Eavesdropping…a skill well used at a housewarming party

Housewarming parties are very similar to those in the states, but with a 24 hour party, no cops there to shut it down, and the ENTIRE family in attendance. I was lucky enough to be able to attend a house warming party in my village. A little bit trivial you might think, but being invited to any event in Madagascar means you are integrated into the community. At times—well let’s be honest, all the time—it doesn’t feel that way: Vazaha! (foreigner!) being screamed at you when you’re walking to market, being asked for money by the same children even though you have already explained tsy manam-bola aho (I’m not rich/don’t have money), or told that you can’t speak Malagasy just because you’re white (and they don’t mean that in the nicest way). My fokontany (closest translation would be neighborhood-ish) is a little over 3000, with 30,000 in my entire village. There’s always that feeling of alienation from the rest of the community, and being talked to like you’re a two year old because they think you “just don’t get” Malagasy definitely doesn’t help one feel welcomed.

But my direct neighbors—those that live below me, and in the house right next to mine—are very welcoming, and while they do speak slowly to me and tend to talk to me like a four year old, I truly don’t mind because they are the sweetest people ever and are looking out for my best interest. Just today, I was sitting in this house surrounded by a hundred other Malagasy people welcoming the family into the finally finished house, and someone spoke to me extremely slowly like I was an absolute idiot. The family that lives below me interjected and politely told them I could understand them, I just don’t talk much because that’s who I am. Not believing me, the gentlemen whispered to his friend that I didn’t need to understand him, but I was going to be his prized possession of a wife. It might seem bad, but typically in most circumstances I try not to lead on that I am somewhat knowledgeable in Malagasy so I can judge my surroundings. Eavesdropping definitely helps in this country. And normally when it comes to “oh she’s stupid she can’t understand Malagasy” or “she’s French, she doesn’t feel like she needs to learn Malagasy” I tend to not respond. Those responses are normal in this country and my skin has become somewhat thick. But when it comes to objectifying me or blatantly making fun of me, tsy mety. In this case, I shot out quickly “efa manana fiancé aho. Tsy manambady anao aho” (I already have a fiancé. I can’t marry you). My table erupted in laughter and the gentleman’s mouth nearly hit the floor. My neighbor gave him an ‘I told you’ look.

I’m not sure if house warming parties are the same across this country, but a Pastor attended the party to bless the house and wish the family a good life within. Cultural side note: in some parts of this country, houses are passed down through the family, but if a husband dies before the rest of their family and there are no sons, the house is burned and cannot be inhabited by the widow and her family. In my region, Betsileo (represent!) this is not the case. But religion is taken seriously throughout the entire country, so blessing a house wasn’t really surprising. After the house blessing, the meal was served. A non-Gasy dish was served first (typically a plate of salad, pasta, and some ground beef mixed in) and then the normal Gasy meal next (mounds and mounds of rice with a little bit of a side dish), and finally a small dessert to finish it off. It is a very extravagant event, sodas are served and it can cost the family a small fortune to throw an event like this. It is fomba for each guest to give an envelope when leaving with a few thousand Ariary (something I completely spaced out about and didn’t end up contributing) so the family gets back a portion of the funds spent.

All in all, enjoyable, hopefully there are more of those to come over the next year and a half.

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2 thoughts on “Eavesdropping…a skill well used at a housewarming party

  1. Kimmie says:

    You go girl with the listening in on other conversations. You learned something from work and took it to the peace corp!!! Im so glad that you are doing good and still learning so much. I just went online today and found out how much it will cost to send a package too you…I thought it was alot more than it really is. Im going to get a couple of people that would love to send you some things and we will totally send you a package soon from the best team ever! Oh want to know something funny…I totally have madagascar as one of the weathers I see on my phone so that I think of you all the time and right now Im so jealous that its cold cause its way too hot here..but I know that the times will chang soon and you will be super hot and we will be nice and cold. Love ya little one….hope all is going well!

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