The summer of a lifetime

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A normal afternoon lazing around in Andava.- I am to be found lying on the white sand of half moon beach, reminiscing on the mornings dive.

Early winds wiped the blue until it was frothing white, so we quickly plunge down into the calm crystalline depths.
Now in a magical world, circling *bommies doused in shafts of turquoise sun light, watching darting Anthias – flicks of fire in the shadows, juvenile angle fish splitting the endless blue with arcs of brightest white, beneath an overhanging tabular coral you gaze eye to eye with a dusky Trumpet Fish and a startled looking Google Eye. Hover momentarily over an anemone, whose tentacles sway in the surge and watch as *“kely kely” Madagascar Anemone Fish daringly emerge. Out of the blue three Moorish Idols appear – haughty and undeterred by these clumsy, cumbersome divers. They are a stunning vision of yellow, white and black, looking like a Dali creation painted on a blue canvas. Hugging the bottom we glimpse the oddest creation of all, a Porcupine Fish, giving a perpetually concerned expression, looking more like a distorted cushion, rather than a sleek stream-lined ocean dweller. As we ascend through a spectrum of turquoise we are surrounded by sequin-like blue lights seamlessly suspended- a glorious natural phenomena – Ribbon Jelly Fish. We eventually break the surface, and exclamations of awe are spluttered through regulators. Hoisting ourselves on to the boat we return to land.

My reminiscing is brought to a sudden halt as 10 *Vezo kids race over the rocks, calling *“Vazaha”, they crowed ’round, still a little cautious. One girl, braver than the rest, brakes free and tentatively touches my hair, then loses her nerve and they all scamper back giggling. Soon no one is shy; boys run into the shallows and pull out Brittle Stars, which they proudly present to me. I sadly return them to their watery world. All barriers are soon forgotten, we begin; I do a hand-stand and eagerly they start tumbling around me. The eldest boy -8, starts doing continuous cart-wheels, much to my applause. They all try, ending in joyous, sandy heaps. Then he leaps off the cliff – very spectacular, I applaud again, then, to my horror, they all start plummeting through the air. Four year olds throwing themselves off four meter drops – I cant watch. A little tired of giving a constant piggy back, I deposit the girl down. Sadly she walks away, guilt-ridden I call her, grinning she runs back, I take her wrists and swing her ’round and ’round. It soon catches on – numerous hands are held before me and a sea of grinning faces look up. I start revolving – sea – cliff – tree, – sea – cliff – tree, – sea – cliff – tree. I slump on the sand, spinning, totally dizzy, much to the children’s glee. “Time out” I gasp, so they plunge into the shallows showing me how far they can swim, and somersaulting into the surf. Soon bored they run up the beach yelling and throw themselves onto the sun-beaten sand. They roll over and over. In my naivety I think it is their way to dry themselves. Then they stand and scream – * “we Vazaha” “we Vazaha”- and the once black kids are now completely white. They sprint towards us, the *“kely” girl and I pretend to be scared and turn tail screaming into the sea. The boys splash about us, and become rich black once more. They never tire of the joke- “we Vazaha”.
Eventually shattered we collapse on the sand and they try to learn my name, and I theirs, they giggle helplessly at my pronunciation. One by one they slip off, reprimanded by their mothers and brothers returning on their *Pirogues after a days fishing.
Alone again I don my mask and wallow in shallows around the shore, ruby like star fish glow on the rocks below. Quite now I catch sight of a curious Cow Fish, intense little eyes, and quizzical expression. Neither daring to get too close, we continue in this vein for some time. The cool of late afternoon drives me back, and at last I lie, rocking back and forth on my hammock and watch the hot, pink sun slip beneath the ocean.

• Bommies- a lump of corals surrounded by a sandy bottom.
• Kely Kely- “little” in Vezo language.
• Vezo- the “people of the sea” the name of the fishing people of Southern Madagascar.
• Vazaha- foreigner/stranger in Vezo language.
• Pirogues- the African style of dug out boat found in Madagascar.