The days are getting longer, and hotter, here in the Avaratra. By 7 am, I am already sweating if I’m out in the sun. Fortunately, there is a brilliant, man-made structure that combats heat, invites company, and calms my soul: the porch.
I am blessed with a cement floor that extends about three feet past my front door, and a ravinala roof to cover, providing sweet shade, a necessarily relief from the beating sun. It’s often cooler outside, under my porch at midday, than it is inside.
Suffice to say, I do a lot of sitting on my porch. I was dishes and clothes, I grade papers, I eat lunch, I journal, all on my front porch. My view is the houses across from me, the mountains in the background and, if I’m lucky, the wispy pink strokes of a sunset. My entertainment is the cast of characters whose home I am visiting: the neighborhood boys and girls chasing each other around; my students on their way to and from school; women selling fish, selling beauty products, selling bananas and angana in big baskets balanced effortlessly on the tops of their heads; men riding bicycles; whole families riding in ox-pulled carts.
At first, I felt very self-conscious being in such conspicuous view of the whole neighborhood. Every time I brush my teeth or wash my hands or even just open my door, someone is there, watching me. At first, I got a lot of stares (and a few jaws dropped…and lots of laughter). But now, thankfully, most of that has died down. Instead, I get a familiar greeting, a morning song that I like to sing with everyone:
-Salatsareeee. Ino vaovao?
-Tsy tsy. Maresaka?
And so it goes.
People in town know me now. But when visitors come, they are still gaga (surprised) to see a white girl, sometimes with braids in her hair, washing her clothes out of a plastic basin on the front porch of a Malagasy home. I still smile and nod and greet them, and they laugh, mostly in good humor, and move on with their lives.
I remember when I first got to site, I was overcome with anxiety about how much sitting everyone seemed to do. “People just sit, all day, on their front porches. They don’t go anywhere and they don’t do anything.” Well, of course that’s not true. People work all day, and they go to the rice fields and they go to other towns and they go to visit people and they go to church and mosque and the market. But it is true that people do a lot of sitting on porches. And now, I’m one of those people.
Yeah, I’m a little gaga, too.