I'm in the middle of packing for my departure to Madagascar.
I've the great priviledge to go to Madagascar under the Regional Cooperation, a specific French program promoting co-development in the world. I'm part of the program in the Indian Ocean. I'm very proud of reinforcing the bond between French-speaking communities and promoting French republic values. This mission is a big deal for me because of this timely opportunity.
I had an opportunity in here, Reunion island but it was not fitting my expectations.
I'm sailing towards new personal and professionnal adventures. Teaching is a big challenge for me because of responsabilities and I really hope that I will reach my objectives.
All papers are done, as vaccines and all items ticked in the list. I'm taking some time to go on mountains here. Today, I was in Plaine-des-Palmistes and I visited the Domaine des Tourelles. Late nineteen century, this place was a posh holiday retreat for rich families from the coast. They were coming during summer time.
I was blown away by Laurent Pantaléon's videos; his way of filming is so beautiful.
I cannot wait to go to Madagascar!
I'm only few hours from Madagascar, my missions and my new life.
I'm prepared about facing difficulties. I remember when I was in Antananarivo in 2006; the crowd was there, even at 10pm. A lot of taxi drivers were waiting, pushing and calling for passengers. I also remember beggars down the hotel. But the most vivid memory was red soil: children playing soccer onto this red soil, running and so happy.
I only stayed for few days. Misery, diseases and injustices were right onto your face but I humblely wanted to feel the heartbeat of Antananarivo. Of course, few days are nothing to pretend knowing a city and even more a country. But I felt that the city and I had a secret story together: invisible, in the air of the city.
See you tomorrow Antananarivo, after 10 years!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I should officially be introduced to the Centre de presse Malagasy (Malagasy Press Centre) next week. My terrible flu is finally gone. It tired me so much! I’m starting to cope with the weather and altitude. I’ve been less exposed to air pollution this week but we will see how things will go later on.
The meaning of cooperation
Some people from the Cooperation had to abort their mission and it is quite sad for them as they had not even seen their location, sometimes on the other side of the ‘island’ (Madagascar is an island as Australia is). People of this program are unemployed and living on minimum social welfare. We all have almost no savings, really few bucks on our bank accounts and for some of us, feeling vulnerable. However, we all have a great motivation, which can be for some of us, personal objectives.
On the other hand, some look like they are really blossoming and it is beautiful to witness.
Cooperation has a strong meaning for some people. It is working in a sustainable way and giving meaning to their lives. We are helping each other in what could appear as difficulties. In my opinion, this is cooperation.
This is also co-developing. We are offering our workforce and trying to be part of the plan in respecting Malagasy people who are gently accepting us here.
François, my partner, is really enjoying his mission. As Technical Director of Malagasy association Miaro (run by and for Malagasy people), he is currently assessing the situation and exploring surrounding areas to be able to build an action plan. His working areas are water and waste management and farming practices. He will put in place information sessions about these topics in the village. In the field, concrete action: everything he loves!
However, concrete issues are influencing my choices.
I’m living in Itaosy, few kilometres from the city centre (about 7 kms) and my two missions will be downtown. It could easily take 2 hours every day to go working, except if I can manage to go on low peak hours. I have no problem waking up early. In Paris, I was doing press reviews and woke up around 4am. In Adelaide, Australia, I had big days: waking up at 5am, riding my bicycle, starting cookery studies at 7ish, finishing around 4pm, starting working at the restaurant around 7pm and finishing at 10 or 11pm.
Itaosy-City Centre is the worst and slowest way all around Antananarivo. Otherwise, I will have to pay for two leases and share an accommodation. Some people gave me this advice...
Time in traffic jam is not really bothering me, especially if I’ve got a good book. I was used to spend the same amount of time when I was living in Parisian suburbs. On the other hand, I can hardly catch up with pollution.
There is some electricity cut sometimes. The other night, we were in the dark for two hours. People told us beforehand and we had candles all over the flat.
We visited the IMRA (Malagasy Applied Research Institute), quite close from our accommodation. We went along rice field where duck were grazing and playing. I really enjoyed being in more spacious place, seeing a further horizon. I already felt sad about that in Paris: hardly being able to see more than one meter forward. There were always a wall, concrete, people. The difference in here is that you have road hazards, waste, chicken and potential umbrellas (I’m quite tall, especially for Malagasy people) in addition to the following points.
It was good to escape the ‘busyness’ of the main road.
We visited the Albert Rakoto Ratsimamanga museum, few rooms in a house, in the middle of a gorgeous garden. It was a very informative tour about a great figure of Malagasy History. This man had international recognition for his scientific works. He had his A level at 16, became doctor at 22, discovered vitamin C and composed over 40 drugs! He studied then monitored students at the prestigious Ecole de Medecine in Paris, fought during the Second World War and was an honorary member of UNESCO. A great inspiration for Malagasy youth!
The garden was nice even if plants were a bit dried because of winter.
We were in the city centre for shopping after a compulsory meeting for work. When we wanted to catch a bus to go back home, we saw a crowd and heard some noise. When we saw military officers and few people running, we quickly went opposite the crowd. However, we had no other choice than passing in front of the train station. We saw a line of military officers. We did not stay long, trying to get a bus as quick as possible.
This evening, on TV, this situation was mentioned. I was already following up this story about the ‘code of communication’ (for French-speakers, look at online Malagasy press) when I was still in Reunion island. Journalists were protesting and authorities intervened with gazes. Fortunately, it was not too serious. At least for now...
I went to the Alliance Française of Antananarivo where I was happy to find Malagasy books written in French. Before coming to Madagascar, I read a collection of Malagasy short stories written in French and published by Courrier International (brilliant French International news magazine). I think the collection is called ‘Les miniatures’ and it is about Indian Ocean authors. A friend offered me to read the Mauritian collection and I really enjoyed it!
I took ‘Chroniques de Madagascar’, a collection of Malagasy short stories selected by Dominique Ranaivoson, Daniel Defoe’s ‘Madagascar or Robert Drury’s Journal’, Eric Nonn’s ‘Imerina’ and Sylvia Hanitra Andriamampianina’s ‘Miangaly or the island in sorrow’. I’m just starting ‘Chroniques de Madagascar’.
In Reunion Island, I went to the Regional Library of La Réunion and read Denis Vierge’s ‘Vazahabe’, an interesting comic book. I also found books about Malagasy literature. It looks so rich and I cannot wait to read and know more about it!
This visit to the Alliance Française made me think back of Adelaide time, when we were going to libraries over there. We lived in the north of the city. First, in North Adelaide, the library was small but there was a piano. Then, in Prospect, the library was full of treasures, incredible books and films from all over the world but also very local documentaries. We were walking most of the time to go there and we had the great chance to see aborigenes’ films (by and about), local History and flora. Sometimes, we were also going to the City Library. It was just moved few times before and it was brand new, on top of a building, with many different languages documents. It is true that at this time, Adelaide was gathering a lot of different cultures. The very first time we visited it, I was so happy to see a big section of French-speaking books that I almost cried!
It is interesting to see your own reactions about culture (especially your own) when you’re travelling. In Reunion Island, I was not really going to the local library as it was very difficult for me to move and the selection was not really interesting and big.
Anyway, I’m happy to see that this Alliance Française has a lot of documents and that it is well frequented by Malagasy people.
The music of language
I went to the Alliance Française by bus. It was to the first time I took it by myself. Usually, we were going, François, my partner, Prisca, his Malagasy-speaking colleague and I all together and Prisca really helped us out to understand what was going on.
This time, I was completely immerged into the language and I must admit that I had absolutely no clue of what was happening around me. But far to be uncomfortable, it was an interesting experience. I tried to identify ‘known’ or ‘learnt’ words and not able to recognize anything, I’ve let myself diving into a conversation, radio, noises of the road, merchants on the side of the road…I was part of this everything without understanding anything and I was just feeling it.
When I ‘sat down’ (on a wooden bit on the ‘central lane’), a woman talked to me in Malagasy. I supposed that she said something like ‘Are you ok? Do you have enough space?’ or ‘Not too squished?’ and the only thing I could answered back was something ‘I’m ok’ in French.
When you learn a new language, people sounds like they talking very quick and cutting words. But I’m confident. I will keep learning and trying to get it. For now, I’m working on my Assimil language method and asking Prisca and Malagasy people working in the residence to help me out for the pronunciation.
Language is music. I recognize Maori and Portuguese influences, as I don’t get all meanings for now. About Maori, it is quite logical because of South Asia migration towards Madagascar. Melanesian roots are coming from Pacific islands, so New Zealand.
I remember the Auckland museum visit, where we saw a dance and music show; melodies and songs were so sweet and harmonious! Malagasy language is part of the ancient languages, Austronesian languages (Pacific, Papua New Guinea, Australia).
About Portuguese, it is an obvious colonial input. There are also many others influences (African languages such as Bantou for example).
I’ve finally started working at the Centre de Presse Malagasy. I’m feeling so much alive again, useful after a long wait!
I will be in charge of development and animation: an exciting mission! The Centre organises workshops, press conferences and training and I’m so glad to be part of it.
I’m sharing the same values than the Centre’s manager: skills, being and heading to excellence. I’m humble in my mission and I know I will learn a lot from this experience.
Beauty is everywhere for who knows how to see as this magical moment can tell. One morning, our bus was rumbling as usual on the cobblestoned road. The crowd was eating the thin tin of the vehicle. From far, anarchy was ruling the scene. Absurdity was its sister as street market sellers were offering their clothes, bags or other items. It sounded as if even colours decided to be part of the chaos on this morning.
But you had not to miss these few intense seconds: a line of women carrying big baskets full of mandarins on their heads suddenly moved like this hypnotic movement of grass in the wind, this incredible moment where flora perfectly mimics water. I’ve shared this beautiful moment with François, a simple and beautiful moment. On this packed morning bus.
I’ve not mentioned this topic yet. Though, it is grabbing you when you’re going out of the airport.
Madagascar is one of the poorest countries of the world.
Rugs, poor health of some people (a man walked with his foot backwards) and in utter destitution of others confirm this fact.
It is hard to see it but I always kept a distance with it. I’m not stronger than others but I don’t think money is the best answer. I’ve never lived in opulence or been a frantic consumer. But I’ve changed my habits to try to embrace sobriety when I lived in Australia. I’ve always been upset by waste and what I’ve seen in Australia was really shameful. Don’t even try thinking of put these two next to each other! But it is in the abundant country with lots of resources and cheap way of life that I’ve opted for a simpler way of life. It doesn’t mean that I couldn’t enjoy some times: sobriety is not rigors in my opinion. But it is the simple and obvious respect of what is around: nature puts efforts in growing our food, providing our energy, everything on which we depend, us Humans.
Last time, in 2006, misery was already there, everywhere. Children were asking you as you are a foreigner so by consequence, rich. However, children were not bothering me much as my wardrobe was not really appealing (I prepared it). Today, I’m walking next to François, a vahaza (pronounce ‘vaza’) so beggars insist more. On the other hand, I’ve been told that I’m looking like a karana (pronounce ‘karan’) so people keeps a distance. Karana is an Indian based community in Madagascar and some of them are quite powerful and rich. They are feared by the population.
Don’t judge a book on its cover
It is funny how people could be intrigued by my country of origin... When I was living in Nantes, France, on my 10’s, school mates were doing belly dancing when I was coming as they thought I was from North Africa. In Paris, people thought for sure that I was from the Maghreb area. When I had my very first job in an employment agency in Villejuif (suburbs of Paris), people were talking to me in Arabic. I’ve also been insulted as after September 11, everything changed.
