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