The first meeting of my American Studies course was this past Friday. It was a time to explain my plan for the course and meet the students. I also planned a word association exercise. In groups students wrote down words that they associate with American culture and also words that they associate with Malagasy culture. They had some very interesting responses. Some students wrote “T.G.I.F” for American culture, which surprised me a bit, given that it is so idiomatic. Many of the Malagasy terms, they gave in Malagasy. They didn’t have word-for-word translations for many of them, but they were still able to give excellent definitions. We discussed the traditional steps that precede marriage in Madagascar. First, for example, there is the fisehoana, which literally translates as the appearance. In the fisehoana, the bride-to-be’s family asks very vague questions to the groom-to-be who must answer them. It is the beginning steps of the families meeting and being joined. The students assured me that the fisehoana was a difficult time for the man. After this is the vodiondry, which literally translates as the sheep’s rump. In the vodiondry, the groom-to-be’s family offers a gift of money as a sign of respect, to show that the bride-to-be’s family is losing something very valuable. I met today with some of my former students from Lycee Ambatofinandrahana (where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer) and they told me that the gift typically contains notes and coins of all denominations. It sounds as if more money can be added as well. In class Friday, I talked a bit about typical American weddings and the run-up to them. Students of Malagasy culture know that the concept of fihavanana is of central importance to the general Malagasy worldview. The students of course associated ‘fihavanana’ with Malagasy culture. If a poll was done, I am sure that Malagasy people would list it as one of the most central concepts to the traditional Malagasy worldview. There is no direct translation in English. It comes from the verb ‘mihavana’ which means to be friends or family. So, it sometimes gets translated as kinship but it is not kinship that is limited to any biological ties. The traditional idea is that there was a sense of fihavanana felt by all Malagasy. They were bound to each other, bound to help and support each other, in virtue of the fact that they were Malagasy, in virtue of the fact that they shared the same ancestors whose ways had been passed down for a long time. There was some discussion about whether or not the concept still weighs heavily in the minds of many Malagasy people. It is hard to say from my current vantage point, but there is no doubt the lack of progress and development the country has experienced since the coup d’etat in 2009 has strained fihavanana. I hope to have more to say about this later. Overall, it was an excellent first session. I was a bit shocked that the students showed no signs of any fatigue whatsoever after over an hour and a half of discussion. By the end of January, I am sure that they will learn a good deal from me, and, as I told them Friday, I am already learning a great deal from them.