Saturday, December 31, 2011

Imani: Faith

Today is New Year's Day in Madagascar. We're celebrating it again at 11:55 AM; 11:56 PM Pacific time--right, two New Years Days in one lifetime. I've been here before, in fact for the past four years I have celebrated New Years twice.

This New Year's day there is no running water. We didn't have any yesterday afternoon either. The prices at the hotel go up today as well. We have to go make sure they note the account that we want a discount for the bucket showers we did not agree to. It rained enough yesterday from 4 p.m. until after midnight to leave us flush, but I don't think this place is set up to catch rainwater. In Haiti at Rea Dol's home and in Mali at Aissata Ba's home, both families use the rain water and solar energy.

We were never without water, it was cold, sometimes, but it ran. We are going to go out an get water and mosey around and see what the folks do on Sunday. We are going to go by the mosque and make two rakats.

I am wearing my African print pants. I have to find a scarf to cover my hair with and my arms. We'd planned to do the rest of our laundry today. I am going to grade the portfolios for all my classes at COA. The grades are due in by January 3.

We are in the basement of the hotel. It smells like mold or sour clothes. In any case, it is not pretty. The only plus side is for two people it is $25,000 AR a night, which is $12.50 US. Lunch averages about $4.50 US at a restaurant for foreigners. Water costs more--Eau Vive is the drink of choice here between $4000 --the highest we've seen and $1500 on the lower end of the scale. Two weeks ago we saw rides for the kids on a Sunday, I hope they have them at the park down the street today. That would be fun to capture in a Kodak or Fuji or Canon moment.

My cards are all full and so is my computer's hard drive. I have to find some technology, I have another country to hit in two days and I know I am going to want to video the 100th Anniversary of the ANC.

More later.

Avenue of the Baobabs

Friday, December 30, 2011

Nia Girl

Dec. 14, 2011

My daughter is a Diaspora child. Wherever she goes, the people claim her as one of them, whether that is Cuba, Jamaica or Madagascar. No one sees me. I could all but disappear as Africans claim their Pan African kinswoman, TaSin.

There is so much to see at the King’s Palace—he is the one who had 12 wives, one for each of the mountain tops that encircle Tana, twelve wives on twelve mountain tops or hillsides. The palace we visit is the summer home. It is a traditionally built house, an A-frame rooftop atop a square base. The king slept on a raised bed, his wife is in another bed across the room.

We enter the room or chamber with our right foot and exit backward, so as to show respect—there is a sacred altar in the northeast corner of the large room. People prayed and made offerings there.

There is a photo or painting of the king. The youthful ruler, has dredlocks and holds a spear in his hand. He looks fierce. In the chamber there are serving dishes or bowls and a round dining area where the king would entertain. The benches were also game boards. Madagasy people seem to like board games, a pastime that continues to this day. At any gathering one sees people playing cards or board games, which might be drawn on the ground with chalk and played with rocks.

Next to the bed and cabinet or shelves, is a tall ladder leading into the roof’s rafters. There the king would sit and listen to his guests while his wife entertained. He would drop acorns down signally his decisions to her.

The king was in great shape to be able to climb all those rungs to the top where no one could see him. We left the king’s palace for the rest of the chambers, one where the queens stayed. I think there were three queens who lived there over the course of the monarchy.

There was also a huge bath where the royal couple would have a ceremonial bath. Presently people still make sacrifices there at the sacred tree nearby. The last queen liked European comforts and decorated her chambers with ornate touches one might see at the castle in Europe, chandeliers, embroidered chairs, curtains—long wooden tables and a huge bed. There was also the requisite matching dining ware. I don’t remember carpeting though.

When we left there was another musical presentation, Jany called it “Jijy” from the Sakalava or “Vako-Drazana,” both rap/poetry. (check accuracy here).

“Faly izahay mahita sy mandne ananeo

Ny najana no miahy.”

The trip to the zoo by way of the stadium and a private high school was fun. We saw Muslim girls in hijab.

Malagasy Zoo

The zoo was so green and within the gardens there were many installations of indigenous housing styles and the mysterious tomb replicas for the different ethnic groups in Madagascar: the highlands, east, west and south.

This was a highpoint of the visit. The traditional dwelling or house installations showcased the A-frame design was constant with variations on the theme—some with a veranda for those hot days.

We saw a warthog, shy lemurs circling their cages or hiding behind paws—there was a hungry crocodile who ate the hands of a slow feeder. Talk about a dangerous job. This is a cautionary tale to accompany the saying about (not) biting the hand that feeds you.

Madagasy are great storytellers, at least the few I have met are (smile). Jany told us about another crocodile up north who over a period of ten years ate five children, two adults and twenty zébu, before the townsfolk caught him.

This croc was slumbering. He must have been full.

We saw eagles who only ate fresh or live fish. As I spoke about the bald eagle as we stood in front of the cage, I read a plaque that said the eagles were a gift from the United States. Jany said eagles only have two eggs and only one survives the fight to the death. One sibling kills the other. Only the stronger bird survives. I wonder if this is true; if so, where is the parental oversight?

The park also boasts lush vegetation and a small baobab which is 50 years old, but is a dwarf. Graffiti covers palm leaves and bird droppings or feces have turned vegetation a new color— We passed by the stadium and the angel monument in the center of the man-made Lake. It reminded us of Lake Merritt, just a bit dirtier and perhaps smaller.

Nia woman

The Madagasy stone is TaSin’s birth stone (Sept.) Sapphire. That’s pretty cool.

Dec. 30, 2011—

Back at the train station, we saw some really nice jewelry this afternoon. The necklace we liked the most was $150 US. We went there to get the dolls I liked. The price went up from last time to 10.000 each. We decided to leave them. There was some nice smelling soap with Madagascar imprinted on it—vanilla, licorice, and other fragrances, but they might not hold up in hot weather. We went back upstairs and found some really pretty dolls, that were not there last time we visited a couple of weeks ago.

We went by a fast food restaurant and TaSin had a chicken burger and fries. I had a roasted poulet with chutney, papaya chutney and fritz. Her catchup is fluorescent red. I wonder what the tomatoes look like—certainly not like the one on my plate which I leave. We do not do salad (smile). There is really nice art in the establishment as well and it is set on the corner we like to hang out on and watch the people. It is also near “Times Square.” We plan to end up there New Years Eve and see if there are fireworks.

