Malagasy Independence Vondrozo Style

            Although this is the second time that I have been in Madagascar for their independence, this is the first year that I have been able to devote the majority of my schedule to the celebrations; the first Independence Day being spent during my initial training here in country.  This ability to observe and partake in the majority of their celebrations was an amazing, eye opening, and, at times, exhausting experience.  Madagascar received its independence from France on June 26, 1960, and Independence Day every year is celebrated, in many respects, like we celebrate Independence Day in America, with parades, speeches, and fireworks.  What makes it so much more different than in the States is that the
celebrations are not just one day, but a whole week.  Independence Day itself was on Friday, June 26, but the celebrations for this auspicious day actually started on Friday, June 19.  Due to classes, finals, and other work related activities I was not able to get into the full swing of the celebrations until the 23rd, but on the days before this there were a series of soccer, handball, and basketball tournaments, as well as a display of the Sahafatra (the tribe in Vondrozo) cultural dance. 
            On the morning of the 23rd there was a mini marathon, which if I am being honest I only dropped in at the end to see the finish.  After the race had finished everyone dispersed and life in Vondrozo went back to its normal routine; that is until night time.  In Vondrozo, like many towns and villages in Madagascar, the daily schedule is determined by the sun.  So when the sun goes down everyone goes home and for the most part goes to sleep.  Vondrozo, having electricity for a few hours in the evening, usually stays active for an extra hour or so after dark, but on this day, and through Independence Day, the life in town would not end till very late into the night, if at all.  On the night of the 23rd, as well as the two nights that followed, there was a spectacular, what could be equated to something like a talent show, on the podium of the Commune. Although there were people that played instruments or sang or groups that did different dance routines, for the most part it was just groups of kids that did the Qweta (a very popular dance here in the Sud Est).  During the different shows people would walk up on stage to give the participants 100–200 ariary if they thought that they were doing a good job.  During the spectacular the crowd, which became larger with people from the countryside arriving everyday, stood around watching, meandering around to find friends, or if they were kids/teenagers popping fire crackers and spraying aerosol cans over lighters.  The fire crackers that the kids popped were not the same as those used by kids use in the States.  Instead of lighting a Black Cat or throwing a Popper on the ground the kids here have a little metal rod with a cup on the end that they fill with match heads and top off with a nail head.  This, when slammed into the ground, causes a very loud popping noise. 
            The following night, we were all surprised, started with a firework show.  We would end up having three consecutive nights of fireworks; more fireworks than even in the Capital!  Vondrozo just recently received a new Chef de District (comparable to a County Mayor), so in addition to vast improvements to our dirt roads in town we also received great firework shows for Independence Day.  After the fireworks I made my way to the spectacular where I ran into Donald, my friend/counterpart.  We both having been invited to the Ball afterwards decided to hangout and wait for the spectacular to end and the Ball, which was to be held in the Commune, to begin.  This though, like many things in Madagascar, did not start on time.  Once the people cleared away we entered the Commune and took a seat with the Lehibe’s (a person of position) at a front table by the dance floor.  Once the Chef de District left the Ball, others, including my counterpart, also began to leave.  As soon as Donald left I was asked by the other Lehibe’s that remained to stay and join them.  I being “adapted” in this way continued for the rest of the night and into the morning.  First by the Lehibe’s, then by another friend/teacher and his family, then by the Gendarme (Military Police), and so on until 6 A.M. when everything was finally slowing down and I excused myself to go to bed. 
            Because I did not go to bed till six in the morning, the better part of the 25th was spent with me in bed asleep.  Shortly after waking and getting ready for what was left of the day I was visited by a group of friends (friends, neighbors, Principal with two of his sons, and a Gandarme) that had come to check if I was ok, since they had not seen me in town all day, and to invite me to join them back into town.  As we made our way slowly strolling into town, we talked about the night before and about how happy they were that the following day was their Independence Day.  As we got closer to town the firework show began and we stopped only momentarily to watch a few of them explode in the air.  Once in town, we made our way to Behavana, now a karaoke bar, and the Principal ordered a round of drinks and finger food for our table.  As we talked there was a visible and vibrant happiness from everyone that this was almost their day of independence.
            The following day, Independence Day, June 26, I walked out of my house to find a multitude of students in the courtyard of the Lycee (high school) preparing for the schools march into town.  Each school in Vondrozo marched from their campus, with the school sign and in uniform, to the Commune, where the Independence Day festivities were to begin.  Once at the Commune I was asked to sit on the stage with the Lehibe’s, which I was very grateful for since it was a very hot and sunny day.  The festivities then began with a parade on the road in front of the Commune, with the Police, Gendarme, the different school, and organizations.  After the parade the Police presented and raised the flag and the national anthem was sung.  This was followed by a series of speeches by the Chef de District, Deputy (Congress woman), and then the PDS (interim Mayor) and a few traditional songs played on an accordion with traditional dances.  After all of the main festivities were over all of the Lehibe’s, as well as a few other people, made their way to the Chief de Districts house for drinks.  After everyone started dispersing I went with the Deputy to her house with the PDS for lunch, my first real meal in two days, and then to the soccer field to watch the men’s final match.  The match ended with my neighborhood winning in penalty kicks.  After the game was finished there was an awards ceremony for the winners of the boys and the girls’ handball, basketball, and soccer tournaments.  With their winnings the teams made their way into town to celebrate; I of course joining my neighborhood soccer team.  
Kids firecracker

Schedule of festivities for the week

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