From riches to rags

I am sorry if this letter is not as cheerful as the previous ones, but I just realised that my walking boots are missing. And without them, it is really hard doing any trips or going into any national parks and this really limits my experiences and travels here…so I am not in the best mood right now. Anyway, the last week has been exciting. In many ways. After two and a half days of shopping (everything ranging from generator and fuel over plastics to stove and lots of food and water) we finally left for St Augustin last Saturday. We squeezed everything into a Landrover, including also the carpenter and the boards for the beds. Jean, the driver, did a good job in securing everything to the roof and inside the car; still, Arif and Brett had to take the taxi brousse and transport our mattresses.

I hadn’t seen the house for a month and remembering the first impression I was not so keen on living there. But much had been improved. There were wooden doors and windows to start with and the wasp nets had been scraped of the walls and roof. Also, the house had been painted outside and the walls inside the upper rooms (were we decided on living) had received a white coat as well. Everything looked much friendlier. And once the carpenter had finished the beds and the mattresses had arrived we started to settle in. We put mosquito net in front of the windows and some of the doors, we started to unpack and fetch water from the well. Kristina and I shave the back room and the boys the one just adjacent to us. There is no door in between our rooms and we have to walk through the boys rooms every time we get out. This arrangement was good for everyone and it is nice having everyone quite close. Arif out his Turkish flag up, so we even have some decoration.

At 4 pm Jocelyne and the other people from SAGE left end we were on our own. Darkness approached and we realised we wouldn’t be able to cook for ourselves tonight. So we went into the village centre – not really a centre, more of a 10×10 m spot were people gather – and found a lady who sold grilled fish and rice. That was a good enough dinner and we went home in the dark with the stars and moon guiding us. We had a memorable moment of all four of us peeing under a tree, before entering the house. This suddenly had turned into a haunted house or something similar. There were cockroaches everywhere and we actually went on a killing spree; well, I had the others do it since killing animals not really is my thing. Suddenly, Brett says “rats” and we all panic a bit and start to gather all the food we have in our backpacks. I eat the lat of my good chocolate, brought all the way from Sweden, cause there is no way a rat will have that. After a second we realised that we had misunderstood Brett, he hadn’t said “rat” but “bat”. That wasn’t really any funnier; I now had no chocolate left and had lots of bats flying around my head. Stupid bats too, they apparently couldn’t sense us with there radar. So, we all went to bed really quickly but it was a true nightmare when we blew the candles out. The mosquito net moved every time the bats flew into it and Kristina told us that bats could have rabies and they really make a lot of noise…needless to say, none of us got any sleep that night. We all stayed up in our beds and talked about the best ways of getting rid of the bats. And of course, we did realise in the morning that we did have rats too, our tomatoes where all half eaten. So the first night was quite eventful and definitely not the bets I ever had. The nest day we pretty much spent on fixing the house, putting more mosquito nets up, securing the food (plastic containers and bear traps (putting it in baskets and tying them to the roof on the bottom floor)) and putting poison around the house. The fun thing was that we managed to cook our first own meal on the charcoal stove (yeah, we had some big discussions of us for environmentalist using charcoal, but that is the only possible way if you want any food). Ok, the meal wasn’t the best one, the pasta turned out like…all starchy but still edible and the tomato sauce was more of a soup…but as darkness approached we were satisfied with having eaten something. This night we didn’t have any cockroaches and only two bats and one rat. That has to be considered some kind of success…we are now down to 0 rats, bats and cockroaches – really crossing my fingers that is stays like that. We’ll see how the house looks like once we return to it on Monday. And the malgach word of the week has been kinakina – bat. (My malgach is picking up a bit, slowly slowly, I can’t construct any sentences yet but my vocabulary is coming along.)

Otherwise, the week was good. We went on two day trips, the first one to a natural swimming pool with the clearest colours I have ever seen and the second one to Sarodrano, the neighbouring village, and visited the underground caves there. We were guided by the mayor, who is really keen on us making a good eco tourism study, which of course puts a huge bias to our objectiveness…but we have made plans of talking to other people in the village to and of course go on other day trips alone (if I now can make it without my beloved walking boots).

