I first noticed them last Wednesday when I was fetching water at mid-day. The sky was bright and cloudless, and tiny shadows began to flit past in the dirt. Since nothing had taken a swan dive into my head, I initially thought they were the shadows of a flock of tiny birds – not that I had ever seen anything like that before in my town. But the shadows kept moving across the dirt basketball court in numbers too large to represent one measly group of birds. So, I put down my bucket of water and squinted up at the sky.
“Locusts!” I thought, “So it is true…”
Since March, news reports have been floating around the internet about a locust plague ravaging Madagascar. These distant writers have been predicting famine and portraying a pretty dark situation. Apparently “100 swarms across Madagascar, made up of about 500 billion ravenous locusts” have accounted for the worst locust infestation in 60 years. Concerned friends and family back home shared the articles with me and other Peace Corps volunteers located here, but most of us would read the articles only to glance away from my computer screen, look outside, and think “locusts? What locusts?”
To be fair, it started much further south of the capitol, near where I and the other PCVs I see most frequently live. Madagascar is a huge country with climates almost as varied as the United States. So we mostly wrote it off as something that was happening in that far-away southern part of Madagascar. But then, a few weeks ago, a friend of mine about 300km to the south of me outside of Fianaratsoa mentioned that the rumored locusts were floating about her town. Then, on Wednesday, they finally seemed to have made it to my town.
“Teacher, how do you say fanala?” one kid asked me in class later in the afternoon.
“Fanala,” he repeated and pulled a locust out of his backpack.
“Oh, locust. Are you going to eat that with your rice tonight?” I joked, sending the class into a fit of laughter.
“Yup,” he responded. Honestly, I don’t doubt he’s lying.
The thing is, while the rest of the world is anxiously watching to see if Madagascar will reach a famine, Madagascar is having a blast. Kids are out in the field at the sunniest parts of the day – when the locusts are most abundant – trying to catch as many as they can. Several vendors have popped up in my market selling them for 200 Ariary (about $0.10 USD) a cup. They’re apparently delicious.
“Are you going to eat locusts for your dinner tonight?” the woman at the photocopy shop asked me.
“I don’t know how to cook them,” I said (rather diplomatically, I thought).
“Easy, just fry them up in oil!”
Besides being able to eat them, harvest season is largely over, and the central highlands – which are the rice and vegetable belt of the country – weren’t hit as hard as the south. Meaning, from my non-expert opinion (let me repeat: I am no expert, I’m just a PCV / teacher), even though locusts are undoubtedly causing problems, famine in this region doesn’t seem to be as big a threat as the media is making it out to be. They have undoubtedly caused problems for the southern part of Madagascar, which is already too arid to grow the same amount of rice and produce as the central highlands and easily affected by natural disasters. However, in the highlands, the problem feels distant. Around Antsirabe at least, the media’s pessimistic opinion of the locusts doesn’t seem to match up with people’s talk of eating delicious locusts for dinner and kids jumping around trying to catch a few. It’s got me thinking, maybe I should try one?
Photos taken in Antanifotsy, Madagascar