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!


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