We also organised a cooking lady, Madame Fahnza. Might sound a bit posh to all of you, but we decided that we rather spend daylight time on working than cooking. She cooks lunch and dinner for us and is not the best I ever have, but her tomato sauce is really good. But she is no good for my vegetables; they all turn out overcooked and oily…we pay her an equivalent of 20 Euros a month, so it is not really any money for us. Also, we have a washing lady, Madame Julienne. She did a full load of dirty stuff for 2 Euros, so we asked her to come back every Tuesday. And we feel a bit better about contributing to the local economy. Because people on the village are really really poor. You can see that in the market, some people have things to sell other don’t and most stuff you can buy is meagre fish and some peanut cookies. But it seems all to work out for the people and they seem to take good care of each other. It is a bit too soon to tell, but the solidarity in the community seems remarkably. One thing that is very disturbing is that all the children always approach us when we are out or they are just on our front porch and say “cadeau, cadeau”. In different varieties, “cadeau l’argent”, “cadeau le stylo”, “cadeau bonbon” and the worst “cadeau la cigarette”. We are not giving people anything and it is really annoying but there is nothing you can do.

Anyhow, we are back in Toliara over the weekend, taking care of assignments and getting supplies. The idea was that Kristina and I would go to a national park nearby, but without boots I am not setting my feet in any moisty place full with creatures creeping on the ground. So we might just go up north a bit to a place called Ifaty. The boys will return to St Augustin tomorrow. According to Brett a big swell is coming and he needs to be close to his surfboards then.

But in summary, I must say that the week has been good, despite the totally freaking start it had.

Swimming in an aquarium

The last couple of days have been awesome. Brett convinced us, after having been away for another couple of days, that we all should go on the yacht for two nights. He promised us surf, snorkeling and lots of fun. And we actually did reschedule everything and went on the yacht. We met the guys he has been talking about, Grant and Gus and Stephan and Martina, and spent our first night on the boat. We ate the most amazing pesto, done by Gus (argentinian background, but I dont think that it had any influence on the pesto), under a clear sky and really enjoyed ourselves. The guys played poker until late into the night, I just enjoyed having lots of company and the music variety they had on board.

However, things became a bit more cloudy and way more wavy the next day. We sailed down to Sarodrano (like 1 hour south) but there was no surf at all. Kris and I still went out for some snorkeling, and I think that Brett phrased it good when he said: “it feels like swimming in an aquarium”. All the brightcolored fishes you always see on tv or in the magazines: I have seen them live. It was really such a cool experience. The rest of the day and night vanished in a blur though, the wind speed was up in 26 knots and we all lay flat in our beds in order not to become sea sick. So, it didnt really turn out as great as Brett promised, but we really enjoyed it.

In the evening we went to “La Maison”. It is the expat hang out and of course the world cup was on. It is so fun seeing all the guys gathered in front of the tv watching Samoa play against the USA (I do wonder how Samoa can have enough people to gather a good team and participate in the world cup? Along with Fidji ang Georgia, that is another mystery) and cheering and drinking beer and really forgetting that we are in Mad…and it is so strange having comments in French, it is always Monsieur this and la ballon that. I cant really say that it i,mproves my French much, but it is fun. Gus used to play back in Argentina and really got us all into the rules and everything, so now even Kristina enjoys the games. And as England are the ruling winners of the last world cup, she has good chances of seeing her team win.

Anyhow, this is the last mail for a couple of days. We are moving out to St Augustin tomorrow. We spent the morning on buying a generator, that is harder than you think it is, and the afternoon is devoted to plastic items and matrasses! I am really looking forward to move into our house and become more stabile for a while. Sure, I have stayed in the same hotel the last three weeks, but actually being able to unpack stuff, that is what I am looking forward to.

We need to get back into town soon to resupply and to do school work, but I have no idea when we will come back here the next time. So if you dont here anything for a while; that just means that everything is ok!



Toliara: Elections and cinema


We finally found out what we are supposed to do here! For a long time, all
we knew was that we should work within the field of ecotourism but had no
clue exactly what that meant. We took wild guesses and they included
everything from biological inventory, marketing and physical work of marking
out trails. Yesterday we finally had the meeting with Jocelyne, the woman in
charge down here. The meeting got postponed several times, as seems almost
to be a custom here, which highly annoys the German in me, and took place in
the afternoon. We all were very tired and it took us several turns in French
an English to understand our tasks here.