The paintings I like are mixed media of a group of people reading the newspaper at a newsstand, a typical sight in Tana and elsewhere. People read here. There are a lot of reading rooms set up where people read the bible and other religious material, but even in the most rural area of Madagascar, people are reading the paper and people speak French, the money language here.

The other picture I like is of the three baobabs one sees when traveling through the Avenue of the Baobabs, with a twist. The artist has added a reflection of the trees in a pool of water, which makes the common scene a bit magical and lovely.

Today everyone was out with their kids. We saw two circles of people surrounding a street artist, one a fire eater, the other a magician. The fire eater tried to jam TaSin when he saw her taking photos. We missed the show, but he must have been good; there was lots of money in the circle. The magician made a stuffed teddy bear fall out of his hat. We didn’t understand his jokes about the play snake, but when he pulled out the real snake, wrap it around his neck and walk around, people stepped back. He didn’t get as much money from the crowd. I think he was more gab than skill.

All along the walkway between let’s call the top of the boulevard, the one that the famous people came down with the police escort yesterday, the park with the map of Madagascar on a monument, with famous people surrounding the stature, the end of the boulevard the train station the folks were out. There was even the local radio station with a truck, like KMEL and KBLX does at fairs and concerts. The only thing, there was a live artist singing.

There were photographers taking photos of kids with Santa—yes, a bit late, but maybe it was a sale. The black Santa had a white mask (smile). There were also two other tableaus—one for infants, another with water. Really creative and pretty. There were horse rides and cotton candy, lots of favors and party hats, bubbles. Madagasy people like bubbles and where there are children, one can usually find an adult blowing bubbles for them.

We went by the bank after Planete: Snack-Burger-Salon de the Service Traiteur where TaSin had her first burger with fries. I had grilled chicken. I was really good. We skipped dinner. I am still not hungry. At the hotel, the cook took the day off. Funny no one told us yesterday, dinner was on you own.

We went by a really plush hotel, The Colbert. There was a pianist playing live jazz. Next door was a candy and pastry shop. It was a ritzy row, valet parking and panhandling was only allowed in the parking lot we found out as we were attacked by a well-fed, well-dressed mom with babe in arms while two other kids asked for our money and our purchases from Shoprite. Kids and mom were plenty nervy. We avoided them by getting back on the sidewalk. They thought we’d come out of the $100 a night hotel.

Dream on.

Not Chronologically Speaking

After lunch, at the only bank that take MasterCard, TaSin’s card was captured. Can you imagine? She tried to get 400,000 AR and without a word the card was GONE. You know I was not about to put my card in an ATM after that. The one good thing is that this was a bank. Not Bank of Africa, which doesn’t take MC, but Visa, but BNI of Madagascar. We went in. They woman said to come back Monday. We were like—but we are leaving the country. Someone went out and got the card. We noticed a huge file with the words CAPTURED on it.

She told me since I didn’t have an account there, all I could do was use the ATM. I was able to get money—B of A, not Bank of Africa, the other, had been giving me grief. My card had been refused after making a small transaction—like $17 dollars early on during the trip. I went to the market, Shoprite and the clerk didn’t know how to run the card so BofA got nervous and put a hold on my account. I called them and read them the riot act. I’d told them I’d be traveling so they wouldn’t pull this on me. It happened in Senegal last year and Haiti last year as well. The only thing I like about BofA is the acronym, now that I’ve seen Bank of Africa, which people call in Madagasy, “BofA.” Funny coincidence. Bank of America does not have an affiliate here.

I'd wanted to get some Madagasy money, and we were all set to buy quite a bit back at the forest in Andasibe we'd picked out quite a few old bills and then the price went up twice, from $5000 to $10,000 to $50,000. We put it all back. So when I saw the $5000 Ariary note Vinct Cinq Mille Francs $25000, which are no longer used--but really pretty designs--heroes and artists, along with landscapes past and iconic imagery like the zebu and baobabs and lemurs. The note I bought has a proud looking black man on the front with the country in relief, a baobab near his left hand; it is almost as if the tree is growing from his hand. On the back of the note, is the zebu and two men wrestling. It cost me $10.000 AR or $5 US.

There were also the usual clusters of grungy kids playing together or begging. Lots of kids were drawing with rocks on the pavement. The kids are really creative. I didn’t see any black dolls outside the collectibles I found at the train station galleries or at the hotels we’ve stayed at.

In Antsirabe, the dolls were dusty, they’d been on display so long.

I am not certain if I mentioned the staircases that connect the upper and lower neighborhoods. Really nice staircases literally cut into the sides of hillsides which make the trek up a lot easier, because there are also landings. It is all cobbled and the step is often steep, yet one finds adults and children scaling the stairs like farmers do the same in the countryside where the steps are the space between rice fields, corn, cassava, beans and other crops.

Of course there are vendors along the stairways, so one can shop too. Artisans who carve stamps of Madagasy landscapes and iconic symbols also set up shop here. TaSin tries on sunglasses which range from $2.50 to $5.00 US. She finds some glasses when we reach the bottom of the hill on our way to the plaza. We call them her Malcolm X glasses. They are really sharp, so we don't mind paying the higher price.

We often see people making up prices on the spot. When this happens we decide whether or not we really want the item. Today the sign "tourist" seemed to be plastered on our foreheads. Other times people can't tell. I had on a lapa and a scarf over my head and TaSin had on her usual slacks and scarf. In any event, we couldn't pass today (smile).

I saw Muslim men in long robes and fez. I wonder is there is another mosque where the Madagasy Muslims make salat? In Morondava there were two really big masaajid or mosques near each other, one for the indigenous folks and one for the immigrants. The mosque we pass on our walks up and down the hill only have Arabs entering and exiting. One sees women in black hijab (Arab women) and the more colorfully dressed Madagasy Muslim women, also in hijab, but not black.

The nuns also wear hijab, white and blue.

