Suzanne Tsovalae: interview transcript

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Suzanne Tsovalae: interview transcript

Suzanne Tsovalae lives in Tanandava, Androy, Madagascar. She was 23 when she was interviewed on 27 April 2010 for the Rural Poverty Report 2011. The interview was recorded in the language of Tandroy and carried out by a staff member from the Andrew Lees Trust. The interviewer had an existing relationship with the community and had experience of in-depth interviewing from a previous oral testimony project undertaken with Panos London.

I greet you and thank you for participating in this research we are conducting, and thank you also for giving up the time to converse together here for one hour. The reason for this work is to produce a book, which will be done by an international organization called IFAD regarding poverty in the rural milieu,  so that they might study how to assuage that poverty in the future. Now I will record our conversation here, so that nothing be lost, or dropped, from what we will be saying, but will all be held inside that recorder. So talk about your life, feel free to say anything, however if there is any question which you find offensive please don't answer that question. Again... speak out of your heart all that you can say on a topic. That's my brief introduction of what we will be doing here in the fokontany (smallest administrative unit) of Tanandava/Bema. So I'm going to ask you what you like about living here in Tanandava, and what is your name, Madamo, or are you Mademoisely?
I'm mademoisely [though she's married with three children she is still young and doesn't feel she merits the more honorific title]. My name is Tsovalae Suzanne, and the reason I like residing in Tanandava is that I'm married here, and have borne children, having three, which we are raising together. And the basis of our being able to raise them is the rains, that the rains fall, but if it's as now with no rain and strong winds, then we'll sell things, like raketa (prickly pear), we'll sell it in the market [here], and we'll go straight to Faux Cap [to buy it], for there are suppliers there.

If the canoes come in, the weather being fair, then we go straight away to the canoes for fish, and we sell their fish, the profit of which feeds our children. So if the rains don't come, then that is what we do instead, for lack of rain. And we sell those fish in Tsihombe and to our village here, and that is what we bring to invigorate our children. Now if we might receive 10,000 ariary (5 US$)1 for profit, we'll split that, 5000 to purchase a chicken and 5000 to buy food for the children and my husband, and when the rains come, we'll sell part of the produce and purchase chickens, buy cattle—that is if the harvest is good, and what we have saved will be what we use for future needs.

Now I understand that you grew up here, and you've answered that the reason you like to live in Tanandava is that you're married here and have children, how many are your children?
Three... the oldest is five years, the second is three years old, and the third and youngest is one year and two months. They don't go to school yet as all are young

So, you, when you were young, was there a time you went to school?
I went to school as a child. I went to school until I was about to take the CEPE (national test for  6th year elementary students), but my parents stopped me, they said they didn't have the money to support my education. I still wanted to learn, but for my parents.

Can you tell me about your life at school up to that CEPE?
When I was about to start school, the teacher stopped us, saying we would begin as first graders, so we began at first grade, and the teacher would call on us and we'd go to the blackboard and write what he had us do. But if you don't get it, you might receive a blow, or a fine, kneeling, being hit with a ruler, but if you understand you are not hit.

Was it beneficial for you to go to school?
It was, for before school I knew nothing, but now, even walking along, picking up a piece of paper I recognize that there are words and I can read it. Before I learned I could do nothing, even if my friends wrote my name in front of me I would not know it. But once taught I could distinguish what my friends were writing for me. Having learned also, I knew how to make a profit from those fish I purchased, and in selling raketa, I know how to make a profit, I know how to give change.

So those are the benefits of having an education: you know how to give change, you can count your profits, and you can read, right?

You said you also farm, maybe you raise animals, is there application for your learning in your farming?
Education doesn't really apply to farming, unless it be at harvest, when I sell the produce and account for how I'm going to spend it: part for animals, and part for savings.

In your farming: do you have your own field or do you rent one? What are your tasks in it?
The part I do in farming - we don't rent but have our own field - the part I play, I plant sweet potatoes, harvest vañemba (small red bean), dig for sweet potatoes. Those are my chores in that farming.

