Monday, June 2, 2014

Willy Saves Mara

The small wooden pirogue had been serving the seas for many years. Until last week. It had such a hard time on the turbulent waters of Nosy Be, that it broke in half. Three local fishermen are hurled out. Two of them have been never heard from again. The third, Mara Beanjara (45) is helpless in the churning sea. Twenty years at sea, but he can't really swim...

He struggles in the water, desperately. Suddenly he spots a little hill top, or a small island, he does not know very well. He climbs on it, frantically hanging on to the edge.  Then it starts to move. The island rises from the water and guess what: it's a huge whale!

Thank you Willy! 
For hours Mara Beanjara holds on to the fin of a 10-meter long humpback whale. The giant dives under water but pops up each time soon enough, as if he knows he's carrying a terrified passenger. Yearly, hundreds of  humpback whales pass the coasts of Madagascar, looking for a partner. These very intelligent animals, like dolphins, are intuitive and can sense panic and anxiety. An entire  night the giant fish swims along with his friends from the colony with the fisherman on his back. Until the next morning, when a cargo boat can save the man.

Mara Beanjara is in a coma as he arrives in hospital of Nosy Be. But not for long: he is, after all, able to tell about his 18-hour ordeal in all Malagasy newspapers. And to thank his buddy the humpback whale.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

They Came, They Saw and They.....

Guess what's in these bags?
My friend Remi lives in Antsirabe. Last week she witnessed something extraordinary.

Dark sky
Picture this: you are quietly sitting in front of your home on a sunny afternoon. Suddenly the sky turns dark and you're in the shade, sending cold shivers down your spine. There is something in the air, but you can't figure out what. Why is it dark? Thunder? Rain? Overcast? No! It something else, but what? It's buzzing, like a fly but times 1000. Then poof!, there it is: a locust swarm of biblical proportion.

Magic wand

As one block the creatures land, as if all led by a single swing of  magic wand. They're in the trees, covering the grass, on the roof, chairs, tables, in the plants, everywhere! What are they going to do? Visions of completely bare stripped fields and ravaged plants emerge...we know these creatures can  devour hectares of crops in a few seconds....

What's next? You wait, observe with curiosity, but mostly with disgust... Well, that would be me. The local people are excited! Children scream, laugh, and pick as many of the grasshoppers as they can. But there is no way they can get them all, there are simply too many, thousands, millions! Its a race, men against insect.

They came, they saw and...
And suddenly...they leave as fast as they came. They have mowed the lawn, eaten a few leaves but that is all. They came, they saw, but they did NOT conquer. In stead, they were eaten!!

Yummie, fried locust anyone?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Witches, Ghosts and Gris-Gris

A 67 year old confused woman, accused of being a with, has been clubbed to death. A baby corpse is found in a dumpster, with holes in its little hand palms. An alleged child molester is being set on fire...
Open any newspaper any day and you will read some horrid story of a poor soul being lynched by the crowd. The cases are hardly investigated by the police and will never reach the court room. Superstition and unfounded rumors are often the base. I think that everyone in Madagascar, educated or not, believes in witches, ghosts and gris-gris.

The poor lady, mostly likely a psychiatric patient, had been tied to a pole and was beaten to death by a gang of angry youngsters in broad daylight. The crowd just stood around and watched.

Grieving daughter by her mother's body, accused of being a witch
Now this is haunting me. The sad newspaper article is spooking through my head and dreams at night. I think of my own dear mother who recently died, peacefully, after a long and good life. Not this poor lady. I don't know how her daughter will ever get over this. I sure hope she believes in angels too....

Monday, March 17, 2014

Fruits de la Route or Mission Fruits

Sometimes I go on a field trip here. We call this 'a mission', which makes me a missionary. It is always fascinating to visit the country side here. What a world of difference with the capital city, let alone with Europe.

Unwritten rule
When on a mission we receive a per diem to pay for hotel and meals. I've done quite a few missions, for different organizations, but there always seems to be the same unwritten rule among the missionaries: the perdiem is divided in three: one third to pay for the expenses, one third for the pocket, and one third for the Voandalana, or Fruits of the Road.

So we are supposed to bring home road fruits.. And we do! Oranges, pine apples, bananas, baskets full.   More than anyone can eat, so I give it to the staff. But a mission fruit does not have to be a fruit. Anything that is sold on the road: a duck in a basket, a fluffy white rabbit held by its ears, a fat dangling shrimp, a poof filled with straw, a brightly colored statue of the virgin Mary,  a tropical plant in an oil can, some stinky cheese in a stinky plastic bag, honey in an empty dish liquid bottle, name it :-)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Happy in an Unhappy Country?

This week  the latest results on the Millenium Development Goals of the United Nations came out. Only 3% of all households in Madagascar describes itself as ' happy '.  The other  97% find their living conditions (very) difficult. Now I wonder: can one be happy in an unhappy country? 

I'm happy here. I belong to the 0.2% who are very well off. We kind of live like Hollywood stars, with our spacious home and staff, including a private driver.  But as soon as we step outside our yard, we are in the middle of the misery; smelly rubbish dumps, open sewerage, slums, and rows of beggars banging on your car window.  What to do? We do what we can.  Both my husband and I are working to stimulate the development of Madagascar. In my spare time I help street children, disabled elderly, teens in prison and orphans. 

