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Marivelo: survival is a balancing act

Marivelo: 'I'm out of roads to travel, so I just stay and farm and raise animals. Whether I harvest or not, I'll be here.'

Marivelo grew up Antanimora and is the sole provider for her family, which includes her children, grandchildren, and parents.

Alongside her caring responsibilities she employs multiple strategies for survival, explaining “at one time we had sufficient rainfall for a harvest, making agriculture sufficient to depend on for our livelihood, while now the climate has changed I’ll do whatever I can to raise the money.” This includes hourly waged labour, washing clothes, gathering wood to sell for fuel and making bricks as well as selling cooked chicken portions and the leaves from prickly pears.

She is constantly calculating and adjusting these strategies according to her needs. Recently she tried providing meals to men who mine for gemstones in return for a share of anything that they found but says “I returned home empty-handed as there was no return for me, no gemstones were found…”

Marivelo mentions she is “sickly” and has “one hospital bill after another,” making the juggling and survival even more difficult. She describes the vicious cycle of poverty and poor health: treatment costs money, and while you are ill you can’t work.

Marivelo is my name. I’m a daughter of the land, born here in Antanimora.

This is the story of my life: at 16 I left school, at 5th grade, because both my father and mother are farmers. They believed farming was the real basis of life, so they didn’t break their heads to have me in school. So finally I just quit and had no more formal education; I stayed in agriculture. I then had two children. They were a trick of their father; he didn’t marry me, so I continued in farming to raise them. I did odd jobs, hourly work, as a seamstress, fetching wood, washing clothes. I did it for the income needed to raise them.

I raised animals, for if the situation arises when I don’t have the means to cover a household necessity, then I’ll sell off one or two of my chickens, as cooked pieces of meat. In addition, those daughters of mine have now borne seven children, so my life gets more difficult. They are growing and need schooling, and it’s a job just to supply their education.

“I’ll do whatever I can”

I plant everything that’s grown around here: squash, watermelon, manioc, corn, vañemba (small red bean), peanuts, voanzo (type of bean) and sorghum. The difficulty is that at one time we had sufficient rainfall for a harvest, making agriculture sufficient to depend on for our livelihood, while now the climate has changed. We plant the corn, the sorghum, the manioc – all those that start in October were planted into the dry ground and up until now they’re still trying to come up. Half have died, the others are stunted and growing one shoot here, one shoot there; the peanuts are withered.

If there is no rain at all I’ll sew. I’ll do whatever I can to raise the money – fetch firewood, make bricks for sale so that I might have food to eat. I [make bricks] in the month of May, in winter, when the cool season arrives, and [then] I sell them. When I make bricks, I can drop 200 in a day, and I sell them for AR 50 each…to purchase food for those children and to support their schooling.

Buying seed

We find seed [for planting] among those who were able to keep theirs [back] from that good year. They cost AR 1,200 per kapoake (standard cup for measuring grain) for peanuts or beans, for corn it’s AR 800 for the kapoake, or if dried sheaves we get two ears of corn for AR 1,000. So with what little money I can put by I will purchase two or three such sheaves of corn, and maybe 5 kapoake of peanuts. Through selling chickens I will have enough money for peanuts, like other people.

The sorghum I received through an association I joined, and it produced well, but because I wasn’t around foly (sparrow-like birds) consumed it, leaving me with only 200 kg – I was with my father who was ill, out in the country. I didn’t sell even 1 kapoake [of the sorghum]…we used all of it for food, as it wasn’t much; and we fed the bran to the pig and the chickens. We ate the “heaviness” of it (most of it), so we did not sell.

“Dry, and becoming drier”

I certainly [do farm] work, but I can’t do all that fieldwork myself, so I…pay someone to help me with part of it, say AR 1,500 worth or AR 2,000. But to fork out AR 5,000 or 6,000 – I can’t afford that level of help, I can only pay with what I have.