However, some people found more exotic origins for me like India, Brazil, Polynesia, Italy or Spain.
Getting my marks
I’m starting to get my marks after two weeks. Now, I know where to get the bus, which one to get and getting in as it is moving. We are now installed in our little flat.
When can you talk about habits? Do you have to wait days, weeks, years?
I’m starting to get used to our feathery friend, knocking at the window every morning around 6.30am.
However, if there is one thing I cannot get used to, it is the city density. Dense city.
For now, I still need a lot of energy to face the bright sun (right into my weak eyes), watch where I put my foot, the traffic, my pockets, to miss this great or funny moment because I was watching where I was putting my foot and other things.
I’ve been told ‘you live more [intensely] in Madagascar’. I agree, everything is more intense: vegetables’ taste, pollution and people’s will.
I’m coming back to buses. I must say that this is a great inspiration for me and I spent almost 3 hours of my day in these buses, also called ‘taxi be’. About air pollution, I’ve witnessed an incredible situation: inside a ‘taxi be’, where we had less space than sardines in their canned tin, a blue smoke was filling the air. I’ve seen it in a sun beam and for sure, it was nothing like wood fire or night club fake smoke.
Getting into a ‘taxi be’ is also sharing intimate moments with other passengers. I was ‘sitting’ next to a mother breastfeeding and the little feet of her baby were tapping of pleasure on my tight.
I’m a bit resigned about air pollution as it is even coming into buildings (office and home)... The only thing I’m trying to do is using an isotonic spray for limiting effects.
I’ve noticed two types of ‘taxi be’: ‘big’ ones which are probably doing woop woop surburbs and rural areas and ‘small’ ones which are urban. I’m lucky to get the big one for most of my trip. But I still have to sit on a bottom cheek for almost an hour. For the small one, that’s another story.
These buses are mini-mini-buses: there are tiny and quite low. When I’m getting in (as it is still moving), I feel like clothes that you put on a washing machine, except I’ve got bones...
Reading and media
I’ve finished ‘Chroniques de Madagascar’ and ‘Imerina’. ‘Chroniques’ were nice and various and I really enjoyed Lila Hanitra Ratsifandriahamanana’s ‘Le kéré’. It was so beautifully written! ‘Imerina’ was about Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo, a great Malagasy writer.
We have not found yet a radio so we are listening to news flashes on François’s mobile phone. We are trying to understand Malagasy news but too tough for now as we know only few words for now. We are listening to Radio France International (RFI) and BBC Africa.
It took us a bit of time to get internet as everything is taking time in here, especially from the moment I’ve started working.
ROI (Return of Intention)
I feel like it was a smart move to start writing again. I’m writing because I love sharing: a point of view, an experience…and I feel like my target is reached when I’m receiving private messages encouraging me about writing these blog posts and the experience of living in Madagascar. So a huge thank you for all your public and private messages!
I feel like you are next to me when I’m walking on this Itaosy’s packed street or face to this Malagasy meal which I cannot remember and even less pronounce the name of, and even, at night, when I’m falling asleep under this mosquito net looking like a canopy.
It is actually the circumcision period.
I knew it thanks to the fanfares’s sound coming from far away. From the window, I’ve seen a crowd lead by a man carrying a sugar cane and a bottle of rum.
Sometimes, you have pictures printed in retinas, like light in the shadow. You can find many little street shops before the Ikopa’s bridge. You can find big rice and other cereals’ bags, vegetables, eggs but also big meat basins.
This vision was first very crude to my privileged eyes by its abundance: lots and lots of meat basins, big meat bits stacked in basins. They were not covered, sometimes almost on the ground. And this big cleaver falling on this tough nerve.
But, after the visual destabilisation, I thought that it was a very occidental hypocrite because you could see the same things in France, Australia or other rich country. It is just that they are not as accessible as in here. Of course, hygiene is not the same but the point is that you are disturbed by the visual. There are also things to say about the smell of crude but I fear to lose readers if I keep on describing it.
However, some associations in France and other countries are trying to show people how animals are killed and sometimes, it was such a scandal that it is breaking news. People are starting to know.
Meat basins but also offal. In the end, it was kind of bearable for me to see this as I had to cut half a lamb and cook offal for my cookery course in Australia. I’ve never been against offal. I’m just a bit reluctant to kidneys’ smell but that’s it.
I’m going through two tunnels on my morning trip. I walked through one on our arrival. It was feared by other people from the Cooperation because of its poor safety, pollution and misery. I looked like a gut to me.
Tananarive could be like an organic entity: with constrictions and digestions of traffic, spits of various fluids and population’s blood pressure.
We went on La Digue’s craft market, north of the city. It was beautiful but like all touristy places, I don’t like pressure for buying. And it was not too bad: sellers were nice and polite. My worst experience was in Yucatan, Mexico, where people could be almost aggressive for you to buy something.
We only wanted to have a look. My eye was caught by a lovely wooden domino box. Having no TV and a limited access to radio, we would like to get society games. We were used to play Scrabble and we are thinking of asking to make a wooden (or other material) one in here as Malagasy people are really good sculptors. And music instrument makers. And embroidery...
I can speak a little bit Malagasy. Now, I can say ‘I’m stopping here’ in the bus (‘Misy miala’). Unfortunately, I can only guess what is happening around me. This week, a receiver tried to keep the change in the bus. He was laughing, talking a lot but before getting down, I asked him to give me my change. He apologized and gave me back my due.
My colleague from the Centre de Presse Malagasy told me to be careful about receivers keeping the change or pretending not to have enough. She told me I would speak Malagasy by the end of my contract, in April 2017. Honestly, it would be such an achievement if I could do it!
I had the great chance to share a bit with Malagasy students about the country, Malagasy youth and their aspirations. I’ve been stuck by their strength: they want to create and they are volunteering. Volunteering in Madagascar is not an easy choice when some people have many jobs to survive.
Atmosphere at work
I had a very cheerful welcome at the Centre de Presse Malagasy. Board members of the association, all journalists, are taking time to meet me and I’m very touched by it. I know the job, with limited availability and other restrictions.
We have great things to do and even, training people. I’m really excited!
Back to urban
I will have to live downtown. I tried to think about different options: bicycle, scooter, car with driver...But finally, it is too dangerous or not profitable so the only option to live downtown.
Pollution is still there: my handkerchief has black spots. Like Paris. I’m comparing these capital cities but I cannot as people are nicer and smiling more in here.
I did some shopping, hoping to find some clothes. I’ve been told not to bring a lot of clothes as I could find good deals. And it was true: prices are very low but the issue is my height! Especially my legs...Clothes are mainly Chinese so sizes are very small and it is ok for Malagasy people as they are the same size.
I’m not fitting in here.
It is still difficult for me to fit in taxis be with my large hips. I even had some words from a lady in a taxi be. This well-dressed, sulky woman said something in Malagasy, probably not nice considering her expression. It was probably something about my size.
I hope I will fit the country.
It is difficult to fit somewhere, to fit your own country when you’re back from another one, to fit abroad... But sometimes,
it could be easier to fit abroad.
Jumping into the taxi-be
I almost fell twice taking the taxi-be. I’m doing some sport in coming for work. In the morning and now the afternoon, people are pushing to get into taxis-be. Everybody is pushing. I don’t dare to do it but after 20 minutes or so waiting, I have to join the trend. At least 6 or 7 taxis-be were impossible to get into because they were not even stopping because they were full or you had to be small and quick (I was almost refused!). Twice, I grabbed the joint of the door and I was about to fall because it disjointed. Passengers held their breath, fearing I would fall but finally, I was alright.
I even have bruises because of taxi-besque acrobatics.
The absolute necessity of escaping into the green
During the weekend, we walked to the extreme East of Antananarivo, further Itaosy. It was so good to properly breathe. This walk was also a poetic discovery of rural Antananarivo. After dusty streets, we walked into rice fields and went next to a place called the peninsula. During monsoon, it is a proper island, almost cut from the rest of the world.
It is actually austral winter and the weather is very dry. Rice fields are cracked ground that people are using to make bricks. This ground looks like clay with peat under. We crossed the path of zebus on paths which looked like giant dinosaur spin bone into these rice fields. We finally arrived to a branch of river where the water was ocker. We were facing few vegetable and fruit cultures and a little house. We sat there, next to the water and I’ve found back my beloved nature. Water and Wind were singing a harmonious and sweet song, the gentle Sun was caressing. I felt and saw my horizon wide. I could finally see houses, hills and different coloured houses forming a patchwork far away.
The weather is getting a bit warmer and I love it. It is even hot if you’re staying into the sun! However, some people still cough, maybe because of pollution.
Walking into a street market at Itaosy, I feared to walk on a hen, a fish or a duck, not to see a hole and put my foot into brackish water or even feel zebu offal caressing my face. You always have to be careful of thousand of things in here, in urban areas. Pickpockets and other minor crimes are quite usual here. You always have to dispatch money everywhere on your outfits and have enough cash (as almost everything is paid in cash) but at the same time, not too much. The problem is that sometimes, I can forget how much I’ve got on my thousand caches. Anyway, the habit will come...
Promiscuity is a daily matter for me. My thighs could be inserted in someone’s else in taxis-be, I can smell the receiver’s breathe or feel ribs of my neighbour going up and down as he was breathing.
Our only link with the rest of the world at home is radio. It is my favourite media. I miss doing some radio...Recently, I stayed one hour listening to a program about a blind traveller on RFI (Radio France International). I was very interested by the theme for personal reasons. I was fascinated by his life and I was drinking his words. I would like to take some ambient sounds but it is a bit touchy as I had to be very discreet if I don’t want to attract thieves or other curious people. I really miss listening and doing music. Still no speakers because of no time...
Sailing between extremes is not an easy task. Extreme poverty, extreme wealth. Everyday outfit can be a challenge. How to come at work with a corporate outfit and not been stared at into taxis-be? I’m thinking of leaving corporate clothes at work and getting into taxis-be with casual clothes. Especially from the day I felt something almost tearing my pants into a taxi-be...
Apparently, it is quite common in Canada to change when you arrive at work. Thinking back, I was already doing it in Adelaide when I was riding my bicycle and then going into cookery courses with my chef uniform.
I’ve heard about André Pangrani’s death this week. I was and I am still very sad about this news. I only had an exchange of emails with the founder of a Reunionnese comic magazine, Le Cri du Margouillat and founder of the excellent Reunionnese literature magazine Kanyar (which means bad boy in Reunionnese creol). When I was living in Australia, I was looking for a Reunionnese magazine and I’ve found Kanyar. I had one delivered in Australia and I was so proud to have it into my hands. I was so happy and proud to financially support this magazine. I even dared to ask if I could send a script to be published in Kanyar and he gently answered me that, yes, it was possible to join the team. I wanted to write for Kanyar. I wanted to be part of the team, discussing with him and all of them. I never dared to write. It looks like hiking Mount Everest and to be too noble activity for me. But finally, once my sorrow will be gone, I should-must write. Maybe André Pangrani would have told me to do it.
Dry clothes only
There are more and more military on streets during the day. All street vendors from the Ikopa’s bridge disappeared during the ‘Jeux de l’océan Indien’ (Indian ocean sport games) for a week. It sounds a bit like Rio de Janeiro...
