Salama Avy Aty Madagasikara

“All who live under the sky are woven together like one big mat.” -Malagasy Proverb

Culture is a fascinating thing. We all grow up in a culture. We grow up learning HOW to live by someone else’s definition. What’s appropriate and what isn’t. Belief structures, Language, Food, etc. This is what makes travel so important. It gives the traveler the opportunity to open up and experience new cultures and share their cultures with the world too.

In order to have a positive experience, one needs the opportunity to drop their belief structures and expectations to let something else wonderful in. This has definitely been my experience the last 5 days. As you may recall from my last update, I wasn’t in the most positive of places. There was a lot of processing going on, a lot of loneliness and definitely a lot of discomfort.

Leading up to this trip, I have constantly been telling people that I expect to experience a heavy “Culture Shock.” The reason I said this is because I have rarely had the opportunity to experience other cultures that haven’t been heavily influenced by the Western world. In fact, I live in a pretty excellent part of the world where I can go from eating Ethiopian food for lunch, Pho for dinner and a choice between late night Gelatto or Bubble tea to end the evening and maybe take in a foreign language film in the process. My cooshy little environment allows me the opportunity to dabble in all world cultures (and languages) with little commitment.

By using the phrase “Culture Shock” I had little knowledge of what it meant, especially it’s intensity. Wikipedia defines culture shock as:

“Culture shock is the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply travel to another type of life. One of the most common causes of culture shock involves individuals in a foreign environment. Culture shock can be described as consisting of at least one of four distinct phases: Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment, and Mastery, are the most common attributes that pertain to existing problems, further hindrances include: information overload, language barrier, generation gap, technology gap, skill interdependence, formulation dependency, homesickness (cultural), infinite regress (homesickness), boredom (job dependency), response ability (cultural skill set). There is no true way to entirely prevent culture shock, as individuals in any society are personally affected by cultural contrasts differently.”

Good news is, I feel as if I am coming over the top of the hill and feeling much more open to the experiences and adventures that this amazing country has to offer. I received some advice the other day that said “Everyone there are people, just like you, and they have gifts to offer the world, just like you. It will all seem normal very soon.” These are the words I have kept with me as I continue to explore.

So what does culture look like here? Surprisingly enough, as diverse as back home. The country has 2 official languages; French and Malagasy. The country also has 18 tribes, all with individual languages. The history of this country is even more diverse. People settled here from all over the world from various eras. Indonesian, (mainland) African, French, Indian and even Chinese. The food here, a similar mix of rice, beans, spaghetti, soups, salads, and the French standard; baguette and butter for breakfast. The lifestyle is simple. Everyone has something to offer, and suprisingly there is more materialism here than expected. From SUVs, to Beats headphones, to some of the cheapest non-knockoff Nike’s I have ever seen. The clothes are rich with colour and the jewelry is gorgeous.

I also look to sharing the knowledge I have acquired about the cities I have visited so far with all of you. Stay tuned for an update tomorrow where I will talk about the beautiful city that is Antananarivo and the rich culture that Toliara has to offer.

Until then all i have to say is…enjoy as much of this world as you can…


Food for thought.

Life on the water

Some of you may be familiar with the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” This statement is accurate for Malagasy life in Southwestern Madagascar. In my previous post, Oh The PLaces You’ll Go!, I discussed what “Voluntouring” was, why it’s important and some of the “Voluntouring” I will be participating in with in a few months time, supporting the reefs off the coast and the Vezo people who depend on them for survival. I’d like to take an opportunity to introduce you to this Malagasy tribe and show you what makes them such a beautiful and inspiring culture.

    Who Are Vezo?

The term Vezo is defined as, “the people who fish.” It’s the term used to describe the semi-nomadic people of Southwestern Madagascar that have adapted to a life of depending on the sea for food. It’s also important to note that the term Vezo is not intended to identify an ethnicity, but rather a way of life. The ocean is important to their survival. Since they are less an ethnicity and more of a culture, it’s impossible to know their numbers and so their populations are estimated by the number of dugout canoes found along the shorelines.

