My First Impressions of Madagascar

Everyone in Moramanga is incredibly friendly. The Razanadrakoto family, our gracious and loving hosts, are incredibly hospitable and kind. I was greeted with hugs and kisses, even though I’d never met anyone in the family other than Jessica, and they have opened up their home to everyone in our group. Just last night, I was advised to go over (at 10 pm) to eat something with a couple of my teammates. Although we were unexpected guests, we were immediately offered a hearty dinner and seats at their table.

Maria has been in Madagascar already for a month and a half. When I walk with her, many Malagasy people will wave or say “Salama,” and Maria will say it back. The first few times I saw this, I’d ask her if she knew who they were, and she would say no. This is incredibly different from the US, because especially in large cities where it’s very unlikely you’ll run into someone you know when you’re walking down the street, no one minds anyone else. Even making eye contact with a stranger can be awkward, and no one ever says hello to people they don’t know.

I have continually been impressed with how friendly the people here are. When I was out with Maria and Jo looking for supplies we still needed to buy for camp, many of the stores were closed (we later found out that everyone was on lunch break). Instead, we took a pous pous out to the gas station to look for what we needed. We were unsuccessful - gas stations don’t sell stationary - but the people working there went out of their way to try and help us figure it out. They talked to our pous pous drivers, who we had difficulty communicating with on our own, to tell them to take us to a store where we could find what we were looking for. They were very patient with us despite the frustrating language barrier.

Another thing that I’ve found very impressive is that everyone here speaks at least two languages: French and Malagasy. Many of them also speak conversational English, and I've met quite a few people who speak Chinese as well. I grew up bilingual because my parents are both Chinese immigrants, but most people that I know back at home do not speak a second language fluently. I’m a firm believer that being able to speak multiple languages opens a lot of doors, and I think it’s really cool that this is a part of Malagasy culture.

Moramanga and Madagascar have been extra special and incredibly educational to me because of the people who are sharing my experience. It’s really inspiring to see the passion and hard work that everyone has done, and the energy and thoughtfulness which have been poured into this project (shoutout to Jessica and Laura and everyone else who planned this entire trip). I didn’t know anyone in the group before I got here, but from the get-go everyone was kind, welcoming, and willing to have conversations. It’s only been a few days, but I already feel comfortable and at ease with my teammates and free to be honest in all of our discussions, no matter how serious. While traveling and absorbing the culture around me is an amazing experience, the love, pride, and caring which I see in the work that my teammates do inspires me more. I know I’ll carry the memory of this spirit with me as inspiration as I continue to grow, travel, and give back to the world.

Stella Xu is from Seattle, WA and is a member of the 2017 Camp Fihavanana Staff.