We spent two and a half weeks on Madagascar. In the capital we met somebody who offers small tours for tourists and you can customize your tour, because in Madagascar there is only one paved road.
Only tourists go along there to the great big reef and the hotel and then back again.
The other roads are all sandy and bumpy, and you can only rent a car with a chauffeur.
It is not possible, especially for girls, to rent a car and drive alone through the area.
So we thought that we couldn’t take public transport, because our time frame was so tight. We then arranged an individual tour with our chauffeur, William.
A land of diversity
The island is 80% endemic, because the continental plate is broken off. That means flora and fauna are completely unique. You look at a leaf and think “this looks similar to a palm tree, but it’s not”.
As well as the animal world. Lemurs and chameleons, all crazy critters, comic insects. Unfortunately, there were only a few birds.
People-wise it was super interesting because the first who settled there were Indonesians. Then Africans and later Indians came. The French then (came) in the colonial era and all these ethnicities and aborigines have now been mingled to eighteen Malagasy ethnic groups.
These eighteen ethnic groups speak different dialects, have different religious and social values, and different interpretations of human rights.
We haven’t heard of public conflicts, but there are some, as some Madagascans told us.
We have never noticed whether someone has talked badly about another ethnicity. But we were told that there are also subethnics among the different ethnic groups. The problem arises “to which ethnicity do I belong now? I live in this village, but originally I come from somewhere else. “
Typical Malagasy cuisine
Madagascans eat all kinds of meat. Outside the cities, they only have Zebus. In the city they also get chicken.
There you get the most delicious pepper and the best vanilla.
What we liked the most, was zebu meat;
dried, quite salty, on mashed lentils.
Tuna is very common because it is widely distributed in the South Indian Ocean. Not the varieties we get here, there it is narrow tuna fish and they are freshly grilled with rice garnish.
Fish and chicken are often marinated with sauces that are flavored with curry spices from the Asian region.
In the cities there is also French cuisine. Or mixed French-Malagasy. There are also bakeries where you can have French baguette and croissants.
The food is a lot Asian mixed with African cuisine. Plenty of fried banana. Quite a lot of pasta. For example fried mashed potatoes or zebu meat fried in dough. They do this on the street.
Only a few have enough money to cook at home. Therefore, they eat on the street: Rice cake, made from rice flour with water, three to four centimeters in diameter and one centimeter thick. They have this every morning with a cup of coffee.
Mothers and daughters sell coffee in the streets. That is their income.
Because of the risk of infection, we did not use the cutlery and had no coffee on the street. It’s not properly washed and just held into river water and then the next one gets his coffee from the same mug.
There is plenty of corn and rice, you also get grilled rice in the streets.
Our driver and William did not eat very much. We asked ourselves if they were eating anything at all. They filled their empty bottles with mud water, drank it, and remained healthy.
We had, of course, to deal with diarrhea.
We, the white ghosts
The further away from cities, the less they knew white skin.
Our car broke down in a village, so we were sitting there.
A little boy, who was maybe three, came and pushed an old tire with a stick. He saw us and started to cry. But he did not just cry like a child cries, he was really afraid.
We were so sorry but we also had to laugh at the same time because we were so touched by his little cuteness and we felt so sorry for him.
Then his mom came around the corner and laughed loudly, too.
He had never seen a white tourist in his three years of life!
For us it would like seeing a green man.
Women’s role in Madagascar
Women’s role was super exciting. We were at the international women’s day and in the larger cities schools, women’s sports clubs, teachers, also men were demonstrating.
A tiny demonstration, but at least there was someone who fought for women’s role.
Girls and women go to school in Madagascar and they can vote before the law, but because of the eighteen different ethnicities and the fact that there is no possibility (to vote) from the logistics point, because there is only a paved road, the law is actually not worth it, because they can’t enforce it.
“Does he laugh at me out of kindness or because he thinks he can have me?”
For me as a tourist it was incredibly difficult to know if someone laughs right in my face, is it kindness or does he laugh at me because he thinks he can have me as a woman?
You also get touched a lot. There is a superstition that
if you touch a white person it will bring happiness to you.
You never knew if a man wanted to give you a hand, because he believes in that, or he is enthusiastic, because someone is funny white or because he is a man who sees something weak in women he can own.
That’s an experience I take home with me. When a situation made me feel uncomfortable, you immediately thought
“Oh, that’s unpleasant, he is a man who has never heard of women’s rights”, but then you think afterwards “actually I was in a city where this ethnicity mainly lives so and so, and they are totally educated.”
So what I take with me from there is that you push through this thinking in boxes.
That was super difficult when I was there, because you would rather be too careful than being in the wrong city walking with the wrong person.
“The most terrible night”
When our car broke down we stayed for one night in a small village. There was a “hotel” for truck drivers and military officers. Four small rooms next to each other, four huts, a wooden door with a few wooden planks in front (not really lockable), an old lock in front, a mattress, a chair, a candle, and behind the bushes an outhouse and a bucket of water for showering.
So we got stuck and next to our room was a military officer in one of the other rooms. In the evening he had put down his machine gun and his motorcycle was parked and got satisfied that night.
And that was definitely not based on two-sidedness, you could hear that.
We were awake all night and we were just waiting for the night to pass and so that we could leave the next day again.
You are so powerless in this moment.