Family and tradition are both important to Vezo culture. Typically they depend on the strong and healthy to take care of the old, sick and dying. Family is important because it’s how Vezo pass on knowledge of fishing areas, access to resources and equipment. Ancestry is also important to their livelihood, as it is ancestors whom are responsible for the success and failure of obtaining a good catch so it’s very important to give appropriate thanks through ceremony when a catch has been particularly favorable, especially when catching rare species like shark, dolphin or whale.

Vezo not only depend on the ocean for food, but as means for sale and trade. Typically the men will spend their time on the water in search of fish and the women will harvest the sand flats for invertebrates as well as sell or trade the catches the men have brought to them.

    Why do Vezo need support?

Over fishing is something that affects all of the world’s oceans. Regulation is hard to enforce around the world and although many first world countries have developed fishing regulations, Madagascar is still developing as a nation and doesn’t have many similar regulations and rarely enforces them.

Vezo have been the main navigators of the channel that separates mainland Africa from Madagascar, but currently more and more commercial boats are showing up to reap the benefits of these waters that are home to a diverse collection of marine life. As such, Vezo have had to adapt their fishing methods to better compete. Sometimes these methods can deteriorate the family and community culture as many Vezo will to isolate themselves & families to find fishing space not dominated by commercial fisheries or other locals. Sometimes these fishing practices are unsustainable.

Unsustainable fishing means fishing practices that will be unable to sustain themselves if they continue moving forward the same way they have been practiced. Currently unsustainable fishing practices, local and commercial, are having an affect to the marine life in Southwestern Madagascar. These negative affects are seen in the devastation of coral reef systems, the platform of which entire ecosystems are based. The negative effects are also seen in the dwindling numbers of species that have a hard time repopulating themselves. Species like Sea Turtles, Sharks, fish and even invertebrates.

Enjoy this video of an interview with a local Vezo talking about why marine conservation is important to him. Videos like this provide great perspective, which is important because with perspective we provide a basis of fair and balanced judgement. Not judgement of others but judgement of our actions and how we can best serve these world cultures, the lifestyles that sustain them and the ecosystems that sustain us and them.

    How can I support Vezo and the ecosystems they depend on?

ReefDoctor is a non-profit organization in Madagascar that is working to educate Vezo on sustainable fishing methods and how to respect the populations of these species so they can continue to provide food for their communities. Through conducting water quality and fish population research as well as cutting edge artificial reef restoration techniques and their education efforts, Reef Doctor is a major contributor to the marine conservation of the area while still preserving the culture of the people who live there.

You can support ReefDoctor through the support of those that wish to volunteer their time and energy on these initiatives. One of the reasons I will be heading there is that I know my volunteer fee will support the operation costs of their organization and the work I will do with them will compliment these costs. Please take the time to head to my fundraising page below and check out what I am fundraising for and some of the rewards granted to those supporters. Or you can simply share this blog or my fundraising page in your circle of influence if this is work that you feel passionate about supporting.

Drew Mac’s Madagascar Mission To Support Reef Restoration

Another way you can support Vezo and their food sources from another corner of the world, is through sustainable seafood choices. For example, the Vancouver Aquarium is another non-profit organization that started a program in Canada and the surrounding United States called Oceanwise Through labeling menu and marketplace seafood items with it’s logo, diner’s know that what they are choosing to eat is seafood that was caught sustainably. It also provides a cohesive list of seafood choices on it’s website and Apple App that lets browsers know what seafood species are sustainable or not, empowering people with the knowledge to support marine conservation and still enjoy the food they love.

Life on this planet starts and ends with the world’s oceans and the better we take care of those oceans the better we can preserve the life that lives in them and the life that depends on it for survival, which includes us.