The upcoming ‘Sommet de la Francophonie’(Francophonie Summit) is also bringing stories. A francophonie village is actually being built in the nearest suburbs but construction works are delayed and managers are thinking of hosting the event under tents! (local newspaper Midi Madagasiraka)
A new life starting
I finally will live half the week downtown. I will share a flat with a French couple. We are a bit sad, François and I, but we will see how things will go. I might have to get a taxi-be but I’m thinking of walking, if pollution is not too heavy. But the good news is that I will be able to work more hours per day and then, to come back earlier at Itaosy.
In Itaosy, we are living with a part of our waste. There is no real waste collection system and especially no treatment centre so we cannot decently buy and waste without thinking of the lifecycle of waste. We saw waste everywhere on the ground, especially plastics and we cannot add up to this. So we are trying to reduce our waste to minimum.Of course, we were already trying to do it before but in here, this is another level when you’re going out from home and face your own waste.
There are landfills around but we visited them and it is pushing even more to be careful about it. It is just desolation. All kind of waste is burnt, sometimes in order to find something valuable in it.
Downtown, this is another story. At least, in semi-rural areas, you can compost and give some waste to pig owners. But downtown, everything is mixed up. A Chroniques de Madagascar’s short story is explaining quite well the situation with the trade and subsistence around waste. An environmental and social issue…
My new urban life
I’m now sharing an accommodation with a French couple next to Anosy Lake. I’m really luck as they are adorable and we share many things like swimming, playing guitar and other ecological considerations. They are helping me out to be so far from my partner.
I have a big room with view on a giant terrace. It is opened on a beautiful view of the town’s hills. It is nice to see further. I must say that it is a luxury downtown.
My first night was good except that I’ve heard traffic starting around 4am. I can now walk to go to work. I’m taking 45 minutes and it is not bothering me. On the contrary, I love walking as it is helping me out to think and clear my mind. These ideas are opposite but it is making sense. First, I’m clearing my mind when I’m walking. It is a kind of meditation. Then, I let my mind wandering and ideas are starting to come around.
My excitement will probably be less intense during monsoon…
I tried two itineraries. The first one is following my second taxi-be trip, going through two obscure and heavily polluted tunnels. The second one is going through narrow, dirty and steep stairs, squeezed between houses. While I was taking the stairs for the first time, I met two policemen who told me not to go through them as I could meet thugs. I thought they would ask me something else but finally, nothing else. This second itinerary is not even shorter so no morning sport (but the first itinerary is already a bit of sport and I’m feeling I have less breath those days) and back to pollution.
Living again in a big city is reactivating my Parisian reflexes: closed face, rigid walkingand tough attitude. I’m saying Parisian but it is not so specific to Paris as I reconciled with the town from my last stop over there.
But it is over there that I’ve built my armour.
So it made me think about my experience and expectations in here. Of course, I knew coming to Antananarivo that it would be far from my engagements built along all my travel experiences. Being closer to nature, respect nature and mankind, be part of a fair trade, make my humble contribution to development, all of this sounds a bit far for the moment. For safety reasons, I have to be again the one I was before.
Please, let me teach
My Teaching French as a Foreign Language studies are not the priority for now and it is making me a bit sad. I really would like to get some experience in teaching.
I believe in education as a way to get a better future. It could be French as it could be anything else useful. I can understand that French could be difficult to teach in a former colony, myself coming from two former colonies. I can consider the need to take some distance with History. However, I think it is such a beautiful language and I deeply respect those who were able to use it in keeping their own touch. Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon are those ones. I especially like Frantz Fanon for his book ‘Peau noire, masques blancs’ (Black skin, white masks). A radio chief editor led me this book and I felt my mind enriched and evolved from its reading.
I’m currently reading Jack Kerouac’s short stories ‘Good Blonde and others’ and David Foenkinos’s ‘Les souvenirs’. I really loved David Foenkinos’ ‘Je vais mieux’. I’m now living closer from the Alliance française and I will be able to borrow more books frequently.
I just ate Grangé’s ‘Les Rivières pourpres’. I picked it at the Alliance during a kind of borrowing game there…
Fortunately, I have my Kindle in Itaosy as Kerouac stayed downtown and I’ve finished ‘Les souvenirs’ (they were tasty!). Here is one of this schizophrenic way of living: logistics.
Pollution, pollution and…pollution!
The Centre de Presse Malagasy are upstairs of a disinfestation company. One day, during lunchtime, a very strange smell and _probably_ substances filled the air. I didn’t know if I should keep my breath or not.
Every morning, we sweep the floor at work before starting as dust is coming through everywhere…
Every day I’m working now, I’m going through two tunnels-guts (see previous post) and every morning, I can see dark spots when I’m sneezing.
I had a kind of bronchitis this week. I was scared that it would be a decent bronchitis as it would have kept me in bed for weeks. I don’t know if it is because of the weather or pollution. Time will tell me.
I was recently looking at a Tana map and I discovered _with fear_ a place called ‘death corridor’.
I always have a USB stick in my bag. On this stick, I’ve found a document which brought me back in Australia.
For our permanent visa application, we both had to write our own version of how we met, François and I for the immigration services as we were not married: the ‘love story’. It was exposing our private life but we did it for get the visa.
I read again François’s story and I felt like opening a tin box full of memories, like in the movie ‘Amelie from Montmartre’. But it did not brought only good memories, like in the movie. I remembered how we were threw out like old socks from the country, that I was cut out from my Australian family and friends, that my brand new professional opportunities were destroyed, that our private life had been exposed and that we gave I-don’t-know how many documents to immigration services…
Anyway, it always brought back good times we had over there, our simple life, rides by the sea, if I was not working. That’s life.
Reunionnese people seen by Malagasy people
I had the chance to follow a conference about economy at the Centre de Presse Malagasy this week. The lecturer was introducing 50’s authors about African countries economy.
He mentioned topics which were concerning both islands, Reunion and Madagascar. But as other Malagasy people, he was putting a distance between the two islands. Of course, Reunion is French and Madagascar independent but Reunion is an overseas French territory. It was a colony and colonial schemes built the current island. Moreover, we blame Reunionnese indolence because of assistance is a bit similar (just a little bit) from Malagasy behavior with donors. Talents escaping, difficulties for local graduated to find a job on their own country and diasposa, all these points are common to both islands. When people mention ‘allocations braguette’ (horrible allusion to public allowances only based on how many children you’ve got but people think it is only happening in Reunion and it is completely false), it is making me mad as it is not what I am and all that I’ve escaped. Good and bad is everywhere.
People think Reunionnese people are disdainful towards Malagasy people and unfortunately, I’ve seen it. But can you say every Reunionnese is acting this way? And unfortunately, I’ve seen it the other way, Malagasy being disdainful towards Reunionnese people. And it is a shame as both islands have the same roots, as Reunionnese people are Malagasy (first people in Reunion were from Madagascar) and we are all cousins in the Indian Ocean.
I was listening to ‘Echos d’ici, échos d’ailleurs’, a RFI radio program, about economics. An author was talking about African economics and mention ‘peopling country’ instead of ‘emergent country’. This man introduced himself as a ‘demo-economist’, referring to demographics.
He was a bit tough as guest, had some ideas that I was not sharing at all but he had very interesting concepts about development, about what it is today, about what it should be and consequences on economics and daily life.
I agreed with him about mobility as development key factor, the contrary of what is currently happening. I also shared his thoughts about thinking global, rather than being country-focused.
I reminded the audience that ‘rich’ occidental countries were built on slavery and ‘corvée’ and we are now asking emergent countries to develop in line with strict and specific (with occidental criteria) human and environmental policies.
Moringue next to rice fields
Moringue is a kind of martial art, a bit similar to capoeira. You usually find it in the Indian Ocean, especially in Madagascar and Reunion Island.
This weekend, as François was on the ground for work on the further part of Itaosy, we were a moringue training session with the village’s youngsters. It was great.
It is not easy for farmers ‘sons, themselves working on fields, to get entertainment and learning outside from daily tasks. It was beautiful to see, boys and girls, doing these ancient moves, inviting to fight, their white teeth on these candid laughs of companionship.
It made me think of kalaripayattu training session with my friend Raveendran in Reunion Island. This ancient Indian martial art is difficult but François and I (especially I) kept on doing it. Flexibility and muscles came back.
If I have time, I would like to do a bit of moringue in here…
It is the period of ‘turning over dead people’, the famadihana. This Malagasy tradition is about getting the corpse out, transporting it around the village and then, re-burying it. I don’t know if it is linked to what I saw around the corner: a giant 4 wheel drive with a big tag ‘Super Corbillard’. (Super Hearse)
Anyway, I saw a minibus with a coffin downtown.
Tension is building up
Journalists signed a declaration this week about fighting back against the law called ‘Code de la Communication’. The Centre de Presse Malagasy held the press conference.
Street vendors also protested about the prohibition of their installations downtown. All places, usually packed, now let pavements appear.
All the population seems fed up by the current situation.
Local press warned about street riots on the 19th August and finally, the leader of the movement was arrested at home...
I was complaining about my second taxi-be but I saw worse. When I’m coming home at the end of the day, south of Lake Anosy, every time, I see a long queue of people waiting for the taxi-be (about 400 meters). I saw people pushing to get into this tiny car door (similar to my second taxi-be). In my case, in the morning, maybe people were still a bit asleep but at the end of the day, everybody is more energetic.
The murder of a young French couple is on the breaking news but even if the news is very sad, I don't think it is linked to their origin.
Pollution: episode 1564
I tried a mask. Someone offered me a mask to protect against pollution but the experience failed. I’m sweating when I’m walking and I need more air (basic principle of breathing). The mask is made of a friable substance so it is breaking up on my skin, do not let enough air coming in, so I’m choking a bit and have some vertigo.
So I’m walking mask less, offering my lungs to all gazes.
But a new data will change this routine. The Centre de Presse Malagasy lease will expire at the end of the month and we will be moved. Two places had been shortlisted: the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (IEP), downtown, 40 minutes away from my downtown home and the University of Antananarivo, on a hill, far enough that I have to take the taxi-be. So taxi-be again if the second option is selected.
Antananarivo (or Malagasy) dogs nightlife
All canids of the capital city agree to express themselves at night. In Itaosy or downtown, barking and other forms of expression happen around 10pm and it sounds like a political debate.
They probably should talk about fantastic things to bark so long and so intensively…
Well, I’m a bit tough. Some of them live in difficult conditions: on about a meter square of a balcony. And their owners probably do not walk them.
We spit and blow your nose between fingers left, right and centre. It is winter time and expectoration is common. The ease of spitting is a bit scary in the first place but as it is said ‘Better out than in’.
About blowing your nose between fingers, if you compare the price of a handkerchief pack to the average income.
I’m not feeling anxious anymore about feeling a splutter on my skin, getting germs and I trust 200% my immune system.
Shame on the system
Trading on expired products is disgusting. I read in newspapers an article about expired toothpaste sold in shops in here. In Australia, we shopped in Rite Price (a shop selling expired products) but there were few fresh food and more than anything, information about the concept and products was accessible to consumers.
In here, it is just revolting and degrading.
We are rarely going out but we went out with my flatmates. Atmosphere is so much different. During the day, it is noisy and the visual landscape is aggressive and dense. At night, it is looking almost ‘empty’ from all of this. At Antananarivo, at night, everything is dark. It is chiaroscuro universe.
So when we are going into places where public lights are spaced by kilometres, waste fires looks like golden hair licking the darkness. Girls are leaning on the wall, in line, so discreet, not looking at all to be part of this sad trade of flesh.