But they are exactly what I am trained to do and what I will be working with
in the future: They need a feasibility study for the planned eco tourism and
the accompanied eco village. The study will be based on a socio-cultural
study, which already had been carried out, and a biological inventory which
is being done right now. Further on, we were asked to look specifically into
the role SAGE (the organisation), the community and other involved partners
should play and to make plans for sustainability, including the financial
sustainability. It is a good thing that we actually have different
background (economy, social science and ecology), we will complete each
other in a perfect way. We haven’t discussed the actual target amongst us
yet, but I think we will focus on the community itself and develop any plan
based on their actual needs. SAGE gave us pretty free hand and I suggested
talking to other NGOs and stakeholders working in the area to form more
harmony, and they thought it was a good idea. There is a reason behind this,
as far I have heard and have told you, SAGE is criticised for doing
everything in a rush and not coordinate with other organisations.

So Francine, the secretary at SAGE, is currently setting up meetings with
the other partners and we are stuck reading lots of material in French (we
have come to love the internet based translation programs). Brett is absent
again, he went to live on the yacht for an unknown period, but we guess he
will be back sometime. He has no clue of the tasks yet, but we will need him
to do some work or we other will just have too much to do. But no worries
yet, translating is fun. And meeting people, interview them and getting hold
of additional information is just time consuming and not very hard.

But Kristina, Arif and I agree that this is a good task, way better than
marking any trails and stuff. We actually get to do real qualified work and
I don’t feel used anymore (like you always do when you do full time work
because you happen to be handy; not to be confused with the pro bono stuff I
do, that is simply fun).

Otherwise, live is moving on. The elections are due tomorrow but I haven’t
noticed anything even weakly relating to the violence described by my
organisation or random people and hotel owners. One (German) restaurant
owner said that the elections had nothing to do with the violence, but that
it was all about poverty – people being so poor that they rob and steal in
order to survive. He also said that this was nothing compared to earlier
events. So we are all taking it pretty easy. And continue to stay in at
night, at least for a couple of more days.

The election campaigning is carried out in a very non-European way. They
hand out sticker and posters but no flyers, but instead have cars circle
around town, playing political music and airing live speeches. I guess that
this is a must when you want to campaign among a great percentage of
illiterate people. The music, of which I don’t understand a word, seems to
get everyone going and everybody always dances as soon as a car with
speakers comes close. This is strange, because to a foreigner like me, you
don’t know whether they support the actual message or are simply in it for
the dancing. Otherwise, you don’t see much from the campaigning…the cars
annoy you, but they are no harm. I spoke to Jocelyne and Kristina and I will
accompany her to the elections tomorrow and see her cast her vote. I working
as an election observer the in the last election in Sweden and it really is
interesting how the process and procedures differ between the countries.

Last weekend we went to the movies. Not because there was anything on, there
are only shows on Saturday and Sunday and you can choose between two films.
But we desperately needed some change in our lives and therefore went to see
the films. An entrance is only 0,08 eurocent, so it is not really expensive
anyways. On Saturday we saw some old movie with Harrison Ford and a very
young Samuel L. Jackson, on Sunday we saw Resurrection with Christopher
Lambert. No new films, but they definitely where some distraction. They
were, of course, dubbed into French and it was a good thing that they were
thriller and you could follow the plot easily anyway. My French is certainly
not that good that I can follow a fat French dialogue (yet that is, I am
still optimistic). But the best thing about going was to experience the
Malagasy people in the cinema. It was mainly teenagers, sitting together in
groups, and some adult couples. I guess that some social groups cannot
afford going or lack the French knowledge to benefit from this
westernization. Everyone in the audience was constantly talking, both
discussing the film but also about other subjects. That was not really a
surprise, but as people started to make mobile phone calls it got a bit
funny. Further on, there were motorcycles and bicycles stored in front at
the cinema, belonging to various people in the audience. This is due to the
fact that people don’t buy locks here; you often have motorcycles in
restaurants as well. Keeping them near you prevents them from being stolen,
I guess. The weirdest thing though was a girl in the row in front of me
yesterday: She actually cut her nails! She got light enough from her friends
mobile phone, but that must surely be the most bizarre place to cut your
fingernails in. The audience also had a strange taste of laughing in al the
wrong places. Every time any on made a funny face, out of disgust for
example, the audience laughed. And when they showed on of the murdered guys,
naked sitting on a toilet and without head, the laughed to (ok, it looks
quite funny, but this is a thriller!). The best laugh I heard was when the
bad guy ran out of bullets and therefore was unarmed…and just can’t help
getting carried away and laugh yourself. And when the bad guy finally was
shot and died, everyone in the audience got up and left. Even though there
were not really any interesting parts left, you do still stick around and
watch any conclusion…but no, that is apparently not worth watching.

