The Citizen.

Auburn, New York • LIFE IN MADAGASCAR •

Lake Life
for a divorce as infertility here is legal grounds for dissolving a marriage. Not only has she been with this guy since she was 15, she is also college-educated, teaches Sunday school, is hardworking and speaks three languages. But in Madagascar, if you cannot produce children, you are worthless. When my boyfriend, Rija, asked me if I would like to meet his father, I was happy that he wanted to introduce me, but thought little of it. Later, I learned that this is actually the fisehoana, or “the showing, and ” implies a serious marriagebound relationship and in some families, engagement. They never teach you this stuff during the embassy cultural orientations. I know how to shake hands and to express a polite greeting, but I didn’t know that I’d become engaged by Malagasy standards. Although my Malagasy language skills are weak, I did understand Rija’s father talking about his “six children. He was ” referring to his three children and their spouses, of which I’d suddenly been included. When I met Rija’s grandparents, they also talked about the “six, but ” this time, I feigned ignorance. When Rija walked out of the room, his grandmother pointed to him and motioned like she was rocking a baby. I understood this to mean, “I rocked him in my arms when he was a baby. I ” nodded my head enthusiastically. Afterwards, I learned that she had actually asked me if I was going to have his babies. No wonder she made the sign of the cross. Rija’s grandfather asked me if I was Catholic. I was so glad to get at least one question right. When a couple starts dating, the man gives a tapi-maso (bribe money) to the girl’s brothers for the privilege of dating their sister and so that they “block their eyes” to the man stealing their sister. After informal engagement comes vodiondry, literally the “rear of the ship, or the ” most valuable part. This is the formal engagement ceremony where the families, along with their mpikabary (negotiator) meet and define the terms of the marriage, including the dowry. Today, the dowry is mostly symbolic, usually one piece of every denomination of Malagasy currency (about $50); some families purposely set a high dowry to block a marriage. Often bigger and more serious than the actual wedding, the families’ acknowledgment of a relationship means more than either the church or state’s approval as it is the union of the families. Once the man is grilled about his intentions and the families come to an agreement, the man can take the woman to his home to live — shocking in a devoutly religious country. After engagement, the next stage in Madagascar is the weddings. Yes, plural. Couples have multiple “wedding” ceremonies. My American friend who married a Malagasy has racked up various ceremonies here and will also do a church wedding in the U.S. There’s the civil ceremony for the state, the religious ceremony for the church and then a separate reception. This celebration is not for the faint of heart, as despite limited disposable income, the Malagasy produce lavish and long recep-

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Dating is just the tip of cultural anomalies
Since Madagascar is a poor country, most folks have little disposable income for dating. No fancy restaurants here to impress your date. And unlike the United States, where if you’re really not sure what to do on a date, or just don’t like the Rhonda J. person, you go Bent to the movies — there are no cinemas here. Instead, the primary dating activity is mitsangatsangana, or strolling. A really good date is going for an ice cream cone. Forget the stereotypical American “third date, as most people live ” with their parents. Although, if you are seriously dating, you’re expected to be having sex. Malagasy believe that it’s good to get pregnant before marriage to prove that you’re fertile. This is not, and I repeat not, a cultural practice that I subscribe to. My assistant recently found out that she cannot have children and her husband’s family is now pushing tions. One that I recently attended lasted more than nine hours, with an extensive buffet, a DJ, and two well-known bands, complete with backup dancers. Another one was even longer and the program included giving speeches, singing, eating, dancing and then repeating that sequence. Commitment-phobes beware as relationships in Madagascar move quickly. I have experienced multiple panic attacks about this cultural difference. Another American friend who has dated her Malagasy boyfriend for five years is now introduced as “Mrs. followed by her ” boyfriend’s last name. In Malagasy language, she explains that her boyfriend is her “husband, ” but they are not married and didn’t even do the vodiondry. Talk about confusing. Well, I can tell you that the moment someone calls me Mrs. Rija Rabetsivahiny, a name that I can barely spell, much less pronounce, I’m out of here!
Rhonda J. Bent is an Auburn native living in Madagascar and working at the U.S. Embassy in Antananarivo

• L O O K B AC K AT T H E L A K E S •


Port Byron grads make a difference
July 11, 1950
Migrant Workers formed an African-American 4-H Club in King Ferry. Composed of 80 members, the King Ferry Champions visited Cornell University 4-H Club headquarters. The group will undertake projects in gardening, homemaking, sewing, canning, dressmaking, swine and poultry care and hopes to continue its work after returning to Florida at summer’s end.

