Kimberley Preston is a junior in the Oregon State University Honors College studying both Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences and International Studies. During Fall 2013, Kim studied Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management at the School for International Training (SIT) in Madagascar.
My whole life I have been a naturally fast walker. As soon as I decide on a target destination, I charge forward, taking long strides, and moving with purpose. After spending a semester in Madagascar, however, my technique has changed. As a student in a biodiversity and natural resource management program, I spent the majority of my four months abroad trekking through rainforests, spiny thickets, deserts, mangroves and the infamous tsingy (stone forest). All the while I learned about nature and immersed myself in the diverse environments and cultures of Madagascar. But, in a country rooted in the theme of mora mora (slowly, slowly), where success in life is measured by zebu count, family and land, where people live and breathe the environment around them, no one goes out hiking for fun. For most Malagasy people, hiking is not an activity of pleasure; it is a necessity of daily work.
In every new region we explored, the theme of mora mora persisted. Nearly three months into our semester, we reached Le Parc National d’Andringitra. This place was unlike any others we had seen yet. We hiked to base camp with all of our gear on our backs. The elevation gain revealed itself in the hours of steep climbing and in the cooling air around us.
The very next day, we woke with the sunlight hitting the cathedral mountains that formed a ring around our little plateau. Packing plenty of water and layers to shield against the cold, we followed our local guide to the trail head. Before leaving, Fidel, our guide, explained rule number one: he would set the pace. Composed of experienced hikers, the group was antsy to charge the mountain to reach our final destination, Peak Bobby, but we respected the rule and obediently kept pace with Fidel throughout the hike.
I soon realized, though, that this was not the usual, aggressive Western pace I grew up with. This was a hiking experience following the rhythm of a Malagasy man. For the first time I truly felt the heartbeat of this amazing place and I realized the value of living by the pace of mora mora. It gave me time to taste the cool, moist air; to hear my shoes scuff the dirt; to exchange ideas with my peers and live in the moment.
Today, back in the U.S. it is easy to fall into pace with those rushing around me—everyone charging forward with a purpose. Now though, I slow down every so often and appreciate the value of experiencing not only different places but different paces as well.