We finished off the Sunday evening with a luxury dinner at Gelateria Italia.
We invited the two speakers from the seminar along, they stay in the same
hotel as we, and had a really good time. I ordered pizza and actually didn’t
get nauseous as I do in Sweden, which was good. I then discovered my new
passion: Coconut ice cream. The taste was just indescribable delicious,
trust me, this is the one thing that I will miss the most when going back
home. The ice cream just melts in your mouth and is much fresher than I
think it is in Sweden. An with one scoop only costing 1000 ariary (that’s
about 40 eurocent) I can see myself getting into the habit of buying at
least one ice cream a day!

Take care,

Madagascar is not Africa

To give you all a clue about what it is like to be here, I have compiled a

Why Madagascar is not Africa – Essential Differences to the African Context
as I have experienced it before

This is not my first time in Africa, and yes, you shouldn’t think that the
whole continent is the same. Still, I experienced more similarities between
the Arabic influenced refugee camps in Algeria and the places I visited in
Uganda than I do here. Malagasy people don’t consider themselves to be part
of Africa, maybe that is because the island is not connected with the
mainland or maybe it is due to lack of input from other African sources.
Anyhow, I have made a little list of the differences…feel free to give me
any feedback and draw your own conclusions.

1. There are traffic rules. There is no traffic chaos to speak of, not even
in Tana. Further on, there are traffic police in every other corner. Surely
keeps unemployment rates down, but also makes traffic way safer than I
usually experience it.

2. There is toilet paper on every toilet I’ve been to so far. And not just
toilet paper, it is soft too. Ok, it finishes as quickly as every other
African toilet paper, but I a still surprised to find paper on public
toilets too.

3. The buss traffic is organised. There a buss lines and buss stops in Tana
and you cannot jump onto a taxi-be whenever you want. The busses are still a
crowded as they are in other places; the passenger limit of 15 people is
never respected.

4. People wear motor cycle helmets! And the seat belts work. People rarely
use them, but they still work. Even in the backseat.

5. Street children and street hawkers don’t stick to assigned quarters. This
can lead to you being followed all the way from the store to your hotel, and
the person just don’t understand that you wont give him/her any money or buy
something. I once got into the situation of buying post cards…and the
salespersons just wouldn’t understand that 55 post cards are way enough for
me and that I don’t need anymore.

6. It is expensive. A room costs around 8 euros and internet is around 0.5

7. It is cold. I have really been freezing the first week in Tana and the
nights here are almost just as cool. The days are as hot as you imagine them
to be, and it is getting spring and summer soon so the heat is coming, but
the nights are not African standard to me.

8. I haven’t seen any single person wearing a Leo DiCaprio T-shirt.

9. There is no Mirinda!

Of course, there are a lot of similarities too. Such as people always
playing old fashioned western songs (like Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and
other singers), the food is good too (very spicy, which I like) and the
clothes style is about the same as in eastern Africa. Women are fabulous
balancers and carry whole wooden boxes on the head, people are generally
really friendly and help you out and I somehow get the feeling of being home
(not that I am sure in what context though).

Anyhow, let me know if you recognise anything or if I have missed something.

Toliara, between chaos and the toilet

So this is how it feels to be sick…at least I have stomach problems with
style: treating myself luxury dinners every night and this morning even a
brownie. It all looks the same when it comes out anyway. You could easily
think that I wasn’t in a low income country the way I am currently living
and I am not ashamed to say that I like it. But it feels weird when I buy
dinner for 10000 ariary (like 4 euros) and then don’t give any money to the
street children approaching me. The white bias is strong, but you somehow
adjust to it. Weird.

