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  • The sky was mostly clear with a few clouds spotting the horizon and our guide, Longhead’s Uncle (Zama’ny Lavaloha), uprooted a patch of grass, turned it up side down and stuffed it leafy part first into an unsuspecting termite mound. He said that this would stop the rain. Two hours later a huge storm cloud appeared out of nowhere and we were soaked to the bone. I thought, Fanafody Gasy, down one.

    The rain had stopped but the dense forest cover above was still dripping as we left the cave and headed back to camp. I was taking my time enjoying the quiet calm after the storm as I was stung by some sort of wasp that left two small vampire-fang-like dots on my forearm. It hurt. Even before I had a chance to look at the damage, our guide had pulled out a homemade cream and was applying it to the sting. The pain ceased and the sting never swelled. Fanafody Gasy, tied.

    We returned to the village only to be summoned, along with all of the other villagers, to the cattle path heading south of town. There was some sort of curse in the middle of the path, half way to the watering hole. Apparently the chief of the village’s husband had buried some small sticks wrapped in black cloth, a deadly curse. All 50 or so of us stood huddled around a hole the size of a pool ball, staring at the three finger-sized sticks when my neighbor was overtaken by an ancestor’s spirit. She bent down, threw the sticks deep into the brush and started screaming, eyes rolled back into her head, in an incomprehensible mumble. Eventually the spirit quieted and the villagers went searching for the lost evidence; justice would still have to be served. Fanafody Gasy, I thought, is eerily similar to the Salem witch trails.

    As the tin roof creaked under the strength of the Malagasy sun, my neighbors had forgotten the deadly curse and began to focus on relieving our friend of her ancestor’s spirit. Rum bottles were strewn around the room and the spirit had possession of my neighbor. The spirit was speaking through my neighbor’s body in broken Malagasy, giving new taboos to various people as I searched for recognition in her eyes. Rum was replaced with water and the water was being thrown around the room, when she finally broke her gaze and was freed of her ancestor. She would remember nothing.

    Fanafody Gasy is more prevalent in our doctorless village than even the most common medicines in the States. It is rarely talked about and those that know how to administer it demand its weight in gold. As I struggle to understand even the most basic forms of it, it seems to grow, encompassing more of the Malagasy way of life than I could begin to imagine. I would like to call it ‘traditional medicine’, but it includes so many spiritual, medicinal, and ancestral aspects that ‘traditional medicine’ only manages to scratch the surface.

    I’m left now, confused and curious, excitedly unsure. I can only settle, knowing that I will never know the whole story. No matter how many ceremonies I sit in on or how many medicinal treatments I take part in, I will always be on the outside, peering in; looking for some sort of recognition in the eyes of an ancestral way of life that will never be mine.
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