Friday, January 6, 2012

NYE, Speak-singing, and the Escaped Cow: Mahatalaky Musings Part II

New Years in Madagascar

After six months in Madagascar, I’ve gotten used to the fact that nothing is ever set in stone, and Malagasy people are often prone to exaggeration. Like, gross exaggeration. For example, “We’re leaving in a little bit” translates to “We’re leaving sometime in the next 24 hours” or “he’s my husband” can mean “he’s the guy that I’m sleeping with right now.” So when I was told the New Years holiday was ‘maresaky’ (aka happening/crazy/fun/goin on) I thought to myself “Yeah SURE, I’ll believe it when I see it.” How wrong was I! This New Years has definitely been one of the crazier ones I’ve ever celebrated. Hopefully it’s a good omen for the year of 2012.

My first clue that maybe it was actually going to be a happening party was on December 30, the day after I got back to Mahatalaky, when we all piled into the truck and drove into Fort Dauphin to purchase the ‘comisión,’ or all the food we needed that they don’t sell in the village, as well as 30 liters of gasoline for the generator. The next day, New Year’s Eve, the party started at about 6pm, at which point they started the generator and started blaring the music, and it didn’t end for another 48 hours. I got ready with my friends, did their makeup and we shared jewelry. It made me feel a little more at home, just like my New Year’s Eves with my Alpha Phi sisters. :) Except minus the Hilton hotel and a party with Steve Aoki. Anyway. We popped champagne that I brought back from France, and had ourselves a party! By some miracle I managed to keep my eyes open until midnight, at which point things really got crazy. The Dada, the mayor, and his people turned the town hall into a disco, and with the better part of my 500 person village packed into one room, it was a site to behold. Pictures to come soon. Everyone was dancing; people were passing around bottles of rum, and sharing cigarettes. It was a site to behold. I was a little scared!

I fell asleep on Dada’s bed at 1am with Cicia, Patricia, and Christiana (the 3-month-old!) with my guy Erika taking the floor. I woke up again at 3am and went to my own bed, with music still blaring, and hundreds of people still dancing. I woke up the next morning at 6:30am, and music was still blasting, but only a faithful 15 people remained. I went back to bed and watched Pride and Prejudice and got up at 9, keeping with my family’s tradition of spending the first day of the new year doing nothing. When I got up again, the music was STILL BLARING. I then helped prepare our New Year’s brunch! Spaghetti, pork, cucumber salad, carrot salad, rice (of course), bread, soda!!! It was quite the spread. I was stuffed afterward. But the party still wasn’t over. There was another disco that night, and the night after. The New Years holiday in Madagascar is a time for partying, dancing, drinking, visiting your family, and thanking the special people in your life for a good year. It’s like if Thanksgiving and Christmas got rolled in with New Years! I visited the great aunt’s brother’s son, and he treated me like I was his on daughter. I ate goose and drank more Coke than I’ve drunk in my previous 23 years of life. By the time the party finally ended on the 4th of January, I was pretty happy because I was exhausted.

The Christmas Tree!

Trying to keep our eyes open til midnight...granny alert.

NYE dance party

New Year's Day brunch


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about learning languages and how the way that a language is spoken has just as much importance as the words and grammar that make it up. So the pronunciation, diction, the rhythm of how you say something, and the patterns of speech. I still translate from Malagasy to English in my head, I’m starting to get to the point where I can converse without doing that, but it still takes time. It always amuses me though, because the way people speak here is so different than the way English is spoken, so when I translate in my head it often sounds funny. For example, when I’m walking down the street any number of people, friends and strangers, call out to me, and the exchange goes something like this:

            Person on the street/in their house: Ahoana! Hoeza hanao? [Hey! Where are you going?]
            Me: Mitsangasangana! [I’m just hanging out!]
            Person on the street/in their house: Mandrosoa bageda! [Come in! Have some sweet potatoes!] (Or whatever they might be eating or drinking)
Me: Majotoa! [Enjoy!]

This whole exchange happens while I continue on my way, in a span of maybe 10 seconds. It always cracks me up.

People also speak very sing-songy and liltingly. For example, when someone greets me, it often comes out like “Salam-eyy Monica-eyy, ino vao vao-eyy?” [Hey Monica, what’s up?] The patterns of language are so interesting to me, and I love that I’m getting to the point with Malagasy where I can notice the intricacies of it.

Monica Eludes an Escaped Cow

There’s a scene in Pride and Prejudice (the Kiera Knightley version) where Mr. Collins calls out to his wife Charlotte to come quickly, and she replies, “Has the pig escaped again?” You laugh because it seems very mundane and ridiculous, but I can now speak from experience, and escaped livestock is no joking matter! Yesterday, a giant cow went rogue and escaped the handling of the herders and started running through town. Cows here aren’t like the Happy Cows Come from California cows.  They are big and dirty and they have horns, and everyone pretty much stays out of their way when they’re being herded around I was sitting in the shade with Patricia, Christian, and the baby, when a giant cow comes stampeding into the yard. He looked manic. Patricia ran for the house with the baby, while Christian just started yelling. I froze in place, hoping that if I didn’t move this giant cow would just run back the way it came. A couple seconds later, the herders came chasing after it and managed to at least get it out of our yard, although not under control. Once we realized we were safe from the being speared on the tip of the horn of a giant, everyone was free to laugh at me and how scared I was. Christian, the six-year-old, was literally rolling on the ground laughing and screaming “SHE WAS SO SCARED…. OF A COW!!!!!” Thanks a lot Christian! This is my life we're talking about! 

Even I eventually found amusement in the whole situation, because it was pretty hilarious to watch five grown men chase a cow around town for the better part of a half hour. Only in Mahatalaky! 

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