Anyhow, the last week has been good, besides me getting sick that is. We are
still in Toliara, our house is not yet finished. Or well, the carpenters
have left so I am not sure what we are waiting for. But there has been no
opportunity to move either; we were invited to a WWF conference lasting
Tuesday until Saturday (although we skipped Friday as it was Kristina’s
birthday and we wanted to d some fun stuff and Saturday got cancelled due to
the political unstable situation) and met lots of people working in the
area, both vazaha and locals. Mark Fenn, head of WWF in Mad, had invited to
experts on community conservation from the US and we basically had
workshopes on simple management – the stuff I had been studying the last
year. So we all struggled to keep awake and Brett went AWOL (absent without
leave) on Wednesday and wasn’t seen until yesterday (he went surfing, met a
couple of guys who owned a big yacht with hot showers and satellite tv and
stayed there). The conference itself was probably of little use to the
locals too, as the experts had a way to much academic approach to the
conservation issues.

But I made a couple of new friends and have got some input on my thesis and
got free lunch three days, so I am not really complaining. I also found out
stuff about SAGE, the organisation I am working with. Apparently they are
not as good as they seem, doing the community conservation in a makilaki way
(=just rush through it and don’t bother about proper follow up) and realised
that there is basically no donor harmonisation or NGO cohesion going on at
all…for you who have no clue what this means, is basically implies that you
have lots of donors doing the same projects in the same area and not taking
part in each other evaluations or try to spread out the projects in order
not to do the same thing twice and that SAGE does it own thing and doesn’t
look for partners or checks out what other organisations are doing in the
area. One of my academic assignments is to write an organisational analysis
about SAGE and that seems quite simple right now.

There will be elections in Toliara next Sunday and the whole city is
crawling with military. They even sent extra gang force reinforcement from
Tana down here. I haven’t noticed anything, but sometimes there are curfews
after 19 and we don’t leave our hotel when it is dark at all (no dancing
tonight then). To me it all sounds harsher than it is and I am not easily
scared. We got an offer from Brett and the yacht owners to move there until
the elections are over, but our organisation said no, so we are pretty much
stuck here (and just think of it, 10 days on a boat with hot showers, I
would have loved it). But I don’t want anyone of you to be afraid. Any
unrest in the city is due to the elections and the fact that the opposition
candidate actually is a good person this time. Toliara is one of the poorest
regions in Madagascar and the president in known for not caring about the
province at all. All violence in the city has been directed to the ethnic
group that the president belongs to (Imerina) and we just have to wait and
see how it goes. Kristina and I got caught in a police control yesterday,
since we couldn’t show our passports and visas, which were ironically enough
at the police station for visa extension…apparently the police has special
order to check foreigners to and make sure we are not illegally in the
country. The trip to the prefecture de police (which had the usual wanted
posters on the wall, including one for a “up to five million USD award” for
Usama bin Laden) resulted in us actually getting our visas done on the spot
and all the policemen where really nice. Once you had made them understand
that our passports where at the police station. But I don’t feel insecure or
anything, so as I have said before, don’t worry about me. It is surely for
more unsafe in New York or so.

Kristina and I went to a botanical garden called Aboretum yesterday and
looked at trees and plants. I have seen some huge varieties of Aloe Vera and
small baobab trees and a tree called elephant foot…the natural richness is
huge here and I saw plants good against stomach cancer (mixed with honey and
whisky at least), skin scars, blood flows, eye problems, yellow fever,
malaria and you name it. There were some plants which were poisonous as
well, one called “dream of the mother in law” which leads to heart failure
within five minutes…and I have seen the Vicks Vaporub tree, I don’t know if
any of you uses that ointment when you are sick. Seeing all the medicinal
plants made me really appreciate the protected areas in Madagascar; most of
the plants are endemic to this area and human kind has most probably already
extincted some. I also saw the vanilla orchid, that one was really cool. It
climbs along the tree trunk of other trees, grows really fast and doesn’t
really look like much.

So far I have not seen any cool animals, besides some endemic sunbirds and
butterflies as big as the palm of my hand. But we will go to the national
parks nearby when we have time and the roads are a bit safer.

So…there is not much more to tell right now. I hope that my stomach will get
better soon and that the work with my organisation finally can begin…until
then I am looking forward an ice cream tonight or so, we’ll just see what


In Toliara!