Back to the stamps

There might be four artisans in a row selling the same thing. It is really, who gets to you first. The artist whose stamps we purchased had a portfolio we liked and I didn’t know he would personalize the stamps we bought with the names of the people they were for. It was pretty cool.

We barely made it back in time to get the stamps we’d purchased—four stamps—two of lemurs, one each whales and a baobab. The artists engraved the names of the people were getting them for on the stamps for us. This is something we see a lot—stamp designers. They were $20,000 AR or $10 US.

After the train station, where the security guard told us that we needed to watch our possessions, as he let us into the train station. Once he realized that TaSin was taking a photo of the sky, not him. Madagasy men guard property, they don't own, similar to in the US. One sees a lot of black men, especially African men hired as guards. I guess it is a way to flip the scary black male mystique in an economically advantageous way, cause white people aren't the only people afraid of black men, black people, including black men, are equally afraid.

Strange phenomena. We are used against ourselves.

Inside the Train Station, gone were all the paintings and other pre-Christmas sale items. The main lobby, which is also a café, was empty. Michel told us that though the train is gone, one can rent the train for a ride. I was happy to see trains in the countryside. It is too bad one cannot hop a train from the outskirts of Tana to its interior. It would certainly expedite the transport of goods in both directions for those who do not own cars.

We went from there to the store, where we got TaSin’s staples: breakfast rolls and juice drinks. I got cashews. There were no almonds—we found a store closer with water so we don’t have to lug the heavy water from town up all the stairs to the hotel anymore.

My breakfast the first week was Vega Complete Whole Food Health Optimizer, an All-in-one, natural plant-based formula—I mix it with 8 oz. water and 5-6 drops of NutriBiotic Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE), a natural anti-biotic in the morning. It keeps me going until about 1 or 2 p.m. especially if I have a banana too. I brought enough Vega packages for the entire trip. I take my malaria pill with it and other supplements like B-1 and garlic oil capsules, Andrographis Extract (Supports Immune Function), Body Pure (Heel BHI), Bilberry Complex (for my vision), Keep Fit and Ren Shen Jian Pi Wan (Ginseng Stomach), NutriBiotic Maximum Strength, Defense Plus (when I feel under the weather).

I also carry and take a multiple vitamin, AlphaScob-C (pills and powder), Echinacea, Astragalus, Boneset, Nettle and Quercetin w/Bromelin (supports immune function), Oil of Evening Primrose, Red Sea Kelp, Feverfew, B-complex, a glandular supplement: heart, kidneys, spleen, liver, adrenal. I have Traumeel and Arniflora Arnica gel for pain, swelling and stiffness, also insect bites, in the emergency medicine box—did I mention that I fell three times already while here? Yep. I carry a flashlight too for the uneven pavement. That doesn’t help me when the lights go out in the hotel and I forget that there is step leading to the door and fall down the three short steps. I also fall down steps outside the hotel in Antsirabe. I am still wearing bandages, but the cuts are almost healed. I have Similasan for Anxiety relief, along with Oat Extract and Bach’s Rescue Remedy Spray. I also carry Benadryl and Loratadine for Claritin for food allergies and hives. No matter how well I eat and try to stay away from foods that break me out, things slip into my system and these drugs keep me from itching too much.

Dr. Webb hooked me up three years ago with the Keep Fit, Body Pure and Ginseng Stomach, Astragulus, Echinacea and Boneset. I was already taking Absorb-C. The nutritionist told me about B-1 and garlic when I went to Haiti the first time and wanted a natural mosquito repellent. Maria, also at the Foodmill Store in Oakland turned me onto Defense Plus, which I like better than The Wellness Formula, when one is really sick. I like the Wellness Formula: Cold and Flu, but the FDA in its shortsightedness is making vitamins and natural supplements harder and harder to acquire. She told me about Andrographis Extract this time for travel. TaSin and I took it the first week to build up our immune system. I was already taking the Nettle and Quercetin for hives and Feverfew and Oil of Evening Primrose for migraines. I haven’t had any headaches in a while. I started taking acidophilus 8 billion for my stomach flora last year to control the Candida or yeast. I also stopped all milk products and went gluten free and sugar free. I am eating way too many bananas and other sweet fruits, but oh well, I am traveling.

Other regiments might work well for people, but I have never gotten sick and when I get a stomach ache or a sore throat, it doesn’t last more than a day.

This is probably way more detail than you asked for, but it works.

We are back at the pad, hotel pad that is. We moved our second and last time. We were upstairs, now we are downstairs. The room is larger down here, not as much natural light. The room next to us as this fantastic view and a loft space without a ladder, just like our window seat upstairs in room 3 had dead bugs in it, even if there had been a ladder.

The rooms with natural light seem to get cleaned better. Perhaps the maids think we won’t see the dirt because the rooms are so dimly lit? There are cobwebs under the lovely art on the walls. How do I know? Well, when we remove the painting to hang up our clothes lines, there are cobwebs. I wipe the shelves down and move the wicker shelves and there is dust and dirt and other crap behind the furniture.

We made a reservation two weeks ago before we left, but it wasn’t submitted so we have to settle for this room, which is not as bad as what we’ve seen in the pass week, but it is certainly not great. We have not stayed in any of the better rooms here.

Such is life in the big city.

We haven’t decided what to do tomorrow yet, but it will be a blast, I am sure.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

We went by this place that is listed in TaSin's Madagascar book, Ortana. There are two sites, one just around the corner from where we were staying when I wrote this note. They were a wealth of information, maps and tours. They also host free or almost free cultural events. There was a great concert, I wanted to attend but it happened the weekend we were going to the market to see the zebu.

The concert was with a folk singer who was supposed to be really good. He also, played traditional instruments.

We decided to go visit the other Ortana site where they lead walking tours. There we met Jany, who is Merina and loves history. He led us on the three hour walk, which included the Queen's palace. We ended up going the next day to the king's palace and the next day to the zoo. We were going to travel to the east coast to Morondava with him, but we would have had to ride the bus, so TaSin worked the deal with Vivi, Owen's Tours for a million AR.

We even let Vivi bring his wife and kid.

The walk with Jany ended at dusk where we had dinner. This was the dinner where we met Michel and his wife Dani whom I mention in an earlier post (smile).