Night riding, so new to my senses used to everyday challenges. A world where the taxi which brought us back home looked like a drunken boat on this hilly path, closer to a track, similar to the whole town.
Failure of countryside escape
We wanted to go on the countryside on the touristy Ambohimanga, away from the polluted capital city. But instead, we experienced another kind of visit.
We wanted to take a first taxi-be next to Andravoahangy market but after taking different drivers’ opinions, we moved to a different bus stop and crossed the market. It was an urban version of Itaosy market: still meat, guts and other offal dangling down but more ‘fresh’ and dried fish this time. You still had to go through narrow alleys with a pavement as regular as moon craters.
Alliance Française of Antananarivo’s National French Song Contest
I have been member of the jury for the Alliance Française of Antananarivo’s National French Song Contest selections and it was a great experience. It was the fifth edition of the contest and I had the pleasure to listen to local talents.
It was funny and a bit scary to be a member of the jury. Candidates stress was sometimes intense and we tried to be kind and relax them. I’m proud to have been part of these selections.
Semi-finals will be on the 3rd September and Regional Finals on the 10th.
Most of Malagasy people are good singers and they all love singing. My dad told me that they were probably the best musicians in the Indian Ocean.
It reminds me a taxi-be full of people probably coming back from the mess on a Sunday. Everybody was singing and it was a vocal grace. One more time, I heard a Pacific islands echo in these Malagasy songs.
Sport, traveller’s best friend
We will soon try a swimming pool with Noémie, my flatmate. Weather is still fresh and the swimming pool is not heated but we want so much swimming that we will try anyway. I’m walking everyday (twice 45 minutes) but I feel like my body wants more.
Noémie is playing futsal but I must admit that I prefer badminton or dancing. I saw a gym place downtown but I would prefer to do sport which is bringing me more than just physical effort.
I also think sport is important for balance for travellers or expats, especially during the first times. Mood is changing, weather conditions and lifestyles are different and sport can help to regulate all of these.
Back to radio
A great opportunity could open to me in the next few weeks. The Centre de Presse Malagasy could get a partnership with the University of Antananarivo. My participation as radio presenter for a program about media education is included in this partnership. The program would be broadcasted on the University radio (Radio Universitaire Ambohitsaina 107FM). It is so exciting and I cannot wait to start!
Tension is still there
The current situation looks quieter…at first sight.
Street vendors keep protesting. Journalists are still trying to stop the ‘Code de la communication’.
A French volunteer’s couple murder made the breaking news this week. They were killed on the North-East side of the country, in Sainte-Marie Island. Foreigners’ murders and kidnapping are making the headlines but Malagasy people are also crime victims. But it is pretty much the same in French and even Australian news. Crimes, crimes and crimes…
We got a guitar with our flatmates. A beautiful Valencia (Spanish) with a really good sound for its cheap price. It is our ‘co-guitar’. We were craving for a guitar, Noémie and I. Things were made quite quickly and for good as these little musical moments are very relaxing. We are sharing in these moments.
Noémie is playing different kind of French and Spanish (or South American) songs. She is doing them her way and it is beautiful!
Meeting or discussions eulogy
My experiences of shared accommodation always had been very pleasant. I shared a house in Belgium and another one in Adelaide for a month and it always had been a pleasure to share a place but moreover time with others.
This time, the sharing is more than just real estate matters. We are sharing affinities but more than anything, values. I’m feeling like in family. I have the great chance to have rich and enriching discussions about living together and positive management.
I realised that during my trips, different experiences and exercises for the ‘Coopération régionale’’s training, I put discussion on the centre of my interests. A great discussion is equivalent to a shopping session for me (as some place shopping as the most orgasmic activity). It is reviving, participating to your evolution and creating a spatiotemporal fault. It is a precious moment.
I’m reminding with pleasure all people from different horizon I have met until now: an Australian in Paris, a Belgian and an Indian in Reunion Island, French people in France, Reunionnese in Reunion Island, Australian in Australia and French in Australia and so many other people from different origin in different countries. I was very lucky to meet these great people.
I was already very excited about being part of a radio program at the University of Antananarivo but the last meeting with the Board of the Centre de Presse Malagasy could show me even more opportunities.
We mentioned the project of building a bridge between the University of Antananarivo and the University of La Réunion. It is a big project but so challenging! I’m so excited!
BAOBad, badminton with social dimension
We tried badminton with BAOBad club. It was really great! The team is very nice and the session was fantastic.
Johary, president of the club, is a very joyful and pleasant person. The club has a strong social dimension. The president explained that our monthly fees as foreigner were covering costs for gear for Malagasy children who could not afford to do sport. Moreover, members of the club are bringing back home these kids after the session. It is quite family orientated. The club is also involved in social and humanitarian projects.
So we tried the swimming pool with Noémie. Until the very end, we were brave. The weather was good this day and we hoped so much that the sunlight would have warmed up the water.
This 50 meters swimming pool, we were talking so much about it, dreaming so much about it.
We went into the water which was icy cold. Still brave, we did few lengths. Noémie more than me as my ears were really aching after the third or fourth length. I feared to get otitis or a nasty cold. Noémie finally gave up when she could not feel her limbs anymore.
Going out of this bath where we could have met ice cubes and penguins, we were dizzy.
But we did it.
Humanitarian work in Madagascar: fall and rise
Madagascar is, unfortunately, land of humanitarian work. Like in Africa (and part of Africa too), all international humanitarian brands are in here and everyone is trying to get the best media exposure for this or this other one action. All donation, all action must be shown. So we can guess origin of donation (sometimes diverted and sold) on clothes worn in the street: France, America, Australia, and Switzerland…
Humanitarian underwear are not very pretty: misappropriation and others. I would talk much about it.
But in discussing with my colleague Keshia and other Malagasy people, I realise the benefit of social programs (I prefer social rather than humanitarian). Madagascar, like Mauritius and others, is independent and should not suffer from new forms of colonisation or domination. Unfortunately, the country has not a strong economy like Mauritius but in my humble opinion, it should resist to humanitarian siren calls. There are many Malagasy people who want to invest themselves in their country, in their education, in their autonomy and these initiatives, these volunteers and these humble workers must be supported. Of course, money is helping but Malagasy people need other forms of support.
In my opinion, in Madagascar, empowerment, a notion discovered in Australia during my studies, should be applied. From what I’ve heard, self-confidence is not common amongst Malagasy people and I see postcolonial schemes drawing back again and again…
We went to the Alliance française and I took Johary Ravaloson’s ‘Géotropiques’ and Alain Mabanckou’s ‘Mémoires d’un porc-épic’.
I chose ‘Géotropiques’ because I read a Johary Ravaloson’s short story in ‘Chroniques de Madagascar’. It is a bit weird as I took this book without reading the résumé and it is about Reunion Island, surfers in Reunion Island and shark attacks. And this weekend, a shark attack happened in Reunion Island.
But this book is about many interesting things that I won’t reveal here and will let you savour. It is confirming my idea that Indian Ocean’s islands echo and are echoes, answer back to each other and I said before, we are all cousins in this ocean. We can be very different but movements, stories and History is bonding us.
This visit to the Alliance française was, I must admit, a real breath of fresh air. Everyday life is not easy. Bordering on tough situations every day, distress, misery, is not easy. We have a privileged status but feelings of helplessness, frustration and injustice corrode.
The vision of street children drinking water from the gutter in the morning on the way to work stay. The unbearable cannot be the routine. I’m trying to convert it into fuel to achieve.
My partner will join us downtown at the end of September. It is difficult to be apart when we decided to go together into the adventure. He will take the taxi-be in the morning and lucky him because few people are going to Itaosy in the morning and coming back in town at the end of the day.
We were able to see a partial solar eclipse in Madagascar. There was a lot of information about it. Apparently, the last one surprised and scared a part of the population which did not know about it. The day before, my colleague and I got an official press release about having the day off from 10am and until the end of the phenomenon. This decision was quite controversial in here, for some people, compared to the monsoon period when normal schedule is applied. On the morning of the eclipse, I went on a pharmacy down home and there was a long queue. Information about danger of burning eyes and blindness was heard apparently. The weather was a bit cloudy and even lightly rainy but even if it was a bit forecasted, we were able to see this meeting of the Sun and the Moon. Traditionally, it was forbidden to watch the eclipse as it was like an astral copulation.
It was beautiful and I must admit I was like a little girl!
I found this moment so weird. The eclipse was not total but enough to notice something was different. It was like putting a giant filter in front of the Sun. I was expecting to hear dogs barking and other animals going crazy, I was spying birds, cats and others but nothing happened.
Except shadows projected and sunlight rays with weird angles, there was no extraordinary phenomenon as my imagination was expecting.
I quickly ate JoharyRavaloson’s ‘Géotropiques’ and even if I was not a big fan of Reunionnese surfing milieu in the first place, I really enjoyed the heart of the book. I really recommend it!
Alain Mabanckou’s ‘Mémoires d’un porc-épic’ was quite funny.
I took MichèleRakotoson’s ‘Juillet au pays’ and Patricia Reznikof’s ‘Mon teckel à roulettes est un philosophe’ (I picked it because of its title _My rolling teckel is a philosopher_).
I’ve witnessed a strange scene coming back from work next to the Lake Anosy. Next to the roundabout, there was a movement around few people. It could have been a fight or something else. A sirens screaming EmmoSécurity car went tumbling down and got one or two persons into. Idle onlookers quickly gathered around the scene. I did not stopped at all, turning my head some times to watch a bit but I docilely follow the Ambassade de France’s safety instructions: shunning gatherings.
Few minutes later, the car was passing next to me to go to the hospital.
We moved the Centre de Presse Malagasy premises onto the University of Antananarivo. It was a long and tiring day with three trips with a truck. We had movers and extras to help out but we contributed as well.
It is funny to come back to Uni. I’ve left it a while ago and the atmosphere is quite nice to re-discover it. Campus is very nice, wide and on a hill. There are fashion victims and I feel ugly next to these young beautiful girls.
Taxi-be, the return
I’m getting again the taxi-be to go onto the campus, up on the Ambohitsaina hill.
But I’m happily surprised to get it now on an intermediate station. Taxis-be have terminuses but also kinds of relay stations in the middle of the line or so where almost empty vehicles are getting new passengers. So with a huge relief, I have not to run and try to put the beanpole I am into the pocket version of the taxi-be. There are still tiny but I have the great luxury to almost choose my seat!
And at last but not least, the University is the terminus of two lines so again, I can get a decent seat.
Taxi-be is a complex system that you need to know. It is a bit like the market: everything is stimulating at the same time. You speak another language, convert prices from francs malgaches to ariary and try to remember where you put which note and how much you’ve got on you.
Paying your trip into the taxi-be sounds like a complete mystical experience to non-Malagasy speaking newbies. A single trip costs 400 ariary. But I recently discovered that you could pay only 300 ariary if you’re doing a short trip (two or three stops from I’ve understood).
You’re not paying just when you entered into the taxi-be. The receiver is saying a lot of things that I don’t understand but deduct (or invent in my head): ‘Thank you to pay, please’, ‘Do you have some change?’, ‘Who I have some change to give back on 5000 ariary?’ I watched a lot in order to understand what is happening. I understood that onto a taxi-be which is filling in, people are paying from front to back rows. Getting the change back looks also like a secret society procedure the first time. Sometimes, your neighbour is giving you his notes if she or he sees that you’ve got a big note so you can pay for both.
There is still confidence as notes are going from one passenger’s hand to another up on shoulders and heads without anyone trying to keep a note for herself or himself.
