Francoise Haova: funeral brings destitution

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Francoise Haova: funeral brings destitution

Francoise Haova is a 66-year old widow who lives in Tanandava, in Androy, southern Madagascar. Some of her children have migrated for work; some of her grandchildren live with her and go to school. Her husband's death resulted in the loss of most of their assets, sold to meet the funeral expenses. "Our life when my husband was still alive...was…[a] sarete (ox-cart), bidò (plastic barrel for rain collection), a plough, cattle, goats...," Françoise says. "…With the death of my husband those possessions vanished… Gone, gone now are the oxen, gone are the goats..."

What has made her situation even harder is the lack of rain. In the past whatever they planted "progressed well because the rains continued", she says, whereas nowadays there is often nothing to harvest. "If the rains don't come, we just exhaust our bodies fruitlessly... So [there will come] a Sunday [before the Monday market] when I say: ‘Dear ones, sell off that kettle and that dish…' For if the rains don't come, I have no choice but to sell my things."

Her other survival strategies have included selling fish, first buying it from local fishermen and transporting it overnight by walking to the town of Tsihombe, 40km away. The distance involved means that the fish may start rotting before they reach the market, Françoise points out. She has also bought eggs in local markets to sell in Fort Dauphin. On one occasion all the eggs got broken on the way, she recounts.

Françoise perceives poverty not only in terms of lack of assets, but also in terms of the loss of supportive family and community structures. "What can you do if your mother is dead, your father dies, most of the family is gone? Everything falls on your chest," she says. She observes that elders no longer have the same standing in her community and points to increased consumption of alcohol as one of the factors undermining the community's traditional values.

On a positive note she notes improvements in healthcare: whereas the nearest hospital used to be 40km away, "at this time," she says, "people are blessed…since all the hospitals are now close".

Despite her struggle to provide for the family, Françoise has been determined to educate all her children and grandchildren. "I want them to learn," "she says, "so that they might have a means of making a living wherever they go…" She expects her children to "exert themselves", to work hard just as she has done throughout her life.

Asked about her hopes for the future, she responds: "When I let myself think [along] those lines, I'd really like to be like a human being. I could be a human being with the help of a little fund so I could begin to sell some goods (have a small store). But then I couldn't sustain those children on the store alone, so I would have some of them manage the farming. That one would look after the digging while I sold. Those are my thoughts..."