I am now in Toliara, a city of medium size on the west coast of Mad. We got
here last week Friday in one of the horrible bus trips that make you
appreciate life. We hired an entire minibus (matatu style) and packed it
early in the morning with all our stuff. Everyone got a seat of his/her own
and we set of at around 9 am. We appreciated to arrive in T at 1 am the
following morning; the road between Tana and T is THE road in Mad. Our
driver was called Mika, a nice guy. The old car was falling apart at some
places, the windows didn’t close and my seat was loose, but there was, of
course, a brand new CD Player and Mika played the latest hits all the time
on a very loud volume…I now know local singer Jerry Marcos songs by heart.
It took us three hours to Antsirabe, where we stopped to pick up a French
girl we meet at the hostel in Tana. She had prepared a pique nique and after
some more hours of driving we stopped and had tabboulleh orientale and
cheese sandwich; the last one is really a treat here, there is just not much
cheese around. Even the Dutch guy I meet the first week in town had smuggled
in Dutch cheese (and yes, smuggled, since it is illegal to transport any
kind of food into Mad. They are not very thoroughly in their controls
though; I got all my chocolate in.) We then continued on. Mad is surely one
of the most beautiful countries I have seen, in the same league as northern
Bohuslaen (Sweden), Vancouver or Simiens Mountains (Ethiopia). Rice fields
everywhere, which make the country green and some zebus too. Not many people
around outside of the towns, but lots of them in the water streams, washing
clothes or fishing. Mad is quite known for the erosion due to deforestation
and they say that 80 per cent of the island is affected. And that might be
true, because I saw lots of these almost flesh like wounds in the highlands.
Quite depressing.

Mika drove fast, and at 6 pm the sun set and it became dark. The most
beautiful sky emerged, lots and lots of stars. After dinner, eaten at a
small hotely just after passing Fianran…yeah, another big town, we heard
that the rest of the road was considered a bit unsafe; people called dahlal
(zebu poachers) had robbed a car like ours just a week ago. We decided to
wait for some our taxe brousse and form a caravan…Mika didn’t really lika
this idea, and just speeded up and passed the whole caravan. And that was
how it continued, at high speed in the dark…seeing the road previously I
knew that Mika made sharp turns and barely escaped the cliffs sometimes…but
he continued on and we five, quite terrified by now, stayed awake the whole
night. The boys had brought some rum and eventually passed out…at 1 am we
were still a long way away from Toliara and somehow the road seemed more
unsafe for every hours…but nothing happened. We arrived safely in Toliara
around 6 am and checked into the first best hotel and slept.

The next day we met with our organisation, SAGE. They told us that we had to
attend meetings in Anakao beginning Monday…so we stayed only in Toliara for
the weekend and got a bit of local culture…the boys had to much rum arrange,
we didn’t find any pain au chocolate and I had the usual pommes frites avec
de legume sauté. Monday we left early, first by car and then by boat and
went to Anakao. Brett was in heaven, Anakao is known for its good surf and
there was no end to his smile. We set our feet on sandy beaches of the
village and immediately got lunch at Madame Coco’s. Nothing grows in Anakao,
so we had brought our own vegetables…the others had sea food to accompany
it. Apparently it was delicious and cheap to. We got introduced to the
participants at the meeting and sat there for like 15 minutes before we
excused us. Everything was held in Malagasy and we just longed for our first
dip in the Indian Ocean. And it was great, a bit to warm for me, but lovely
greenblue water.

The night following this was the worst so far; I got food poisoned and was
still sick and I don’t know what, but I can tell you that there is nothing
glorious about vomiting in the whitest sand you’ve ever seen und a beautiful
starlit sky. Monsieur le doctor fixed me though, no clue what I got but I am
all enthusiastic about everything. I mainly stayed in bed though, to weak to
anything else. We didn’t have to attend any meeting, I guess we were brought
along to be shown to everyone else, and I took long walks on the beach. One
morning I found a baby shark head on the beach (touched it, it felt like car
seat leather) and Kristina said she had seen a half hammerhead shark as tall
as she was…but don’t worry I don’t swim out far.

I realise I make the stay here sound quite dangerous, but that is not really
the case. You miss out on all the mellow moments I have and all the time I
spend just waiting for people to show up at meetings and stuff. And so far I
haven’t seen anything more dangerous than a mosquito to bite me.

