Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Cost of Things

(Prices averaged in US Dollars)

At the grocery store:

Special K Cereal: $10 per box

Organic Yogurt: $15 per package of 4

Diapers: $1 each (per diaper, not per package)

Shampoo: $7 per bottle

Toilet Paper: $1 per roll

At the market today I bought all of this for less than $4.

1 kg green beans

1 large bunch of green onions

1 large bunch of cilantro

7 medium green peppers

10 tomatoes

15 potatoes

10 carrots

8 lemons

17 small onions

5 garlic

4 limes

1 large grapefruit

My first trip to the local grocery store was a huge shock. Not because of how cheap things were, but rather how outrageously overpriced they were! I asked the woman I was shopping with how the local people could afford to buy groceries when the average person makes between $1 and $2 a day and she informed me that the average person doesn’t shop at the grocery store. The average person buys all their goods from the open markets. Simply stated: grocery stores are for the rich.

Local housekeepers earn between $30-$50 per month. They cook 1 meal, do laundry including line drying and ironing everything--even underwear, mop floors daily, hand wash dishes, buy fresh produce from the local market, clean bathrooms, etc., etc.

There is a huge disparity between the wealthy and the poor and there is virtually no middle class here in Madagascar. Things we take for granted in the U.S. are novelties in Madagascar. As you can tell, the necessities (fresh produce, rice, etc.) are extremely cheap. Since Madagascar is an island, commodities which are not manufactured here must be shipped in and are therefore prohibitive and not realistically accessible for the average Malagasy.

What about diapers, toilet paper, and shampoo? The basics, right? When I asked this question, I was told that they either aren’t used or are used sparingly. Remember, running water and electricity are luxuries that most Malagasy people go without everyday. That said, I’m even more thankful after having a baby that these are considered basic needs in my home country and I don’t have to survive and try to raise a family in such tough conditions. I realize that I’m not as tough as I once thought.

Heading to the airport a few days ago to pick up our stroller, I watched a group of men strain to push a load of lumber up a hill and down the road on a cart. I’ve also seen this with rice, vegetables, etc. I asked the man who was with me why they push heavy loads in a cart instead of throwing it in a car/truck and driving it to the destination. He simply said that people were cheaper than cars. This was almost incomprehensible to me, a U.S. citizen who places such a high price on human life and labor. But here, it is common to see men and women straining under heavy loads all day just to earn a few dollars. It was sad to hear it stated so bluntly. I hope one day with all the developing efforts being made, the basics will one day be supplied and life for the Malagasy people will be not necessarily better, but maybe a little easier.

However, one of the greatest things you’ll see here is absolutely free…

Smiles! Worn by almost everyone you meet. Given without reserve. I’m thankful for the simple lesson the Malagasy people have taught me about generosity and simplicity.


  1. wow, $1 per diaper. too bad you didn't have any cloth ones to take with you! That would have saved some mega $$... or did you pack enough to get you home????

    I'm glad you are having a great time. It seems like we are all going to learn a lesson from you guys being there.

  2. Well, cloth daipers, in my experience here in STP, don't save that much money and cost a lot in effort. First off, you have to buy the 6 dozen to last you through a reasonable wash cycle (it takes much longer without a dryer - maybe 3 days including drying and ironing) plus plastic pants. It costs easily $300 right there. Then, you have to buy special cleaners ($$$) or bleach...then, you have to pay for the electricity ($$$) to wash, and iron (to prevent putsy flies) them...and all that plus the effort = not that much of a least not in the short term...

  3. Jessica, we brought about about 150 with us, but thought we'd buy more here because we assumed everything was cheaper. Bad idea! So we haven't had to buy any as of yet. We're trying to make them stretch, but we'll have to buy them in another week probably. Ouch!

    Kristi, it's good to hear about the cloth diaper experience in Africa. I had no idea so much more work went into cloth diapers abroad. I guess we're stuck either way then ;-)

  4. Wow....guess I would have to learn to cook with LOTS of fresh stuff!!
    We are truely spoiled here in the US....