How old were you when you started a household, when you got married?
I married at 18 years.

And how old are you now?
I'm 23.  

When you married you began farming with your husband?
Yes, I began to plant. I didn't know how to farm, but my husband said, "Come let us plant!, drop in two for corn, drop in this much in the hand if it's sorghum, there being six or four in the hand that one drops in, and you don't weed yet lest they be buried, but wait until they have some height before weeding."

In your farming, you need to be informed in order to improve you farming?
To improve farming, if the rains come and you can keep the field weeded, then it will produce, if you keep caring for it and weeding it, but if you let the weeds grow as a forest around it, it will not produce.

Farming, then, will you keep farming until the end?
That's our profession.

There is nothing else you should be doing, but agriculture, and selling.
Nothing else but agriculture and selling.

Now do you have any thoughts about, say, 10 years in the future, how you might improve your farming?
In regard to 10 years - there will be no change in our profession, we will always be farmers to the end of our lives.

Now you said when the rains don't come you go into small marketing?
Yes, small marketing.

Selling fish and raketa?
Fish and raketa.

And how does the selling of raketa go?
Reselling raketa provides the evening meal, but to truly live, our farming is our only real life support.

So agriculture is the basis of your livelihood?

Now what kinds of problems show up in selling raketa or fish?
The problems in marketing fish or raketa… if you have no cash (capital) to purchase it, that's a problem; for in going to them, [the fishermen], without money – when it hasn't rained – they having gone out in their canoes, now they are hungry, and without cash [themselves]; you also don't have cash, so they won't give you any of their fish that they might get cash for and buy food.

Now you were saying, when you get a benefit from selling raketa, you then purchase animals, those chickens, saving part of it, tell me more about that?
Regarding sufficient profits, it would go to chickens as there is not much profit in that, and I could only afford a chicken; cattle are expensive. That chicken may lay and produce another chicken or many, and if they multiply to say 10 then you have enough for a ewe. And if that female sheep, being well raised, gives birth, and gives birth twice, then you have a sarake (lamb separated from the mother) as the sheep will produce two in a year, and two the next year, now you have five sheep, with separated ones, and you raise those also, for protection against those things that concern you. So if there is a death, that is what you take for it, if one is very sick and you must go as far as Ambovombe, as far as Tsihombe, [to hospital], then that's what you sell, and so if the rains are not coming, during the ensuing famine, some of those are sold.

That's why you save those?
That's why we save them.

But it's not cash that you store?
No, we don't know how to store cash, for when cash is stored, it is used for the least matter of concern.  So, cash is turned into chickens, which are not that easy to turn into cash, and must wait for a serious concern before being sold.

So you are raising animals now?
We have sheep now. The profits [from trading and farming] are only enough to buy chickens, but when [they are] many we turn them into (sell them and buy) sheep. We have sheep now.

Let's say you are sick, or say there is some urgent need you have, can you sell outright without going through your husband?
So If I'm gravely ill, he will say to me, you're really sick and it won't work out unless we get you to Tsihombe, now Tsihombe is far and cannot be walked - when someone is sick – so one must purchase a bus ticket; we'll sell a sheep to get you to Tsihombe. My husband sells it.

So you can't sell it on your own?
One doesn't just sell without the mutual consent of us two.

Who do you talk to when in trouble, when having a concern about your relatives, your family, your husband? Who do you go to?
If there is a problem in my household, then I go to my in-laws with the issue. But if I'm sick, and tell my husband, "I'm ill," and he'll say, "What is your sickness" and I'll tell him, and he'll go to purchase the remedy.

Now let's say you are not farming, not selling, what are you doing then for recreation?
You mean not selling...?

For recreation?
Nothing, we just sit.

