During the first three months of Pre Service training we are required to live with a local Malagasy family in order to help us learn the language and to better integrate into Malagasy culture. For me, the past couple of months of training have been challenging yet rewarding. One of the experiences that have helped shape my view of this beautiful yet mystical island was the 10 weeks I got to spend with my host family in MantasoaInitially I was terrified at the thought of living with an unknown host family for several weeks at a time. But at the end living with the Rabearimanana (Rabe) family clan turned out to be a very special experience for me. With the Rabe family I got to experience how important community, family and unity is in Malagasy culture. I also had the privilege of seeing what a loving and successful marriage of several years looks like. Given to the fact that I was raised by a single mother of 5 and growing up in such a family structure that was different than that of the Rabe family. I was curious to learn more about my host family in Mantasoa. With the help of Peace Corps Language and Cultural Facilitator Cleo Ramasivano, during week 11 of Peace Corps intensive training I had the opportunity to interview my host mom Neny Doline about the secret to having a successful marriage and family.
Neny Doline and Dada Michele met in 1972 in a town called Andakana which is located in the south central region highlands of Madagascar. Neny was only 20 years old and Dada was 25 years old when they first met. They both worked as school teachers at the elementary school in Andakana. Their relationship was strictly work related. However, after a couple of months their work relationship turned into a good friendship and eventually they started a romantic relationship. After 5 years of courting each other they decided that they were ready to make the commitment of spending the rest of their lives together and on March 12th, 1977 they tied the knot in a small traditional Malagasy ceremony in Andakana. Together they have raised a total of 4 children which includes one adopted child that they raised as their own and 3 biological children. Together they are currently helping to raise 8 grandchildre as well. During my stay with them I had the pleasure of bonding with 3 of their grandchildren Kahnto, Mampionona and Nomena.
One of the things that caught my attention about Neny and Dada’s relationship was how kind Dada continues to be to Neny even after a long marriage. For example Dada always helps with the house chores even though “technically” in traditional Malagasy customs men are not encouraged to do chores such as cooking, cleaning etc. Also, although he is not a seasoned cook like Neny, Dada has learned to cook a handful of dishes and has himself committed to making breakfast every morning in order to give Neny a break from the house work which gives her extra sleeping time in the morning. The one thing that caught my attention the most about their marriage was that after 40 years of being together they still flirt with each at the dinner table... I find to be the cutest thing in the world. During our interview I asked Neny what does she love the most about Dada and her response was “I love Michele’s sense of humor, his kind nature, his generosity and mindfulness of others”. I asked Dada the same question and his response was “I love Doline’s smile, her character and back in her day she was one gorgeous lady”. I followed up by asking Neny what she thinks helps make a marriage successfu,l her response was “TOLERANCE...Tolerance is key to a successful marriage. Tolerance, trust and mutual respect between husband and wife”. These words resonated with me like in many ways and evoked an epiphany in me in regards to the importance of patience, being accepting of one another and tolerating each other. We all come from different backgrounds and experiences and we must be accepting of one another in order to live in harmony.
Another thing I have noticed about my host family is how well distributed the house chores are amongst the family. Regardless of age and gender everyone in the family has a job to do within the household. For example, the oldest grandchild Mampionona hand-washes his own laundry, helps Neny prepare the meals, along with his little brother Nomena is scheduled to do the dishes after one of the three meals and helps feed the chickens and cows. Typically in traditional Malagasy culture the women are responsive for the cooking, cleaning and house chores which include feeding the animals and some farm work. The men take care of the cattle, farm animals and work the rice fields--In Malagasy culture the men are the main source of income for the family. I continued the interview by asking Neny Doline why in their house hold they did not adhere to traditional Malagasy custom such as only the women doing house chores etc.? Her response was as follows... “Initially we did adhere to those custom and most of the the house chores were done by me or the other women in the household. However, as the times have changed around the world they have also changed here in Madagascar and outside of our household you will see more men doing more chores traditionally designed for women. In general, children need to grow upto be able to take care of themselves and one person alone should not be responsible for taking care of all of the house chores”. I followed up by asking them when did they come to the realization that the house work should be distributed evenly amongst the men and the women in the family, her response was “Both Michele and myself came to the realization that housework should be distributed evenly amongst our children regardless of gender because we want our children to be self sufficient...what would happen when we are not here and our children do not know how to take care of themselves? We want our children to be able to survive on their own once we are no longer here”. I then asked them about the top 3 values Rabe clan uphold as a family, which are: 1.God, 2. Love and3.Tolerance “There will not be peace if we are not tolerant of each other. Us human need to learn to accept people for who they are in order to live in harmony both within family and as a global community” she reiterated to me as she listed their top 3 family values.
I ended the interview by asking them about their experience with hosting Peace Corps trainees and integrating Americans into their household. Her response was “We love having Americans in our household and we treat them exactly like we would treat our own family member here in Madagascar”. Overall their favorite thing about hosting Peace Corps trainees in their home is that ability to have genuine cultural exchange which has enhanced their lifestyle and caused several behavioral changes. They have learned to treat their dogs better because Americans really love pets especially dogs and treat them like family. Also as a result of having Americans living in their household they have also enhanced their hygiene habits by using Sir-Eau (chlorine) to disinfect the water they consume and they have slowly been learning english which is an added bonus.
My host family was very accepting of me regardless of our cultural and religious differences...I felt like I was one of their own. Having the opportunity to live with Rabe clan in Mantasoa was a great way to be introduced to Malagasy traditions, values and culture. I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to prepare meals with my host mom, to practice my Malagasy language skills with my host dad, to engage in meaningful conversations with my host sister Kahnto and to joke around with my host brothers Mampionina and Nomena. I will always remember the great laughs and the deep conversations we had during dinner when watching Malagasy television and deeply exploring Malagasy culture and global current events. Leaving their home was almost as difficult as leaving my family in Boston when I left to Philly for my Peace Corps staging. During our final dinner I fought back tears when they gave me a going away gift and told me how much they would miss me, In the short 12 weeks of training I’ve grown attached to them too and I knew I would miss them dearly.
Making connections such as the one I had made with my host family in Mantasoa is all a part of my mission as a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar. My hope is that their lives were enhanced as a result of our time together. My hope as I continue on this path is that I help better the lives of the people I interact with here in Madagascar and beyond.