For several years Toliara has held a similar place in my mind that is occupied by Timbuctoo and Samarkand – known to be real but also mythically remote. So it was a very strange experience to step onto the tarmac of its little airport, to read the greeting on the terminal building: “Tongasoa Toliara Bienvenue” (“welcome to Toliara” in Malagasy and French) and to know I had arrived in that semi-mythical place.
Todd and I took a ride from some friends of the McGregor’s to fetch Todd’s car so we could all reach The Gathering Place. Even that 10-minute ride showed many sights from the Africa of the imagination: herds of hump-backed longhorn “zebu” cattle; women carrying loads on their heads; rickshaws and carts pulled by zebu, bicycles, or men on foot between the shafts. Then warm smiles of greeting from those who live and/or work at The Gathering Place – those who study to be evangelism or work in the diocesan office, or cook, or do odd jobs and keep a security eye open.
Todd, Patsy, Matthew and I had all traveled many thousands of miles at strange hours over the last several days. So today has been a light day of running errands and unpacking, followed by a drive through town to watch the sun go down over the ocean from the terrace of a hotel whose owner is a friend of Patsy’s.