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Life in Ambatomanga

Coming from a large suburb of Chicago, I don’t often experience life in a small towns, much less life in a small Malagasy villages. For the last week, I got to live with a local family in Ambatomanga, and the sense of community I’ve witnessed has astounded me.

In Ambatomanga, everyone knows everything about everyone. You can’t go to buy bread without stopping to talk on the street. Then, once you get to the bread stand, you cannot simply buy bread. You must first ask about their sick uncle or about their kid who goes to university in Tana. Only once you have made sufficient small talk may you actually purchase the bread.

This morning, I went with my little sister to buy ramanonaka (a sort of fried rice-flour cake) for breakfast. We walked to a neighbors house and into the kitchen, where my sister talked with them for a few minutes before finally giving them the money and taking the bread (admittedly, I can’t understand Malagasy, but it was definitely more than “how much for the bread?) Even then, we stayed to talk for a few minuted after. An interaction that in Chicago would have taken 1 minute with minimal conversations has transformed into a five minute meaningful encounter in Madagascar.

Another painfully simple difference between the States and Madagascar is where the food comes from. In Chicago, I might go to Mariano’s or Trader Joe’s for imported produce but here in Ambatomanga, I can buy locally grown fruit and vegetables straight from the farmers house. My homestay mom sells her homegrown anana (greens) directly out of our kitchen window.

It is sights like these that make me wistful for a tighter community back in the States. I wish I could walk down the street and have a conversation with the people I meet, instead of walking past them with earbuds protecting me from interaction. I wish I could buy locally grown products from small businesses instead of potatoes grown in Peru and sold at Whole Foods. I wish my city had a sense of community anywhere close to that of Ambatomanga.