Saturday, December 10, 2011

Day 6: October 11, 2011

Sitting in the Tana airport. Got caught in a mad traffic jam and had only 15 minutes for lunch—three courses, jammed down. Not fun.

The ride here was fascinating. People mostly wore Western clothing, and many were barefoot. Lots of people walking, some on bikes, lots of cars, lots of people with bundles on their heads (mostly women). Towns with shacks and stalls jammed together.

 We stopped for gas and I went into the shop, which had a fairly wide selection but only a few of each item. Lotsa empty space on the shelves. Much of what they sell is familiar—M&Ms, KitKat bars. Little in that particular shop seems particularly Malagasy or African. I bought toothpaste. I’ll be curious to see what it’s like. [That toothpaste, a brand I had never heard of, was kind of gross, thick and chalky. I later got Colgate, which was pretty much what Colgate is in the US.] 

In the more rural areas, people have more space but seem poorer. Shacks, mud homes, few more than one room. Painstaking scratching out of livings. The towns and Tana bustle, with shops cheek by jowl and little in the way of sidewalks. There are phone-recharging booths, lottery merchants, little “groceries” with little by the way of groceries. At one point we saw some selling clothing hung off a stone/cement wall—not like a yard sale or flea market, but like that was his shop.

In rural areas, we frequently saw women washing clothing in rivers, lakes, streams where the water was often far from clean. They drying the clothing by laying the items down on rocks or on the grass. In towns and Tana, clothing is hung from clotheslines on dozens of balconies.


Many of the rural areas have electricity, and some people have what look like TV antennas. Here and there, generally but not always close to towns, are signs of wealth—actual constructed homes with actual roofs and paint and design elements. And many rooms. While the poor house are often right near the road, these are further back, and often on hills—and often gated.

In Tana we passed an actual department store with big signs announcing what it sells, all in French. [The official languages are Malagasy and French. Recently English has been made official, but it’s by the least frequently used.] 

About an hour and a half later: Sitting on the beach in Mahajunga, at the Zahamotel. It’s rather stunning. Only a handful of people on the beach: a blonde tourist baking in the sun, two gorgeous African men lying in the shade wearing only white shorts, an African man with a reflective orange-yello vest (taking a break from work, I assume), and in the distance a small family.

I just moved to a table in front of our room in the shade. When I pulled out the chair to sit on, there was a lovely light-green gecko on it. It stayed for a while and then darted away.

They let me use the office computer at the motel, which has a French keyboard (known as AZERTY versus our QWERTY). It took me forever to get onto Gmail, and all the error messages were in French. I can read some French, but not enough to be helpful in this case.

I knew that my username was coming out okay, because I could see it, but of course I couldn’t see how my password was coming out. So I finally had the bright idea to type my password into the username slot, just to see exactly what I was typing. And what I thought was the number 5 was coming out as close parens. You have to press shift to get the number 5, as though it’s a capital. Who knew?

Everything was slow, slow, slow, and I felt bad about using the guy’s computer for so long. And the keyboard made me crazy—there were enough letters in the same places I was used to, so I would start typing quickly but then stumble on misplaced As and Ms.

About the weather on the trip so far: it’s mostly been mild and even chilly. It’s rained frequently, though never for long. I saw a rainbow over the lagoon at Vakona. Here, though—across the country and closer to the equator—it has been very hot at times. But the breeze off the ocean is lovely.

Bedtime: Talk about being out of one’s comfort zone. I just went to the bathroom and showered in a room in which I had just seen a GIANT cockroach. No romantic Madagascar hissing cockroach, either. Just a plain, old-fashioned, disgusting, scurrying roach/water bug/palmetto bug. It ran to the wall, and I sure hope it found its way out!

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