We saw several species of wildlife in Madagascar, but one of the most common was vazaha homo decrepitus. Whereas mzungu, the term for a white person in Mayotte, has no particular connotation, vazaha in Malagasy comes with baggage. Though it can refer to any white person, often it means ‘old (or very old) white man with money, paying for the company (and more) of young Malagasy women.’ Now I’m not young myself, but some of the specimens we saw were as doddery as they come. Muriel, our hotel proprietor, put it rather amusingly: ‘When they leave France,’ she said, ‘they’re Paul Préboist, and when they get here they’re Paul Newman.’ I didn’t know Paul Préboist, a French actor who died in 1997, but all became clear when I googled him.
Unless the girls are under age (which happens) the issue here is less moral or legal than economic. Due to poor governance and political instability, Madagascar has stagnated for decades, making any specimen of vazaha homo decrepitus a very attractive proposition for a young woman who has nothing to sell but her body. Muriel was in two minds about it. On the one hand her hotel does well, as they congregate there for Sunday lunch, arriving on quads, their hair (when they have any) blowing in the wind. On the other, she said, they often behave towards their companions with detestable arrogance and contempt. Which makes it a human issue too.
The economy of Madagascar being unlikely to change any time soon, one can also look for the positives. For the girls (and their families) a level of financial comfort well above the average. And for the vazaha, when you look at the alternative mode of transport, what could be better than rejuvenation as Paul Newman on a quad?
As a footnote, and tying in with my interview of Adam’s Rib, here’s a quote from yesterday’s Guardian about men and women in ancient times, before economic differences upset the apple cart. Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.” Link to the full article here.