A Malagasy Story

This is a Malagasy Story.

In March 1947, a Malagasy couple  is happily expecting a 5th child. The husband is a pediatrician/public health officer who is often dispatched all over Madagascar to monitor health and nutrition program. His wife stays at home to care for the children and that year, to make sure her pregnancy goes as planned. But 1947 is also the year when the movement for independence in Madagascar  was severely repressed by France causing somewhere between 30,000 to 90,000 deaths depending on which historians you choose to believe.

Given the circumstances and the induced stress, the delivery came 2 months earlier than planned. Still, the baby boy was as healthy as it could be. The couple was sometimes struggling to make ends meet and had to change residence often. The husband was a patriot, patriot enough to pen a song that was on the short-list of potential national anthem when Madagascar declared its independence in 1960.

The young boy grew up in a happy family. He was on the skinny side and a bit shy. But he was good at school and wanted to go into medicine, like his dad. Despite losing his mother to illness at 16,  he managed to enter medical school where he was good enough to be awarded  a scholarship to  pursue his studies in Marseilles, France. There he meets his future wife, marry her and they have a baby girl.  He manages to fulfill his dream of becoming a heart surgeon, the disease that took his mother's life. His father also died the year of his wedding. He gets training with some of the top heart surgeon in France and it'd be a matter of time before he gets to work his own surgeries. The call from home was persistent though. He was active with the Malagasy student association in France and vow like many other, to go home to contribute to the growth of the nation.

Hope was in the air, Madagascar was struggling because after following a socialist political agenda, the nation was trying to make a severe shift towards liberalization and open market. The transition is not smooth and staple  products are often in short supply, a situation that seem to plague Madagascar periodically, until now.

Unfortunately, hope for a strong development to carry a solid  public health system quickly fizzled. The situation at public hospital degenerated rapidly and as it is still the case today, private clinics are the only places where one can expect decent surgeries to be performed. Basic materials are just not available in the public ones. The lack of reasonable health infrastructure hit  close to home when many relatives, especially  a young nephew passed away because the resources were just not available. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence for most Malagasies. Death is a common occurrence, like a distant relatives, showing up regularly to family reunions. It is now the end of the 80's and the country was still trying to extract itself from the cycle of poverty, debt and structural adjustment.  In the meantime, his wife, also a pediatrician and public health officer like his dad, put together a series of successful local child health programs that caught the eye of international organisations who offered her to start similar programs in other countries.

After long deliberations, they decided that leaving the country again is the best chance to provide an opportunity of their two children to pursue their studies overseas and get a chance at a career that was limited had they stayed at home. So they try to find assignments in the same countries abroad, while the children are pursuing studies in schools in the western world. Finding assignments in the same places was not an easy feat but they figured out somehow to both be in Cote d'Ivoire, Niger and the Caribbean at the same time, in various capacity related to health but the dream of doing heart surgeries were long gone since leaving France.

It's been a strange journey for the shy kid born in the Fianaratsoa region, from the thrill of top notch medical surgeries, to the patriotic return , the ensuing disappointment and disillusion shared with many others over the direction that Madagascar has taken, the departure yet again and now, on the eve of coming back where it all started.

If you ask him, he'd probably tell you that if he had to, he will do it all over again, in the exact same manner. He had a good life, saw his children travel across the world and he will get to tell  all of the journey  to his parents whom will be honored this year by his brother and sisters at a common Malagasy ritual called famadihana. It's a journey made of exhilarating moments of joy and  fortunate opportunities but it is also filled with a few disappointments and in the backdrop of a country still marred in poverty, political turmoil and a very uncertain future, far from the vision his father and himself hoped to see one day.

That story is the story of my father. I figure I will write it  because he is way too busy and too self-aware to share the story of his life. He thinks blogging is a tad too self-centered for him and he is probably right. I apologize for outing him in this manner but I feel that his story, on the eve of father's day, is worth sharing because there are choices that one makes as a parent and one never knows sure whether they were the right ones, the "what coulda, shoulda been" that keeps one up at night  

Now a new generation  is faced with the same questions, the same conundrum: how can one contribute in the most efficient way  to our country's development and in the same time,  balance it with a fulfilling personal life. It is  the dilemma of the diaspora of nations stricken with the lowest level of development, the elephant in the room, the call of the homeland but the knowledge that maybe, given the global context, we may be of more help by staying away and helping from outside.

I am thankful to my parents for getting me the point where I can consider the different options to do this, and do this right.  Not that it is an easy task by any means.

Happy Father's Day to all the fathers out there, thanks for trying your darnest to provide us with opportunities.




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