Let me explain something to you that I have learned about Malagasy culture. There is no such thing as personal space. Usually in the states you can enjoy some degree of space that you can call your own. Society knows that it just gets a little awkward or uncomfortable the moment that you start rubbing up on someone else’s shoulder.
Call me naïve, but that view may be different for someone like my brother, who has now lived in New York City, traveling via mass transit, for some 6 odd years now, so this may be nothing knew for him. Me on the other hand, I grew up in southern Indiana. Nothing gets crowded, whether you’re talking about the big rivalry football game, the movie theater (given that its not the midnight premier of Harry Potter), or hanging out on the sidewalk during the 4th of July parade. Nothing really gets uncomfortably crowded. It took 10 minutes to get across town, given that you don’t run into a train, which odds being what they are, probably did happen, but I never once had to deal with anything close to rush hour traffic.
I move to springfield ohio for school. Again, nothing to worry about. I then move on to Columbus, Ohio. Holy cow! I actually have to wait in line for the interstate, what the heck is this? It takes me 45 minutes to get to work? I could be halfway across the state of Indiana in that same amount of time while traveling!
So that’s what I grew up with. Now, that isn’t to say that I have never been in a crowded car (I was the youngest of 6 kids, ever heard of the shotgun double-buckle?) and a metro car during rush hour. I just haven’t experienced it to this degree. Now, I’m not saying its necessarily something that I’m complaining about nor anything that I dislike, it’s just something that I never really noticed all that much in the states.
Now look at me. Anytime I get on a bus I expect that not only will I be sitting next to someone, but that I will practically be in someone’s lap. They can fit 25-30 people in these large vans. Well, I say fit, but I guess I should say that they can transport 25-30 people, given that there are most likely two or three people hanging off the back of it.
Even my 12 hour ride to my placement site, Mahajanga, from the capital, Tana (Tana is short for Antananarivo). There was not an empty seat. Even though we paid a little extra for me to ride shotgun, there was still the driver’s wife in between us, and that was a 12 hour ride! But that’s the norm, and it really isn’t all that unbearable.
Not only that, but I have even noticed it waiting in lines. I am not a pushy person. I consider myself fairly laid back when it comes to most things. I don’t really bother worrying about something, because I know it will all work out eventually. In Madagascar? Eh eh. Nada. That does NOT fly in lines here. If you just stand by and wait for something to come to you, good luck. You are never going to get that ticket you want. EVEN IN CHURCH. Just trying to get out of the darn thing, you have to practically flat tire the person in front of you in order to keep up with your host mother! I may just have to start asking for a piggy back through the line just to make sure my mom doesn’t have to wait for me.
Even FOOD doesn’t have a thing called personal space. Imagine yourself shopping at the market. You need some meat to go with your rice. You waltz up to the meat area, probably 6 or so different vendors that all have racks of meat sitting out in the open air. Flies are everywhere, but they’re the black ones. I am told those are the ones your want, the green ones mean something’s wrong apparently. So you’re checking out this hogs head that has literally been cut in half, and youre thinking to yourself, man this looks delicious, I want to buy this, but BEFORE you do any buying, you pick it up. You poke it with your fingers. You toss it to your friend. You lick the eyeball to test the freshness, ok everything but the first part may be untrue. Any sausage links? You pick it up. Turn it over. Then you may even decide you don’t want it, so you go on to the next one. That’s how it is with everything at the market. Fruit, fish, veggies, all of it. Ever heard anyone tell you not to eat mixed nuts at the bar? Well that’s why. (Please note that most all food that I buy at the market I soak in water/bleach so it’s safe to eat!)
It’s good though that none of this really bothers me. Growing up in the family that I have has definitely helped me cope with something that may seem as menial as this. Crowded smelly spaces? No problem. Touching all your food before you eat it, bring it on. Things are supposed to be kept past their due date, its only when it starts smelling bad that you should start thinking about maybe throwing it away.
Malagasy has been interesting getting used to, and I’m sure I am going to continue learning new things the entire year that I am here.