Knowing is responsibility
Even if individualism is sneaking into this traditionally community focused society, I think we can still say that public-spiritedness exists. Even if some people are not careful, staying in the middle of narrow paths, expectorating almost on you, few people are paying attention to their environment and human beings crossing it.
We still respect the other, when it is possible. I’m saying when it is possible because between growing capitalism and postcolonial youth issues feeling a bit lost, we could lose good habits.
And this is probably the key factor, the main problem: habits. Taking time, standing back and analysing its own habits and especially their impact onto the environment (close, human and Nature) is not obvious and common.
And yet, it is terrible to think about how things could be if everyone would take this time and try to change their habits: less hygiene (for oneself and others, like these people wearing a mask when they have a flu in order to prevent contamination for others), economic, safety and other issues.
Only thinking about food safety as it is the last studies I did (cookery): how many cooking utensils are licked or double-dipped, hands not washed, plates and cutlery not enough washed and phlegm not stopped in their crazy race? So many risks that could be avoided…
Yes, I’m having lunches in greasy spoons and I know there are a lot (almost only maybe?) of bad practices. But I would like to think that with a bit of training, dramas could be avoided (because you can get serious health issues in here).
I know too well what kind of label people would stick on: ‘utopian’, ‘dreamer’. But I truly think that caring about the other can change things and as the proverb says: ‘Great oaks from little acorns grow‘. So, even if maternity is not an urgent need for me, I’m trying to act and live for the future of children, a minima for them to know the world as we knew it and at best, in a better condition. It is going through environment, the less damaged as possible but also ideas.
At least, it is one of my aspiration.
I’m sometimes revolted by those who had the chance to have a good education, being able to understand consequences of their actions (or carelessness), keeping shamelessly their habits, their comfort, cramped into their laziness. This is contempt to the other in my opinion.
Meeting with Zamba, instrument maker and valiha player
François bought a valiha, a kind of traditional Malagasy kind of cylindrical lyre, with beautiful crystal-clear tunes. I must confess: I always dreamt of playing harp. I found this instrument so majestic, mimicking water movements and fluidity. But valiha is something. This medium size instrument is easy to carry which is good for the traveller I am.
But it was way more than just a purchase of valiha as we took the time to discuss with its maker, Zamba. Instrument maker, musician, we met a man who decided to change his life. Working in wood exploitation, he stood back from his activity and decided to stop ‘killing his country’ to play music, to stop exporting rare Malagasy woods in order to shape instruments and minds.Zamba is renowned in Madagascar by its peers, by foreigners who learn to play valiha, in Reunion Island and elsewhere. He had been interviewed by France O (French TV overseas territories focused) the day before we met.
We had the chance to discuss with him and to start our apprenticeship in valiha playing with him. We talked about this wandering Malagasy youth, like others (his Japanese students were reporting the same situation), into cultural standardization, only believing in American culture. He sadly confided that some young Malagasy did not even know what a valiha is.
We are just doing scales for now and hoping to learn traditional pieces.
We heard a trio of street children playing traditional music going out of the InstitutFrançais de Madagascar and it was so beautiful. We could not stay long as static vazahas are as discreet as shiny signs into the night but the few we heard was stunning.
We asked Zamba where to listen to traditional Malagasy music in Antananarivo and he replied that this music was left aside for fusion and others.
The Institut Français de Madagascar
We went to the InstitutFrançais de Madagascar and it is a big place. The library has a large selection and completes the Alliance Françaised’Antananarivo. I was so happy to read the last Fluide Glacial (a French satirical comic magazine), me reader of comics and lover of sharp, acidic humour like Charlie Hebdo.
The Alliance Française of Antananarivo French Song Contest (second episode)
We saw a tiny bit of the semi-finals of the contest. As during previous selections, we heard incredible voices (soul-like, lot of puff ones) and discovered a Malagasy Johnny Hallyday (a French deep-voice rocker/crooner like singer). You couldn’t tell if you were closing your eyes!
I’ve also met the Director who thought I was a competitor. Even if I was tempted at one point (my music for curious people), I thought to myself that if by any miracle I was winning the contest, it would not be fair at all as the first price is a week in Paris.
Malagasy gender relationship
It looks like Malagasy men appreciate me as they honour me by their ‘Hi Sweetie’ and ‘Hello Beauty’. First, I was left in peace because I was wearing cold weather clothes.
It is nice and funny for now, these calls. Nothing like street harassment in Paris. However, I noticed that sometimes men humour could be tendentious and even dubious. Jokes about rape are not scares according to some sources and my own experience.
Michèle Rakotoson’s ‘Juillet au pays’ looks very promising, almost the best book about Madagascar I’ve read so far. I like its accuracy and depiction of the Malagasy society.
We’ve got an extensive library at the Centre de Presse Malagasy. I’ve scanned Toavina Ralambomahay’s ‘Madagascar dans une crise interminable’ about Madagascar political crisis from 2002. I’ve also had into my hands a collective university book led by Bernard Idelson ‘Journalismes dans l’océan indien Espaces publics en questions’. It gave me the thirst of reading more about the African point of view on Malagasy press.
I’ve recorded the first edition of ‘Médias Dévoilés’, the radio program about media education. It will be broadcasted on Radio Université Ambohitsaina (107 FM) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
I’m so happy to write for radio and say my texts again! Radio writing is specific and really changed me. I was writing very long sentences before, very literary and this writing is synthetic, denser, desultory but more poetic. I was afraid of ‘losing’ my literary writing in writing so well for radio. But in the end, it is like muscles: you just stimulate different ones and it doesn’t mean that some are lost. In my opinion, this different way of writing also changed my way of being: more into action from this time.
I make my colleague Keshia laugh when I way my texts out loud. ‘It sounds like I turned on the radio’ she said.
I love so much this mysterious media. When I had to pick my major in third and last year, I chose radio because I was scared about it: so exposing, so secret and so dangerous for the shy girl I was then. And I picked well as radio writing and radio itself are very lyrical.
Just like music and dance, it is an ephemeral art which echoes maybe antic oratory and timeless theatre. Admittedly, we record and re-broadcast but our meeting with listeners could only be by chance. The risk of missed meeting is high. Who did not heard about a news, discovered a charming voice, an incredible track by chance, on its car or kitchen, in turning on the radio?
Badminton sessions of this week (Wednesday night and Sunday lunch) were different and completing each other. The most redoubtable ones are clearly kids. They really are future champions! The youngest ones give you a proper lesson about how to hold your racket and correctly move… Shuttlecocks flew in the air, whistling and smashes made our ears vibrating. They are genuine artists, working with power and delicacy. It is funny to notice similar moves to fencing. I practiced it more than 10 years ago but I’m keeping such a good memory of this superb sport.
Responsible trade and handcraft promotion
I asked a skirt to be made by a tailor. In France or other rich country, I would have not thought of having my clothes handmade, thinking it was just out of my budget. Even if I would have preferred to contribute to the subsistence of a dressmaker rather than enriching big brands making children work in inhuman conditions on the other side of the planet.
In here, I succeed in joining the business with pleasure in making a skirt sewed. I’ve met Luciana and her brand Afro & Stylée for an interview (article-test for a free newspaper, No Comment). When I saw her work (and my restricted wardrobe _ remember, I’ve been told not to bring a lot of clothes and my misadventures at the market _read again about it_), I thought it was an opportunity to try. I can afford it and it is great!
Yes, it could appear quite pointless, this little paragraph about buying a skirt. But the approach behind is more profound. What would happen if we were all trying to buy responsibly? To say to yourself that rather than buying in big supermarkets with fake lights, we could support the education of a child, health of a family or stop rural exodus? It sounds so easy to go towards the ‘known’, the shiny. But thinking about the raw material deducted to its source, its production, transport and trade, we can have another look on our shopping bag. I’m not even talking about social, economic and environmental impact of a product. I’ve heard about efforts done on labelling products into big supermarkets in Europe, giving more information about origin and impacts of a product.
But why not helping people closer to us?
I also ordered shoes from a real shoemaker. I saw the profile of a young Malagasy entrepreneur launching his brand of shoes made in Madagascar vita Malagasy (‘Made in Madagascar’). The brand is Liberty Shoes. I was curious and proud to support it.
It really worth the wandering in Antanindrano. The shop was not easy to find but it was really amazing. It is a tiny shop with mostly men high-standing shoes, few women models, all in leather or suede. You can almost customize everything: material, colour, and model. I was amazed to see and hear artisans working just behind a curtain in the shop. You are in the heart of savoir-faire, of authentic. Human relationship is so much different. You talk to artisans. You are not falling into commercial claws of experimented vendors with sharp arguments.
Just like clothing, I had a very posh conception of tailoring but in here, I think it is an honourable way of supporting people.
And then, there is a wait of a product which will your own, unique.
‘Indian like’ drinking, economical and uniting
We cannot say the weather is already hot but temperatures are rising midday. Soon, we will need to be more careful about mosquitoes and other health risks.
An Indian friend taught me how to drink straight from the bottle. He was right to show me this safe technic because it is avoiding to share germs in thinking about others who will enjoy freshness. Basically, you just put the bottle higher, pour the water into your mouth and not press your lips onto the bottle.
It is not easy at first: in general, you spill everything, especially in a car. But it is so much hygienic and community-oriented to share one bottle instead of buying several ones.
I sometimes hear some people speaking Reunionnese creol and Mauritian creol on the streets. I must admit I love it.
These ones are not always appreciated. Like everywhere, you’ve got good ones and bad ones. Michèle Rakotoson mention History and immigration and communities in Antananarivo…
Civism is not dead
A studies fair brought giant waves of new students last week. Taxis-be were saturated but it was nothing like I knew before (lien). This time, on the two ways, everybody was politely queueing, no one tried to cut the queue. Civism is not dead!
Sometimes, I’m thinking again of Australia. I cannot do anything about it, it is part of my life. I have to talk about it when I’m introducing myself, when people are asking where I am coming from.
I was mentioning it to the instrument maker and musician Zamba last times (link). He was curious about the country. I did not think at any times about aborigines’ treatment and genocide.
My father asked me recently if I would take my chance again in Australia. I replied a quick no. My answer was very quick as the wound is still fresh and immigration policies still blinkered. Even if I ‘swallowed’ the news and its consequences almost well and quickly on the spot, I’m full of bitterness about this experience. It is a mourning, the mourning of my life in Australia.
I had to leave and refuse so many opportunities. And what is really breaking my heart is that I had to say goodbye/farewell to family and friends. I don’t know how I survived it.
Thoughts on Antananarivo and others
I read in different documents and articles that Antananarivo was teared about its status. It is wavering between urban and countryside. As rural migration is intense towards the capital city, motivated by the hope of getting a job, it is an explanation of this hesitation.
So some practices and habits are not adapted to this new environment. But how can we blame these people with life-time habits for some and especially if they don’t know how to do differently?
More generally, about all humans, from the Indian Ocean and elsewhere, how to break a habit? How come some people accept to change their habits?
About hygiene (I’m back on this one as in here, it is a question of life or death) and respect of the other, which element will change a habit which spread germs? Will an awareness campaign really make a difference? To tell someone that his practices have consequences, put words, pictures under his nose, will it makes him conscious of washing his hands, avoiding touching raw (and even cooked) food with bare hands (even washed), using a spoon to taste a dish and then putting it back into the dish? But this is a bit restrictive as for example, someone will be careful not to contaminate the whole family and will understand by himself not to lick a knife which will be used in a common dish. This person will understand that this is dangerous and that it is reducing conservation of the dish, germs spreading quickly.
