Akory Aby. Malagasy for: Hello everyone. My name is Andrina. Since January 2018 I’ve been working for WECONNEX. Instead of sitting in our co-working space in St. Gallen, I currently have the privilege to be working directly with the local fishing communities on the southwest coast of Madagascar for the next four months (read to the end if you are curious to know on what mission I am here for exactly). And, because Madagascar is a wonderfully exotic Island, to a large extent untouched by any mass tourism and most likely just as a foreign place to our readers as it is to me, I’m excited to share my impressions and experiences with you.
The arrival in Antananarivo, short ‘Tana’, the capital of Madagascar, might not be called an easy arrival. It is not famous for being a welcoming city, actually, it is listed among the 20 least livable cities on earth by The Telegraph. It didn’t strike me as that bad, but I’d also say Madagascar has more to offer and it makes sense that tourists don’t spend a bulk of time in the smoggy and chaotic capital. Nonetheless, I survived 2.5 weeks there and want to share both the colorful and inspiring sides as well as the tougher moments with you.
Once upon time
There are several hints that Tana has not always been such an unfavorable place. Located 1245 meters above sea level in the fertile central highlands of Madagascar and nestled against the hills, it is said to have been a lovely place before becoming too crowded. The many winding stairs, narrow cobble-stone alleyways and a few picturesque buildings remind of the old times. When looking at the city from afar, for example from the empty-standing Palais de la Reine, the city spreads out lovingly over the rolling hills. Walking through the colorful market stands that offer everything you can possibly imagine and observing the lively and cheerful residents leaves a welcoming impression.
Nonetheless, the locals and expats of Tana recommend wholeheartedly to leave the city on the weekends. A popular program is picnicking out on the hills once they turn greener.
“Il y a beaucoup d’embouteillage”
Reason #1 the picnics are held outside the city borders is the chronic traffic the city suffers under. If it were only the traffic, that would be one thing to endure. The problem is aggravated by the fact that catalysator is a foreign word. Stuck in traffic in Tana (also equal to not moving an inch for very long minutes, perhaps because the vehicles are strewn at large across the next intersection) means breathing in pure exhaust emissions. Not exactly picnic-friendly-air or strolling-the-streets-air.
For taxi drivers, the traffic problem is actually a blessing. When they tell you the price they want to charge and see your surprised look they always have the ‘but there is so much traffic’ joker. Because, you will actually just never know how much traffic there currently is. Best example is the commute from the hotel to the co-working office where NEMACO works. On normal, empty roads it’s a journey of 8 minutes. It took me between 15 to 55 minutes, pretty much regardless of what time of the day. It ended up being a daily surprise at what time I’d get to work and back to the hotel. Try getting to meetings on time.
Ministers, Ambassadors and Bratwurst
What I actually did throughout my days in Tana, if not stuck in traffic, was varied and interesting. As we just recently officially established our local company, NEMACO (NEXUS Madagascar Company), I was busy spreading these news as broadly as possible to other organizations active in the region, addressing both strategic partners, possible financial partners and organizations of interest to meet for an exchange of experiences and approaches.
The most memorable of the attended events and encounters was the Reception for August 1st, the Swiss National Day, at the residence of the Swiss Ambassador.
Speaking of arriving at meetings on time, the Malagasy officials took their time to arrive at the Reception and the Ambassador waited patiently before holding his speech. I’d say patience is one thing you learn to have during 4 years in the country (more on that in the final paragraph). Once they arrived and all stood lined up on stage, the Ambassador shared some words about a deep level of friendship and collaboration between the two countries. The Malagasy officials showed their appreciation by taking a nap or checking their emails – on stage, mind you. And, once the playback words of greeting by Alain Berset decided to have technical issues, which led to minutes of awkward silence, the second half of the message was left out and the buffet was opened (and raided). And then the people left, satisfied after receiving some Malagasy sort of Bratwurst.
Recommendations and Learnings
Just some pointers before you embark on your trip to Antananarivo (which I am sure you will after my elaborations). If you decide to come here during Madagascar’s winter, do bring winter-suitable clothes. One might not connect the tropical island with the bitter cold but considering the altitude and the fact that heating and isolation are unknown here, it’s worth bringing the right gear.
Blackouts may occur unexpectedly. Indulge in the darkness for a moment and ponder about life’s big questions. In my experience the power comes back a couple minutes later.
Come with low food expectations. The culinary highlights during the 2.5 weeks in Tana were limited. Don’t order a pizza at the Nerone, a promising looking Italian restaurant. Really not sure what the mozzarella was made of.
But the highlight remains my attempt to book a flight with Air Madagascar
Following advice from the locals that it is cheaper to book flights at an Air Madagascar Agency rather than online, I arrived at their office along the main street in Tana at 9.54am. Considering the amount of people already waiting for their turn at two of the three open booths it was safe to say that after getting a numbered ticket I could go to the supermarket to kill some time. I came back at 10.08am, 6 people have so far been attended to, 20 were still in line before my turn. Hence, my smart decision was to use my time wisely and go to the bank. I once again returned to the agency hoping that it would be my turn soon. But the agency was closed, shutters down and locked up for the weekend. It was 10.35am.
Not finding this funny at all I desperately tried to figure out if there was another agency open somewhere. A taxi took me there for 20’000 Ar. Not a nice sight once I spotted the agency. Pretty sure all the people who didn’t receive their ticket at the agency before moved on to here and were patiently waiting in line with a massive cluster of other hopeful travelers. The agency was going to close in an hour. I turned around and booked online. Definitely a successful strategy to get people to book the more expensive way.
Anyway, I now had my ticket and was ready to go to Tulear, a town on the southwest coast of the island where the NEXUS Centers are based. A day before the flight – I am just trying to check in online, but how silly of me to think that that they’re this advanced – I stumble upon a notice saying that my flight is cancelled. But not to worry, it actually just got rescheduled, to leave 3 hours later and will stop along the way in Fort Dauphin. Am I allowed to be surprised? Naaaa.
Tulear is the point of departure to visit our project sites and the NEXUS Centers along the coast. But Tulear as much as Tana are not the final destinations for my time in Madagascar. What I am actually here for and why I am training to become a master of patience in this country remains a surprise until the next travel blog update.
Please don’t take these stories all too seriously. I actually had a great time experiencing Tana and I enjoyed the challenges and surprises the city holds. I am also in awe of all the people who call that place their home and deal with the logistical and systemic struggles every day. You have my admiration.
Source: nexus ch