Thursday, 10 September 2009

Preparing Your Child for Life in the Third World

When I told our almost-five year old daughter that we were moving to Madagascar, I thought that I had been pretty thorough. We looked for Madagascar on the map, together. I showed her photos of lemurs. I showed her aerial photos of the capital city, Antananarivo (Tana, for short). I told her that the people there speak Malagasy (or malgache, as it is referred to in French), and that their skin was a different colour from ours (most are of Indonesian/Polynesian descent; some are black African).

What I didn't tell her was the following:

- The city is dirty. The roads are very dusty and there is garbage everywhere.

- The city is very polluted. You can't walk down the street unless you don't mind inhaling car fumes that were banned in the 1970s in Europe.

- Poverty and misery are everywhere, staring at you in the face.

The first day after our arrival in Tana, we drove (or should I say, our chauffeur drove us) down the main avenue of the city.

Bambina: Mommy?

Me: Yes.

Bambina (staring all around her, wide-eyed): I think the people here are very very poor.

Me: yes, they are.

Bambina: Mommy, why are the buildings here all falling apart?

Me: Because people here are very poor, honey. There is no money to fix up and maintain the houses and shops.

Bambina: In Rome, the buildings were beautiful. I want to go back to Rome.

The next day, in the car, after passing the umpteenth child with extended hands at the window of our car, the Bambina blurts out, angrily:

Naughty mommy for not telling me that people in Madagascar are poor. Naughty!

And every day thereafter, moaning and growing that Madagascar (or at least Tana) was not beautiful, that everyone is poor here, that the people here wear dirty clothes and have no shoes, that there was too much dust everywhere, that she missed her old house, her old friends and her old city.

My daughter was suffering from culture shock.

Yep, I should have told her more about the poverty and misery before we arrived. I think she has only just recently forgiven me for this error in judgment. The next move, I'll be sure to prepare her a little better for the shocking reality of the third world (not that I'll need to now that we are here).