Again, I’m sure that respect of the other is a key factor of ‘development’ (this word is stale now). Maybe this person was feeling concerned about his family. I will probably called idealist but I believe in feeling concerned by all things and people.
What have been the key factor for change for myself? I would say education and shock (especially while being journalist). But maybe this is not only one answer and maybe the way is very long…
Internship, of new professional life
We are recruiting interns at the Centre de Presse Malagasy. Some were shy but one of them was really scared! It made me think of when I was looking for an internship in journalism in Paris. God, it was Hell! I was going to offices and I was always told people were unavailable because of reunions, but I saw few passing behind the reception desk. Who would take the risk of recruiting a young ‘Maghreb/Pakistani/Unknown origin-like’ girl from an almost unknown journalism school, who had no network? I also remember how I was shacking during my first times for my internship at RFO (now Réunion Première, Reunionnese State Radio/TV). I have to say that some ‘journalists’ were not really tender with me… I will always remember what a freelancer working for RFO told me on my first day: ’Don’t even think that your work will be broadcasted!’ Bad luck for him, all I did was broadcasted, even in national, during my internship. Even during my other internships I must say… This is a call to all interns: be confident, don’t be impressed by embittered staff and more than anything, if someone is taking time to explain you things, giving you tricks, take it!
I will never forget when one day, someone told me: ‘But, you really are doing what you!’ At this time, I did not get the significance of this sentence. Fitting your principles is not common and even worse for its application.
I won’t forget as well a discussion with a friend in Australia. He regretted that the fact of having kids and daily life destroyed his 70’s principles about revolution, solidarity, ecology. You are conscious but ‘trapped’ into life.
Again, I’m asking to myself where does determination of some comes from. In a society in which nothing is serious anymore, everything can be done later, in which overgrown teenagers (and kidults) are armies and in which technology is supposed to save mankind anyway, what is happening in the minds of these people defending and living their values? Why don’t they use excuses, missing time, tiredness, laziness, fatalism, like others? Why don’t they share general indolence?
Why drunkenness of sleight of hand is not reaching me? I deeply hate apathy. And if it spreading to a whole country, it is looking like Hell to me.
Back to school
I’m seriously back to revisions for my DAEFLE exam. I’m visiting lots of forums and maybe will get a chance to watch classrooms at the Alliance Française of Antananarivo. I’ve picked the Teaching Adults option; I really like adult learning. We are not learning the same way at different ages. And not getting it the same way and during the same period.
I keep taking Malagasy lessons with a teacher with my flatmates. I like her way of teaching, quite close to what I learn with French as a Second Language.
I saw Marcel Camus’s ‘Orfeu Negro’, a DVD borrowed at the Institut Français de Madagascar. I wanted to watch it for a while.
Even if I was born in Reunion Island, 100% from the Indian Ocean with a Reunionnese mother and Mauritian father, I was raised in bossa nova music. My father always loved, played and made me listen this music from my childhood. My uncle was a fantastic bossa nova guitarist. He was not a carioca either but just loved this music. His dream was to go to Brazil, meet and play guitar with people over there. Halas, he couldn’t achieve his dream. He died from cancer.
But this love of guitar, lascivious and melancholic, was passed onto me. As French was my native tongue, bossa nova was my native music. Unfortunately, I was not immersed into creol language and maloya (traditional Reunionnese music) and the explanation deserves an entire post, a theme that I will develop later.
I really loved ‘Orfeu Negro’, its fragile beauty. I was moved to be brought back to a universe that I know and doesn’t know at all.
I was chatting with people from the Coopération about the behaviour of some expats and it just confirmed what I was guessing.
Some of them party hard and are extremely happy and a bit proud to talk about people cleaning the day after. Who forgot about the mess left after a party? Who can decently let someone else, someone who did not enjoy the party, put their hands into vomit, filth, sticky surfaces with the smell of cold cigarette? We agreed with people from the Coopération about the joy to be able to clean our own filth.
I have the great opportunity to discuss with Malagasy students and I love it so much! I feel like having my finger on the youth pulse.
Most of them would like to move things forward and they feel like the lack of motivation of the youth is a big problem. They spotted weak points: mentality and habits.
I see young people really involved in associations. But I also feel like some associations are just occidental copy/paste of wealthy countries trying to blame (well, protect as well) about pollution for instance. But it sounds a bit like a joke when you understand that some countries are the origin of some problems (climate change) and behaviours (occidental way of life).
We talked about organization models with a student. I was thinking that we should not stay under influence and build our own. Be inspired without being dominated.
Beauty is in details
I saw Beauty in a taxi-be. It was really hot this afternoon. As usual, everybody was packed into this tiny vehicle. This pocket version of a bus is full; some passengers are sitting on places where you usually put only feet. I sat myself at this place.
A young girl, probably a student, sat there, next to street children, probably brother and sister. They were sleepy. It was probably nap time for them. But which nap, which rest when you have so many things to do at this young age?
The two kids drew smiles on passengers’ faces, people facing them. Hot temperature and the traffic jam’s thrumming lulled the slumping kids.
The young girl finally held them back with her arm, avoiding them to fall forward. She stayed in this position until she left the taxi-be, for about 30 minutes. The two kids were dribbling on her arm and she was imperturbable. I felt blown away by the beauty of this gesture, full of pure love, completely selfless, full of kindness, protection, genuine love towards unknown children.
Who is really able of this gesture? Who would honestly not think that this dribble is disgusting on my arm, that these kids are dirty? I’m feeling ashamed, terribly ashamed to confess that I’m not sure that I would have been able to do it.
This terrible shame gnawed at me for several days and questioned me on compassion. What is our limit of compassion? She did not change the world, led a revolution or discovered a cure that would save all mankind. She was just beautiful, without tricks or self-interest. She was deeply human.
We had the chance to watch contemporary dance shows during the international contemporary dance festival in Madagascar, I’Trôtra festival. I really loved local dance companies, especially Master Jah Company. They had a strong message about waste. Their intention was clear and praiseworthy.
For me, intention is more important than technique.
I remember my uncle, brilliant bossa nova guitarist, discussing with me about it. He loved my simple melodies whereas he was a virtuoso and playing complex arpeggios (that I could not play, mostly because of shameful laziness, I must confess).
I love raw emotion. Of course, I enjoy technique but I love ‘true imperfection’.
These shows were a big breath of fresh air in this daily routine of vigilance and pollution. I’m trying to remember the last contemporary dance show I’ve seen, in vain...
I was founding it hermetic, like others, until I met choreographers during reporting. I was lucky to meet Jean-Claude Gallotta in Reunion Island. His late beginning and brilliant dancer career impressed me. And he even told at the end of the interview a great: ’Will you dance?’
My internships in cultural departments in newsrooms gave me access to culture. In Reunion Island, I’ve never been to the biggest theatre (Théâtre de Champ-Fleuri) before covering shows. It was too expensive, too snob as well. I tried to bring everybody who could not afford it with me into the dark room to enjoy beauty and wealth of culture via articles and radio reports. Cultural politics may have changed today and culture may be more affordable. I really hope so...I’m too far from the island and its daily routine now.
In here, from the few I feel, culture sounds possible to access to everybody. I was happy to see that the opening show of the festival was happening downtown, in Analakely, with a South-African crazy awesome dance group (Taxido Arts Production Company). It was a free event.
I was discussing with a local journalist about cultural journalism and its problematics in Madagascar and she told me it was pretty much the same than in Reunion Island.
I still hear karana on my way on the streets. Even my partner noticed that people had a strange look on me. As I’m looking like a karana, it is strange to see me walking on streets as they apparently only move into big cars with smoked windows.
One day at lunch, a Korean man asked me if I was Indian.
It is funny in a way as in Reunion Island, a Reunionnese guy told me I was not looking like Reunionnese. And when I told him I was born in Le Port in Reunion Island, he was even more surprised.
I’m proud I was born over there. This town has a bad reputation (dangerous) but I only have good memories in Le Port. Engines’ purring of the electric plant, hot chocolate coming from a coffee machine (my childhood Graal), my uncle and aunt, my father back from fishing and the old 4L (old French car) that my brother and I loved so much, dried savannah and pebbles.
We spent few years in Nantes, France and lived in the capital city, Saint-Denis when we came back in Reunion Island but I’m from Le Port and I’m proud to say it.
We moved our last things from Itaosy. My partner is definitively following me and now living in the city centre with me. It is a relief as it is complicated to live on two places.
I was happy to see again Itaosy for a day and nature. It is good to go _a bit_ away from pollution, to have nature as horizon (not green as nature is arid in here!). It is good to blow my nose and not having these horrible dark spots. But our missions lead us to be downtown… C’est la vie!
We had not time yet to leave the city but we should have an opportunity, maybe in two weeks. We cannot wait!
Readings (and film)
I’ve finished Milan Kundera’s ‘Life is elsewhere’. I’ve found a comic from my hero, Riad Sattouf. I love him. I ate his ‘L’arabe du futur’ 1 & 2 (The Arab of the future). I would like to call him my idol but we cannot idolize humans as we have too many faults. But, God, what a pencil line! What humour!
I also discovered a great concept of comics and journalistic investigation with the French magazine ‘La revue dessinée’. In the same line, I’ve read ‘XXI’. I’ve heard about it before but never read it. It was good. The last issue had a great article about new adventurers Roland Jourdain and Corentin de Chatelperron (and his stories about hens on a boat).
I saw a great Spanish movie ‘Blancanieves’ during the Spanish Film Festival of Antananarivo (first edition!). It a recent silent movie in black and white (of course, similar to the French ‘The Artist’). This Snow White remake is beautiful, very aesthetic, with a wonderful photography. All women of this movie are stunning. Snow White’s grandmother is so charming…
Living in Tana
Even if I’m still vigilant (safety, health), everyday life is starting to be more relax. I’m feeling more flexible on my knees, like in boxing. I’m starting to have few habits, to know a bit more about procedures (how to give my neighbour the right change if she or he has a big note, all this into a religious silence when the radio is not belching French 70’s hits) and do okay kely kely (a bit) in Malagasy.
We cannot say I’m trapped in a routine yet. One morning, during the trip, our taxi-be stopped on the side of the road as smoke was coming from under the driver’s seat. Everybody quickly went out of the taxi-be!
The few I’m starting to understand and learn from Malagasy language from lessons and from students at the Radio Université Ambohitsaina appears beautiful and poetic. For instance, the brown water served with the meal in some greasy spoons is called ‘silver water’. The language is full of pictures. Felaka is usually an envelope with some money as defrayal for journalists. But I’ve been told it is also meaning to slap. A student told me journalists were ‘slapped’ with money, ‘blinded’.
I’m really lucky to be amongst these people.
This last week was really heavy and fast-paced. It went really quickly. I feel like I had no control on time and no time for myself. No sport, no post on my blog…
I’ve introduced interns to the Centre de Presse Malagasy, recorded interviews and texts for future radio programs ‘Médias Dévoilés’ and did thousands of other things. My four days of work looked like two weeks.
But I still have efforts to do. I am shamefacedly bumping into Malagasy names (they are so long!). I had to do it several times and fortunately, the sound technician is very patient.
I’m physically exhausted but mentally, very happy!
We visited the Volunteering Day stands at the Alliance Française of Antananarivo. It was interesting to see the different initiatives.