TaSin and I took a taxi to Ortana and walked back.

December 14-15, 2011

Today we had the opportunity of seeing local culture from two areas of Madagascar, the Sakelava (Boina) and the Merina. The Merina dancers, musicians and singers were first and reminded me of Mexican folk dance—bare foot, the men had on straw hats and the women pinafores in pink floral colors with scarves they used in the performance as well. The musicians wore long skirts and played the guitar, accordion and other instruments. For the second dance ensemble what I noticed before seeing them were the djembes. The women sat in a circle and played sticks—striking them together and also hitting each other’s—there were songs accompanying the playing and from time to time one of the women would get up and dance.
The women had on geles and lapas, more traditionally African in look. I found Jany’s comments about Indonesia and how there is a town in Indonesia that was similar to the one in Madagascar these people come from, interesting.

I don’t know why there were no men singing in the circle, but later there was a song, a spiritual song to the ancestors that a male soloist sang. The majority of the musicians were also male.
[There was a song sung with religious or spiritual references]—it seems, from the sacred trees to the sacred mountains or hills—to the reverence of the zebu—its flesh, blood, skin and excrement everything is blessed. There were altars all over the castle grounds. Taboo is called “faddy” and one doesn’t want to displease the spiritual realm which seems really close to the physical one.

King Andrianampoinimerina’s castle sits on a hill just outside Ilafy; it is his winter palace. I recalled his story from yesterday. He is the king who married 12 queens and placed them each on one of the hills (ca. 1750–1810). What we saw today was the palace.

12/27/2011 Notes
Poor doesn’t have to mean primitive—the bathrooms at the services station was nice: toilet tissue, water, soap, clean.
I can spare two bananas I hope. I have 4 left and then lychee which I hope is not spoiled. Vivi and Sandra are the epitome of travel on a budget. The tour guides get kickbacks at Joseph’s jewelry place, at the hotels on the circuit, at the restaurants. Nothing is arbitrary, everyone knows everyone’s business. Proof: when we were on our way to a Chinese restaurant on our way back to Tana, Vivi got word that the person who hired him to take Michel and Dani and us to Antsirabe the first time, said he’d stolen his clients, when we never met him prior to the trip which was arranged by Michel and his wife. Funny, funny. At the hotel at the forest, where we stayed in an overpriced bungalow, Deborah threw a fit and told Vivi they couldn’t afford $54,000 ARI, well neither could we. He found lodging with one of the employees. In Antsirabe where we stayed in the roach motel, he stayed somewhere not far in digs which were not optimim: dirty, but okay I guess for the baby.

The stop we’d made before was full. I didn’t understand the arbitrary nature of the trip, like not booking reservations in advance when possible. When we got back to this hotel yesterday evening, the reservation we’d made two weeks ago was not on the books, so we have to move three times between now and January 3, 2012. We are in the upper suites which cost more money, but have less amenities, like space. The ceiling is slanted so I hit my head when I am not careful getting out of the bed.

I have a taste of “bugphobia;” I kept seeing insects last night where there were none. I guess the arbitrary nature of the infestations is what got to me. I am okay with tropical species—I am even tolerant of them as I hope they are of me, since I am the visitor. But when it comes to roaches, the kind I see at home in a luxury apartment hotel, I am like what?! And then bugs, dead bugs under sheets and bug remains raining down on one as she sleeps under the mosquito net that has a hole in it and does not fit the bed—I had to rig it to make it work (smile). Safety pins and bobby pins working side by side—it gets daunting.
Then after telling the driver to drive slowly through the towns he continues to speed and I miss some of the distinctive and unique architecture of the regions we pass through, not to mention the facial distinctions between populations.

When am I coming here again? Madagascar was TaSin’s destination, not mine. I was interested in seeing Reunion Island and the Comoros, but that didn’t happen. The opportunies missed to connect disappoint me. This trip, outside Vivi was so superficial. I am truly a Veza or tourist. When we invited Vivi to join us in the large and spacious bungalow I could see the guide-tourist, Madagasy/Veza protocol at work, when he’d already breached it when he asked if he could bring along the brat and his wife.

I was limited to just one side of the car and they made many stops which were not a part of the itinerary, which was fine with me. I am glad they came otherwise we would not have known nearly as much as we did.

In one town, where we wanted to see the tombs, Vivi asked a guy on a motorcycle where the mayor lived and he was the mayor—how cool can that be—right?! In another when we stopped for breakfast at a Madagasy hotele or restaurant, he mentioned that the governor and I am not sure if he said president, stopped by to get rice pancakes there.

Before we left the hot city, second in the country, the first, Maevatanana, is further north, just 350 km. from Tana, the capital. Deborah bought a chicken at the hotel. They put the bird behind me in the trunk, so I put my backpack next to me. I didn’t want the chicken next to my stuff (smile). Of course, the folks didn’t like that—I could not spread out, while the kid spread out on me—feet, dirty hands, elbows and hands that like to slap and pinch –until he learned the word STOP and that it was dangerous messing when the older Veza (smile).
Found objects like rocks on the seat next to me slid under me—soccer balls next to my feet played tournaments, while the kid who looked like an angel when his eyes were closed slept propped on pillows next to me. It was a really lovely sight, especially when mom and child were asleep at the same time.

Yep. It was interesting, especially when I guess after an especially difficult night in cheap or free digs, Deborah, who is pregnant, needed her sleep and told Vivi to turn off the radio. We never had music in the back after that—days later, it was silent in the back when before the ride was musically interesting if repetitive—the music was programmed on his i-pod.

So they moved the chicken to the other side of the trunk and away went my buffer between me and the brat. Deborah gave the bird away at a hotele where we stopped so they could have lunch—red rice and meat and some kind of drink.

Yesterday morning, 7 a.m. was the highlight of the road trip for me. I have never been in a rainforest and it was cool walking through with Everest and the other guides on the locally maintained forest where we saw the larger lemur, one who is known for its leaps—it doesn’t have a tail. The name sounds like “injury.” I think it is spelled njiry. No internet right now, so I can’t check it.

