Just imagine a city a size of Berlin. And that only 10% of the people have access to the water. Just imagine tiny kids, who have just learnt to walk, and are walking naked on the superbusy streets, between expensive toyota jeeps and their exhaust fumes. Poverty on the streets of Tana hurts a lot.
Normally we do our shopping on the streets: potatoes, carrots, fruits or fish. But at the beginning of every trip we want to do some bigger shopping: get the oil for one month cooking, some peanut butter (for breakfasts better than normal one!), chocolate (for any difficult times), stuff like that. So we have to find a bigger supermarket, in every capital city it is somehow possible. So we found one in Tana (aka Antananarivo) too. In a shopping mall. Surrounded by a secured parking place (secured means: only rich-looking or white people can come in), a glass building, with shops with luxury glasses, expensive watches and cafe latte. And maybe 100 metres from this parking place there is a tiny house called „charge“, with the logos of 3 main mobile networks. Charge, not meaning to buy a card to upload the mobile. Charge, meaning: load. Because the access to electricity in this country is for most of the people not available.
We like to think about ourselves we are backpackers, not rich tourists with big suitcases, which are carried by nowadays slaves. People in Madagascar do not really see any difference. We are white (called: „vazaha“) and on holidays, which means: we had enough money to come to the island (I’m trying to find any information about how many people ever left Madagascar even for few days but I can’t!), we have enough money to organise a trip (rent a car, with a driver – there is no way to rent without, book all the hotels), we have our luggage full of expensive things. And then we think: hey, our old stinky sleeping bags? Our 3 pairs of socks? One teddy bear of Hanna and doggy of Mila?
Yes, we are vazaha.
But we are a special backpackers vazaha – a phenomenon which doesn’t exist too much in Madagascar (at least for last 2 weeks we haven’t nearly met any). That means: we try to hitch-hike, we travel with local buses, we sleep in the tent and we cook for ourselves. And this is difficult and shocking for the others.
First of all: it’s very difficult to hitch-hike on the roads, which know almost (like really 99,9%) only public buses and rental cars. But not impossible of course! But it’s again the advantage that we are vazaha, so other tourists vazaha sometimes take us to their cars.
Secondly: even Lonely Planet (the ‘backpackers’ guide, isn’t it?) suggests to rent a car with driver in Madagascar, instead of using public transport. They say it’s too dangerous, difficult, uncomfortable and takes too much of time. Well. It does take a lot of time, because the roads are bad. It’s not very comfy, because the buses are full. Or full full (all the places taken + on every legs there is still a kid). Is it dangerous? Well, taxi brousses (literally „bush taxi“) is any kind of public transport (usually a mini-bus, often a pickup bus): in the towns or between the towns. Those in the towns, drive only until more-less the sunset.
Those between the towns sometimes are forced to drive at night (at the long distances) but then they drive often in the convoys and it’s not allowed to leave them until the sunrise (we had this surprise lately: arrived to the capital at 2am, happy to go to some hotel and stretch our bodies after 15 hours of drive and… no no no, we had to wait until 5am;). Your luggage is on the roof, so you basically never know, what will happen with it (if somebody will steal it on any of many stops, if it will smell like chickens or fish, travelling also on the roof), but… „mora mora“ they say here. „Chill out“. We are careful but not freaking out. We can survive a smell of the fish. So no problem with this one! Especially that while driving taxi brousse we are like all of the people. Finally.
For us the biggest problem is a sad poverty, especially in big towns, especially in Tana. No people walking after the dark, in the centre many pickpockets, but so unprofessional that even kids can see it, people on the airport pretending they are tourism operators and cheating badly on the newcomers. 77% people of Madagascar live below the national poverty level, half of the population is under 18, statistically every woman has at least 5 kids. And those tiny kids, who have just learnt to walk, are walking naked on the superbusy streets of Tana, between expensive toyota jeeps and their exhaust fumes.
On the first day, when we were coming back home (couchsurfers home, I mean) with some bus, a little boy came to the window of Mila and begged for money. He pulled out his hand into her direction, but she totally didn’t understand, what was he doing. So she took her hand and… gave him high five. He was so shocked-surprised and happy at the same time, that they started to give the fives one to another with laughter.
Most of the people are very poor. But most of them also not demanding. Not pushing, rather curious. And in the moment we smile (or say something in Malagasy!!) – absolutely smiling. They just still don’t really understand how and why we want to travel alone through this country.
This very exciting country: an island, separated from other countries by the sea and expensive flights, a bit African, a bit Asian. Just a few facts, which are very feelable on every of our steps here: The first settlers were Asians (Indo-Malayans). At first, the Malagasy language was written with…(!)… Arabic letters. Europeans (Portuguese, to make it precise) arrived only in the XVI century and at the very end of XIX century Madagascar became a French colony. Finally it got its Independence only in 1960.
We, AnnaTomHannaMila-vazahas, are now after 2 weeks of wondering through the country. Soon will tell you about beautiful national parks, lemurs hanging everywhere and lovely meetings with many of different ethnic groups of Madagascar (there is 18!). But it’s good and important to remember that we are in 9th most poor country of this big world and things get really difficult sometimes.
And since for the first time we have a serious, working internet – we gonna upload some pics and post this text as fast as possible;) Stay tuned!
Our first book is out!
We have published our first book (for now just in Polish:) about our Central America Trip.
See, read and order here »
Waiting for more. Reads so well and exciting. Good luck guys!
That’s sad, yet still interesting to read. Good luck there and looking forward to more posts!!!
Now I’m happy that we didn’t get to Tana. It looks worse than the north. You can still see the poverty and the poor/rich difference there but it feels that even poor people are happy and smiling. I didn’t see any begging, people were so nice and selfless (what for example doesn’t happen often in Asia – where everyone asks for money after helping you with bags or doing another simple thing that you didn’t ask for :)). Another thing is that the only bigger town that we were in was Diego Suarez and we spent there only two nights, and yes we walked in the night and we didn’t feel insecure (at least not before the accident that happened to us in Ramena – after that our perception was a bit different but it was influenced by bad experience and it shouldn’t be).
We were trying to avoid travelling in the night (as in any country it’s not the safest for two girls alone), but once we needed to, when the taxi Brousse was late and then it broke in the middle of the road – and it was fine when we got to town. Most of the times we were the only white people backpacking the country, we met two more but they were volunteers working there and making some short trips around by taxi brousess and hitch hiking.
Hitch hiking works there but many times people are going to ask for money, if you think it’s too much, you can always try to lower the price or wait longer, but usually it’s not much money anyway and when you think of how much those people earn per day… We got some free rides because people were really nice and we also got some for which we paid – both of them were enjoyable and adventurous :)
Good luck in your next days! I wish I could come back to Madagascar soon :) mora mora!