Beyond lemurs: A glimpse at Madagascar
The word mofo, meaning bread in Malagasy, loses even more of its bawdy flavor once you learn its pronunciation: moofoo. From the meager study of the language leading up to my in-country training, I've observed that Malagasy throws the anglophone some amusing curveballs. For one, I wondered how extremely exotic the fruit would be in Madagascar when I learned that the word for mango, manga, is also used to describe the color blue. Syntax also proves topsy-turvy, since the word order is backwards from our own in a verb + object + subject pattern. For example, tia dite aho, meaning "I like tea," translates directly to "like tea I." And the verb "to be" does not exist but is implied. So far, my favorite malagasy word is for sugar, because the very pronunciation of the word makes your lips feel like they are smacking with delight. Siramamy. Doesn't that sound scrumptious?
Of the island's two official languages, French is spoken by those who were educated while Madasgascar was a French colony. Generally, however, all Malagasy speak their native tongue. Though unified by a common language (despite varying dialects), the diverse tribes of Madagascar represent its rich cultural history, including the Madagascar's blend of Asian and African cultures. Human beings didn't set foot on the island until 2,000 years ago, just after the death of Christ. These new settlers came from Malaysia and brought with them their Malayo-polynesian language, religious beliefs and cuisine that still resonate in Malagasy culture today. Approximately half of the population practice animistic religions, most of which center on ancestor worship or a strong connection between the living and the dead. One ritual among the Merina and Betsileo tribes is famadihana, or "turning over the dead," in which family members exume the remains of a loved one, rewrap them in silk, and rebury them. But not before dancing and singing through the streets with the bodies of their ancestors lifted high over the crowd.
45% of the population is Christian, which is evenly divided into Protestant and Catholic congregations. And about 7% practice Islam, as result of the Muslim traders on the island who created an alphabet for the Malagasy language, called Sorabe.
The Malagasy diet remains true to its Asian roots by keeping rice as its gastronomic cornerstone. Rice is eaten with fish, meat, beans, and vegetables, and dessert usually consists of fresh fruit sprinkled with vanilla. Obviously, starvation won't be a part of my life in Madagascar.
Today I leave my home to go to Atlanta in preparation for tomorrow's flight to the Peace Corps staging event in Washington D.C. I'm sharing my last cup of coffee with my parents, and soon, I'll pet my funky little dog goodbye. I'm going to miss my life here in Georgia, but I can't help but be comforted knowing that among the many fruits in Madagascar, peaches are one of them. To think that I might have a peach tree growing a taste of home in my future front yard in Madagascar! Allez-viens!