14 August 2007

420 stairs to the Indian Ocean Games

[8/12/07 TANA Dear Jim and Pat, At the top of a 420-step staircase, Richard leaned on a rock rail, watching ant-sized men play rugby in a stadium below. Today is the first day of the “Jeux des Isles,” or Island Games, which is sort of a mini-Olympics for the countries in this region. The games last all week, and the city is all spiffed-up for the arrival of outsiders: colorful banners on all of the roads, homeless people conspicuously missing from the tunnels that go through the mountains around the city. On top of one mountain, I asked Richard, who is an IT guy at the local hospital, why he didn’t watch the match from inside the stadium. He said the tickets were far too expensive for him. We talked for a while: I learned that his favorite sport is basketball and he learned that I would be way too short to play basketball in the United States, and then I left him there. I went down all 420 stairs, watching people on their way up huff and puff and stop for breaks. When I got to the bottom, I found out that tickets to the event were only 1,000 Ariary, or 50-cents US. The idealistic part of me wanted to trudge back up the mountain to offer to buy Richard a seat. It probably would have made his day. But I didn’t. And now I’m back to that emotion that is all-too-familiar here: guilt. Next time I meet a Richard, I will offer to help out -- even if there are 420 stairs to climb. Good thing there are one MILLION staircases in the city. Love, John]

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