I opened the Facebook message from my country coordinator, Pastor Kirsten. Her message was short.
Climate change and Vezo.
A link to a CNN news story followed. I decided to wait to open the link. I claimed I should use my limited time with wifi to catch up on other business. Perhaps I knew the story would hit too close to home.
I live with Madame Jeannette, a Malagasy woman of the Vezo tribe. Vezo identify themselves as fisherpeople. They know the sea, and they know fish. Mama Jeannette proudly claims her Vezo roots. She speaks Vezo dialect, and she happily exclaims each time a pop artist on the television sings in Vezo dialect, too. She instructs me in the way of Vezo. We will wear white to the funeral; that is what Vezo do. We will wear our lamba hoany like this. That is the Vezo way. Even at dinner Mama Jeannette’s Vezo pride shines through. Oh, I will eat that fish. It has many dangerous small bones, but the Vezo, they know how to eat it. The volunteer before me returned to the U.S. with the title of a Vezo-American. I have been reassured. You are learning the Vezo way. You will be Vezo-American, too. I would be honored.
Some weeks after Pastor Kirsten sent the link, I watched the video and read the accompanying news article. My heart broke. The report tells the story of a Vezo family - a family who makes their living from the sea. However, climate change challenges their livelihood. The beautiful and sustaining coral which borders the southern tip of Madagascar is suffocating under rising temperatures. The featured Vezo family is struggling to survive. Dead coral means no fish. No fish means no money and no food.
As I watched the video, I felt a connection to the Vezo family. I could understand the dialect they spoke behind the subtitles. Their manner of living - even the pots and bowls they use - are familiar. The fish caught by the family could sit in the market near my house. I may eat it for dinner.
Yet, as I watched the clip, I could not deny the other half of my identity. I am American, too. I am a citizen of the United States, a nation which produced over ¼ of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions over the last 150 years. I own a car and rarely carpool. I drive because it will “just be easier.” I struggle to decide which electronic device to charge first. My laptop is dead, but so is my phone. I overconsume. The Vezo woman featured in the story, Lydia, has only ridden in a car once. In the article, Lydia says she feels as if the dying coral is a curse sent from abroad - from places like America. American - the other half of my identity.
The Vezo are not the only people facing poverty and starvation as a result of climate change. Madagascar and many southern African countries currently face an extreme drought attributed to climate change. Food shortages abound. In the United States, we often talk about the consequences of climate change. It is one thing to talk about melting polar ice caps. It is another thing to recognize that our poor environmental choices contribute to starvation.
I encourage you to watch the video on Vezo and climate change. I have included the link below. I also encourage you to reflect on your daily choices. What can you do to reduce your consumption of fossil fuels? How can you limit your impact on the dying coral? Yes, the Vezo hold a special place in my heart. However, they are your brothers and sisters, too; we are all connected. We occupy this connected, beautiful, fragile, and aching world together.
When the coral disappears, so will they
Story by John D Sutter, CNN