My Malagasy Diaspora Tantara: Diaspora Stories Told Around the World
Today, an estimated 300,000 Malagasy people live outside of Madagascar and live all around the globe. No diaspora story is alike but what we share is that love and connection to Madagascar that we carry in our hearts, new hometowns, and life. Here are our stories.
Today: Aina Rakotonirina tells of the joy of being a third culture kid and getting regular Malagasy booster shots.
Since each story is different, I thought I’d share mine. My family left Madagascar when my little brother was 3 and I was 5. Honestly, we were super lucky and can’t thank our parents enough for all the amazing opportunities they gave us throughout our lives. We were raised in St. Lucia in the Caribbeans and island-hopped for the majority of our pre-teens. After a passage through the Indian Ocean (Mauritius and La Réunion), we left for South East Asia and lived in Thailand for the longest time.
Moving around had never been a huge thing for me. As a kid, I just understood it as my dad accepting a job and us following him since we were like a set meal - you couldn’t get the burger without the fries and the fizzy drink. It was our normalcy. It’s only older that I realized not everyone lived like this. The term ”third culture kid” (TCK) was how we identified as and it just stuck...
We became these kids that were somehow rootless but free. Honestly, I had no real problem with it like some thought I would. My parents were always very careful with our education. We spoke 3 languages at all times at home and tried to learn the basics of the language of the country we lived in. All throughout middle and high-school, we’d go back to Madagascar every other year and were lucky enough to be able to build a house there.
I loved going back to Madagascar. I honestly still do. To this day, my eyes water when the plane starts descending. It’s become my body’s normal response whenever it feels closer to its roots. And isn’t that poetic as fuck (af)? The furthest back I can remember was definitely through rose-tinted glasses. Sure, the fact that the southern hemisphere was in winter in June kind of sucked but, on the other hand, I got to see my cousins, go to the coasts and stock up on all the Malagasy food.
I think I realized I was treated differently a few years into my teens. The moment we walked in the arrivals at Ivato, a few eyes would linger towards us. Obviously, we came directly from Thailand and most travelers were businessmen and women while we were a family of 4. In the late 90s, it was weird in its own little way. Once past the 4am onlookers (we always had the weirdest arrival times), I’d be going to the Alakamisy market in Mahamasina with my mom. We would be walking around stalls and then I’d suddenly realize that I was being stared at and talked about. Had absolutely no idea why at first until I heard a few say “lava be (that’s one tall bitch!)" and “métisse vazaha io (she can’t be from around here! )"... Obviously they weren’t even whispering.
So the thing with me is that at age 12, I was like 170cm. By age 15, I reached my full height at 178cm. Compared to the “normal” Malagasy girl (or even boy ha!), I was taller than average. And add brown (colored) hair and lighter skin (I lived in Asia so the sun was “our” enemy) and there you go: she can’t be Malagasy for sure, right? But guess what? I am (my 23&me DNA results can attest to this).
I got annoyed at the looks as the years went by. I was being talked about right in front of me, assuming that I couldn’t understand what they were saying and that I couldn’t speak back. I actually never did because I used to be the shyest kid. So all I did was ignore and pretend I didn’t hear the remarks and the stares and the annoying whistles by boys and men 3 times my age. This automatically branded me as the haughty snobbish girl from abroad but again, I was too shy to argue...ah the joys of being a teenage girl haha.
In the end, I grew out of being annoyed (and also out of my shyness) and literally just took the whole experience in. I realized they were simply curious in regards to my appearance and wondered what I was doing there. They naturally voiced it out loud. When talked about, I’d just smile at them and say a little “gasy za kah” then receive a surprised face and that was mostly it. Some of them carried on the conversation asking about my family background and origins and once I mentioned I had french and Spanish grandparents, I’d usually get a “that explains the height!”. Obviously it took a lot of summers of me warming up to the idea of not looking like the typical Malagasy to get there.
My summers in Madagascar were overall pretty amazing though. We were lucky enough to go back as often as we did, even if it was only for a few months every other year. I think this constant back and forth strengthened my link with the country and I loved that for us. I never had any big identity crisis (at least not until a few years ago, but that’s another story). It’s funny how my identity problem was one people had with me and not one I had with myself.
I believe I’ve thrived through my differences. Growing up overseas with regular Malagasy booster shots was an amazing way of life and even given the chance, I wouldn’t change anything. My brother and I had great foundations to then build our present on. I try and go back as often as possible and also have started bringing friends along with me. Madagascar is such a gorgeous place that I want to share it with the people I love. It would be a waste to just keep it to myself :)