We stopped at the ‘Relais’ stand and had the chance to discuss a bit with one of the manager of the Malagasy network. This association is directly linked to Emmaüs, the most famous charity association in France. I’ve found this initiative very sane as it is self-funded and demanding its independence from international investors. It is rehabilitating people by work in factories, five star hotels and other activities. I read about other similar projects in Mexico with chef Gaston and in France with Thierry Marx in ‘La revue dessinée’.
Questions about humanitarian actions and development are right into your face in Madagascar. It is a daily matter when you live in here.
Sunday in Antananarivo
Sunday is my favourite day in Antananarivo. Everything is calm, soothed. I like to walk in empty streets and enjoy serenity. Everybody is at the mess. I really would like the other days to be like this one. But maybe it would lose its flavour?
Last week was full and spent quickly once again. Like in a carrousel, everything is going very fast and I cannot clearly see details. I’m trying to stay focused but tiredness is getting me.
I still have no time to do sport.
I think I had a kind of blackout on Sunday. I was sick, in bed with a kind of bronchitis and some gastric problems. I really feared it was a heavy bronchitis eating my ability to breathe properly. I still feel something in my lungs but it looks like ravinstara (local herbal medicine) is working out.
I’m recording more and more radio programs, the pace is fast and we have work to do with an objective of 52 editions!
Emportée par la foule
On Wednesday, I saw a police raid in Mahamasina, where I’m catching my taxi-be in the morning. A small van drove slowly and walking policemen got any goods left by those who were not quick enough. So people were running quickly away with big bags of stuffs.
On Thursday morning, someone also vomited his or her breakfast on me. I’ve seen it was breakfast as nothing was digested at all. It was disgusting but I’m not even sure this person is still alive now… We witness these kind of things on the streets. Silhouettes lying on the streets similar to empty shells. We saw a young girl lying behind a bus stop in Ampefiloha and my partner was very shocked, just like other Malagasy, to see a mother and her newborn lying on a roundabout…It is even more shocking to not intervene because of our status of vazahas. For safety reasons, we have been told not to stop and help out someone in a bad situation.
It is difficult to go against our instinct…
On Thursday, it is market day in Mahamasina. It is the day I fear the most as it is full of people, customers and vendors installing their ephemeral shops. If cholera is declared, I will be in first line and I will have to be more careful than I already am…
There is less taxis-be now because of regulations and it is starting to be like Ampefiloha, at the beginning of my taxi-be adventure.
We saw a conference about Eco-systemic services payments at the Institut Français de Madagascar. It was interesting but I’m really not convinced by the system. Behind these big words, you have to understand ‘fine if you do not respect nature’.
Big companies have armies of lawyers and lawmen able to find thousands of ways to avoid taxes and fines like this one. They could finance good conscience but they already have their own foundations for that.
I was disappointed that no local and simple solution was offered. Where is this world going?
Employment crisis of young Malagasy…
I’ve seen another conference about employment crisis affecting young Malagasy people at the local antenna of United Nations. Figures are just tremendous: half of the youth is unemployed and they work in the informal sector for 95% of them.
400 000 young graduated are getting into the employment market and most of them have to accept under qualified jobs. I was complaining in France (as a good French) but in here, this is another dimension.
To my biggest surprise, the word leadership was mentioned next to civic rights.
I have few time left for reading but I’ve been able to read Guy Delisle’s ’Shenzen’ comic. I really like this author. I’ve already read few of these albums. I love his humour and his observation of the world.
Madajazzcar – Guillaume Perret
We had the chance to watch a concert from Madajazzcar, the international jazz festival in Madagascar. It is one of the longest in the world with 14 days in a row!
We were lucky to see PHB Tana Quintet and Guillaume Perret. PHB Tana Quintet is a local traditional jazz band, with a musician playing an ‘ewi’ (with lots of play on words in French with ‘eh oui !’) which gave a specific colour to the music. These guys were really good !
Guillaume Perret invited us in another world with a light and sound show. This saxophonist alone on stage (with brilliant sound technician and light artist) mixed electro and jazz music. He made me think of Ibrahim Maalouf on some aspects. Those two gave another dimension to brass.
I really loved Guillaume Perret’s fantasy world, especially on one of his piece. Well, there was a bit too much basses but difficult to escape electro today…
We also listened to other musicians from the Malagasy jazz scene at the beautiful Antsahamanitra’s théâtre de verdure and damn, they were good!
We can say that last week was not quiet!
Fresh air of Antananarivo
I had short breath during last week. On Thursday of the week before, I already had difficulties to breathe and had to sit down few moments.
On Monday in the afternoon, I felt bad in general with a nasty belly ache.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, I really dragged my body to work and I lost my voice, which a bit inconvenient when you’re doing radio programs. On Thursday, I stopped and stayed home. Coughing was so intense that my ribs started to ache.
I have no heavy respiratory problems. A terrible severe bronchitis stuck me to bed for almost three weeks in Melbourne. I was not to this point this time but from this time, I fear an infection from the very first signs.
Between pollution due to heavy traffic and fire bushes from around creating a greenhouse cover on the city, air is not really fresh in Antananarivo. From Wednesday and before rains, the morning fog was so thick that we could clearly see the solar circle.
We experienced our first rain, appetizer of the monsoon (rainy season). It rained on Friday afternoon but nothing important. On the opposite, Saturday was a sneak peak of what we will experience in the next few months.
The sky was dark and it was even darker than during the eclipse. By chance, ‘thanks’ to my bronchitis, we stayed home. The weather was very heavy and hot. My partner was working in Itaosy and came back on time to be safe. From our window, we saw a tornado, then downpour and then hail.
The terrace became a swimming pool and the path in front of the building, full of rapids with current. Water was rising quickly and we enjoyed being at the second floor. Except some leaks around windows and doors, we cannot say that we had damages.
On the other hand, the path, the unofficial soccer field and the car parking on the East side were immerged. Water rose at the top of the wheels level. The soccer field was still a swamp on Monday morning. On the West side, the flower market and the road in front of the hospital were also immerged.
The current was so strong at one point that I thought an animal or a kid could drown in.
If we felt this time was like a quick drought, Antananarivo people looked used to it. Our flatmates were outside when the rain fell and came back soaked. The temperature from the inside and the outside of the flat was a least of 10 degrees.
After the tempest
My Malagasy readers might think I’m dramatizing this little shower. We’ve got this kind of weather in Reunion Island but it is usually during cyclones. The day after, we saw abandoned shoes (as everybody was walking bare feet to join its destination), waste and mud carried.
I’m desperate to find rain boots. It looks like a mission. A taxi driver stared at us with big eyes when we asked where we could find some.
I’ve been warned about falling rocks. They occur on hills ‘slopes but also one of the tunnel I’m taking every day to go to work. They said people died in it…
Rain washed all trees and plants so we discover nature downtown. It is appearing again after hiding behind a thick layer of dust.
Back to work
I’m back to work and I must admit I love my job. I have the chance to create and manage projects, do radio programs, meet people and I feel like it would be very difficult and even more impossible in Reunion Island and France. I hope I’m wrong but I had no signs going towards an opportunity. Maybe I’m too difficult…
Yes, my health is at risk. Yes, daily life can be tough. But for once I have a fulfilling job, in line with my values and that I love to do…
Antananarivo is preparing to host international events. The Francophonie Summit will be held in less than a month now. We can see the city preparing to this.
White lines appeared on major roads downtown. It is sad to have to wait international events and leaders to discuss while eating petits fours for infrastructures to be improved. But at the same time, it is a benefit for the whole population.
Meeting with Emmanuel Genvrin
We had the great chance to meet Emmanuel Genvrin, author living in La Réunion for a long time. This prolific author, friend of late André Pangrani (founder of the magazine Kanyar), talked about cultural life and policies in La Réunion. I was really happy to meet him again (we met before in La Réunion) and to discuss with him. I was in Antananarivo to promote his last book Rock Sakay about the failure of “Reunionnese” colonisation project of Madagascar, led by France. Unfortunately, I’ve not read it yet, as this birthday gift is in La Réunion and apparently, we cannot rely on Malagasy Post to receive mail and as we have no letter box.
I always had a complicated relationship with Reunionnese culture. I love it, I desire it but I feel like it is only teasing me. It sounds like I will never ‘own’ it, like I will never be part of it. Maybe I have difficulties to integrate the island, even if I was born and I lived there.
I read in a Michèle Rakotoson’s book the word acculturé (without culture) and it is maybe the closest word to describe how I feel.
I have no time to read those days as I’m too tired and I’ve not borrowed anything for a moment at the Alliance Française or at the Institut Français de Madagascar.
However, we’ve seen ‘The Lobster’ at the Institut Français de Madagascar during their free movie sessions, a crazy movie about love and society.
We live around Anosy, government neighbourhood, close to Lake Anosy. It’s got a good reputation.
We hosted a friend, part of the Coopération régionale at home for two nights as she spent few days in Antananarivo. Friday night, we went with her for her to get a taxi, few hundreds of meters from home, next door. It was around 8pm and 8.30pm when a group of 6 to 8 people threat us with a gun and knives. We had no idea and did not really care if it was a real gun or not. We were more afraid about knives (real ones). They asked for money and wealth, searching all our bodies. They know some tourists keep money inside their underwear and we both have been touched by several people. My partner asked to have his papers back and they gave them back.
We followed instructions from the colonel met when we arrived, in charge of French people in the Indian Ocean: no resistance and give all you’ve got. Our aggressors must have been disappointed as we had only our phones and few money. By chance, we were not beaten. When they were searching, I feared for my crotch but more for my partner who had knives pointed at him. Without communicating, we thought the same: they won’t use the gun as it will be too loud (and vazahas and karanas murders would be too annoying) but a wound caused by a knife (maybe dirty or that could led us to the hospital) would be a big problem.
Policemen and gendarmes (it was difficult to identify where to go, even for a Malagasy) who took our claim were surprised to know that this kind of aggression took place at this place and at this hour.
Even if it is not usual, risk of aggression sounds common and Malagasy people are also victims themselves. In the end, I’m more worried about no duty of rescue. Few people told me it is very common.
Of course, from this moment, without being paranoid, we do not see our environment the same way. Because an aggression close to home let us think that they might have watch our activity.
Everybody has an ‘explanation’, a ‘justification’ of this event: extreme poverty, despair…
I’m looking for answers. Before the aggression, I’ve noticed quite well schemes and frustration the population undertook. Of course, I understand exasperation about money and Malagasy women. This weekend, I saw a tourist putting a note in a low-cut dress of a traditional dancer in a restaurant during a show and I was asking to myself how it would be seen if he was doing the same with a traditional French dancer in the East of France for example…
The after shock
We asked to be sent back to Reunion Island and then sent to another safer country.
This is the first time that I’m thinking of leaving such a great job. Everything was perfect: I was doing a radio program with a team with strong bonds, I was achieving interesting projects and I was meeting people. Even if I have recently started my mission, I consider some colleagues like friends now and we had so many projects, visits, things to do aside the job. It would be a real sacrifice for me to leave but staying is accepting risks. I cannot completely concentrate on my job right now.
We fear to be watched and that another aggression happens again.
I’ve learnt to be careful about signs. In Australia, in a week, things were not good at work, I had my application for a permanent residency visa refused, my partner had a car accident and his grand-mother died. Sometimes, we had to accept that a path might not be the good one for you and maybe change.
We are deeply convinced about the principles of Coopération régionale. We still support that it is a great opportunity for Reunionnese people and countries hosting the program. We simply had bad luck.
