Friday, August 19, 2005

Impressions of Madagascar

So I was going to be supremely lazy and simply post pictures of Madagascar instead of actually writing a coherent post, but sadly, our internet is so dodgy that I can't even seem to upload the pictures onto photobucket. In fact, most times the internet doesn't work at all. This isn't an excuse as to why I haven't posted about Madagascar yet--that's my own fault.
It just seems as though every time I sit down and try to describe Madagascar, words fail me. I think it's one of those places that you have to see to believe. There's no way I can give it the description it deserves, there's just too much to say!
So: Madagascar is that big island off of the coast of Africa (3rd biggest island in the world), which makes it particularly unique. The malagasy culture is extremely particular. It strikes me as a blend of african and asian culture. There are two main ethnic groups on the ilsand: the "cotiers" (litteraly, people who live on the coast) and the "habitants des haut-plateaux" (people who live in the plateau). In general, the malagasy people can be recognized by their "cafe au lait" skin (light, creamy brown), dark brown hair, and round asian-ish features. People from the coast have darker skin, frizzier hair, and tend to be skinnier (they look more 'african'), whereas people from the plateau are lighter, have very straight black hair, and are plumpler (they look more 'asian').
The malagasy language is extremely complex! It was only transcribed into the roman alphabet during the mid-1800s by english missionaries, and there are syllables everywhere. If you're actually attempting to pronounce a malagasy word though, you can bet that a fair number of those syllables are not going to be pronounced. Here's an example: to ask "How's it going?", or "What's new?", is spelled "Inona no vaovao?" but actually pronounced more like: "Inan Vovo?". As usual, I've fallen back on the key words:
Hello: Manao ahoana (or, on the coast, manao tsara)
How's it going: Inaona no vaovao
Very well: Tsara fa
Nothing much: Tsi misy
Thank you: Misaotra
Please (or excuse me): Azafady
Goodbye: Veloma
And I was also taught how to count to ten by a malagasy boy nammed Frank, who couldn't stop laughing because it took me so long to remember them (but now, you'll see, I won't ever forget!): rai, rou, telu, yvatra, dim, yen, fito, valu, sivy, ful (this is my own spelling).
It's so complicated, but luckily, a good number of malagasy (in the capital, Antanarivo, at least) speak french, which is the second official language. This is due to the fact that Madagascar was a french colony for a long time.
Currencies, at first, can also be confusing. There are two of them. Sellers often try to confuse hapless tourists at the market by switching between the two. Once you ge the hang of them though, it's not that complicated. To convert the new currency, Ariary to USD, simply take off three zeros and divide by two. To convert the old Malagasy francs to USD, take off four zeros. Voila!
The diversity is stagerring. Everywhere you go, there's an incredible selection of fruits, vegetables, and crafts for sale. The main food here is rice (it rains alot), called "dar". A malagasy meal simply isn't really a meal if there isn't rice with it. The traditional crafts are brightly coloured woven baskets (and frames, and bags... these are very popular at the moment, around the world!), semi-precious stones, carved exotic wood such as pallisander, and jewelery made out of zebu horns (zebu are the 'african cow', and are practically sacred in Madascar). The biological diversity is just as impressive; lemurs, of course, only exist in Madagascar, as do the fussa, and countless birds lizards, insects... honestly, I wish I could just sit down and research everything that I see around me! I'm sure all of my professors would be jealous of me :). But I'm a nerd.
And yet for all of this appearant richness (mangoes fall from the trees here), poverty is omnipresent and overwhelming. The average salary here is 1 dollar a day, can you imagine? In the capital alone, most children spend all day in the streets, barefoot, running through the narrow alleys ways... Everywhere you go you come face to face with it, you see the shacks that people call their homes, the beggars (the children, especially, are pros at this, and they'll flock to any "vaza", aka foreigner, that they spot), the sick... Madagascar is one of the few countries where the bubonic plague still exists.
When I come here I can't help but feel how frivolous I am. I haven't contributed anything yet. I met a young man, Raphael, who is 20 and just spent a year helping out at a local orphanage. He begins university in the fall. To do what he did takes a strength of character that I'm not sure I possess ("I'll never be able to eat green beans again" he told me-- he eats them everyday, with the orphans!). He's taught them english, taken them travelling, taught them how to make jam to sell to tourists... It's really amazing. I'm proud of people like that, or like my sister and father, who actually try to do what they can in developping countries. Ah.
Anyway, tomorow we're leaving to visit a little bit more of the country (I'll get to see more than the capital!), for a week. I'm so lucky! I'll be sure to take lots of pictures, and post them eventually, I hope! I probably won't be able to update until I get back to Montreal-- and even then I'll have to move into my apartment and get caught up with all of my classes. We'll see what happens :)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi. I'm a relatively new reader of your blog - very impressed with your Madagascar posts. Since I'm visiting your blog "in the middle" of your adventures I apparently missed what brought you to Madagascar initially. Perhaps if you have time you could fill your newer readers in a bit or provide a referral date for an earlier post that contains this info.


8:55 p.m.  
Blogger 007 in Africa said...

Hi there! Very interesting post indeed. I hope that you'll be able to post some pictures soon. I am so jealous. Will try to come visit soon :)

10:01 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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10:09 a.m.  
Blogger Kate said...

cool post, victoria!

10:29 a.m.  
Blogger BULLSEYE said...

The way I see it, this could be anywhere from truly enlightening to completely pointless and stupid.

10:30 a.m.  
Blogger frederic stefanini said...



10:39 a.m.  
Blogger babette said...

I had the opportunity to visit Madagascar, it's such a fascinating country: people,flora, animal life(lemurians).Did you see the work of Pierrot Men. Wonderful!!

11:11 a.m.  
Blogger Beaver said...

Cool post !

Malagasy seems to be an interesting (and very foreign language)! And madagascar sounds like a parallel universe :) I'M SO JEALOUS !

Do take the time to post pics for everyone !

And stop feeling bad that you haven't contributed YET. I used to freak about it too, but it all happens in due time :)

By the way, the evil spambots have attacked once again ! You should remove the anonymous comment feature !

1:21 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vic, that was a great post! I love hearing about Madagascar and everything that you do there. I'm happy that you're taking pictures and I can't wait to see them.

See you in Montreal, only one more week!

- Sarah

7:15 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vic, get your ass over to Montreal. We're so going foufing.

3:09 p.m.  
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5:40 a.m.  
Blogger BRE said...

Hi, Victoria. I stopped by today to checkout your blog via a link from 007 in Africa. This is a really good post on your impressions of Madagascar. The history of these islands and peoples is very interesting and you are right, it is sad that so many people continue to live in poverty there. I wonder who is making all the money down there?

It is strange that you say Internet services are very slow in Madagascar as I thought they were connected to South Africa's big pipes (underwater fiber-optic cables) heading East to South Asia. Demand on the island's telecom services must have really grown dramatically recently.

Good luck at school up north in Montreal.

5:31 a.m.  
Blogger James Bond said...

Great impressions, it's so true that Mada shouldn't be poor -- why isn't it at the same income level as, say, Thailand or Malaysia? It has a great climate, lots of land, rain, people with a profound, deep culture and a common language...

Madagascar is a country that thas gone backward for the past 30 years. I guess it's a living example of the corrosive effects of corruption. A good lesson to us all. Let's hope that the new government team can turn the country around!

12:15 p.m.  

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