Time has come for me to write a post about our experience in Madagascar and I feel like I’m not ready to write about it yet. It was such an impactful experience, it is not easy to take everything in, digest, understand at a deeper level what we saw and what we learnt. At the same time, I need to start writing about it because I know that it will help me make sense of the experience we had. This first post will not be an exhaustive post about our week there, it will only be me starting to tell you about it from the tip of the iceberg.
We went to Madagascar straight after our 8 days in Mauritius and we stayed there another 8 days. For this second part of the journey, we shared our adventure with my grandfather A, my father G, my sister M and her husband G. That’s because the aim of the journey was for our family to visit all those schools, villages, churches and other buildings my grandfather designed during over 25 years. Needless to say, I am extremely proud of what my grandparents have achieved over the years, not only in Madagascar, and for all the charity projects they are still following.
I’ll start writing about this experience by recounting the best and most memorable moments of our holiday, those I’ll never forget. I’m not saying everything was wonderful and easy, I just want to start writing about the good stuff (and leave the more controversial for the next post). Please note this is about my very personal experience and trust me, I’ve not made anything up, it all happened for real.
OUR 16-HOUR DRIVE (THAT WE DID TWICE)
Yes, we somehow ended up driving for 16 hours to go to from the capital city to Morondava, a city on the west coast, on a very uncomfortable van, and then another 16 hours to go back to Antananarivo only two days later. How did that happen? We are still not quite sure about it, but it was one of the greatest adventures I’ve ever lived.
When we planned the trip, we were told it usually takes 8-10 hours to reach Morondava. Then the day before, when we spoke to our guides, the hours slowly raised to 12, while Google said 11. Nobody mentioned the road was a disaster, or that it takes 10-12 hours if you have a card in very good conditions (a mirage over there) and never stop once. That’s the thing, nobody tells you the bad stuff in Madagascar until it’s too late to deal with it. I had the feeling they didn’t want to upset us so they left surprises to the spur of the moment, hoping we’d just nod and adapt.
So the morning we were supposed to leave for what we thought was a 12-hour trip (and by morning, I mean 4 am), we found out that actually our van and driver had changed overnight. The van was actually a mini-bus for 9 people which had been dismantled and put together again to be able to host 16 in the same space. No dampers or shock absorbers whatsoever.
We started our journey anyway as we didn’t think it would be that bad. After three hours, we stopped for breakfast. At that point, we were freezing cold because the windows of the van had a life of their own and really wanted to stay open. It was after breakfast that the road became more of a long series of holes connected by disjointed layers of asphalt and sand. Long story short, we arrived at our destination at 7:40 pm, exhausted.
Everyone hated that journey. Our backs and legs were sore since we could neither sleep nor rest properly and the noise of the minibus made it quite difficult to listen to music or talk to people in other rows. At some point, we had to dismantle a couple of seats to have leg space. Furthermore, we were in the middle of nowhere and were quite scared that if something happened to us or the van, we would have never survived. However, not only it happened to be our chance to explore forgotten parts of Madagascar, but also to spend so many hours with each other that it turned out to be a great bonding experience. I’m glad I could spend all that time with L, my sister and brother in law talking about our life and future projects, discussing our views of Madagascar and betting on what time we would arrive in Antananarivo. It turned out to be an awesome story to tell and a great way to discover each other again for us newlyweds.
Among all the buildings my grandfather designed, there is also a whole village for homeless people. Years ago, a community of friars bought a land and asked him to draw a project for a little village for single women and their children. My grandfather designed 19 villas, each of them is made of 2 apartments for 2-4 people, a pit and a central space where the community can gather together.
When we went to visit the village, we didn’t expect such a warm welcome. We all gathered in the central hall, where children and teenagers sang and danced for us, smiling joyfully. It was very touching to see all these people being so grateful for my grandfather’s help – and my grandfather covered in emotional tears. They also gifted us two little baskets of fresh eggs and some accessories made in straw.
After the dancing, we took some photos and they were amazed at our smartphone cameras. Suddenly, everyone, old and young, wanted us to take a photo of them to then see themselves on our screens. We almost ran out of memory that day!
Our program was mainly focused on following my grandfather’s path across the country. However, we did manage to include a couple of tourist attractions, including Baobab Avenue.
The story of this avenue is quite peculiar. Malagasy people use a lot of wood in their daily lives: they build their huts in wood, they burn it to cook and they make furniture, carts and all sorts of objects. Because they need it that much, they burnt and destroyed a great number of forests (without replanting the trees). However, they left the Baobabs behind because the Baobab wood is very fragile and worthless for constructions. That’s why now tourists can admire all these Baobabs that look even bigger without a forest around them.
The family friend who brought us to Baobab Avenue also knew about these two intertwined trees that naturally grew into a hug. It was a very nice surprise! These two are also known as Baobab Amoreux.
Over there we also met an Italian woman who is developing a very interesting idea. She found out about an Asian plant called Moringa whose leaves are rich in proteins and have a high nutritional value so she wants to grow them in Madagascar to fight malnutrition. She has already planted these trees and soon she’ll harvest the leaves. She also built a lab where she can ground the leaves into a powder that can be added to any meals. This project also involves the local community and is very interesting. You can find more about it here.
THE HILARIOUS TRANSLATIONS OF A CALABRESE ARCHBISHOP
You truly never know who you’ll meet on a journey. Well, we met this very funny person who is a retired archbishop. It was not planned, we simply were in the same place at the same time. My grandfather actually recognised him so he stayed with us while we visited a cloistered convent and he kindly translated the words of the nuns for us.
Not only did he interpret what the nuns were saying, but he also added his personal comments as he went along. After explaining their daily routine, which revolves around silence and prayers, he said: well, they are practically buried alive! That comment was so hilarious, it was what everyone was thinking but didn’t want to say out loud and hearing it from the archbishop himself, well, he made our day!
Wow, I think this is probably the looooooongest post I’ve ever written! I’ll probably dedicate the next post about the actual Malagasy life, but I wanted to keep this first post light and funny. I’ll send you a big hug from London, where the weather is cold and there are Black Friday sales and Christmas decorations everywhere!