As a newcomer to Madagascar, I’ve spent most of my time painfully aware that I just don’t ‘get it’. I’ve left many situations feeling dissatisfied or uncomfortable and often feeling that I’ve made others feel that way too, without knowing why.
However, I’m increasingly enjoying that feeling of being on the inside and having more of an idea of how to interpret situations. When tourists arrive now, I’m aware of how little they know about how things work. Things I take for granted need explaining to other people and they get themselves worked up over things I accepted long ago.
Whilst feeling more settled, I am still an outsider and thus able to analyse things in Madagascar in a way that people who have never left the country would struggle to do.
Being a natural analyst and communicator, I try to make sense of what I experience by discuss my observations by talking to Malagasys or other residents.
My limitations (excuses)
Whilst I know a lot more about Madagascar than I did when I first got here, I humbly accept my limitations when it comes to commenting on life here.
My interpretations of Madagascar and its people are based on what I have experienced from situations I almost certainly only partially understand.
If you can help by challenging or adding to the site, please do so (read ‘What do you know?’).
Not easy documenting a country
It would be hard enough for me to describe British people and culture, despite being one of them.
[For those interested in reading a book by somebody who has tried to define English culture, I enjoyed, ‘Watching the English’, by Kate Fox]
I don’t know all Madagascar or Malagasys (or Brits for that matter)
Apart from brief visits elsewhere, I only really know the North of the country, especially in and around the town of Antsiranana.
It is common practice to generalise to ‘Coastal Malagasys’ for many things. However, I know that there are significant differences between different coastal ethnic groups and am aware that I don’t even really know which things I can generalise about.
For all other ethnic groups in Madagascar, especially the plateau ones, my assumptions are based far more on hearsay than on direct observation.
This also goes for ‘class’ although this isn’t a word you hear explicitly in Madagascar. I am bound to represent biases based on groups I have spent more time with.
Nevertheless, I have spent time amongst different groups of people with different lifestyles. This includes time in both rural villages and towns – one of the biggest distinctions that Malagasys make about themselves.
I am not a trained anthropologist
My only claim to be an anthropologist is that I applied to do Anthropology and Russian at University. However, I changed my mind and did Psychology.
Two and a half years not long enough
Gosh, I’m just scratching the surface of understanding life here. And, my Malagasy language skills impress some locals but they’re not really good enough to pick up nuances of culture. And by just being (a Vazaha) in a situation can change normal behaviour.
Two and a half years too long
Sometimes, I’ve been here so long that I forget which things are not normal in Britain. I forget that, in Britain, people don’t come round to the house to sell vegetables from bowls on their heads or that they throw stones at dogs. Until I get back to England, that is, and realise that I have to go to the pesky supermarket if I want some bananas and I see people following their dogs around the park on a piece of string.