Who would you call rarake (truly poor)?
The rarake, a person who does not have, does not raise chickens, and just doesn't have [anything], even the plate to eat from he doesn't have, maybe one plate and one spoon. First of all he would not have a field, and if there's a market over there, then he'll attend that market and beg. And when the Masera (Sisters) bring food, he is among those begging food from the Sisters, he being rarake, not having [anything] [said very softly].

Do you have such [people] here in Tanandava, who beg in the market and from the Sisters?
There are some.

How is that?
What causes him to beg in the market? Well he was taught how to farm the fields, but wouldn't, whatever his parents tried to teach him, he wouldn't, but did his own way. So when his parents died, then there's nothing - he doesn't know any of those things that would have been taught by the parents, so he ends up begging, because even your parent would not give you the field, since you could not be talked to. So the land was sold for the burial of the parents, and he's left with none, and must beg.   

For you five, as a family, how do you compare your family to others around?
Our family compared to those out there that don't have?

In comparing our family to those that don't have, those really warrant pity.

But it's different for you?
What makes it different, it not being market day, we have food to eat in the evening. But for him who has none, if it's not a market day, he picks raketa pads (thick leaves of the prickly pear), and eats that, or he'll go to those relatives who will talk to him and pick green [vegetables] of theirs so that he might endure until the next market for begging. But I do that selling, and we have a meal at night. 

So you are not the same?
We are not the same - he must wait for the market day to beg. But the market doesn't produce much for him, so he must pick those green leaves, or the raketa pads, so that he might sleep, that he might live until the next market.

How do you see your livelihood, is it improving, or do you see it going downhill?
Our life is definitely improving, I say that in that back when I began to sell fish and raketa, I did not purchase a chicken, but now, I've come to understand that if I have 10,000 [ariary], 5000 will purchase food but I'll buy a chicken with the remaining 5000. And I've now purchased a ewe with those (chickens).

How come you didn't realise that back then?
Though I made a profit back then, before I had my first child, the money would go out for trivialities, and disappear. But since we had three children, my husband said to me: "We are five now, and there is no one but us to raise our children, we can't continue to purchase for our pleasure as when we were only two, but must purchase chickens with the surplus of our food income, else there's no way that we can support us five."

So you do everything you can not to slip into that poverty?
We do everything we can not to slip into poverty. So I will do my utmost in commerce not to fall into poverty, and my husband goes fishing and out to sea when it's calmer and has the same mindset, by every effort, not to fall into poverty. Sometimes he paddles out in the canoe, at other times he works the lobster near shore, for one must do whatever will keep one out of that poverty.

Now is there now a method for that other one (the poor) to get himself out of that poverty in which he is?
He simply does not have the wherewithal for it. He'd like to be like others, having food to eat for dinner, but has nothing.

Is there no wage work, which he could do?
There is work but there are few who will pay a worker as each weeds his own field, the angaly (spade) is the basis of our lives. There are those who will cut off a piece of land for weeding, and he (the poor person) will weed that for food.  Now the person will not cut off a large piece of field but just a portion for right now, and he will work that for 1000 [ariary] that he will spend today for food.

Has it happened in your family, you five, that you were really in dire straights and had nothing to cook?
That might happen in the famine where there is no food, nowhere, and we will eat those leaves [from wild plants], but nothing to drop (help) those greens (leaves) down, no rice (to go with it) so it's the greens that you take to sleep.

How many meals in a day would you take of those greens?
When in the midst of a famine, and not finding anything else, we will have only greens for a week at a time. But once in a while the sea will be calm and my husband can get out in a canoe to bring fish home, then we'll sell those to purchase food. But again it may blow all week so the fishermen can't get out and we will have those greens for a week. [Quietly] That has happened to us - that we have just eaten greens.

In that you are making every effort to rise, what dreams or thoughts have you about where you'll be in 12 years?
At that time our children will be older, and I'd hope that we would then have, that we would be well off enough to send our children to school, and have many cattle, and even that our chickens would be many. But especially to have many cattle in order to support the schooling of my children.

