The Malagasy Way

About five years ago, I traveled to Madagascar on business. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I grew up in North America. I served a 2-year mission in France. True, the French weren’t up to the American way of life, but that meant I only saw one dishwashing machine and no microwaves in the two years I lived there—not exactly real deprivation.
But Madagascar was something else. This is a country where the average monthly income is $28—less than $1 per day. Each morning almost every spare place became an open-air market as people sold whatever they could make or raise to provide for their necessities.

 

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Side street just off Avenue de l’independence in Antananarivo, Madagascar.

But it’s this latter quality that I want to focus on. The Malagasies I met were happy people. They did what they had to to get by. They truly lived by the old pioneer maxim, “fix it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

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The handcarts you see in this photo are made from old trucks. The cart is called a “pousse-pousse” from the French word for push. It’s one example of the Malagasy Way.

I remarked on this to my guide. He said, “Yeah. We call it the Malagasy Way.”
“What do you mean, ‘the Malagasy Way’?”
“Well, let’s say you have a car, and one of the cylinder’s in the engine breaks. In America, what do you do?”
I shrugged, “Hire someone to repair it? But that’s so costly, you’d probably buy a new car.”
“Ah, not here,” he said with a smile. “Here, we check the junkyards and see if there’s another one or if we can order it. If so, you’re in luck. But you probably won’t find it, and that’s where the Malagasy way comes in. First you find a large piece of scrap iron larger than the cylinder that broke. Then, you machine that piece of metal into a new cylinder and install it. Your car will work again, probably not quite as well as it once did, but you can get by. This is the Malagasy Way.” He shrugged and tilted his head apologetically. For him, the Malagasy Way was a term of denigration, referring to the substandard performance that followed the repair.
But that’s not how I see it. My grandfather is from Oklahoma and had a whole truck held together by baling wire and duct tape. We had a show called MacGyver that celebrated the self-reliance embodied by a man who could use whatever he had at hand to get the job done. I loved that show.
We even turned MacGyver into a verb. That’s cool, we celebrate an individual who did that. But in Madagascar, this sort of thinking is a way of life. It’s an attribute affiliated not with an individual, but with their national identity.
Here in the U.S. We make so much more money, and when we need something we run to the store or hop online to purchase something that will take care of whatever problem we have. But next time stop a moment and as yourself if you really have to go buy something. Maybe you can find a fix right in your home. That’s the Malagasy Way.

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