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.


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