In Madagascar, there is a word that embodies the truest form of friendship, community and togetherness, which is found in the very fabric of the nation’s culture.
Fihavanana (pronounced ‘fee-hA-va-Na-na’) roughly translates to family, though to the Malagasy, the borders of family extend far beyond blood relatives.
It was this sense of kinship that left an indelible mark on our hearts as we left Antananarivo in late November.
Some of us had been returning visitors and some were first-timers, but all felt keenly the heart-to-heart connection that was forged over the fortnight with our team on the ground. It really was like leaving new friends who we not only knew by name, but now by heart.
These are the kind of people the Malagasy are. Embracing, humble and deep carers of people, who hold the value and importance of friendship and community quite sacred. It didn’t take us very long to feel genuinely welcomed and part of the tribe.
Over the two weeks in country, we observed fihavanana at its finest. We saw it in the way students treated their teachers, in the way families welcomed each other, in the way locals engaged with us and by how our team accommodated us with generosity and sincerity.
Polite manners were the base line, and we often witnessed many sacrificial acts and gracious gestures, big and small.
We’ll never forget the day our driver, Ezra, and his wife, Moussa, hosted us in their home for a meal. The day was a much-anticipated day, as we were heading to a nearby lemur park to observe these funny and riotous animals close up. Lots of laughs, thousands of photos and memories that will endure were our keepsakes and we piled into the car, bound for their home. We didn’t think the day could get better.
On walking in, the table was laid with a feast and a smiling couple welcomed us with inexpressible joy. You see, it was Ezra’s birthday the following day. They could not think of a better way to celebrate than to host us in their home. We were humbled to our core and moved, some to tears, when we gathered around to sing happy birthday.
Gifts were given after the exceptional meal, not only to the birthday boy, but to us as their guests. Another benevolent gesture to thank us for coming. Each of us recount this day with deep gratitude and all the feels.
To experience fihavanana first-hand was a privilege and to recognise it as an inherent way of life rather than a forced obligation, was stunning.
The old adage is true – it does take a village to raise a child. We are glad it is this kind of village that our students are being nurtured in. While its people at large are suffering, crime is generally unseen yet very real and life is relentlessly hard, the heartbeat of this country is kindness and compassion.
Hopefully we are all sharing a little fihavanana with those in our ‘village’ now