Sunday, September 26, 2010


Mistangastangana (pronounced “meet-song-gah-song-gah-nah”) is one of my favorite new words in Malagasy. It has no direct translation in English, but it essentially means to “hang out”or “to wander around and talk to people.” At first, I was confused by this dual definition—to me, ‘hanging out’ is a much more passive activity than ‘wandering around’—but as Christa reminds me, the Malagasy don’t mistangastangana very fast.

Marlin Andriamananjaranirina (yup, you read that right), our WWF field coordinator in Vondrozo, says that many Malagasy farmers work for only 2-4 hours in a given day. The crops are so simple and the work so routine that there really just isn’t that much to do. The women cook a pot of rice—une montagne de riz, as we have come to call it—in the morning and maybe some beans. That pot is reheated for lunch and dinner, and in between, yet again, there really just isn’t that much to do. And so, everyone likes to mistangastangana.

Our Malagasy teacher, Madame Victorine, tires of ‘teaching’and suggests we mistangastangana the morning away instead. Somehow, she doesn’t understand why we aren’t fluent in her native tongue after four days of study. Her favorite teaching tactic is to repeat the same Malagasy phrase over and over again, getting louder each time. Eventually, the meaning has to become clear, right? --“Ino nividy omaly anareo? Ino nividy OMALY ANAREO?! INO NIVIDY OMALY ANAERO?!?” she shouts at Sergio. WHAT DID YOU BUY YESTERDAY?!? Later, when Sergio shares his life story with us (SPOTlight for you Stanford Outdoors enthusiasts), he will tell us that Madame Victorine’s class is what he fears most in the world.

We follow Madame Victorine through the ruts and waterholes of the red Vondrozo road. -- “Akoraby,” we call out as the Malagasy flock to the door to stare.” ‘Arokaby’ (pronounced “ah-koo-day-aah-bee”) is southeastern vernacular Malagasy for ‘Hello, how are you?’ --“Tsara be,”everyone replies—‘I am doing well.’ Their eyes are as large as a lemurs as they follow us down the road.

“I don’t think I’ll ever really get used to the stares,”says Brian. “After four months in Vondrozo, they still stare at me everywhere I go...” The Malagasy call us “vazaha” meaning ‘white person,’and I marvel for a moment about the political incorrectness of such a phrase. “Hello, white person!”Can you imagine if someone said such a thing in the U.S.? To many, vazahas are all the same, and the Malagasy struggle to remember our strange and foreign names. In my opinion, Christa and I really don’t look alike, but we are both of North American complexion with brown hair and brown eyes, and thus, we are forever mistaken for one another.

Brian tells us that half of his time in Madagascar is spent waiting for something to happen. For me, coming from the Stanford world of iPhones, macbooks, and incessant multitasking, this slower pace of life is going to take some getting used to. Ranto, a native Malagasy himself, thinks I am a most bizarre person, since I am constantly searching for something productive to do. “Hyperactive,”he says. “Are all Americans like this?”And then, noticing my French braid as he struggles to explain himself, “Like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider? Always on the move?”

Lara Croft—I can’t help but laugh. Pop culture idiot that I am, I haven’t even seen Tomb Raider, but I guess Lara Croft doesn’t mitsangatsangana very often.


  1. Cara, This is hilarious! You're definitely not a mistangastangana kind of person - it's probably a good thing once in a while, but hard for you to master, I'm sure....

  2. It's great to hear about your adventures through your blog, Cara! And I think that you might misrepresent the U.S. people as being a little more productive than we actually are ;)Safe travels!!