We encountered an entire family: mom, dad and two kids. Everest told us that the mother or the female is the leader in the community and that she can bear children up to 45 years. In fact, the species is really similar to human beings, in that, it can live up to 70-80 years old. I think the median age is 65 or so. The children are adults at nine and then leave to start their own families. The family has up to three kids at a time and perhaps in their lives only two sets of children, if that many. Both parents take care of the kids.

One of the guides sang to the lemurs and then the forest was filled with their calls. The female’s call is a different pitch than the males. We didn’t hear any female calls. I found it interesting that the lemurs don’t drink water, they eat many varieties of leaves. I think up to 20 or so a day and from their food, they get their water.

We saw the plant TaSin’s hat was woven from, the plant our roofs were made from and many medicinal plants, ones for hypertension, stomach aches, heart trouble. It was pretty cool—this all in the first few steps into the jungle.

I asked about the first Madagasy inhabitants, the forest people—they live in another forest. I wish we could have gone there to meet them and see their lifestyle—how they mourn their dead, celebrate childbirth, puberty and marriage.

When asked where we come from after discovering that we were not Madagasy, especially TaSin, the guides, especially Everest, who taught himself to speak English in eight months, tapes and a book, plus practice with tourists—they would say, you are African.
Everest asked where in Africa we come from. He said the story of the African American is the same as that of the Madagasy. He blamed the French for most of what is wrong with the country, its corruption and political disarray. He is Merina from the northeast, at least, I think that is what he said (smile).

We ran into some Merina folks on our way back when Vivi and wife, stopped to get fresh cassava leaves from the farmers selling along the road. I would hear people give me one price and Vivi another. I’d see them give him more of a product than me—and TaSin would laughingly jam him when he called us his “veza” when speaking to others about us.

We were on the look out for prisons and tombs. I never got into a prison, but we went to many prisons looking for permission. The last one we tried to get into was a men’s prison, but the men were out in the fields the prison official, I guess warden told us. The prisons were in the neighborhood and its administration was a part of the community. I didn’t understand the police system—the border patrols who checked papers, insurance papers. One company NY Havana, I thought mention New York to Havana, Cuba (smile). If one doesn’t have insurance he is in a lot of trouble.

I never saw women driving, not that women cannot drive. I just never saw a woman behind the wheel. The cars are mostly European make: German and British motors. TaSin mentioned that perhaps the women have drivers, like they do in other countries like Mali and in Ghana. Here taxis are high jacked. I couldn’t imagine the distress a family might feel if a woman was out running errands with the kids and never returned home.

While we were in Morondava the owner of the hotel we were staying at—she was mixed race, French and Malagasy, her children, were traveling from the hotel elsewhere and the taxi was taken, one of the drivers killed—I think his throat was cut. They took the women’s luggage and jewelry.
Vivi said there is a system where the taxi drivers are a part of a circuit where they let folks along the route know passengers with wealth are coming. A roadblock is set up—we saw lots of them, usually with police standing guard but last night there were no police there and we kept going. It was along the road, a new road called, The By-pass, built by China. China has sponsored many roads here, and the government, since independence, 1962, has built others.

We maneuvered through one with a lot of holes on our way back from the coast, that was when the brakes were squawking and squealing and the tire kept loosing air. That was when we ended up at the hot hotel—Christmas day 2011. I forgot to mention we dropped by a service and visited the church. No one wanted to come in. We stood in the doorway and listened to the prayers and communion. The church was full.

School is out and so there are no kids to visit. As we travelled kids asked for presents along the way to Antsirabe the first trip with the French couple—former French teachers (16 years). Dani is Vietnamese. Michel called Madagascar a paradise—a literal heaven on earth. I kept thinking of Cuba and how it was once the playground of the rich Europeans. It is the same here, only the government supports their frivolity.

France owns Madagascar, just as to some extent it still has way too much influence in Senegal regarding its development and tourism. I guess I didn’t see this side of the trade, because I didn’t eat at the hotels and didn’t stay in many either my first trip. The second time, it was different. I didn’t notice francophone menus like I do here. There are restaurants run by the French, lot of them. Michel said the reason why the French don’t serve more local cuisine, is because they don’t know how to cook it.

Meet Michel, Director

Michel Boccara, Petit á Petit, ltd productions, is a filmmaker and producer, whose film formed the basis for The Lion King (different title) on Broadway. His voice is that of the slave trader in the film, The Lion King. I thought that was pretty cool. He also used to run the cultural ministry for Madagascar in Tana. The train station is closed now and serves as an arts center where artists have studios and sell their work, crafts and fine arts.

Our first hotel, La Ribaudiere, TaSin booked before we left home on-line. I book the hostel we’re staying at in Melville, Jo-Burg, from Madagascar. It looks like rain, the sky is dark, but it hasn’t started yet. Rain is an event—it blows sideways and one cannot stay dry. It is getting chilly and I am going to have to leave the restaurant and go get a sweatshirt. I have washed clothes and they are hanging on a clothesline TaSin brought from home. Yes, my girl is prepared (smile). I bought soap the last time we went to Shoprite. Everything shuts down at about 5 or 6, sunset, one cannot even find a public toilet and if one is looking for lodging, he or she better have a reservation, otherwise, most reception desks are closed.

Dinner is prepared by request, so one cannot just drop in for dinner, not at the tourist hotels, hotely seem to be open all times of the day or night, but the quality of the grub also depends, along with the cleanliness of the establishment. At one point, Vivi said he his body was with us, but his mind was on autopilot. I could tell the wife and kid and tourists with a car falling apart was getting to him. He left us at an Italian restaurant too long and at the forest park too long as well. His phone had no minutes and he didn’t answer half the time. We amused ourselves at the restaurant, which we’d visited before with Michel and Dani, one wet rainy afternoon. It wasn’t rainy Wednesday, but clouds were gathering in the distance. We visited with a nice shepherd, Rakitonjanahary Augustine, from Hautte ville, Anbatolamoy, in the back of the establishment, which also catered. He was really nice—posing for photos and encouraging us to make ourselves at home. The zebu are so sweet with their wagging tails.

The restaurant had trellises with grapes, lots of green grapes on the porch on the side (I think they are purple when ripe)—a man came along and plucked the few there and ate them (smile). There was also a garden with pineapples. I never saw pineapples on short stalks before. They sit almost ankle high, really cute and not dwarfed at all. There were also banana plants with bunches of green bananas.