Now what thoughts, do you have to offer to the other youth of your village, what advice would you have for them?
Now I do small selling, and they come to me and say they can't afford kerosene. So I tell them, "Look, I sell things, and to the person who sells, not that she'll have many things, but kerosene is never a problem to her. So let's get into commerce, if the day is calm let's purchase fish at the sea-shore, and then we won't be worried about petroly (kerosene; by extension, all basic needs)," and when there's raketa at Faux Cap, "Come, let's go down to Faux Cap and buy some raketa to sell around here, and then you'll never moan about not having petroly for your evening lights."

Now when you look forward 10 years, how do you see your children, will they be better off than you were as a child?
They will be better off. They will see the progress in their friends, and will seek to follow them. They won't learn from me that they didn't see [as a child], but they will learn from those that are in school with them.

So you won't put them back into farming and small selling... aha... or will you keep them in farming and selling?
What I will have them do when they come home from school or free days: "Don't you go into the fields, but do some selling, we will do the farming, and store the things you sell at home for the days you are not in school, to sell then."

What got you into selling, not just waiting for your husband to provide?
What got me into selling was from my friends who do selling, for I'd said, "We're in a tight spot, I have nothing to do, and my husband, if he doesn't bring something home, we don't eat, nor can we purchase kerosene." And my friends would say to me, "Come, Gea, (term of address for a female friend), with us to the seaside and purchase fish when the guys come in, then you won't be suffering for petroly." So I went with them. So I got interested in that, and continued in it.

So what advice would you have for your friends who come here from afar?
As when my friends come from Tulear, and they can't find what to do here, and will say, "This country is hard, for in Tulear we can find money". So I tell them, "In this country one must sell things to obtain money for there is none to be got by just sitting around; we sell, that's how we find petroly. You in Tulear may be able to sit in one place and find money by trading right there, but we have to go as far as Tsihombe, to Faux Cap [to fetch what we'll sell]." And they'll say, "When you go, come and get us so that we can follow you." But then the rains might come and I go into the fields, all of that is training, for one must farm when the rains come; and they'll do those things when they come.

Let's say you are in charge of a development activity here, what would be the first thing you'd do?
What I'd like to do – well, regarding my selling [I'd say]: "Come on Koahe (addressing a group), let's build ourselves a market here in Tanandava." And we'd get the ok from the President of the fokontany and I'd say: "Let's each build a gargotè (stall serving tea, coffee and bread) to supply coffee to the market crowds, to enliven our market." And we'll sell the produce from the sea there, for all the purchasers will attend that market and our goods will sell.

That is, you would be the head, the prime mover of that project.
Yes, and I'd be the first to build. What I like about a market is that vehicles are there (bringing market produce), and I'll say: "Let's get a ride on this vehicle to go to Tsihombe to purchase more goods."  It won't be like now, where we have to walk all the way to the crossroads of Anjampaly to wait for a vehicle coming from that market (Thursday). Carrying all the way from here we break into sweat. But if [there was a market] here, one could say, "Come let's get on a vehicle here at Tanandava to see what's exciting."

To you, what do you call a person who has succeeded?
A successful person, She, like that one down eastward there, has a complete outlay of goods for sale, one need not go to market or to Faux Cap but can find it with her.

Like what?
She has all: rice, coffee, sugar, soap, kline (detergent), oil and petroly, and this manioc sold by weight from Tsihombe, everything is there.

So they've made it.
Those people are successful.

Why have the others made it?
They began with chickens, and sold them for a ticket to a job (in the north), and earned money there. They came back and bought cattle with part and merchandise with part. When they go to market they need not hire but have their own sarete (ox cart) for transporting their goods. They may purchase goods at the market, and again it's their sarete which carries it all back to town, and their selling ever improves.

Do you hope to be like them?
My thoughts are about being like them, once I have [a ticket].