July 11, 1930
President Hoover spurns Senate Naval request. President to withhold secret documents to drawing up treaty.

July 11, 2000
The county should soon receive money from a statewide grant to help fight child abuse. The county’s $40,000 grant, part of a $1.8 million awarded statewide from the state Office of Children and Family Services, will go to the Cayuga County Child Sexual Abuse Task Force. “It will certainly help victims of child abuse in this county,” said David Gould, State Police investigator and task force chairman. The task force consists of 25 people representing 14 agencies and handles all sexual abuse cases for children under 18 years old, Gould said.

July 11, 2005
Joni Lincoln squinted down Mentz Church Road with her camera ready, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Rev. Dan Benedict riding in on horseback. After a few minutes, she and others line up to see his arrival were surprised to see him flanked by several cars, for safety, of course. But it didn’t make the perfect picture she was hoping to capture. “I didn’t want cars in my picture, but I guess I can’t avoid it,” said Lincoln, historian for Conquest. Benedict's transportation was the standard way pastors known as circuit riders went from church to church nearly 200 years ago. — Compiled by Linda Simmons

Call for Volunteers
• The Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge seeks volunteers to staff its visitor center information desk and the Lodge Nature Store on weekends. Training and orientation will be provided. Some knowlege of birds and wildlife is helpful, but not necessary. The center also seeks “roaming naturalists” to speak with visitors on the refuge grounds. Wildlife knowledge is required for that position. For more information, call 568-5987 ext. 228. • Mercy Health and Rehabilitation Center is seeking volunteers to work as wheelchair transporters, gift shop cashiers and friendly visitors. Junior volunteers are also welcome. For more information, call 2530351 ext. 310. • The Auburn/Cayuga County Homeless Task Force will conduct a point-in-time count of the area’s homeless population. The task force seeks volunteers to work in groups of four and sign up for four-hour shifts between 4 a.m. and midnight to assist with the count. For more information, call 253-8451 ext. 234. • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology seeks volunteers to participate in NestWatch, a project in which people peek into bird nests and collect data on eggs and hatching. Participants can learn about the program on the website for NestWatch, which was developed by the lab in collaboration with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. For more information, visit • The Ward W. O’Hara Agricultural Museum in Owasco is seeking volunteers. Anyone with experience in craftsmanship — potters, weavers, gardeners — as well as anyone who can do landscaping, painting, cooking, curating, greeting and more is sought. For more information, call 252-7644. To have your volunteer opportunities listed, send an e-mail to with ‘Volunteer Opp’ in the subject line

With the hazy days of summer approaching and graduations behind us, I wanted to dedicate this month’s column to education at Port Byron. The class of 2010 Dawn marks the Roe 138th annual commencement and I’m sure with all eyes on the future, few have given thought to the value of what our students receive. We continue to be blessed with a strong direction in educational opportunities for our students that reside in the towns of Throop, Conquest, Montezuma, Mentz, as well as the village of Port Byron. I am reminded of a similar conversation that I enjoyed with Mrs. Helen Emerson at this year’s alumni banquet. She eagerly shared that unless you visit other areas of the country, you do not ever realize how fortunate we are. Many areas in this country still have excessively high rates of illiteracy and for those individuals, their opportunities will be far different than what is within arm’s reach for our recent graduates. With this in mind, I would like to share what became of the very first graduating class at Port Byron. Much to my surprise, in 1872 we didn’t have a class at all, instead we graduated a single student named Louis Brown Root. The school at this time was named the Port Byron Free Academy. It was one of the few places of secondary education in our region. Root then entered Cornell University and upon completion in 1875, he relocated to Goshen, Ind., where he became a teacher. He would also serve as coun-

