I’m back with another honeymoon post. This is more of a travel post because for once I won’t write about us, it will be more about considerations and descriptions of the cities we’ve visited as tourists for the first time. Of course, everything I write comes from my very personal experience so take it with a pinch of salt.
Madagascar is one of the few places that shocked me the most because I was not prepared at all for what I found there. I knew there would be poverty, but I didn’t understand to what extent and the consequences of that in everyday life. I have to say I did almost no research before going there, that is only my fault. I didn’t know what to expect, I just wanted to spend a week with my family celebrating my grandfather’s legacy of charity work and that was it, in my head.
Therefore, I thought of making a list (
and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice) of everything I was not expecting to find in Madagascar, in case there’s a lonely traveller who may find it useful:
Madagascar is heavily polluted, I was not expecting that. The air over there is way worse than the air we breathe in London, on the tube. Especially in big cities, our eyes would hurt because of the pollution. The quality of the air slightly improves in the countryside, but there’s always a very bad smell of gasoline that follows you (especially if you travel by car, which is also the only way to travel). As we left the airport to reach the capital city, I had the impression we’d landed in China, Guangzhou. I was there for a couple of weeks while studying at university and I still remember the smell of the air over there. It smelt of food, of sugar cane and petrol, while in Madagascar it smelled mainly of gasoline.
(Disclaimer: if you are vegan, vegetarian or can’t stand to see meat, quickly scroll down to the next point)
Our idea of shops is quite inappropriate to describe the market stalls and the one-room boutiques you can find around Madagascar. Most people sell their produce directly on the street, but the lucky ones have a tiny space made of bricks or concrete with an open window where they showcase their products. Having a shop is a luxury, shop owners sleep in their shops for the fear of getting robbed.
We found most shops were curious, interesting and unexpected. However, butchers were just horrible to look at. These pieces of meat hanging there for who knows how long, the knives they used to cut the meat (sometimes directly on the asphalt) and how they carried these butchered animals on their heads was horrific for us, as we’ve never seen something like that. It truly made us realise how lucky we are.
3 TRAFFIC AND PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Traffic (especially in Antananarivo, the capital city) is truly intense. There are all sorts of vehicles around and there’s no rule. It doesn’t matter how narrow a street is, it will always be possible to drive in both directions. Crossroads follow the rule of first come first served, the strongest driver wins and the holes in the asphalt (when there is asphalt) are huge.
Most people have a very, very old car with a very, very, very old engine. There are buses which consist in small trucks with someone at the back always keeping the doors open, but it’s not clear if they follow a schedule. There are no trains in the country and no highways. There used to be trains, but because most times the drivers wouldn’t show up or something unexpected happened, trains became useless and untrustworthy so they are now used only in the south of the country to carry goods. The same goes for airports. There used to be more airports around Madagascar, but because pilots are unreliable and because you never knew where an airplane landed until it actually landed, most of them are now closed.
For this reason, everybody drives around the country using these extremely old cards and trucks, contributing to the heavy level of pollution. If you are a tourist, the only way to travel is by hiring a driver and a car (and to keep the windows closed while driving not to get robbed).
4 DRY- CLEANING SERVICES
The population cleans their clothing in the rivers and then leaves them to dry out in the open air. If you see clothing scattered around on the grass, that’s because it has just been washed.
In Madagascar there are no ovens where to cook bricks. Therefore, people pile up hundreds of bricks to then set them on fire. This procedure is followed everywhere, both in big cities and in the country side. I have no words to describe the smell of burning bricks…
The first time we hear about spirulina was in Australia, as it was one of the most common ingredients for protein shakes. Spirulina is a biomass of cyanobacteria found in blue-green algae and it is very rich in calcium, niacin, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins and iron. You can normally find it as a powder that can be added to food or drinks.
All around Madagascar, it is now becoming increasingly popular due to the high value in nutrients. It is used in hospitals to prevent or cure malnutrition. While in Morondava, we visited a lab where spirulina is harvested in big, long tanks.
7 PADDY FIELD
In the countryside, you’ll find a display of breathtaking paddy fields, where the landscape is brightened by all these shades of green. Malagasy people still work the land with almost no tractors. A friend of ours said that they are scared that if they use tractors, they’ll soon be unemployed. Instead, they use oxen and rudimental equipment.
8 RITUALS BY THE SEA
Life in villages by the sea is very different from life in the inner towns. There is still a lack of trust towards the neighbours and people still live in huts, preferring to use their savings to buy golden teeth. However, the roles of men and women are more clear and distinct. Men go fishing in canoes while women wait for them on the sand. When men come back from the ocean, women cook the fish and men get drunk or they simply rest for the rest of the day. Women proudly wear golden masks that are supposed to protect the skin from the sun, but also mark a better social status.
Overall, we found Madagascar is a country full of contradictions and far away from the way we live and think. I personally left the country with a baggage full of unanswered questions, such as: do these people want our help? How can we help? Is what we’ve done so far helpful? Are we helping them as they need to be helped? Is our model of society applicable there? Are we happier or can we make them truly happier? What is it that they really need?
I still don’t have an answer for those questions and don’t know if I ever will. I have a friend who used to say: I’ll only help those I know, those who live in my same country and are suffering right now because those are the people I know I can help, or I know how to help. I’ll start from them. Since travelling to Madagascar, I’ve reconsidered these words. However, what you see over there moves you and it’s not something you can forget about. I am convinced only time will help me understand what I saw and what I can do about it.
How about you, have you ever went through a tough journey that left you with more questions than when before you left?