We hesitate. We would love to stay, face the situation and fulfil the contract. Maybe it is not such a good idea to escape to another place. Maybe changing few parameters would allow us to stay until the end of the mission and not leaving our hosting structures and missions like that.
Of course, we still are scared when we cross the path of young people, in crowded places (markets, streets) and most of all, the path where we were attacked (next door, few meters away from our place, which is a problem).
Our employer, the Département de la Réunion, is closely following up on our situation and I must admit that we feel that they are supportive and listening to us.
We feel that from the local authorities’ point of view, it is not a serious situation, even if not common at this place (read more about on the previous post). In France, I already faced impassibility of authorities and what is sure is that no one is moving as long as you are not coming with a knife between your shoulders. And it is something that I can understand as the mountain of papers created by these ‘little’ events is a big one for these officers who see murders and other horrors.
But we are living abroad and it is never easy to feel vulnerable far from your marks.
We went to Ambohimanga and it was a good moment. Located about 20 kms north away from Antananarivo, the village of Ambohimanga fulfilled our dream of fresh air and nature.
The Rova (palace), doors and city walls, archaeological site, are UNESCO ranked World Heritage. We really enjoyed being away from pollution and promiscuity.
It is still difficult for us to go out as we are physically (we sleep about 10 to 12 hours up and are still tired during the day) and psychologically exhausted. We feel that going out is a super hero mission.
‘All inclusive’ circuits do not exist in Madagascar. Travel agencies only offer car with driver rentals so for now, we do not plan a weekend in Tamatave or Mahajunga (on the coast, by the sea). Anyway, it would take hours to go there so there is not point for a weekend.
My partner did lose weight from the aggression. We are trying to rest and find again our balance.
We put our missions on hold for think about a decision about the situation.
Should I stay or should I go now?
Whatever would be the final decision, it will be hard. Staying or leaving, that is the question. I went back to work quickly to meet colleagues and finish the edition of a radio program. It is very sad to imagine that I would leave all this and the feeling of desertion heavy to carry but we will see a bit further that there is a list of criteria to consider.
After days and days of thinking over the situation, considering consequences of choices and picking a decision, we took a break. We _finally_ succeeded in going further than Ambohimanga (see previous episode). We went to Mantasoa, two and half hours away from Antananarivo. The place is famous for its quietness and fresh air. We were not disappointed as the place was very peaceful, far from roaring cars and the city endless noise. Peaceful lake waters were only disturbed by jumping fishes, getting insects. Wind was caressing water lilies. It was almost the perfect postcard, except for the bush fires fog letting only a solar disk appearing. Even there, the air was not so fresh...
Halas, this potential break was ruined by a tough return to the capital city. Bush fires were important and it was impressive to see the sky whitened and the sun hidden for most of the trip. Quietness was smashed by a very long wait (we changed three times of taxi-brousse and four hours of wait!), promiscuity again (packed into the vehicle), dangerous driving on tracks with craters-sized holes and again, this weird look on me.
Am I too tall, too vazaha, too karana? A little girl stood for while, staring at my partner when we were waiting the taxi-brousse and it was obviously curiosity towards my vazaha partner. But I don’t get intentions of looks on me in Antananarivo. I read sometimes contempt. A Sunday morning, I read it on a man cleaning his car as I was taking a taxi. About the rest of the time, I don’t want to believe it, to dive into paranoia but I’m ending to think that it is something close to it. My partner is notiving more these looks on me than myself. Well, from the aggression, we are of course more careful of our environment. But the looks were there before the event.
Another detail lets me think that there is a real discrimination. When we took the taxi-brousse to go back home, we were amongst the first arrived and we could pick our seats. We wanted the front row seats (to finally have a bit of room!) and we were told that there were reserved. Then, we saw that there were not at all...
A smashed car on the road during the way in appeared again on our minds and finally, it was not so bad to seat on the back rows (maybe...).
I still trust those that I consider like friends but something is really broken with Madagascar. In the street, we are foreigners and we feel it. Of course, we are foreigners but Malagasy people have a word to tag foreigners who are accepted and respected: vahiny. We are not just in the street but vazaha (or karana) walking on the street in Tana.
I’ve already been attacked in Paris. It took me years to go back to some places and I’m still scared of some. But I must admit that I trust more French authorities.
In Antananarivo, you are asked a ‘coffee’. You have then to give few thousand of ariary (or threat to call the Consulat but this strategy is not always a good one according to some advices).
The question was not obvious as I wanted to be strong as a mountain and to face the situation. But just like water, it worked the stone and dug the stone: am I able to adapt to life abroad? The question is adding to my ocean of interrogations.
I trust in myself but fatigue and psychological weakness let some room for doubt.
We cannot and do not want to live like expats. This privileged and wanted status never seduced us as it is too far from local daily life but also as it is not part of our contract.
Leaving with few finances, leaving a precarious situation and depression, we had to go over arrival difficulties and savour _for me_ achievement and concrete outcomes. But daily life is starting to be really too hard.
We are trying to stand back and to use ‘cold’ tools to see more clearly the situation. We are doing pros and cons spreadsheets with list of criteria (ability to find a job, pollution, safety, social networking...).
Back to reality
Mantasoa was a short relieving break but the return to reality and Antananarivo daily violence was brutal, as excepted.
Violence, especially violence of misery, is everywhere. It is kicking you on the face at any time, when you are having a drink in a bar and when you just look outside and see a whole family fighting for subsistence. Pollution and misery are permanent, visual, sound and ethical.
I can hear people telling me to ‘protect’ myself, not to let empathy getting me and to go on places where you cannot see misery but what hypocrisy! No, I’m not a saint, a martyr or something similar to it. No, I will not change the world. I know it but living with it, like this, is a huge challenge.
Fortunately, we were invited by colleagues, now friends. These Malagasy learnt us to play the fanorona (traditional Malagasy game), some Malagasy words (malai which means great), bit about Malagasy History and a bit more about socio-cultural context. Racism is very developed. Rivalry between merinas and people from the Coast is tough and some people put fire to historic buildings into this fight!
The Francophonie Summit is not far now and we can clearly feel it. The city is transforming and the government is taking measures. School will be closed during the Summit and some gossip are saying that days off will be extended to everybody (as during the solar eclipse). Some say that it is for getting less traffic jam for international guests.
Benefits for the population are still a big question tag. French is the official language but for most, the level is not very good and sometimes forgot (on purpose or not). It is used when there is no translation or if you want to be more precise.
That’s it, we took a final decision. We are going back ‘home’ (Reunion Island).
After three weeks of thousand ways of thinking and rethinking the situation, trying to convince ourselves that everything will be alright, awful nightmares where my partner is dying, we took the ‘least terrible’ option.
Going out from home here more than twice is looking like climbing Mount Everest because of physical exhaustion and fear of taking this path downstairs.
We are torn between leaving our missions and friends here and the relief of going back ‘home’. I’m putting home into brackets as my partner has roots in France and I have other roots somewhere between Australia and New Zealand.
I’m affected by this situation: the ‘least terrible’ one.
We are not going out much, staying into our shell. Of course, we both are feeling guilty of leaving our missions and plans unachieved. But the only idea of going out alone, without each other, is terrifying us.
We both expect to visit a psychologist to be able to go over fear of crowded places and young people groups. We hope that it won’t follow us too much.
Pleasure of sharing
Preparing our departure, we spent a good weekend with Malagasy friends. It really soothed our hearts. Even if I’m very sad to leave my friends, I must admit that it was a moment full of joy and sharing (they taught me again more things about Malagasy culture). In my opinion, memories are what is left at the end and my friends are offering me such a great gift in spending time with me, from the humble walk to the evening at home, anywhere, in all conditions, just spending time with me.
Of course, sadness is filling my heart and I will cry like a fountain at the airport because I won’t see them in a nearer future but the joy of knowing them and the chance I had to spend this little bit of time with them is bigger and I prefer to keep this flavour in my mouth.
From different sources around me (volunteers and others), it is apparently not so easy to create bonds with Malagasy people. Some are isolated because of racism; others are living in an enchanted world of vazahas. So I’m feeling even luckier to have my Malagasy friends.
They pleased me in playing traditional Malagasy music and singing together. It was beautiful and powerful! I could feel a strong familial and cultural bond in these delicate harmonies. They translated songs for us. They were very sad, reflecting a tough life.
Exams coming soon
Final DAEFLE (Teaching French as a Foreign Language) exam is coming very soon. The 7th of December is in few weeks now and I cannot concentrate on its preparation. I really hope I will able to rest and focus on it in Reunion Island.
Sunday was a day of remembrance. A year ago, Lola, 17, died on Paris attacks at the Bataclan. The death of my friend’s daughter deeply affected me. I keep on thinking and dreaming of her. She was so beautiful and we had so much to share. My visit on her grave is still something out of reality for me. I don’t want to believe in this nightmare.
Thank you for reading me, I can see my number of readers increasing. Thank you for comments, emails and other private messages. I’m touched by your support and it is helping me out in these tricky moments.
The return is in half-heart tone. It was really expected and feared. I’ve left friends, including my flatmates (and it is a bit weird suddenly not to see people you have lived with every day).
Until the very last moment, the half-heart tone was there. On the door step, as we were sad to leave one of our flatmate, two kids were begging. We did not give anything, refusing to support this system, and one of the kids gave us the finger as our taxi was driving away. Until arriving to the airport, I feared that our taxi driver drove us in a weird path to rob us.
It is true that you have the before and after Madagascar. It is changing you in better and in worst. It is just changing you. Violence is everywhere, worming yourself in like the city dust and squeaking under your teeth.
You are really pleased to be back home. Antananarivo made me think of a giant carnivorous plant, Dionaea, which trapped humans into its spiky petals.
The arrival at Reunion Island was like a dream. It was unreal. Everything was so clean, open, the air fresh. I could see the horizon, the sea and sounds were so dulcet.
Violences: always, again, everywhere
I’ve left different forms of violence, including sly violence. The Summit of Francophonie, money bulldozer, is putting unbearable and contemptuous and pressures on local people. I cannot imagine what the Malagasy lower and middle class is thinking when they see brand new buses, laws and road works flourish as all these efforts for common were not done before.
I’m fighting with this guilt of leaving but I can be replaced.
It is ‘funny’ as another form of violence is hitting me: violence of going back to a rich country system where awareness is very light. So cowardice of a country where everything is still preserved compared to a place like Antananarivo...
Wart of cowardice is even more visible on the face of our society. Nobody cares about politics, everybody is way more concerned about its own little life, its upcoming Christmas shopping, and how I will compose my table decoration, and what will be my new car, and will my next smartphone be red or tiger-like...
I will be able to pass my DAEFLE (Teaching French as Foreign Language diploma) exam. I was not sure that it was possible as with all these events, I’ve missed the official date to admissions for the final exam. I’m a bit tired but too motivated to let this chance go!
Interns still thank me for what I’ve taught to them and I’m deeply touched. I’ve very proud to say that and it is not to satisfy my ego but pure joy. If I can support people to develop their self-confidence, it is such a great step! I took myself so long to be self-confident. I remember teachers and people who pushed me to be who I am and where I am today and I’m feeling very grateful.
It is the greatest success of our trips: witness people who became our friends succeed and if we contributed a little bit to it, it is even better.
I’m starting to relax and find back my marks. We were under pressure the first times as we still had Malagasy habits and Antananarivo daily life marking. It was good to see family and friends. We have not seen everybody yet; we are taking our time as we are exhausted.