These are two of my island tales. My husband and I do volunteer work on the island of Madagascar and so have lots to keep us inspired.
One thing that was different on the island is the fact that most people here do not have convenience items such as washing machines, dishwashers, or alarm systems. So the workforce of washerwomen, house help, and watchman is much higher even among the average class than it would be in the western world. The community of ‘helper’s’ as the literal word translation describes is very high. Lanto’s occupation of having come to the home of a wealthier couple at a young age is not uncommon. Of course, my American sensitivity to the separation of the classes, was at first very keen to see any oppression or injustice in such relationships. However, for the most part, I found that the patrons and the employees had a good relationship and worked together in every aspect of their lives. Such shows as Downtown Abbey are portraying it quite well when they show the interdependence that existed in the past. And I am here to tell you it still exists today. However, that being said, there are cases of oppression and thus, certain laws are beginning to go into effect to regulate such work.
To see an example of this, you can go to: Slavery in Domestic Legistlation (it is translated into English from French)
Regarding Ferdinand’s Missing Red Hat, this represents another large community here in Madagascar; the vendor’s. I found a very good blog post on the vendor’s of Madagascar at: Vendors of Madagaskar Here you can see what variety of shops one might see upon visiting one of the 2nd largest towns in the country. Of course, in the smaller towns, the form of selling is much simpler; possibly just having piles of fruit spread out on a straw mat. There is no shortage of innovative ideas on how to sell ones product here on the island. There is one woman in town that wheels her son to and from town every day so that they can sell a variety of used stuffed animals. He sits and smiles with a little cup in case someone might like to help mom out in caring for him. To see a man of his age still in good health, despite having to be helped to eat, is very uncommon here in Madagascar. The life isn’t easy and to say the least, is not handicapped accessible. So his mother has taken very good care of him. And seeing as there is not a lot of government aid, when one contributes it is sort of like helping her like an insurance plan might. It is not looked upon as begging as it would be in some cultures. Their situation is different to that of a younger person who is strong enough to work, but who is being encouraged by parents to put on a grim face and beg. This is still looked upon as begging even in poorer cultures like here in Madagascar. When one lives in such a situation, it is always hard to determine the balance as to whether one should give or not. Some feel giving would encourage future begging; others feel if it is within your means to help, you should.
An example of this debate would be in the following article: Don't Give Money to Beggers, Help Them Instead. The author suggests giving to a charity. But in many third world countries, you do not see readily charities you can trust. However, there are various religious communities, Peace Corps in the countryside, and ONG that are doing good within the country. A lot of money goes into helping places like Madagascar, but sadly, it seems to have only been a drop in the bucket as to the actual needs. It is for this reason that one looks in awe at the smiling faces of its people. There is a Malagasy Proverb that says, “A man who lets his problems get the better of him is like a man who divorces his wife the first time she makes him angry”. And so, the Malagasy applying such wisdom are often not overly swallowed in grief due to their circumstances. They carry on with life, not blaming others for what has happened to them. This is one of the greatest lessons I think I have taken from being privileged to be among them and others like them on the African continent.
For more Malagasy proverbs, one can go to: 130 Malagasy Proverbs. You will find some of them quite humorous. If you have any of their meanings that escape you, please feel free to write me and I will investigate their meaning. There is a lot I can say about life in Madagascar. And I find it hard to contain it all into one article.
But if you are interesting in learning more facts about the country here are some helpful links: Infoplease: Madagascar. If you are interested in learning about the different kinds of foods, this might be helpful: Madagascar Menues & Recipies. And last but not least, the thing that everyone wants to know about most is the wildlife: Wildlife in Madagascar. About 80% of the islands species are endemic and so found only here. It is truly a unique and interesting place to visit.
If you would like to consider a visit to the Big Red Island, here is an interesting link that I found: Travel Madagascar.