After a chorus of “velome” and “mazotoe”, each student wandering off with their new family, we leave our last student Nica at her family restaurant which hosted our homestay family introduction party here in Morondava. For a moment we are proud empty-nesters, reflecting on the bits and pieces of conversations we overheard the students having in Malagasy and French with siblings and parents, and on the way Nica hopped up to help out her family, offering to deliver dishes to customers, clear tables, and join in the collective work that sustains this new community. As an instructor, few things are as exciting or gratifying as witnessing our students engaging with their homestay families.
Filled with nervous, hopeful energy, and the slightly sobering realization that for the moment we instructors are alone, Sidonie suggests we run errands downtown, offering to show me around. This is my first time in Morondava and like our students I am seeing this place with new eyes.
It is a breezy five minute walk from our hotel to the small city’s main thoroughfare. The smooth macadam running parallel to the Mozambique Channel cuts through soft, drifting sand and relaxed alleys of white-washed shops and homes.
A bright yellow post office punctuates the scene; turning the corner onto Morondava’s main street everything comes to life. Just beyond the post office, the open air market overflows into the street. Vendors gesture at fruits piled high–bright oranges, tiny sweet and sour bananas, dried jujube the color of garnets, and baobab fruit the size and shape of a cassowary’s egg but coated in a caramel-colored, dry velvet. There are spreads of vegetables, plump sacks of legumes and grains, woven vessels of various shapes, sizes, and colors, and powders and herbs for face masks and home remedies. Customers squeeze into “posiposy” (pedicabs) and “tuk tuks” (compact three-wheeled cabs) stuffed to the brim with their purchases. I bend down to inspect the unfrosted coffee beans of a pale jade hue, measured out for sale with a recycled soup can; Sidonie translates for me that they come from the South–quite different from the famous coffee’s of Sidonie’s hometown in the North.
We meander through groups of window shoppers, teenagers hanging out, and folks rushing to finish chores.
Across from a brilliant pink building, we finish a task at the bank. As we wander back onto the sidewalk Soleil buzzes by in a posiposy with her sister. She shouts “Salame” warmly and disappears into the hustle and bustle.
Sidonie stops at a stall on a street corner where we snack on crisp, freshly-fried “sambosas”–Malagasy samosas–with sweet, spicy sakay–chili sauce. Walking past a sunglasses seller, we bump into Orestes with his brothers, and he gives me tips on sunglass styles before wandering off.
We make it past distracting and tempting fabric shops, street tailors, and numerous snack-makers, and as we return to the post office we cross paths with Nica and a new friend from her family restaurant. We stop and chat for a moment. They are on their way to the market, so we wish them well and part ways.
As we turn the corner back onto the calm lane of white buildings, Sidonie and I are glowing with happiness. As our group has spread across the city, we’ve transformed into neighbors. As we bond with homestay parents and siblings, our Dragons group stretches and expands. As instructors we feel so lucky to witness the respect, curiosity, and kindness our group practices as they build kinship; we are proud to encounter the new forms of independence and cultural fluency they carry with them as they navigate the streets of Morondava.