Malagasy culture really revolves around the family. Many times there are three, sometimes four, generations of families living under one roof. Cousins are referred to more often as siblings, and adults really do take responsibility for their families and make sure their elders are taken care of, fed, and have the right medicine if they are sick.
I always call Alakamisy Ambohimaha “my village.” In actuality, it is not classified as a village but more as a rural town; we do have 32,000 in population. But over 20 square kilometers (the size of my “village”), that’s give or take 1600 people per square kilometer and in my opinion, that’s still “village” material.
I live in Central, Alakamisy Ambohimaha. Given the name, you can infer that Central is the center of Alakamisy; where the small storefronts, town hall, police post, bush taxi station, etc are located. The other ‘burrows’ surround Central. Since everything happens in Central, it can also be inferred that I almost completely work near I live. From my house, I am sprinting distance from everything, the artisan I work with’s house, my daily spot to eat my meals, my office at the town hall, todos.
I knew with a small town typically comes large families. Many of the Malagasy people don’t tend to venture out of their towns when they grow up. This comes from a mixture of lack of access to money as well as their strong ties to their families. Which therefore concludes that there is a lot interconnecting going on.
I just learned this last week that the artisan I work with is related to the tiny family run cafe I frequent every day. My unofficial counterpart and my artisan are second cousins. My water fetcher/clothes washer and my unofficial counterpart are uncle and niece. The employee at town hall I get along so well with is my unofficial counterpart’s brother. My language tutor is my artisan’s second cousin, therefore making my unofficial counterpart and him have a distant, but common family tie. Getting confusing yet?
And to top that off, I was eating my soupy rice and greens breakfast (so scrumdiliumptious) in my favorite eating spot, and the owners find out they are related to one of their patrons, a nun coming from Tana. Sisters. And not “you’re my cousin, but I’m going to call you my sister” way. Actual sisters. Another thing that is common in this country, multiple spouses. The cafe owners’ and the nun’s father are one in the same. All were in their late 30s and had never known they had more siblings out there.
Talk about “we are all family.” Literally. We are.
This is my favorite person in town. He’s everyone’s “dadabe” (grandfather). I only refer to him as that. He’s the person that comes up to me when I’m eating fried snacks, takes my bag, grabs one, eats it, and then hands it back to me and walks away with this mischievous grin on his face without even saying a word. You just gotta love him. And look at him in his fancy clothes from Madagascar’s Independence Day!