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.


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