Monday, July 13, 2009

Independent Celebrations

Madagascar's independence day is on June 26th. Vietnam's is September 2nd. I never again experienced a Malagasy Independence Day the way I did on my first June 26th - the next one was in the coastal regional capital of Tamatave. My notes in my journal and letter home simply state that in a gap in the rain we managed to join the crowds on the beach for some fresh coconut juice. The year after I was already in Fianarantsoa, and I remember being warned to hide out lest I be roped into unwitting VIP work. I think we had an expat brunch to celebrate a day off from work, and I do remember going up to the market area to view the festivities.

I never witnessed a Vietnamese celebration in full swing - the one year I was in country I was on a motorcycle deep in the northern mountains somewhere. However, I did learn this much: there is a rule that ever residence MUST fly the Vietnamese flag. And there were lots of political speeches.

The Vietnamese political speeches I experienced firsthand when I did get unwittingly roped (pun intended) into another event. And my own house (when I got one) also displayed the red and gold star of Vietnam along with the others.

I had mixed feelings this year as I unfurled the American flag from it's winter spot above the porch windows to hang from it's post on the railing. For both Vietnam and Madagascar, the wounds of liberty are much fresher, 1945 and 1960 respectively. The have both suffered turbulent political times since those dates. Independence Day is only one of among celebrations and memorials in each country that mark their sacrifice to obtain their freedom, and the Independence day doesn't cary as much weight as ours. Our country is a country at war now, one that is calling upon its citizens to send those willing to sacrifice. Our country suffers from the divisions of an unpopular war. Madagascar, barely recovered from one crippling internal implosion now is battered by yet another. Vietnam celebrates a generation that has known mostly peace.

Still, so much of independence celebrations are more like stepping back in time to the era of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy. People buying brand new suits of proper clothes and dressed in Sunday best, quizzes about history, stump speeches by politicians to crowds massed in dusty town squares. Americans wouldn't stand still in the hot sun or a stuff auditorium to wait for their elected to show up and yammer at them for a couple of hours - that's what CNN is for. And frankly, I'm with the Americans on this one. Turn off CNN for a day - and join the masses that can agree on one thing for a day - a parade and a flag are something to look to with joy and pride.

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