All crops will bring a benefit if they make it to harvest. But…we can’t get much of a harvest these days. We’re lucky if there’s something for us there each day, and that won’t be much. The squash plant now has about 20 stems; the pig will receive [some] and we will eat [some]… I’ll save it in the field for now, towards the day that I’ll need it, that’s how that cropping works. Dry, and becoming drier, is the order of the weather at this time. We can’t depend on it, even though we still plant, and obtain a little.

The beginning of December to the month of February is the most difficult time, because that is the planting season, and everything is expensive then, both seed and food. So we are purchasing food right now, but at noon we eat prickly pear, and for dinner [we buy food with the] little I make from the bricks, and those odd jobs.

Livestock as source of cash

I raise chickens and I raise pigs, so…if I can’t find regular work, a source of income from which to purchase food, then I sell two of three of the chickens, from which to buy food that week. But failing that, I’ll do daily laundry for others, for it is difficult dealing with that pig. I’m sickly and I have one hospital bill after another, and if I sell that pig in haste, I only get AR 40,000 or 50,000 for it – and will have difficulty selling it.

But chickens are a market more easily entered into for everyday problems that crop up. So for any small problems, and for food, and if the bricks don’t sell, and I haven’t found work, then I’m stuck with selling a chicken for food…

“They die anyway”

Now in the raising of chickens and pigs, I lean on God – for there is also the remoletake (a disease) which kills those pigs, so we’re ever busy caring for those so they don’t die. And even if we vaccinate, the chickens just catch the disease anyway… Whatever remedies I’ve been told by people, I’ve employed them all. Sure I do the vaccine, but when other poultry in the area get the disease it’s contagious – my chickens get it from whatever has it nearby.

That pig must be sold for sure…yes, when he’s fat we’ll sell him, and turn him into another [animal] depending on what he brings, be that a cow or a goat, or supply something that is needed in the house. For instance if I need a kettle, then I’ll buy one. That’s not to mention those who are in school, and the food we eat must come out of the money first. And all those things are bothering my thinking, that’s how it sits.

Turning bark into paper

[In the past] we also had the hafondramena, a shrub that grows in the forest. It’s stripped of the heavy bark, then the light inner bark is removed and dried. Then it’s brought up to Antananarivo…to make the Antemoro paper.

I didn’t continue [with the bark collection] as I was plagued with many things. I’m the only one left to take care of my father and mother and all of these children of mine, so I couldn’t continue that work any more.

For many reasons I can’t get into the hafodramena again. First, I don’t have the capital, it takes about AR 200,000 to begin that; secondly…that was hard work. One must smear oil on the face, and…wrap a cloth about the face because of the bitterness of that product, it’s like nivaquine (bitter tasting anti-malarial drug)… People are not willing to do that bark collection if there is any crop harvest at all; it’s only when there’s a drought with no harvest that they get into that work.

“Supporting a man to dig”

I did much seeking of my fortune, all the way to Morafeno where I sold cooked food to the miners…those who dug holes to find gemstones from which they could gain a fortune, which they in turn sent to their mothers down here to take care of their many children…

There’s a quarry for ribisy (rubies) in Ambare and apatite (pale green gemstone) in Morafeno…wherever there’s a quarry, all the people swarm to it. So I went there with my baggage, bringing things to sell, and found people wandering about looking for someone to support them, saying, “Why don’t we work out a deal? We’ll dig and you supply us with food.” In the end I accepted, thinking I’ll be into big money if they find their stones. That’s what I did, [but] I returned home empty-handed as there was no return for me, no gemstones were found…

When after two or three months we didn’t find anything that sparkled here at Morafeno, we moved to Ambare. And there I sold bread, coffee and cooked food while supporting a man to dig. But I returned empty-handed from that… Now I’m out of roads to travel, so I just stay and farm and raise animals. Whether I harvest or not, I’ll be here.

“Market days are really profitable”

If I don’t have any odd jobs, I visit the various market places in the country and purchase chickens from which I make the cooked snacks. I go as far as 20km, 30km, 25km, visiting markets to buy chickens.

Those chicken pieces I do when it’s winter, like now. The prickly pear is going out of season, and so there are those who will eat [chicken] because of not having the prickly pear to eat and they’ll purchase it at AR 300 a piece. [When] the prickly pear are in season people would rather purchase that; a piece of chicken sells for AR 300 while four prickly pear go for only AR 20, so for 100 those prickly pears will fill them up, so then my chicken pieces go to waste.