The rain has stopped and but the clouds have not cleared. It might or might not be a good time to travel (smile). We are sitting here typing our notes and wishing for Internet which is not working. I feel like switching hotels, but this one is well lit and the service is while not better is just as friendly and one doesn’t encounter the stuffy Frenchman who doesn’t speak English as the one here, who makes himself scarce. In Madagascar, kids learn English in secondary school if they complete high school everyone has a rudimentary grasp of English, even if they don’t have an opportunity to use and it and forget it, just as we do at home, with languages we study but don’t use. The French is necessary for work. It is the money language here. In the most rural areas, folks speak French. The only English is hi, hello, goodbye and maybe please and thankyou. I think that’s pretty good, ‘cause, that’s all I know to in Madagasy: Good Morning, “Manahoana”; Please: :Azafady;” Thank you: “Misotra” (big thanks, or big anything, add: be) “Misotrabe:”—Thanks a lot.

We met this really nice waiter at the first hotel. His introduced himself as Rado.” We were like, sure. No one has a name that short. What’s the realy deal and we got the following name and story.

Rado’s name is: Ralaivao Ange Andriamandimbisoa Rado Martinez. Ralaivao is his sister, brothers, grandparents, in other words, family name. “Ange” means angel. “Andriamandimbisoa” is his late brother’s name. His brother died before him and he carries his brother’s spirit; his brother is reborn through him. “Rado” is his personal name and “Martinez” is the priest who baptized him.

A lot more interesting, right? The “Ra” in the family name indicates his ethnic group too; they are the Merina, one of the larger ethinic groups in the central highlands. I noticed at the Queen’s palace at the museum that a lot of Merinas have led this country politically. “Ra” means “blood.”

I can’t find the receipt with the name of the restaurant where there is the garden and zebu, but here is a partial list of places we stayed and dined:

24/12/2011 1 omeletter aux fine herbs 3500 AR Emilienne in Monondava
27/12/2011 1 escalope de Poulet 9000 AR and Pizza legumes 7500. Total 16.500 Ville Ambatakampy

26/12/2011 Hotel La Maison du Bonheur in Antsirabe Terrain Karmaly (horrible place—great internet)

22/12/2011: Bengalows-Bar-Restaurant, Chevel de Mer in Nosikely, Monrondava
1 Poulet et legumes + fruit, 9000 AR, 1 eau vive 2500 AR, 1 Fanta 2000 AR. Total 13, 500 AR

24/12/2011: Les Bougainvilliers Bungalow-Restaurant Morondava:
2 nights at 40000 per. Total 80.000 AR

We were here, 4 nights at 20.000 a night. It was 80.000 for the 4 nights. The woman who wrote the receipt couldn’t read French or something. Whatever, it ended up the same price. This place was literally on the beach, really nice.|

I liked this part of the trip the best. Okay, I said I liked the visit to the forest the best, but I liked the visit to the island to see the village where they build the boats, the coconut water and coconut fruit, fresh from the tree—that was nice, especially after the boat ride there. It was a long narrow boat and we were close enough to the water to be able to run our fingers through it. I think what I liked best here was meeting Malagasy Rastas and learning to dance. It’s a combination of the twist and the New Orleans second line dance, mixed in with West African hip rotations—freestyle. There was this brothers who was really good; if I’d stayed in town, I would have danced with him again. He was really fun.

As you dance you go all the way to the floor in a swat and stay there. It’s really fun. Christmas eve., I had on my Rasta Bob Marley t-shirt, pants and a dose of ready to get down—with no where to go (smile). None of my dance partners were at the club, so I didn’t get a chance to dance again.

I haven’t seen any other dance parties since.

28/12/2011: Bezanozano Restaurant, Muramanga-ville
grilled au poulet 8000, galette de poisson 8000, eau vive (water) 3000. Total 19.000.

28/12/2011: Hotel Mikado, Andasibe Hotel-Restaurant
We got a deal and then the guy took it back when it came time to pay. We were like, honor your word. He tore up the receipt and wrote another one reflecting the agreed upon price. People get greedy and don’t realize they are messing up their potential revenue for the future. 4000 AR is just 2 dollars but the place was pretty horrific. . . two horrible places in a row. It’s no wonder I have the creeps.

The dinner was cold the night before and we had to eat with flashlights since we could hardly see our food.

1 assiette vegetarian 6000
1 suplemen de legume 5000
1 bungalows 50.000

total: 61.000 (terrible place. Do not lodge here). Too expensive and not clean enough. I like the hot place the best Christmas weekend. After I cleaned it up it was really nice. No bugs and the décor was pretty, also the host was really nice, he and his relatives, Brice and his cousins. This is the place they shared dinner with us, fish and rice and bought us water.

20/12/2011: Bar Restaurant Razafimamonjy Avenue de l’Indepence, Antsirabe
1 pizza vegetarian 9000
1 poulet aux legumes+ fr 7000
1 eau vive 3000
total: 79.000

24/12/2011: Les Bougainvilliers-Bungalow-Restaurant
2 Frites 2000 (4000)
2 Legumes soutes 1500 (3000)
1 omelette-ou fine 3500 (3500)
Total: 10.500

1 Poisoon poineau 12.000
1 Quart de poulet 12.000

1 Eau vive 3400
total: 27.400 AR

1 Quince de poulet 12.000
1 Quart de poulet 12.000
1 eau vive 3000
total: 27.000

This is the place TaSin liked when we visited Antsirabe before. I’d gotten wet and skipped dinner that night. We stayed at the Carmelita which was ant infested (smile). There were cute bunny rabbits in the garden, pheasants and I think tortoises, a regular menagerie.

Everywhere we ate, we were often the only tourists there. Vive and his wife got a free meal. They gave it to Owen, who didn’t like it. The second time we dined there they have red rice and meat. The red rice is really red. I have to try some. Perhaps they will have it here at Niaouly Hotel –Restaurant, Anananarivo.