Anyhow, we got back from Anakao Thursday and stopped by Saint Augustin and
visited the house that SAGE bought and that will be my home. I doubt that it
is going to be my home, because we are talking renovation all over the
place. There weren’t even any doors and windows in place when we visited and
no proper floors, so it looks more like a skeleton than a living house. You
who have lived with me know that my priority is not in living standards
really, but this might be too much for me. There were wasp nests everywhere
and spiders and no water and no electricity and not even a Malagasy toilet…I
knew there wouldn’t be any furniture, so I was prepared for that but this is
just…I don’t really know. Kristina feels the same way, Brett will happily
live in that house for five months and I don’t know about Arif, but we’ll
see how it turns out in the end. We have decided not to move in until most
things are ready, which might take several more weeks; SAGE said that we
would have outer doors and window frames by Monday, but I am not so sure
about that. In the worst case, we will stay in on of the bungalows in the
village, which must be arrangable. Haven’t seen much of the village itself
yet, just dozens of children begging for cadeau, cadeau and some pirogues
(fisher boats).

Anyhow, back in Toliara know and enjoying civilisation. Kristina has Muse
(my favourite band) on her laptop so I am all happy, I even named the gecko
in our room after the band…we have a nice room at Al Shame with ocean view
and indoor toilet and big double beds each and it is so cheap. Only thing is
that the mattress is so thin that you can feel the bed boards, but that is
fine. Meeting planed for tomorrow and we’ll see about Sunday and about the
coming week and how things turn out. We went window shopping for a
generator, candles, blankets and plastic (!) stuff today to buy for the new
house and will probably have top deal with that on Monday again…I bought
myself a malagasy hat, in green raffia, looks good and it was cheap and my
“happy three weeks Mad” treat. I also bought a broom, and Arif joked right
away that I looked like a witch in my new hat and my home made broom. But at
least now I have something to kick out the cockroaches in my room…


Leaving Tana, heading for Toliara

This will be my last mail for a while. We met our organisation (SAGE) last Tuesday and they told us they wanted us in Toliara/St Augustin as soon as possible. So we are leaving tomorrow; hired a taxi-brousse (minivan style/matatu) and will hopefulyl get all our luggage in…Bretts bag with the surfboards is huge…like 2,5 x 1 x 0,50 meters…and weighs 70 kg. We’ll see how it goes.

We will then be travelling the whole day and hopefully do some stops on teh way. Probably going to pick up a french gilr in Antsirabe, who we met at the hotel and take her along for a weekend in Toliara. The weekend will be fine and on Monday we will meet Jocelyn; the coordinator for SAGE in Toliara. She will then take us out to our house, yes folks, we will have an entire house for ourselves. Two storey building. The catch? No water, no electricity, no furniture. So this is really going to be a challenge. Not just living in a house in an isolated village (google ST Augustin and you will probably stumble across a flight photo of a couple of houses on a beach and some sheds around…thats it!) but also be dependent upon daylight and have limited electricity (looking into buying a generator, matresses and a gas cooker…means I learn new french words every day!). As for the water, the ocean will have to do. And we will surely hire someone, we have the white bias after all, to cook for us and do our laundry. A little comfort for us and some local investment.

Anyhow, the organisation has still not specified what they want us to do. For academic purposes we have to write an Memorandum of Understanding, which is really hard if you dont know what you are expected to do…but they gave us a good first impression and tons of stuff in french to read…we will be just fine. I just think of all the fresh pineapple I will have every morning…and mango season is approaching!!

Leaving in the house will also strictly limit my internetaccess…I would have to go to Toliara, ca 3 hours away I think, and they have frequent power cuts and slow access. So dont worry if you dont here from me in a while, that just means I am ok!

Otherwie…I am still not able to givez you any concrete impressions from Mad. It is totally different from the other places I have been too. I am doing a list at home and I guess I will send it to you to give you a better feeling om my stay here. So far I can tell you that I had a big no-no ice cream today…totally against what you should have, but I still feel fine! Goes for some other fruits and yoghut as well, but I have decided to stay away from the strawberries, that does seem like a too big of a risk. The diary prducts I will cut when I am in Toliara, the power cuts are not exactly good. Will probably swith my diet towards chocolate then! :)

Take care now!

One week has passed…and I am fine!

thought I’d give you a short update. I am not going to do this regularly but when there is an option for it…and Tana offers that right now.

I have now been in Mad for a week+ and I still enjoy it. Sure, I am quite tired of all the noise and all the cars and the pollution but it is still a nice place. My colleagues came Fri, Sat and Sun, so we finally talked about our agenda and will see the organisation tomorrow. It will be good to finally know exactly what I will do the next four month.

Kristina and I went for a daytrip yesterday, to Ambohimanga (or Ambooimang as the malagasy say)…a castle, still intact, with a cliff where they used to throw slaves down…semmed to be a popular sport here, there are more cliffs like that…the best thing was that is was really quiet. We weren’t even apporached by a guide or anything. Had lunch a local hotely, small dark place where you immediealty expect to get diarrhoea, but we are still fine. I had soupe chinoise (soup with egg noodles) and is was tasty and really hot, which was good.

Today we went on running errands, taking photos and stuff for the visa exntension (all off you who thought that I was done with that stuff are wrong….Kristinas guide books says it is done overnight…that is also wrong. The latest is that we have to do it in Toliara…) and buying som stuff for Brett, who’s luggage was lost on the way here from San Diego. So no surfboards here yet…but he is all eager to leave immediealty for the beach. Or well, he was, until an hour ago when he realised he hadnt slept for two days and just practically went to sleep standing.

Otherwise, I spent many lonely nights in my room before my colleagues arrived. I actually studied a lot, and also read three books and slept a lot…seemed like a holiday to me and that was nice. I didnt mind being alone, it is quite nice for a change actually. And the weather is cold anyway, so it is not like I would have went outside anyway. I heard that Toliara is really warm and I long for that..surely going to miss the coldness, but this is not really ‘Africa’ to me. :)

We are thinking of hiring a car and go down to Toliara ourselves, car inclunding driver of course, cause we wouldnt find our way our of Tana and not even close to Toliara. When Bretts surfboards arrive he will lead the luggage-league with 70 kg…I am right in the last place with only 18 kg + 12 kg + 5,5 kg…it is more than I ever had before, but I willleave most of the stuff anyway and buy stuff here. There are not really any cool plastic things to buy, most of you know my love for simple plastics, but a lot of souvenirs made out of raffia or old cans…I will surely fill my weight max on the way home.

So, that is all from me. Doenst seem like I have much to write abput yet, mostly want to say that I am alright. Take care!

A Tana maintenant!


ok, the keyboards here are veeeery tricky, so dont expect a perfect email…I am slowly setting in at Tana right now, things fall into place and I have leanred some malagasy which simplifies life. After two nights at the Manoir Rouge in Ivato I ,oved to Hotel Isoraka in Tana.

The croc farm was very touristic. And I walked there, made many friends on my way because a walking vahaza woman is not often seen. Learned that the sun touches a lot, although is is really cold here, trust me; i freeze at night and walk in long sleeves at day, the sun still gave me an unsyncronised tan…well well

Moved to Tana yestedray, shared a taxi with a guy fro, France and found the hotel. Called a friends friend who just got back to town from Holland and he was fantastic. first we had expensice lunch, he moked me for missing out on the zebu (better thabn goat apperently) and the local rum as well. then he took ,e for a spin in his co,pqny perk cqr, that was great. he currently zork as an engineer on a heavy fuel power plant financed by the dutch and the malagasy state…it was i,presseive; especially as it was the business side of development aid…then we went to la rova, old castle, burned down, bla bla, open yesterday only for the local olympique gqmes…lousy english guide ,y french actually worked far better. we then thought of staying until it got dark and watch the fire works, but grew tired and decided to leave. and made one mistake whiwh cost us the night- took a wrong turn got stuck in a s,all alley because everybody wanted to see the fireworks and well…had to stay. bought so, cracky kethcup chips and water; chris went for the broschetta (grillspett; schaschlik or just barbecued meet on a stick) and beer. had a lovely ti,e with 1 hour of fireworks…talked to a lot of people, held up a lot of children so that they could see and actually grew really tired of fireworks…

today; i tried to prolong ,y visa. even harder than in ger,any; trust me. i had to have certificate the la honneur; saying that i am a nice girl, written ,otivation adressed to the minister itself and this and that and 6 photos and ahhhhh…but i called the organisation i a, going to work at and got so,e great help. all i need tomorrow is to see the mayor; go to the ger,an embassy and back to the ,inistry before 10 oclock..great…

there is lots ,ore to say; like i think i ,ust have flown over your head MansVictor but it is getting dark and i need to head home. anyway, i am currently 1 h before sweden/germany, same time as turkey and kenya, 8 hours before shilo i guess qnd ten before vqncouver…

thanks alot also for all the mails, they made me happy!