‘Happy New Year,’ Said the Guy in the Stairwell… in March


Last Friday, which was March 20, 2015, two coworkers — two Americans, one Swiss — and I set out on a mission to pay too much for coffee.

As we descended the stairs, two distinguished looking men were heading in the opposite direction. Both Malagasy, I assumed. The older of the two, said, “Happy New Year” as we passed. 

Gosling, schoolgirl, or train wreck
A schoolgirl in a plaid skirt jumping from an exploding airplane?
Ryan Gosling can’t compete with that.
Screen shot: Yahoo News

Here in Madagascar, I get a lot of, “Monsieur!” from people on the street. Or for the more advanced, “Bonjour Monsieur!”

When I try to speak French to many people in Madagascar, I encounter that many people don’t remember much from the French they were taught in school, or maybe they never finished school. “Bonjour Monsieur!” could be a good percentage of what they know. 

And I can’t blame the Malagasy for preferring their native language over the language of their ex. It was a forced marriage after all.

But, Happy New Year? In English? 

My coworkers mocked the guy — amongst ourselves.

“I suppose,” I said with false empathy, “that if all I knew in German was gesundheit, I’d reach for that whenever I crossed paths with a Germanophone, for any situation.” Yuk yuk… I’m a smartass.

Saturday, which was March 21, something caught my eye after reading an article on Yahoo called, “Community based innovation promotes sustainable development in Madagascar,” (my kind of light weekend reading).

Sandwiched between “Ryan Gosling Defends Eva Mendes’ Sweatpants Comment” and “Deadly train accident in Bachhrawan, India” there was a thumbnail and a link that, from the corner of my eye, looked like a schoolgirl in a plaid skirt jumping from an exploding airplane.

I clicked through to discover that for the Balinese, Saturday was Nyepi, which is followed (according to the Balinese calendar) by New Years Day.

Maybe the guy on Friday really was wishing us a happy New Year.

Nyepi is a national holiday for “self-reflection and meditation and activities such as working, watching television or traveling are restricted,” according to Yahoo News.

I can usually achieve four out of five of those. Four out of five ain’t bad.

(I didn’t meditate. I’m not sure I can — not Hindu style, anyway.)

And the plaid-skirted schoolgirl is actually a topless dude participating in Mesabatan Api, which occurs before Nyepi. It’s a pretty fantastic photo.

 "Mesabatan Api" gung Parameswara/Getty Images
Not a topless plaid-skirted schoolgirl. Also not a drunken holiday weekend barbecue.
Screen shot: Yahoo News
Photo: gung Parameswara/Getty Images

I don’t hear much about Hinduism in Madagascar. As far as market share goes, Hinduism is the RC Cola of religions Madagascar. Hindus don’t make the top three, trailing somewhere behind Muslims — and Muslims are at about 7 percent.

Neighboring Mauritius, has a plurality of Hindus, at 48.5 percent (which makes me want to visit Mauritius while I’m still in the neighborhood). But I couldn’t find any indication that Mauritius celebrates New Years Day on the Balinese calendar — although Mauritius is closer to Bali than is Madagascar.

4573 miles from the New Year
Screen shot: GlobeFeed.com

Statistically, the chances are looking pretty remote that the guy in the stairwell was a Balinese Hindu wishing us a Happy New Year.

But I like the idea that the old dude, later that evening, was topless, in a plaid skirt, and jumping through fire. So I’m going with that.

Happy New Year.

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