We have 50.000 AR left, $25 US. Meals are running us $20 a day each, room $20-25 as well. We need to stop eating two meals. I think we got into the habit of eating two meals on the road trip. Vivi would stop for lunch and dinner. We aren’t doing as much now, so the meal requirements will probably lessen. At the first hotel, there was no breakfast available, not real breakfast, more continental—TaSin has a her own stash: breakfast rolls or Danish-like Madagasy style, a fruit flavored drink. I have bananas, sometimes lychee—I just don’t like all the flies they attract. The mangos are the same. Flies love them. I have only had one papaya, no two. It was great.

I bought four kinds of mangos a couple of weeks ago: red, yellow, green, and yellow-orange. The only good ones were the little red ones and the orange/yellow one. The green one was like starch.

I had purple sweet potatoes the other day, at the nice restaurant with the garden. They were so yummy (smile). I also liked the zucchini Vivi fixed with garlic and onions and green beans with home fries. It was our Christmas meal. He really didn’t feel like cooking. He awoke early to a flat tire, had to go fix it. We’d gotten up at 5 AM to leave at 6 AM, we didn’t get out until 9 or 10. I am not sure which, it just meant everything was backed up.

At nightfall, I was starving. I can’t eat much. Deborah’s beans and rice at the hotel on the beach was a sweet memory. Madagasy people like sauce, so there is sauce with every meal, that and rice. She made good rice too. Most of the rice is dry and hard and nasty at the restaurants we’d visited on the road.

8:38 AM; 7:39 PM
We just returned from a walk. We tried a new route to the bottom of the hill where there is a market and a store. On the way down we admired the view-how many ways can one say houses on a hill (smile). Madagascar is hilly and we are at the top of one of them. We saw an Apple store and these cut kids who were clowning for us. We were at the bottom of the stairs and couldn’t do them justice, that is, photographically, so we climbed the hill and took photos up close and then showed them to them.

As we continued our lesuirely walk to the plaza where there is a stature of Madagascar and traffic police, a motorcade came down horns blasting and lights and sirens going—some of the cars looked like our police cars and then there were others that didn’t . I videotaped it. TaSin said she saw and man with a rifle in his lap. The dignitaries were looking out of the windows.
I have it on tape, TaSin on film. I then took photos of all the cops and the police car—green and boxy shaped. I took the photos fast, before they noticed me. TaSin took a photo of a police man directing traffic and he wanted to take her camera. He spoke to her in Madagasy and then in French. She responded in English. He looked at me and I shook my head as in I can’t help you brother (smile). We then quickly moseyed on down the road.

We got great rush hour in Madagascar’s capital shots. There was even a Times Square video screen with music videos and commercials—a younger Mariah Carey sang and girls in music videos danced. It was cool—I can hardly wait until New Years.

We saw some pretty old Madagasy women this evening too—one lady was really wrinkled, while the other two with a bit more melanin perhaps looked equally great. We were told the life expectancy has gone down to about 65-70, maybe younger than that. The medical system is pretty bad, unless you have money. It isn’t that there isn’t healthcare for the poor, its just that the poor don’t get served unless they have money to bribe the doctors. I can’t understand a system that has no oversight—why waste time putting such services in place, if there is no follow through?

The ousted president built a dairy factory that produced milk and eggs, but it stands empty. We passed it in one of our many drives—I forget which one. I think it was when we were leaving town.

As we walked we saw disabled children propped in their chairs or on the sidewalk. We gave them $200 each. It was really sad, but the Madagasy people love their children, so I feel that the money will go to the children’s well being. Funny how when you see kids dating one thinks about sex and babies, since children are seen as wealth, the more the better, so birth control is not practiced much if at all.

I got up to close the door to the restaurant which was blowing cold air on us and someone swiped my chair, that quickly. Funny.
We saw some t-shirts and looked at a few for presents and bought three. The woman couldn’t add or subtract. I had to recalculate the prices for her and then TaSin had to keep sending her back until she got the right change. Two cost $7000 and the third cost $1400, she added wrong and got 38.000 AR instead of 28.000. TaSin gave her 30.000 and she could count 2.000. First she gave her 500 AR and the second time, $1.000. She kept giggling and running back for more change. The man standing near her told TaSin to put up her camera, that someone would come by and grab it off her neck. I flipped my backpack to the front and so did she while in the crowd. We crossed the street on the way back to avoid the traffic cop, if he was still there (smile).

We thought about going to the place where I saw burgers advertised. We weren’t sure if a burger in Madagascar was a sandwich on a croissant. We decided to not try it tonight and settled for the chicken we know. Back at the hotel, TaSin ordered Riz-cantoncus (au zebu). The waiter told her it is filling. It was veggies and rice and eggs and meat. I had Brochettes au poulet with legumes and fritz.

We found two Internet cafes one around the corner and one next door. They both charge two cents a minute. I plan to do my grades in the morning and send a story to Mary for the SF Bay View and post something on my website.

Internet is working!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Kwanzaa! Habari Gani? UMOJA

Habari Gani?

Monday finds me in Madagascar where no one I have spoken to knows about the Pan African celebration of first fruits or Kwanzaa (smile). We are 12 hours ahead of Pacific time, so it is dark and late right now.

We have been on the road, new city, new hotel--not new, in that we've been in Antsirabe just a couple of weeks before. This new hotel: La Maison du Bonheur, Hotel Chambers Appartements is definitely cooler than where we spent the day and night yesterday.

Christmas Day in Madagascar was a fiasco for the non-Christians, Veza or white people, in our case, "black white people" without food. Our tour guide, Vivi couldn't find anything open, so we went to a few stores to see what we might be able to throw together: Lorna Dones, crackers, sardines and then I saw a lone vegetable vendor, a sister with a hallo--okay bananas and carrots and string beans and squash --looked like zucchini on steroids (smile). There was also tiny garlic cloves and tinnier onions. Oh, I mustn't forget the potatoes.

Vivi made us dinner and it was so delicious--better than the finer traveler restaurants as compared to the local fare in hoteles (Madagasy for restaurant).

Christmas morning we went to a local breakfast eatery where Vivi and his family had rice pancakes and I had a cauliflower one. I have been having my usual trouble finding something to eat--here, the local fare is zébu and fish. Chicken is also common, but the way it is cooked it's really hard to chew it, so I have opted often to just have legumes or veggies.

