[Homestead] Some genuine feel-good news from Ponsan and Madagascarr

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Wed Sep 8 14:29:07 EDT 2004

Some good news in an increasingly vicious, overpopulated world---the 
tiny, dying French village of Ponsan restored to life and local 
population balance by importing Madagascar wives. A small minority of 
Madagascar women were badly abused, but for the majority, life is better.

The International Herald Tribune

Rebirth of a French farm village, via Madagascar
Natasha C. Burley/IHT IHT
Wednesday, September 08, 2004

PONSAN-SOUBIRAN, France Wheat and corn fields have nearly swallowed this 
tiny village in southwest France. With every local woman gone to marry 
elsewhere, the search for a wife has led its work-hardened farmers 
overseas. And while an African island may seem an unlikely source of 
romance for men born and bred in the shadow of the Pyrenees, their 
village is now intimately linked to, of all places, Madagascar.

Over the past decade, more than 20 women from fishing villages in 
northern Madagascar have arrived in Ponsan and its surrounding 
countryside to marry bachelor farmers. They came after one woman married 
a Frenchman from Ponsan and then told her friends. However businesslike 
the initial arrangements, many appear to have blossomed into thriving, 
loving relationships.

Ponsan-Soubiran, population 100, is lost between the cities of Toulouse 
and Auch; the butcher, baker, pharmacist and grocer no longer drive by, 
cellphone service is capricious and street names nonexistent. Like many 
French villages, it was dying for lack of women to farm the fields 
alongside the men. The solution came with Elizabeth Samina of the 
far-flung village of Ambeloagnambo. She met Gerard Bourbiaux, a gruff 
army captain from Ponsan, while he was stationed in Madagascar. At age 
34, she arrived with him in Ponsan in 1992 when he retired, and she soon 
wrote to a childhood friend, Jocelyne Mboty, with tales of her new life 
of luxury, of her husband, of France.

Samina put Philippe Cazes, an unmarried tobacco and corn farmer, in 
touch with Mboty. The two exchanged letters and photos for more than a 
year. Mboty arrived in France in January 1996, married Cazes in March 
and gave birth to their first child exactly one year later.

And so the pattern continued, as the village gradually embraced the 

“When the women arrived, no one wanted them here," said a retired 
farmer, Roger Roussel, 78. “They were strangers who didn't understand 
our life here. But they work hard, very hard, and now they belong."

In sharp contrast, he noted the native women of Ponsan: "They come back 
only for the funerals."

Mboty, now Jocelyne Cazes, eventually put two of her three sisters in 
touch with bachelors in Ponsan. Estelle Mboty, 28, arrived in 2002 to 
marry Serge Dasque, 32, another corn farmer. They have a baby son.

Adriana Mboty, another sister, 25, married in 2000 and has a newborn. 
Estelle works as a part-time massage therapist in thermal baths near 
Ponsan, and Adriana and Jocelyne work in their husbands' and neighbors' 
tobacco and raspberry fields.

The women from Madagascar are admired locally for their patience and 
willingness to take on the exhausting work of hand-picking crops. They 
also handle accounting for the family businesses, take care of their 
homes - often run-down farmhouses, renovated as finances permit - and 
mind the children.

Nestled behind the abandoned village church, the Cazes home is sheltered 
from the sun by thick walls. The air is cool and musty, and the 
furniture protected in plastic sheets. Vibrant paintings of Madagascar 
dot the walls.

Philippe Cazes is his wife's age. He is not ashamed of how he met her 
and speaks openly of the money he invested in her first trip to France, 
more than E950, or $1,200.

The women from Madagascar, a former French colony, began arriving in 
Ponsan well before long-distance match-making became commonplace via the 
Internet. Visa procedures have now tightened considerably due to the 
increase in marriages forged online, often to allow a partner arriving 
from another country to obtain a work permit.

Adriana says she would not have trusted a stranger she met online. "It 
worked for me because my sister already knew the man I was going to 
marry," she said. "She is his neighbor. She knew his habits, his 
lifestyle, whether he drinks, and so on. And so I believed her, and he 
is a good husband."

Estelle acknowledges that she met her husband through an arrangement. 
"There was an understanding of sorts," she said. "There was no mystery 
about what we wanted. I was not desperate, but I wanted a better life." 
Not all is rosy, however. A woman who identified herself only as Monique 
said she had arrived in France from Madagascar in 1998, only to find 
that her husband treated her “like a piece of property, even offering to 
share me with his friends after a party." She left her husband after he 
had an affair and is now seeking a divorce.

And then there are rumors. Christine Roussel, the French wife of a foie 
gras producer, relays gossip of trouble in some couples, including 
wife-beating. "If these women didn't work," she said, "they would not be 

But most of the Ponsan women appear to be content. “Vazaha,” as white 
men are known in Malgache, the primary local language in Madagascar, are 
still regarded there as choice prizes, and marriages like that of the 
Cazeses are something of a financial dream for those left behind.

Jocelyne Cazes and her friends each send about E125, or about $150, 
every few months to their families, whose livelihood consists of selling 
shellfish and tuna to exporters. This is a sizeable amount in 
Madagascar, where average income hovers around $290 a year, according to 
the World Bank.

She has returned to Madagascar only once since 1996. She says she feels 
no regret, and laughs softly as she cradles her youngest child, David, a 
plump toddler. “I knew I was leaving for good. My life is here now, and 
although I miss the food and the music, the hardest thing is the cold. I 
hate the cold. My husband almost killed me when he saw the heating bill 
for the first winter."

As for relations with the local residents, she insists that “there was 
almost no racism when I arrived. Of course, people were curious and 
skeptical; I was, too. But I would never wish to lose this comfort, this 

To recall the taste of home, the women organize a large party once a 
year in Ponsan with spouses and children included. More than 50 people 
gather every summer, feasting on achas (fried meatballs with sour 
vegetables) and other specialties, and dancing late into the night.

The taste of France is a big part of life here, too. The Cazeses are 
known for their raucous dinner parties, huge gatherings fueled by 
lashings of grilled duck, locally raised, and carafes of slightly sweet 
white wine.

Meanwhile, the population of Ponsan is growing for the first time in 
decades. While the village is too small to have a school of its own, 
interracial children now make up 30 percent of the tiny primary school 
in Magnoac, a neighboring village.

Summer bals - open-air discos traditional in rural areas - are popular 
again. In August, a hunters' lunch went on for three lazy hours, uniting 
30 men in the hamlet over grilled deer and stewed duck, one of many 
social events planned for the next few months.

For the first time in a generation, the inhabitants say, Ponsan is 
buzzing, rescued from what seemed a certain, if quiet, death.

More information about the Homestead mailing list