bonjour! As he does everyday with enthusiasm; he is ready to start the day. I am as well!

I walk to the main road. I dodge trucks, and bicycles, and rickshaws, and scooters, and motorcycles. Phew. The tuktuks slow down when they see me, sticking their heads out of their yellow shell encompassment, with an inquisitive stare in my direction. I am thankful that I know how to say “ tsy handeha,” which means “not going.” I am now focused on only one thing; Avoid the gutters! Avoid the puddles! Yesterday it rained, and rained, and rained. It rained like the sky was falling, like the sorrow of the world being released, mocking every illusion that we are in control.

I see the last big puddle I have to cross. It looms as I get closer and closer. It’s risky. The brownish green water stares me down, knowing that it has a chance with me, it is hungry to swallow up whatever falls in, its unknown contents swirling around and around creating a lethal mix that should touch no one, ever. There is a line of stones that form a path to cross but I don’t know if I should trust them. The woman in front of me flits from stone to stone with graceful movement, not taking more than 10 seconds. I follow timidly, one step, two, wait, I feel something shift, the rock is loose, I let out a yelp, grab the ledge of the concrete wall. I can see my knuckles turn white as I hang on for dear life, but I cannot keep holding on. I am slipping, Ker… plunk.

That’s it, I am in the puddle, with a splash and cry of surprise, the dense murky water covering my body. My soul is crushed.

Today, I do not make it to work.

But fret not, tomorrow is a new day, with its own risks. I start again.


More information

For more information about our New Travel Writer of the Year Competition, head to our competitions page.