Sabomasy sits in front of his one-room hut and watches his children prepare supper. The older ones work steadily beside the pot of boiling water while the young ones wait by the fire, quietly anticipating their one meal of the day.
By now, they are accustomed to the bitter flavor of the weeds that grow around their mud hut. It is all there is to eat.
Each day, the children squat alongside the pathway and pull native weeds from dry soil. They gather them onto a burlap sack and strip the leaves and boil them in water. When it is a mushy, acrid stew, Sabomasy, his wife, and his seven children gather together and eat in silence.
Right now, Sabomasy is relaxing while his children cook. The 55-year-old father has been working since dawn to find firewood in the forest. When he gathers enough, he will sell it in town. Today, there is no firewood. Tonight, he will eat dinner, go to sleep, and rise at dawn to keep searching.
“I take my cart to the forest and collect firewood,” he said. “I spend four days looking for and collecting wood. Even if the quantity is small, I will go to town to sell what I can.”
To collect firewood, Sabomasy must walk at least one hour. If there is no wood, he will keep walking. After four days of this, he will walk three hours to the nearest town. If he is lucky, he will sell a cartload of wood for the equivalent of $.30 cents. With the money he earns, he will buy a little rice and cassava.
If he is unlucky, he will walk three hours back home emptyhanded.
“When I can’t buy food, I ask for food from my relatives,” he said. “When there is no food, my children will eat weeds.”
The poverty is taking its toll. The children are thin and weak, and their bodies are malnourished.
“The soil is usually good, but there is not enough rain here,” Sabomasy said. “When there is no rain, some of the seeds don’t even sprout. The ones that do don’t grow tall enough.”
As is often the case, hunger is destroying both the social fabric and the future hope that keeps families in crisis afloat.