Vivi's home-fries or fritz (pronounced: freets) were so good. I had had to clean the hotel room a bit before we could get comfortable. There were a lot of dead bugs around, especially in the shower so I took the all purpose soap the proprietor gave me and put in some anti-bacteria from grapefruit seeds and got to scrubbing. I cleaned the sink and the toilet to.
I was so happy all the bugs were dead. It was as if my wish was granted for the one evening: screens and regular pest controls. We had the requisite mosquito net over both beds and a few dead ants inside, but the operative word here is "dead."

It was so hot, we could make tea with our water from the bottle. I think Miandrivazo is the second hottest place in Madagascar. There was going to be a party that evening and the DJs were playing techno TaSin knew from home. There are quite a few remakes of songs or the actual oneo on the local radio stations.

We met a really cool b-boy, brother man had on the bling, double strand rhinestone studded necklace, a big piece of ice in his right earlobe and rings on multiple fingers --all in a setting of silver.

He is Madagasy on his mother's side, with Reunion heritage on his dad's side. He was well traveled and could speak English having studied at a college in Capetown, which he loved. He told us about his travels to France, Paris, which he didn't like much, Germany which he said was the party capital of Europe. He also spoke of Canada, Montreal, as a place he'd like to return to.

He wants to come to California to LA and SF. Where else? He has relatives in most of the places he has visited and was in town this weekend to visit cousins. He and his cousins fixed us fish and rice, which was really nice of them to share their meal with us. They also bought us some water.

Our wakeup call two days in a row, today included was 5 a.m., yes, too early for a vacation. Christmas, Vivi had a flat tire so though we were up early, we didn't get on the road until 10 a.m. By the time we reached the second hottest place where we spent the night, the tire was flat again.

On our way to Monrondava, the coastal city, in Mandivazo, we stopped at another inn, that one lost its electricity just as we arrived and got our room. We had a candle. It was pretty primitive (smile). But hey, that's what Third World country means, right?

Bugs and mosquito nets and laundry by hand and no indoor plumbing? Wrong, what it means is that everyone knows life isn't fair, too many kids and not enough food, fat cats bringing in all the money and government services like free hospitals and free education, is not free for those who need it because like everywhere, bureaucracy breeds corruption, whether we are in Madagascar or the United States.

The 99 percent looks basically the same--well almost (smile).

Today the tire held up and we stopped first at the gold mines. Yes, families were out mining for gold. A gram was $40 US or $80, 000 AR. I have been trying to find cloth with Madagasy sayings on it. I have about five pieces now. I can't remember what each one means. I have to ask Vivi again to read them to me: "no matter how much people talk against you, you do not get angry,' "he loves you the best," "you know how to keep a confidence."

There are similar cloths in Tanzania, which means they are being made elsewhere and sold in these different countries. I wonder if they are made in China? Many of the roads are sponsored by the Chinese government. This afternoon we traveled down a road with lots of potholes, yet even on the worse roads the vistas are so breathtaking one can't help but marvel over the Goddess or God's creation.

This afternoon for lunch we dined at a restaurant in Antsirabe TaSin liked from our first stay here. She had vanilla chicken and I had grilled--of course the entree name was in French. The vegetables were great and I could actually chew the chicken which was cut the way we do at home, thigh and back together. Madagasy cooks are really creative with the way they carve a chicken.

Deborah, Vivi's pregnant wife and now three year old son, Owen, (today is his birthday) are also traveling with us. They are fun. Owen is such a bright kid--speaking in three languages: Madagasy, French and English.

Tonight he wanted to ride the merry-go-round, but his mother didn't like it: too fast for him even if he's with his dad. Owen took a ride in the push-push or man pulled carriage.

Yeah, it's weird, being pulled by a man running with a cart. It reminds me of the Indian system with what they called "coolies." Some people call it slavery.

We were dancing to the Madagasy music, which was nice. Kids and youth sat at tables gambling at a board with numbers on it. Some kids had lots of coins piled up high in front of them. While we were there is started to thunder, lightning streaked across the sky and then the drizzle started.

TaSin and I carry a plastic poncho and raincoat in our pockets or purses. One never knows when it will rain. This afternoon is rained after arrived at the hotel. These downpours can last for a few minutes to even longer. Many times we've gotten drenched, with our rain gear, more often without (smile). We wisk out the plastic when the drizzle signals.

People have come to know the Americans. Can't miss us: I wear a read cloth hat and TaSin has been rocking her Madagasy basket hat. But when one pulls out the camera and our "Salamus" don't have the same accent as the locals, we start getting hit up to purchase other items. In other areas, like the country, kids would ask us for presents.

Vivi's been trying to get me into a prison, a women's prison, but so far we haven't gotten far. Today, we visited a men's prison. The prisons are right in the neighborhood. The men were working in the field today. In Madagascar, mothers keep their children, so the children are in prison too. Often from what I read, the children don’t get enough to eat and as they grow older, if there is no family to receive them outside they are serving time with their moms. One mother had two babies while inside—she was a returning prisoner.

We met the children on an outing at the zoo in Antananarivo, the capital. The woman with the kids said that they take them on outings twice a month or was it twice a week?

Another thing I have been studying are the cemeteries. Yesterday, the prison we visited was across the street from this really big public cemetery. More often, people bury their family on their land, but in the city, where people rent, a lot of time people are buried where they died.

This afternoon after visiting the larger marketplace where we couldn't find hats large enough to fit our heads we went to Chez Joseph, who sells precious stones. It was quite the tour, almost theatrical as we went on a tour from one part of the establishment to another. The cast members told us about the stones from rose quartz, to rubies, to fossilized wood, plants and other gems. There were even tortoises crawling on a bed of precious stones which the establishment gave us an envelope to fill. Then came the sell, which was left to Joseph, the gracious host, who met us at the start of the tour and returned at the end.

He reminded me of the French men one sees on television. I was surprised to learn he was Madagasy--could have fooled me, but then, how many French men do I know?

None (smile).

Now I know why throughout Antsirabe there is so much rose quartz. It literally lines the porches and walkways of many establishments.