Madagascar Runs on Rice

Today is my third day in Tana, and it is absolutely beautiful. The first time I saw Madagascar out the plane window I couldn’t stop a smile from spreading across my face. The first thing that struck me was the intensity of the colours: the soil here is reddish brown (in fact for that reason Madagascar is called L’île Rouge – the red island) and it makes an impressive contrast with the lush green vegetation next to the trails that wind between the numerous rice paddies.

Rice is a major part of Malagasy life, as I have already learned in my short time here. Most people eat rice 3 meals a day, and in fact Madagascar consumes more rice per capita than any other country in the world. Today we walked along la digue (the “dike” between rice paddies), which was a really fascinating experience. As a group of 10 white foreigners we immediately stood out – almost everyone within a 10 meter radius turned to watch us with amused expressions, and little children laughed at us and yelled “vazaha!” (which means “[white] foreigner” in Malagasy) excitedly. It was all good natured though, and people greeted and smiled at us as we walked past.

The rice paddies have a lot more uses that simply growing rice. We saw a few boys fishing, and many ducks (destined for human consumption) swimming around on the water. We also walked past multiple women and children doing laundry in the canal water, which they spread across the grassy bank or bushes to dry.( I found it hard to believe that their clothes could be any dirtier than the water they were using to wash them – but somehow it worked  because the clothes did look clean afterward!)

Harvesting the rice itself appeared to be an imprecise science.  On the digue men beat the rice stalks against a rock or barrel placed on a tarp, separating the grains from the stalks. Once the grains are separated,  the men spread them out to dry in the sun, so that later the husks could be removed.  What puzzled me was that harvesters didn’t seem very concerned about getting all the grains off before tossing a bundle of stalks aside, nor did they mind if we walked over their tarp of rice kernels with our very muddy shoes.  The whole rice plant is used, though. The stalks are used as feed for “omby” (i.e. cattle), and the chaff is used as fuel for the fires used to bake the red clay bricks made of soil obtained from the rice paddies during the dry season.

All things considered, I’m glad I like rice! I imagine I’ll be coming home with a number of new recipes for it 🙂

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