On market day we will prepare five chickens; we even butchered six one day, and nothing was left on those days. Especially in the winter now, the market days are really profitable for us, so we might make AR 40,000 less a little… Then what cash we get from them we divide. Some goes to house expenses – food to eat, kerosene, soap – then half is put away towards the next market, to purchase chickens in the countryside [for] the next one.

Time management

We fetch water from the river; it isn’t a flowing river but wells in the sand. The well pumps have their [collection] schedules, and we have a tight schedule. And there isn’t any time to waste, as time is my pay – so in the end we have become used to fetching water from the sand wells.

You see I sell things, and the well pumps aren’t open at times to fit my schedule for selling, so I have to go to the river and fetch from there…if the market is going well and we’re spinning around up there, we can’t make that time slot.

Fuelwood for income

[The place to collect fuelwood] is very distant – 5km being the closest. It is way out in the country, like going out to Manavy, or Bemamba – that’s where we go to find dry firewood, and good forest wood, which we can sell for AR 100. What’s available near here, called grità, is difficult to fetch because of the thorns. So we go to the forest where we can haul enough to net AR 1,200 or 1,300.

If I’m selling [food] today but don’t realise an income, then the next morning I’ll be fetching [wood] and will leave my [food] sales with the children as I can’t depend on it selling any more, it being on its second day. And I need the money to turn it around for the next week, so I must find some other source of income to purchase food and whatever else is needed in the house.

Health treatment needs money

We pay [for treatment]. I will attend the [hospital] that I have the habit of using, [where I can] borrow until I have the cash. One just doesn’t have the money on the spur of the moment, but one is [still] free to make an agreement, so [I] press on at least to get a pill, for then you will [be well enough to] still be earning to pay for it.

There are many doctors here, and hospitals. There’s Salfa (the Lutheran Clinic), there’s the government doctor, the Sisters’ clinic – they all treat people, but no matter where you go for treatment, you must pay the bill on the spot, and if you don’t have [the money] you just return home. It’s the same at the government hospital, it’s all about money.

And if one doesn’t have money on the spot…they might not say, “No, we can’t give you any medicine.” But I’m too afraid to approach them, but then you must since you’re ill, and [you] will find money to pay their bill. And sometimes the illness goes on for a week, and one is embarrassed regarding their trust [in you] – being sick, how are you going to pay the bill?

In the end you purchase from the pharmacy. If it’s a headache you get the painkiller at the pharmacy. So those are the limiting factors: the hospitals are many but treatment’s according to what’s in your pocket, and those you have the habit of attending on condition that you pay when you have the means.

Negotiating taboos

[And] with regard to traditional customs, we are still hard hit with taboos. [But pigs are] not taboo for me… We have to ask around ahead if it’s ok or not [to raise pigs], for we must abide by the status quo, so we parley: “We’d like to do such and such if it’s all right. You know that they’re taboo, but it’s not taboo for us, but those things bring in money and it’s not just us raising them.”

An agreement is then worked out. It might be that they ask that the pigs be moved into the distance, so as not to be near them, and that they be fenced in and not wander around, and to keep them clean – to send the stench away, for that is what really causes the trouble…so their garbage is swept away.

“Sorghum brought me joy”

Well, what made me happy last year, whether in seeking my fortune or in my farming, was my planting of sorghum – which gave a good harvest, which really made me happy. For all my other seeking of fortune didn’t succeed, it left me high and dry.

From Ambary I came home empty-handed; from Morafeno I came home dry. In all that I did here, whether farming or anything, it was only the sorghum that produced. Beyond that I can’t find anything to applaud from that year. So I thank ALT for giving me that sorghum.

Those are facts of my life, and those were stories of what happened to me in my life until now.

This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate ‘inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.

Project

Marivelo: survival is a balancing act is produced as part of the Survival strategies oral testimony project.

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Robin: peanuts and sorghum

Marivelo: survival is a balancing act

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