Letters from Madagascar: Fort Dauphin; An Introduction

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Fort Dauphin is an island in the far South East of Madagascar.  It is located on a peninsula (the French word is presqu’île, which is one degree closer to an island than a peninsula) which juts into the Indian Ocean.  So, no matter where I am in the city, I can see the ocean.  I am always a ten minute walk, at most, from a beach.  The water is beautiful, turquoise, and clear.  It is also incredibly powerful, and one has to be careful when they swim.  I have never seen waves as large as the ones I have seen along beaches in and around Fort Dauphin.  They are beautiful, from a distance.

September is the windy month in Fort Dauphin, so for the most part it has been beautifully cool and extremely windy here.  As the end of September approaches, it is beginning to warm up, and the days are hot even early in the morning.  Still, the wind blows, and so there is relief from the beating sun and oppressive heat.

The drastic inequality, while constant in Madagascar, is especially stark in Fort Dauphin

 

There is one main paved road that runs along the coast line, starting out on the tip of the peninsula at Libanona (lee-bah-noon-a), and then splitting to run west along Ankoba (ahn-koo-bah) and north along the opposite beach.  The roads meet up again at the opposite edge of Fort Dauphin, which is perhaps a 20 minute walk from where the roads diverge.  Beyond those two roads, most of the streets are bumpy and made of pavestones, or narrow alleyways that snake between huts.  As is the case with the roads, there is a wide range in the quality of houses: there are many, many, many one-room huts which don’t even keep the wind out, let alone rain, and then there are the larger, westernized houses made of cement and glass.  The drastic inequality, while constant in Madagascar, is especially stark in Fort Dauphin due to the presence of an international mining operation which began work in the late 2000s.  The mine has injected vast amounts of money into the local economy (thus why Fort Dauphin has two nicely paved roads), but only into certain pockets.  If you have a diploma, you can benefit from the mine.  Having a diploma requires having money.  So, with the mine, the rich get richer, and, as the cost of living increases, the poor get poorer.

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There are some things I see and experience no matter where I am in Fort Dauphin, rich area or not.  As I walk along the streets, dodging piles of trash and potentially rabid dogs, I cannot avoid the calls of “Vazaha!” (basically, “stranger,” or “white person”) or taxis and cars honking or constant whistles.  It’s not as if Fort Dauphin is unaccustomed to white people (there are always foreigners of various origins who work and live here) or as if I am particularly provocative (I wear t-shirts and ankle-length skirts).  It’s not even that most of the calls and honks are American-style cat calls.  It’s more a “HEY, I see a white person, let’s tell them that they’re white!  HI WHITE PERSON!”

“HI WHITE PERSON!”

Despite that, there are still cat-calls, and a lot of them.  The whistles, honks, and more elaborate calls come almost entirely from men, and the men in my program do not report the same degree of street harassment.  I am, unsurprisingly, tired of it, despite my best efforts to tolerate the cultural differences.  The next person who makes kissing noises at me and says “Hey baby, what’s your number?” (often the only English they seem to speak here) is … well, I can’t actually do anything other than shake my head and keep walking.  But, I wish I could do more.

Alas.

*come back next Monday for more Letters from Madagascar, as Hannah talks about her favorite places in Fort Dauphin*

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