ty surveyor for Elkhart County, Ind. He then focused on civil engineering and helped to design the Kansas City Park System. He also became superintendent of Mount Washington Cemetery at Kansas City. Right from the starting gate, we are reminded that the accomplishments of Port Byron graduates have been far reaching. That being said, I am particularly fascinated at the changes that have occurred in our education system since its earliest beginnings. The Port Byron Chronicle provides a glimpse of this change. In 1912, the paper states that Regents exams were held in mid-August but were limited for the benefit of select groups of students, being: • Students that expected to teach before the next period of exams. • Candidates for admission to training classes. •Members in training classes who received special permission to enter the examination and • Pupils passing preliminary subjects who desired to enter academic classes in the fall. The Regents classes of 1912 included exams in elementary algebra, civics, English for teachers, psychology, school management, elementary English, physics, elementary U.S. history, nature study, agriculture, spelling, physiology and hygiene, biology, elementary botany, elementary zoology, reading methods, methods of teaching, arithmetic, American history, geography, history of Great Britain and Ireland, ancient history, elementary representation, history of education and school law. What a far different time than what we know education to be today. Even when I graduated in 1981, there were no requirements for foreign

Photo provided

Commencement book for the Port Byron class of 1919. Class colors were purple and cream with graduation exercises held at the Presbyterian church.

language. Anyone who knew me then knows that my focus at that time was anything involving music. When I was attending Ithaca College, I decided as an elective to enroll in German 101, to aide my teaching in chorus. Little did I realize that it is recommended to have an intro class first. The very first day, the teacher asked us to go one by one around the room, to state our name, where we were from and a little about ourselves — in German! I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t asked to go first, it gave me time to plan how best to handle this, so I told the truth. I simply told the teacher that I was unable to fulfill the assignment. When he asked, “What do you mean?” I replied, “I don’t understand. ” Well, let’s just say that the reaction from him was very unexpected. He whipped out his pointer and started slapping the chalkboard as he yelled “You will pay attention in my class. Talk about ” wanting to crawl under the desk! Eventually the teacher came to understand that I had never had any foreign language, which was shocking to him. As the class progressed, the teacher praised me for having

perfect diction but honestly, as a musician, I was merely repeating how it sounded — I had no comprehension of what I was saying. That memory of my first day of German 101 is as fresh in my mind today as the day it happened. Just one more example of how education requirements continue to change. Today all students must take a foreign language. I extend my congratulations to the class of 2010 and all the students of our region. You will have challenges but no matter where your future takes you, appreciate the blessings of your good education. Much in life is what you make it and remember that for every action, there is a reaction; so make your actions count. Port Byron graduates have already made a difference around the world. Now it is your time to make a difference as you embark on your own journey. May you succeed in your dreams and always remain committed to lifelong learning.
Dawn Roe is Port Byron and Mentz historian and a member of the Owasco Chapter NSDAR. She can be reached at 776-8446 or Visit her Web site at

Thank you.
Car wash benefits Tyburn Ski Club
Committee/Willard Memorial Chapel Board of Directors and staff would like to thank Upstate Paving Company and Tim Locastro for Thank you to Applebee’s who generously donated a car wash Sat- their continued support and assisurday to Tyburn Academy Ski Club tance at Willard Memorial Chapel. The support of our local busistudents. ness leaders is a vital factor in helpWe are very grateful to the many ing us to protect the quality of life kind supporters (especially the man in our area through community in the white truck) who donated awareness and preservation activigenerously to the students’ fund, ties. which made the event rewarding for all the Tyburn workers. You made KATHY WALKER our day! Auburn
Executive director

tion, the East Middle School Odyssey of the Mind team would like to thank everyone in the community for their support. To all who sent in donations, to all who helped at the fundraisers, to all who helped coordinate the team’s trip, and to the East Middle School administration, SGO and PTO, we thank you. Together, the Auburn community can make sure that Auburn’s first trip to the World Tournament will not be its last. Thank you.


Local business leaders support Willard Chapel
The Community Preservation

Odyssey of the Mind a community venture
With the completion of the school year and the final performance of their award winning solu-


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