First times

The flight was good, without any major problem, delay, luggage loss or whatsoever. I’m so happy to go again on adventures. After a little hour and half of flight, I arrived in Antananarivo (Tana) midday. I saw again Tana, its red ground and its hills from the air.

We were first installed in a backpacker downtown, La Kaze des Volontaires. The owner was lovely but we were a bit packed in rooms. The first evening, I was lucky to eat a ‘mijoté de zébu’ (mijoté is a kind of ragout and zebu is linked to beef) and to drink a THB (Three Horses Beer, local beer). I was happy to meet again my Cooperation mates. Then I really needed energy to face administrative procedures because Tana is dense, polluted and anarchic.

 

Administrative matters

 

When we arrived, we had to apply to the fokontany, a moral local authority linked to the suburb and certify a copy of our passport by the city council before getting our permanent visa. People told me it could take a bit of time but honestly, it is nothing for me compared to the CAF (French Social Service) in Reunion island where you have to come at least at 7pm. Otherwise, you could have about 20 people already waiting for the opening at 7.30pm.

You could have more steps in Tana but they are efficient (at least, for the moment!).

Then we had to get Malagasy ID photos for the permanent visa application. They are larger than usual, taking the top part of the shoulders.

We had safety and health briefings from French institutions. Clearly, I’m more concerned about health than safety. Safety advices are pretty similar than the travelling ones: respecting local people and their way of doing things, not going out at night and not going where we told not to. On the other hand, the doctor gave us a list of diseases we could be exposed where we are currently living, a bit outside from the city, in Itaosy. Malaria _which by the way is not concerning us_ is a joke next to plague, rabies (both deadly if not treated quickly) and bilharziose. However, in my case, pollution and dust are more problematic.

 

Transportation

 

I already experienced Malagasy taxis when I came in 2006 and I knew about car conditions. And it was pretty similar to the last time: quite folkloric! Tana taxis are usually old and would never pass controls. In 2006, my taxi (a French Deux Chevaux) stopped in the middle of the ride for a quite refuel: the driver went out of the car and grabbed a plastic bottle in the car door and we beat the road again, as if nothing happened! This time, I had more time to detail different kind of taxis and their specificities: air system (in Reunion island and probably in Africa and South America, old buses were called ‘car courant d’air’ which means open air buses), concrete bits and pieces… The safety belt, when existing, is most of the time impossible to pull. Lights, when existing, are weak. But I’ve never felt it was my last ride as taxi drivers have a solid self-confidence and/or resignation.

I also took the bus. It is quite folkloric and I really enjoyed the experience. Buses have a small cardboard indicating their destination in the front windshield. At the back of the bus, a ‘receveur’ (someone collecting money to pay the ride) is running behind the bus when slowing down for collecting new passengers. Then, you have to quickly get in as the bus could be still going forward. Have a seat wherever you can. As Malagasy people are thin and small, I’m not designed to fit in their seat. My knees were touching the front seat. It could also be dangerous to get out of the bus as it is still moving! Passengers are packed into buses but at least, the atmosphere is much better than Parisian metros.

Other road users are zebu carts. They appear stunning to me as zebus are proud cattle with shiny hair and hooves tapping on cobblestones. We are living a Tana suburb called Itaosy where the first Madagascar tarred road. Tana is making me think of Paris by its density, pollution (except Tana is coming first) and its spreading.

 

Exhaustion

 

I really enjoy my first times in Tana even if I’m exhausted. We had a lot to do but it is more that time has a different value in here. Going to one place to another can take hours for few kilometers. Traffic is insane and you take the same time driving, busing or walking. Roads are a shocking condition but the main problem is that you only have one road. Someone told us that the city was built for a maximum of 500 000 people. Today, 3 millions are living in Tana.

Then exhaustion is part of the expatriation. First times are tough: administration, language, new marks (space, cultural, weather with cold, bright sun and height).

Physically, it is very tiring: walking a lot (Tana and its suburbs are hilly), carrying a lot (installation, big shopping), cold so the body is burning more (and we have no heating), being careful of not bringing back bugs (so procedures before going inside the house and same about veggies). I’m probably also tired because of a flu recently caught. I got light asthma linked to efforts and can get bronchitis but I should ok. I will get a mask as soon as possible. We walked 30 minutes to go shopping and breathing was a bit difficult. Excitation of the arrival gone, two nights in the backpacker and a continuous vigilance are tiring me.

Anyway, I will find the pace.

 

The neighborhood

 

We are living in Itaosy, a semi-rural area. We had a look around. There is a main cobblestone road, a pretty church, a quarry almost done, tombstones along the road, children sledging in a basin on a rocky slop, songe (a kind of potato) fields with 50cm holes and other vegetables, tiny shops along the road where you can get veggies, eggs, meat… You can see mountains faraway. The sky is clear from 8pm.

 

Working

 

I cannot wait starting working. I should meet my employers this week to know more about my missions and hours. I need to know exactly when I will work as I had to be back home before 5pm for safety reasons.

I have really basic notions of Malagasy language but I cannot wait to be able to speak properly and discover more of this fascinating culture. For now, I don’t get a word of what street market sellers are saying to me when I’m buying my kilo of sweet potatoes. But I love these first times in a foreign country. New language, new currency, new marks, new culture… I’m pretty sure it is helping out the brain to build these new connections for slowing down the ageing process!

Then, I’m really lucky to be a residency where Malagasy is the main language and the opportunity to get fresh milk (still warm!) every morning. Moreover, this residency is applying an environmental policy (waste reduction, good water management, solar energy) which is fitting with my personal values.

The other great luck is to be close from Charlotte Rabesahala, Malagasy anthropologist. We had the opportunity to discuss a bit and I know it is a great privilege.

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