Mapping the World Unites Curious Minds in Madagascar

By Alyssa Brodsky
Feb. 8, 2018

If you were to line up the Peace Corps Volunteers living in northern Madagascar, what would you see? 

The obvious at first: some tall, some short. Mexican American, Indian American, Dutch American, freckled. Cheesy smiles, laughs, a few glares, and maybe a scoff. You might guess by their attire who is artsy, analytical. It will be clear who is fashion impaired. Your intuition might point out the art history major or the one holding a law degree. You have been so focused on what distinguishes them you can’t imagine what they have in common. What is the glue keeping this grab bag of shapes together?

What keeps them together is what keeps them alive. What drives them.  It’s as if they breathe it. To them, curiosity is right next to oxygen on the table of elements. Nitrogen. Oxygen. Inquisition.

Ah, now that you know, you can’t unsee it. This odd group is now a unit, a sum greater than its parts, moving at incredible speed. Exchanging stories, information, vocabulary. Pushing each other to ask more questions, to understand better.

Now that you know them, it only seems natural they would come together to paint a giant world map at a school. After all, the world has inspired each of them throughout their lives. The world map is a materialization of their curiosity. It was the place where their questions could cross oceans. It was the thin sheet of paper they delicately held as children with fear of ripping it. It was the drawing hanging behind their teachers that inspired questions that would influence the trajectory of their lives.

Volunteer Melanie paints in good company.
Upon arriving in the small northern community,  they respectfully ask the school director for permission, but before he answers you could already tell he was one of them. Curious and bright, he gives his blessing and a meter stick.

They begin to work, measuring the rectangle and slowly drawing the grid to aid in the transfer of a small paper map to a wall. As they draw the countries they get visitors and helpers. Curiosity is contagious, addictive. Each visitor comes at least twice to observe, ask questions, paint.

Now that you see it, you can’t help but see it in everyone: from the kid fetching water passing by to the math teacher who stays for hours. Under the beating sun, enveloped in the harsh winds of northern Madagascar, the map is finished in four days. They do not pass without spills and mistakes. You already knew from experience: curiosity is not necessarily neat. Ah, yes, now you’ve figured it out. You have been one of them from the start.  

You take one last look before you go home. Despite having the world at your fingertips you focus in on one island. You can’t take your eyes off of this yellow splotch of paint labeled "Madagascar". It is here you have learned to joke, to be generous and kind. Here you’ve learned to slow down to see more.

You press the pad of your thumb on the north: it covers the entire DIANA region. You close your eyes in the hopes to grasp how this can be so. How it is that here, contained just underneath your thumb, you found your heart.