So you would like to be like them, what will you do to copy them?
To be like them. It's like me raising chickens, then turning those into sheep. Then we'd turn those into tickets and go.

You mean going north? How many years away did it take them to succeed?
When they go, and let's say they are fortunate, then it would only be a year away and they'd return. But if not fortunate, two years, or if bad, three years. Now if I went, the most I'd suffer being away is two years. Now once there your thoughts might change, and you decide to stay and endure three years or many more, but if you've made up your mind here that it's only your suffering that makes you want to go, then, saving all that you make, you should be able to return in a year and five months. And however small [profits] you've made you bring back.

Then migration is certainly a means to get out of poverty for you here?
Yes indeed when there's no rain, but when there's rain we can have a harvest here also. If there's rain here then it's like there, if the rain follows in a month and then again later, if the rain brings the crops to a good harvest, then whether emigrating or staying here, is equal. 

What do you have to say about agriculture, comparing now to 10 years ago?
There were good harvests before, we had good harvests of sorghum, and of corn, the fields were full of food; but last year, though we planted, it all died from no rain, this year also, the fields have no value, there's been no rain.

Pertaining to climate change, have you heard anything internationally about that climate change?
Enhm, (no).

Nothing about it?  You haven't heard anything about climate change?
I have heard that sometimes there is to be rain, according to the months, there are months that it will rain and months it will not. But this time they just followed one after another without rain, well we did get some rain but not enough. Now they say that not having received rain by Easter we cannot expect any more rain until the 26th (of July).

How do you here receive news, say something is happening in Tulear or in Tananarive, how do you hear of it?
That would be by those who have a radio. They'll say, "This is what the radio said, such and such is the news from Tananarive and wherever"; that was how it was for that cyclone, those with radios, having heard the news of the cyclone, broadcast that the fishermen should not go out yet.

Is there any other way of getting news?
No only the radio.

Can you recall what brought real joy to you in your live?
Me, wh... wh... wh... what [stuttering from excitement] brought joy to me - you see I was once crying for a child, all those of my age had one or two children, I alone had none, they advised me to get a blessing from the elders, and those on the mother's side. So I went to the elders asking for a blessing, so they gave the blessing, then, "Why hasn't my child come yet, though I've received the blessing?" "Hee! Just be patient, the child will come that you are hoping for." And truly it came unexpectedly, my first child, I was happy during pregnancy but truly joyful when the child was born, and all my elder relatives said they would present a sheep on the day I gave birth, so it was a time of great joy and we had a celebration.

Do you have anything to add, perhaps you'd express what you'd like to do in 10 years' time?
I can see myself in 10 years, that the rains have come, and we have possessions, and all kinds of seed are in the market, and saying, "Look at that seed, we've never tried, let's get some of that," and we do, and save it for the rain, and when it comes you extract all that seed from where it was stashed and plant it in the fields. Planting it when the rains come.

You look forward to farming in your future?
Yes, farming is the basis of our lives here, especially when the rains come, we all plant.

Thank you for giving your time for the conversation we've just had; it has been just short of an hour, but there are a few final questions I'd like to put to you.  Do you accept the interview we did, that it be included in that Poverty Report?
I accept.

Now on all that was said, lest there be anything said that we should not let out (publicly).
No, there is nothing.

What then... In whose name would you like this interview to be in?
In the name of... you mean I need to say a name?

It could be an individual or perhaps you have an association that you'd like to associate your interview with?
Then it'll be ALT.  

Do you accept to have pictures taken, that it can be included in this report?

Would you like the copy of what we've done here to be on paper or on CD?
That it be a CD.

Me... What is your name again:
Tsovalae Suzanne.

How old are you?

What's the name of your village here?

Thanks again for taking the time to do this interview, you didn't refuse but took part in this work, I extend a big thank you and maybe again sometime.

1/ Average exchange rate (1996 ariary = 1US$), November 2009, Interbank rate, source: