Thursday, December 19, 2013

Smoked Sausage

Anyone who has ever driven through Tana will have been surprised by this typical Madagascar phenomenon: small butcher shops that display their meat products literally on the street. While driving, you can almost touch the strings of sausages that are hanging like pearl chains, while cows stomach and pig feet are dangling in front of your wind screen.

I happen to like sausages. But not anymore. Here's why.

Let me tell you what is happening this month of December in Tana. I thought the October election campaigns were 'hectic' with 33 candidates, each with his own posters, t-shirts, hats, and campaigning vans... wait till you've seen this! Just for info: from the October-round, two main candidates remained on - as everyone expected. They are Hery Rajaonarimampianina (yes, I know, that's why they call him Hery Vao Voa) - presenting the current regime, and Dr. Robinson, presenting the previous one.
Both are now again campaigning in an effort to win over 50% of votes. But...that is not all...

In addition to the presidential elections, there are parliamentary elections, on the same date! These too had  been postponed three times already. There are 151 seats in parliament...and guess how many candidates there are?

Over 2,000. Yes it is true. And here I was thinking that 33 campaigning candidates caravaning in an already crowded city was a little much, now it is even worse. Add to that the rains, the potholes, the piles of rubbish that have not been collected for a week, the poor quality of diesel, the number of stinky van and mini buses, and the usual December end-of-the-year craziness, and you can image (not sure if you really can) how awful this city has become to get around.

And what does this have to do with sausage? They have all become smoked sausages. Yuk!

Exhaust-smoked sausage, anyone? 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Fao Dranomaso

OK, to put it straight:: the reason for my absence as a blogger is a sad one. My lovely, inspirational, beautiful and adventerous mother passed away last week. She was 85 years old, an age she always aspired to become. In that sense it was not unexpected. But then again: is a daughter ever 'expecting' or 'ready' for her mother to pass away??

I was very close to her and she was a remarkable women. Full of compassion for others, strong-willed, independent, very active, a positive thinker (ahead of her time, modern) and modest. She was also a painter, a writer, a photographer...I'd like to think I inherited some of her traits.

The funeral in my home town Dongen was beautiful. My brothers and sisters are all gifted writers and public speakers. They almost better than the priest himself.

Little altar for my mom
When I came back yesterday from Holland, our Malagasy friends came to present their condolences. They gave  their Fao-Dranamoso. Literally this means something like: Take away tears (perhaps my dear Malagasy reader has a more accurate translation :-)... I was touched: they presented an envelope with some money and the traditional saying  Aza misosoka alahelo intsony: Forget Your Sorrow.
Tonight my lovely girl friends will take me out for a comforting dinne. Tomorrow Michel is taking me and Soleine to Anakao, a lovely little beach lodge.

I feel blessed and grateful to have so many friends and support. Just like my mom!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How to capture the hearts (and votes) of 7 800 000 voters

The 2013 Madagascar elections have nothing in common with anything I have seen so far.  Of course, 33 candidates is an outraguous fact in itself, but it does not stop there.

The closest thing to this that I have wittnessed in my life, was in Trinidad and Tobago. There, once a year, there is excitement in the air. Masses of people, dancing on the street behind big trucks, with dito speakers Popular artists fill up stadiums, people drink rum, dance, jump and wave their flags. I too participated, in my red feathery bikini dancing two days non-stop in the parade behind a blasting truck.

T-shirts and songs
In Madagascar voting is not so obvious. The are no political parties. No election manifestos. No ideology, no left- or right-, or center, no Republicans or Democrates. It's hard to make an informed choice if you can not compare programs. So how can a candidate capture a voter's attention? With T-shirts. Many t-shirts. And songs. One candidate is called Sylvain. His slogan is "Sylvain sur vingt" (quite funny). His song is brilliant: Bye Bye unemployment, bye bye famin, bye bye disease.  To me, half of the songs sounds like straight from church, the others like Caribbean carnival hits. Some candidates even dress like calypso artists.

Dadafara fans place posters

Win a house!
It does not stop there. There are tombolas (first price: a house, second price: one month salary).Oh and goodies and give-aways in all sizes and shapes. From hats to helicopters. It is one big carnival parade.

So who is going to win this thing? The one with his face on most places in town? The most catchy song? Or the one that has most money and goodies to distribute? What do you think?

Blasting Campaign bus from Sarah Georget

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Simple Addition...

What do you get when:

You add 300 back packs + 209 pencil cases + 300 blue pens + 300 red pens + 300 black pens + 300 green pens + 300 pencils + 840 notebooks + 300 rulers + 300 pencil sharpeners + 300 erasers?

It = (equals):

300 happy children's faces, 12 happy teachers, and a whole new school year 2013/14 starting off very well. This morning, with financial support of GFA Consulting Group, we were able to donate to Akanifitahiani, center for nutritional and educational support for street children.

300 children in anticipation

Bigger kids help carry big boxes

All boxes arrived at the center

Little ones waiting in the hot sun
The 20 kids from 'la maternelle' first...

With Hasina, the centre's manager
How long do we have to wait?
A sea of blue bags

Happy little fellow...

Let's get to work

Thank you GFA Consulting Group (Michel's company) and their Bridges Fund for Social Projects!

Thank you Vivianne Charles from Fondation Telma for your advice, Laurie Hau for your help, Anthony Asael for the pictures.

Thank you Soleine, Kate, Yasmin, Sarah and Abibatou for your hard work sorting, packing and stacking!

Packing 1,200 pens, 840 notebooks, 300 rules etc etc

No play group this week, work group!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

What kittens and elections have in common

Beatrice Atallah is the head of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENIT), the organization responsible for ensuring electoral laws are followed so that elections are credible. Beatrice is now the 'mother' of 33 presidential candidates. Less than a week after the start of the campaign, she is calling for order...

Food fights
Messy kittens
It reminds me a lot of our cat Tricky and her frivolous kittens. They're now nearly 6 weeks old. Mother Tricky is trying hard to teach them some discipline. But do you think the mini-cats are listening?
They are hanging in the curtains, stepping in their water bowl and scattering litter all over the house. They're meewing and peewing and walking under our feet, fighting for their food, and sitting on our heads. It's havoc in our house!

Official campaign rules
The CENIT is reminding the candidates about the official campaign rules. Propaganda posters are not supposed to be on bus shelters, lamp posts and market walls, but on specially placed bill boards with 33 spaces. Candidates are supposed to manage their own security during their internal events and not cause any nuisance or disturbance. Space on National Radio and TV is to be divided equally, and not only to those with the biggest bags of money...

Is it working? Are the candidates listening?  As much as our kittens! Good luck Mrs Atallah.

Many empty spots on the official elections bill boards

But posters on every other possible location...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Exciting times in Madagascar...

You can feel it in the air... you can hear it in the can see it on the posters!

It looks, feels and tastes like it is REALLY going to happen this time. Elections WILL be held on October 25 of the year 2013.

The official electoral campaign opened this week. No less than 33 candidates are running for president. After 4,5 years of paralysis, countless false promises, and a dozen of electoral postponements, Madagascar's population will have a chance to vote in one of the 20,000 polling stations that are being set up with EU and UN assistance.

Only the most cynical among the cynics are still saying: ' won't happen'. I am not one of them.

The 33 candidates of the 2013 elections in Madagascar....
After a first round of elections in October, only two candidates will remain. The second round will then be in December.

I wish all candidates the best. Or, as the Express Newspaper put it:  'Que le moins mauvais gagne' (not my words), literally translated as: may the least bad win. :-)  

p.s. more episodes of "Exciting Times in Madagascar" Season 1, will follow soon.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Licky, Sticky, Dicky and Ricky

Cats ('saka' in Malgache) are not very common in Madagascar. Some say people eat them. Not sure. Our first cat Titi did actually disappear after a few months. I sure hope he did not end in somebody's soup pan.

Tricky teenage mother
Our second cat Tricky got pregnant during our stay in Europe. Not knowing when exactly she had been with her boyfriend, I was wondering how she would announce her due date. Well, it was clear, on D-day, she meawed weirdly, walked around in strange paths, and left drops on the hallway floor. She looked at my with big eyes, frightened, saying: HELP ME!

Teenage mother
I, feeling the same, looked in turn at the Internet: HELP ME! And it did, I found a lot of information. I learned that a birthing cat is called a Queen, and that I should get a nesting place ready. I prepared three places, then left the house for a BBQ lunch. Two hours later, we heard meeeep-meeeep-peep and found four gorgeous little bundles of grey fur in a basket. All neat, and clean. Well done Tricky! I'm still wondering how this teenage mother (9 months) knew exactly what to do.... without internet :-)

Out of the box
This week, Tricky moved her babies from the basket to another place, just like many cat-websites mentioned she would. How did she know, I wondered again. The by now four-week old kittens have started to come out of the (removal) box. Curious little creatures they are. With their wobbly legs, pointy tails and proportionally large heads they are simply a-do-ra-ble (say it in French, it sounds even better). I now understand the expression "Curiosity Killed the Cat". I just pray this does not mean: ending up a someone's stomach!

Licky, Sticky, Dicky and Ricky thinking out of the box

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Tough Egg

Yooo all! I am back on the blog!

After three lovely long holiday months, we came back in time for Soleine's fresh start of Grade 4 of the American School of Antananarivo (ASA).

In a way my blog's silence nicely represents the country's silence. Nothing has happened during our absence. When I left, the Malagasy soap series called Presidential Elections had entered its fourth season. The first three seasons had gone by with elections being postponed three times.  They were then planned for July 26, but...postponed again to August. In August they were pushed back to October and December, and... well, let me stop here. 

These elections seem to be a very tough egg to crack.

Just like the one I found this morning by our chickens Tola and Chicky. Take a look at this !It goes to show: you can expect anything to happen in Madagascar!
Has anyone ever seen a sculpted egg like this? It's real!

p.s. Hugo, are you still reading my blog. SOS: have you ever seen this? 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Bye Bye Winter, Hello Summer!!!

Yes! I am out of here! Honestly, I can not wait to leave Tana. I know, that does not sounds nice but it's true. It is just simply too cold here! Everyone  is sick. Tout Tana is coughing, dripping, sneezing, sniffing, rattling, ruckling and what not. It is winter.

June has so far been one of the coldest months ever in Tana. There has been ground-frost. In the evenings we sit cozy by the fire, but during the day my fingers are freezing as I'm typing.

Just imagine the many poor people and street children that are passing their nights outside. This morning I went to the center for street children to drop off some warm hats. Look how cute - And thank you Martine!

CP2 class (Grade 3) getting warm hats to survive winter

So, summer in Europe, here we come!
Bye bye Tana, see you back in August when spring starts!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Getting Used to Madagascar

Hello my dear readers. It has been a while. Not that I had nothing to share. On the contrary. This country is full of stuff to blog about, and things never cease to amaze me. Take the upcoming elections for example. A political circus that one could blog about every day.

Madagascar 3
After 3 years of temporary 'government', elections will finally be held in July this year - insh'allah. No less than 49 candidates have presented themselves at the electoral commission; a Guinness book of records world-record. This in itself is a fun fact, but it gets better. Current and previous presidents were officially excluded from presenting themselves. They promised not to run. But one minute before closure, current  'president' aka former DJ comes running in the election office, throws his dossier on the table, and gets accepted. Previous president aka The Dairy King, has in fact kept his 'promise' but put his wife (!) up as presidential candidate. And then there is Mr previous-previous president, (already been on the throne for 23 years), who, at 76 years old, still think he should run the country. To show that he can still perform he did  than 20 push-ups en plein public on the  hot tarmac of Ivato international airport! Ha ha! It almost makes the circus scene in the movie Madagascar 3 look like non-fiction...doesn't it?

Getting accustomed
But you know what? Somehow this doesn't surprise me anymore. I guess that after three years I am  growing accustomed to Madagascar. I admit that it has taken me quite a while to acclimatize here. Apart from getting used to good things such as having domestic help :-)

Recently I experienced something that I think I could get used to really easily. Traveling by private plane!  Yes, for my consulting work for Ambatovy Nickel Mining company I have had the pleasure to travel by the company's Twin Otter. Flying to Tamatave in one hour in stead of ten hours by road.

No boarding card, no lines, no passport control, no taking off belts, sun glasses, shoes, bracelets, earrings, opening laptops - straight from the coffee room into the plane seat. Enjoying the incredibly beautiful landscape, to land next to a troop of  zebus. Now that, I think I can get used to real fast!

Landing in between the zebus in Moramanga

Good views from the Twin Otter

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Grand Canyon of Madagascar

Big brother
It  maybe six times smaller than its big brother in Arizona, but Isalo park in Madagascar is at least as spectacular as the US Grand Canyon. Being lucky enough to have visited both, I can conclude that Isalo is as overwhelmingly beautiful. Especially because of surprise treasures that can be found deep inside the gorge. And funnily, the red eroded rock formations from the Jurassic period are the same in both parks.

I can recommend to do the circuit de Manazava first, walking on the rim with its 180 degree views over the rice paddies in the morning. The climb is not that steep but it is hot!

Tropical surprises
Then, when it gets really really really hot, you take a break at the campsite where you can see the lemurs.  After that the treasure hunt begins! Deep down in the gorge, you will find a lush green feast of tropical plants, clear water, pristine little white beaches and turquoise rock pools. Jump into the blue or black piscine, bathe under the 20 meter water falls, and walk back just in time to see the sun set on the orange rocks.

Isalo - Madagascar
Grand Canyon
800 m2
4900 m2
800  to 1200 meters
2000 meters
Mammal species
Bird species
Reptiles and frog species
Flora species

Monday, April 8, 2013

Diamonds in the Sky : Locust Plague or Pretty Sight?

Picture this. Sitting in a mini bus that drives calmly though rural Southern Madagascar, listening to Rihana's Diamonds in the sky. It is a hot afternoon, the drive from Tulear to Isalo is long, but the straight road is good and the landscape stunning. Suddenly, about half way, a big black cloud approaches. What the hell? What is it? A tornado? A sand storm? When I realize what it is I manage to quickly shout:  "Close the windows", just in time. Our driver accelerates as I quickly grope my bag for my camera.

Millions of silver wings

Then our mini bus is surrounded by hundreds of thousands of silvery wings flickering in the afternoon sun. A pretty sight, almost like diamonds in the sky. But I assure you, they are not pretty diamonds. They are swarms of billions of 6-legged, hungry, plant devouring insects!

What looks like silvery raindrops are actually swarms of locusts.

Half the country?

BBC and CNN reported on it last week. I even got calls from a TV channel in the Netherlands about this biblical plague. Most journalists quoted FAO stating that "about half the country is infested by hoppers and flying swarms - each swarm made up of billions of  insects".


About half the country? That seems exaggerated, but fact is that they are here and they multiply faster than horny rabbits. Fact is also that if nothing is done, they will pose a serious threat to the already precarious food security situation in southern Madagascar.  So why is nothing done? I don't know really. What I do know is that tons of insecticide have been donated about six months ago, but no systematic spraying has been taking place yet. Also, mysteriously, around the same time many small hardware stores in town started to sell Nuvan, an insecticide normally unavailable on the private market. Drive around Tana and you'll see little Nuvan posters everywhere. Coincidence? Maybe. As coincidental as listening to Rihana's Diamonds in the Sky while watching millions of shiny crickets in the sky?

Watch my little video of these six-legged, plant devouring 'diamonds' in the sky.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Inona Vao Vao

One of the most frequently used expression in daily life in Malagasy is: Inona Vao Vao (pronounce: Enoona Vavao?) Literally this mean: How is the news, or what's new, or, as some Americans say: What's up?

A common reply to this question is: Tsy misy (tsee mees), which means: no news. But often there is news of course. How do the good people in Antananarivo get their news? Mostly through the news papers. A dozen of them are produced regularly, though they are not all following a quality and objective journalism, if you see what I mean.

On many street corners Malagasy newspapers are exposed like clothes on a washing line. People stop by to read the headlines, and pass it on to others. I like way of hanging newspapers like t-shirts on a line, but I've always wondered: why don't people do the same with their laundry???

Newspapers are hung like t-shirt on a clothes line

But clothes are dried on rocks, streets, grass, river banks or fences

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Blowing in the Wind...

Just a few days ago, Cyclone Haruna swept by on the West coast of Madagascar. This is very unusual, most cyclones, hurricanes, and tropical storms take place on the East coast.

Man-made disaster?
We happened to be on the West coast of Madagascar, in Morondava - more than 200 km above the eye of the storm. The cyclone, impressive as it was, did not do much damage there, but in Tulear it created massive flooding. It killed 13 people and affected over 17.000 poor souls. Not so much because of the winds themselves but because of a dyke which... had not been maintained for years. Sadly, that is how natural disasters become man-made ones...

Lot of rain in paradise
Stranded during this unexpected beach vacation, we heard 150 km winds hauling over our 5-star beach bungalows. The horizontal rains gushed under our doors. The swimming pool turned into a wave pool. But our hotel had taken precautions and no major damage was done. Air Madagascar cancelled all flights and let us wait three more days in windy beach paradise. Every day we'd walk the Morondave strip, 80% of its restaurants and hotels closed.

Sardine tins
The winds, still strong on Saturday, brought great pleasure to the children. Armed with: an empty sardine tin, four plastic bottle tops, and a plastic bag they held amazing car races that would make John Travolta long back to Grease! The T-birds against the Scorpions!

Watch the T-birds against the Scorpions on the Morondava strip:

Enjoy this little movie! I'm sure it will make you smile...and isn't that what we need after this horrendous Haruna?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cyclo Pousse

Had to try it out....
After my adventure at the silk worm farm, I visited the Cyclo Pousse Project in Anstirabe, another UNDP  project. A cyclopousse is a pousse pousse but with a bicycle. So instead of running their legs from underneath their body (to freely use a Dutch expression), the drivers can cycle their passengers around. It's less labor-intensive, and can earn more income. Win-win, right?

Zidane and Ronaldo
In 2008, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo donated 80.000 USD to Madagascar.  The two football vedettes are UNDP good-will Ambassadors, a bit like the Angelinas of the UNDP, so to say.  The money had to be used to fight poverty, and mean something to young people. The Cylco Pousse Project was born.

Proud owners of cyclo pousses
Dream come true
In Madagascar most pousse-pousses are not owned by their drivers. They are rented for a small daily fee (2000 to 3000 Ariary). Their chauffeurs do not earn much from them. With this project, drivers  are leasing their bikes from a facility, called Le Parc, for 2.500 Ariary per day. Regular market price but with one difference: after having leased it for 14 months, the drivers have become the owner. For most of them, owning the thing is a dream come true...

Rare commodity
The great thing about this little project is that it is still running, two years after UNDP has ended its support.  The Parc is still operational. It is actually making modest profits, and new bikes are being produced and leased out. The drivers have formed an association and they're benefiting from a life and accident insurance. Their income has doubled or tripled. A sweet example of a sustainable project. This may sound obvious, but sustainability is a rare commodity in development land.

So what were the 'secrets' of this successful project? Nothing special, it is just a project that came at the right time, to the right place. The pousse pousse driver beneficiaries were involved in its conception, as were local authorities and the mayor. There was a market for the (more expensive but faster) cyclo-pousse services, and the bikes were produced locally, from simple materials, easy to maintain. The president of the association is a great guy with modern ideas.

Evaluation terminology
There you have it. In our evaluation terminology we'd say that the project is relevant, demand-driven and market oriented. It is effectively managed, with adequate beneficiary participation and sufficient stakeholder consultation. It makes use of appropriate, cost-effective technologies and its set-up is sustainable.

Denis in front of his new house, built with money earned with  his Cycle Pousse 

So, thank you Zidane and Ronaldo, and if you ever make it to this great island, do give us a ring!