Madagascar: Living abroad changes a man

In an article published in March, economists William Easterly and Yaw Nyarko noted that in Sub-Saharan Africa, remittances (money sent by immigrants abroad back to their home countries) on average amounted to 81 percent of the foreign aid received by an individual country.

The role of the diaspora in the development of Madagascar has been discussed previously in the Malagasy blogosphere. Bloggers recently discussed the impact of living abroad on the behavior of Malagasies and how it alters their relationships with their friends and relatives back home.

News2dago narrates how a close friendship with an old friend from school slowly vanished because that friend left for France:

“Nisy ranamana izay niray dabilio tamiko ary tena akama be mihitsy izy io tany @ taona 1992 tany ho any izahay no nihaona farany rehefa azo moa ny Bacc dia nanam-bitana ranamana ka lasa tany frantsa nanohy ny fianarany. Ny tena moa dia teto @ tanana ihany safidy moa io tsy misy omena tsiny mihitsy. Nivadika teny ihany ny volana sy ny taona tsy dia henoheno intsony ranamana taty aorina fa misy inona ary olona sendra nahalala azy no niteny tamiko oe nanam-bady izy! Ny tena moa manoratra email ihany fa tsy misy valiny intsony e!”

I had a good friend throughout high school. He was my benchmate. I last saw in 1992 after we both received the baccalaureat ( high school diploma), my friend got lucky and pursued his college studies in France. I chose to stay back home, a personal decision, no one to blame here. Years went by and news from my friend, initially frequently received, gradually faded away. One day I learned from a common acquaintance that he actually got married. I kept sending him emails but to no avail.

News2dago adds that he too had a chance to go to France in 2005 but after careful consideration, decided to stay at home. He cites a few reasons: the camaraderie seems lost among Malagasy people once in France, everyone for himself, no bonding over playing cards, plus he used the money to move abroad to create his own current project. “This is better than having to deal with those guys abroad with their fancy diplomas.”

He adds:

“Ny namana taloha ary ity toa mody fanina izany satria niantso azy efa in-3 aho t@ izany fotoana izany dia noraisiny t@ voalohany nandeha ny resaka ary natsidiko ny teny hoe “hibôsy kely any @ lisany any lesy aho raha sitram-po ny Tompo a”, “hay ve hoy ranamana”, “miantso anla ihany aho rehefa tena tapa-kevitra e”. Nanomboka teo dia lasa messagerie vocal foana ny finday-n'ilay ranamana”


I called him once to chat a bit and reminisce. I told him that god's willing, I might go there for work and be one of you guys. “Oh really ?” he replied then. Since I said those words, whenever I call him, I always get his voicemail.

In a related story, news2dago said that his niece came back to Madagascar from France to get married with a fellow Malagasy she met there. They had th whole wedding planned to the T, even bringing a professional photographer from France. They asked to use his internet connection to plan their holidays to Mahajanga after the wedding. Yet they did not deem necessary to say goodbye when they left the country back to France. Living abroad really does change a man.

Reacting to the story, Ravatorano believes that feigning indifference or ignoring former friends is not limited to compatriots abroad. However, he believes it is a minimum to respect people who helped you out. Simp quipped: ” Forgive them for they are only human… good deeds are the seeds of good fortune and bad deeds are like karmic Damocles sword.”
lehilahytsyresy gives a possible explanation for forsaking real friendship for utilitarian friendship (mg):

“Rehefa voaporitra mafy ao anaty fiaraha-monina gejain'ny concurrence ady-saritaka isan'andro isan’ andro izy, dia normal raha toa ka raiki-tapisaka ao an-tsainy koa izay fomba fisainana “namana-raha-misy-patsa” izay, mba hahafahany mi-survivre. Rehefa avy eo koa anefa, dia tsy afaka intsony ilay toetra ka na dia ny havana koa aza, dia lasa anaovana “havako-raha-misy-patsa”.

“When Malagasy abroad are squeezed by the reality of life abroad, rugged competition and everyday life stress, it's normal that the “friendship if rich” attitude prevails, it's necessary for survival. However, that behavior becomes ingrained into them so even with relatives, it eventually becomes “related if loaded”.


  • Joe Anderson

    While your points about assimilative dissonance certainly resonate with me, don’t you think there could be more practical and less melodramatic forces at work here? I think most importantly, when someone is immersed in a new place and ‘culture’, at great physical distance from their ‘home’, it is easier to wrap oneself in a sort of protective sleeve that keeps your commitments and daily interests in your former life from tugging at you and simply making you sad and lonely. I mean, I don’t think that I’m convinced that people we love, upon leaving for ‘greener pastures’ are just so caught up in their new bourgeois identity that they can’t remember who they are and who their former family and friends are. I think it’s much less romantic than that, much less novelistic. In fact, I think it’s simply a matter of having too much to do in the context of a ‘new life’ (which, we must admit, if one is willing to pursue life abroad/study abroad/etc., one must be willing to confront and adapt to) to pay attention to old commitments. Do some personalities do ‘better’ at this than others? Well, if you mean do some make a more concerted effort to communicate with folks ‘back home’ no matter how banal, trite and impersonal the communication is: yes, sure. Some folks are just better at daily maintenance, sending emails or letters, etc. However, I don’t think we should be so quick to dismiss folks who don’t as just so many Uncle Toms who have finally ‘made it’ in the white man’s bourgeois world and are no longer interested in their pasts or their families.

  • Hi,
    Let me have a little say on this.
    There are things people may understand before picking a conclusion as fast from happenings.
    First of all, a voicemail doesn’t always mean don’t disturb. Maybe it’s not time to him to wakeup, maybe he is on meeting …Likewise, mail is not reliable all time, how can you be sure your mail were not considered spam??
    Anyway let’s assume that your friend doesn’t want to have connection with you. And I thing that is the truth.
    Why? because he is busy (maybe) or the opposite and doesn’t want people to sense his idleness.
    Maybe he is trying to avoid what all malagasy who live abroad dread the most: to be considered the saviour of mankind. There is a myth in everyone’s subconscience in Madagascar that living abroad means success and wealth. Everyone lust and long for a little piece of euros from that person. Thinking that money is flowing like river in “abroad”. Anyone who gain nothing is despised.
    But reality “abroad” is far away from what every middle class malagasy dream about. So the poor guy is torn between everyone’s expectations (including his own) and the real demise he is living through.
    This is putting misunderstanding between those who are day-dreaming in madagascar and those who go abroad and face the reality (not quoting before all the fact of being not welcome to the host country)(xenophobia).
    And the easiest not the best solution for most is to cut all relationship from mother country.

    And that is bad.

  • @Joe Anderson and Revirevy

    Points well taken. From personal experience, I would agree that the reason expatriates seem less willing to communicate with folks back home has more to do with trying to adapt to a new environment rather than a new “bourgeois identity”. In the context of Malagasy culture, where fihavanana (aka ubuntu) is so prominent, the abrupt change in the flow of communication is always a bit of a shocker.
    As pointed out by Revirevy, the expectation of success for expatriates can be a heavy load to carry and many would rather forego communication than sharing the struggles of real life overseas.
    Really appreciated your feedback and I will forward it to the initiator of the conversation.

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