Fianakaviana (Family)

 Holy, me, Tojo

Holy, me, Tojo

I have talked on this blog about the Malagasy concept of fihavanana which one can roughly translate as kinship or friendship that is not based on blood ties but rooted in a shared cultural heritage. The more I think about it, the more I think that it is a concept that requires some experiential knowledge to fully grasp. By experiential knowledge, I basically mean knowledge based on experience. Perhaps one must get a feel for fihavanana in order to really understand it. The idea here is that one must live in the culture or experience instances of the concept first hand to truly understand it. If that isn't true, though, then at the very least we can surely say that it is a concept that resists easy translation. In my own case, I grasped the concept based on some great experiences. Some of the first people to show me about fihavanana were our host family in a town called Manjakandriana at the beginning of our Peace Corps service in June of 2007. We lived with them for 10 weeks, eating all of our meals with them and receiving countless hours of language instruction. The first night we stayed there, we were not able to communicate much to them. We gave them a gift and showed them pictures of our family and Florida, where we are from. I can’t remember who gave us the idea to bring a gift and photos but it was a great one. Over time, through their patience and kindness, they taught us about the Malagasy language, Malagasy culture and—perhaps of most immediate importance to us—how to survive in a rural setting in Madagascar. It is not easy to have someone live with you for that long, but they were gracious throughout and never seemed to tire of my incessant questioning about the Malagasy language. We had the chance to see one of our host brothers, Tojo, previously, but yesterday we were reunited with our host sister, Holy. She and her family, along with Tojo, came to our apartment for a visit. Holy got married during our Peace Corps service to Harivola (who we also met in Manjakandriana) and now has three very well-behaved children. It was nice to catch up with them all and meet the kids. We got to bring them voandalana which means gift/s from the road. A book, a puzzle and a set of stickers for the kids and Coastal Carolina gear for the parents. Seeing them again brought back many memories of trying to communicate in the beginning.  While we can communicate with ease now in Malagasy, I remember well the difficult experience to be thrust into a foreign culture with extremely limited language skills. No doubt it built character, but it was a struggle at times! We needed their help to be able to live in Madagascar, and they were happy to give it. For that I am eternally grateful. Holy now runs a restaurant in Tana, and Tojo works there.  I will be going by soon. We also need to see our host parents and our other host brothers (Tafita and Rado). They all taught us about fihavanana and what it means to be a Malagasy family or fianakaviana (as they say here). I feel very blessed that we got to see them again and look forward to many more visits during the rest of our time here.