Can't complain
But the rows of blind, legless, armless  or otherwise deformed beggars appear to be  longer each day. Every day here is a reality check;  an opportunity to compare your own expectations and situation to others. And so: I can't complain. I mean that literally. Sometimes I would like to complain (the holes in the road, internet that keep breaking down, I discovered another wrinkle, PMS, ...) but I don't allow myself.

I feel almost obligated to be happy here. Because we have so much, and they so little ...

Poverty is ubiquitous here (everywhere)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Record breaking viewer ratings for The Voice in Madagascar!!

Well, not exactly for The Voice, but for The One...

It's no secret that John de Mol's TV format The Voice is a worldwide success. The show has spread like a virus across the globe. But Madagascar is usually immune to franchise trends. There is no McDonald's, Starbucks, Hilton or Heineken to be seen in this country (unfortunately).

I do not know how many millions of dollars it costs to buy the official Voice format, but it is certain that a TV company in a poor country can not afford it. Therefore, we have here The One. With its swivel chairs, famous coaches, a trendy presenter and loads of talent, it is a real must-watch.

The ratings are amazing, more than 80% watched the finale. Unfortunately, this is only 8% of the total number of people on a TV available. Just a tad sad, isn't it?

The One And Only
Personally I believe the success of the program is due it's presenter, the One and Only Alain, aka FFC! He is a good friend of ours and currently the GM of our Hash - the Madagascar Hash House Harriers! Go FF.

Swiveling chairs and all!

Live audience and voting per SMS

The ONE and only presenter FFC!

And the winner is....

Lots of talent at The One

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Winged Words?

So, we have a new president, an officially inaugurated, recognized head of state.

This is V-E-R-Y good news, I find, even though it may not be the president many people had hoped for. My first impressions of him are good. Many of my diplomat friends were able to attend the ceremonies. They agreed on the following:

1- the ceremony was poorly organized (not enough seating, unclear instructions, messy parking situation,  a convoy at snail's pace)

2- his inauguration speech was strong, positive and hopeful. Words with lots of meaning, and character. Like:  Je demande donc à mes amis de me laisser libre, libre d'aller vers les autres, vers celui qui n'a jamais été mon ami.  I ask my friends to let me be free, free to go towards others, even to the one that has never been my friend. 

We all thought we understood where these words came from. The president is under a lot of pressure to choose certain candidates in his cabinet. But he does not want to be forced to work with anyone, he wants to allow for space and cooperation, even with the opposition and the ousted president. Again, very positive!

Hery Sarkozy?
Flying words
Until three days after, then the whole world knew where these 'winged words' came from. From the inauguration speech of Nicholas Sarkozy, in February 2007. Hery's speech was an exact copy of the former French president's! He just replaced 'France' by 'Madagascar'.  Hard to believe? Check the video here.

Winged words...where does this expression come from? From Homerus, as Wiki explain: words that fly from one person to another. Exactly!

p.s. winged or not, Hery's speech writer was sacked immediately...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


It's 'official' now. Madagascar is in the Guinness Book of Records as the country with the head of state with the longest name ever. After 5 years of paralyzing crises, the Special Electoral Court has pronounced that Hery Rajaonarimampianina has 'won' the elections by 52% of the votes. 

I doubt that he actually received more votes than his opponent Robinson , but the 'Special Court' chose to ignore each of the 300 (!) electoral complaints filed by his opponent.

My driver is convinced: Hery is president NOW but he has not WON the elections. 

The president's full name is: Hery Martial Rajaonarimampianina Rakotoarimanana. 

Hery what?? 

Oh...cmon, did you at least TRY to pronounce it? 

Anyway, if you happen to meet him, you may want to simply say: Monsieur le president....right?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Thank You Generous People in Tana!

Last weekend's first episode of Les Courses du Coeur (Groceries from the Heart) was a huge success!

Most clients who did their shopping at Jumbo or Leader Price have given something to help street and other vulnerable children in Tana. The four beneficiaries are:
  1. Akani Fitahiana's children ( in Akorondrano
  2. Les Graines de Bitume ( 
  3. Grandir Dignement  (www.grandirdignement)- helping children in prisons
  4. Centre Sainte Marie - orphanage in Mamasina
We received hundreds of kilos of rice, boxes full of cooking oil, immense piles of biscuits, milk, sardines, dried beans, pasta, noodles, soap bars, dish liquid etc etc...

Old and young, Malagasy or foreign, rich or poor, everyone gave something!

Thank you also to the sponsors: Telma Foundation, Croustipain, Infinithe

Philippe and me in front of Jumbo Supermarket

Jeremie  is contributing too

Young and old are giving

Two boys making a generous rice donation

Sara Georget of the Green Party is happy with the initiative
that avoids plastic bags too!
This is just a small part of the collections, in 6 supermarkets at the same time

Boxes full of food

Vivianne of Telma Foundation lending a helping hand

Monday, January 13, 2014

Cheers, Proost, Sante and SKOL!

Having a blog is fun.

I enjoy it when unknown people contact me with questions or requests. Over the years I've been asked to participate in TV programs, host travelers or send items. Mostly common ones like post cards but also more unusual ones such as tea bag labels and once, really, a bat skeleton. When I can, I happily grant the request, despite logistical challenges.

Post cards are not difficult to buy, but stamps!? I don't even know where the post office is here in Tana, after three years! Neither did I know there are so many we sites by post card collectors. I imagine it to be fun to complete a collection with an exotic card from far-away Madagascar - like this one I sent

Post cards around the globe

A while ago an email of a certain Wilbur reached my inbox. Explaining how he had built up an impressive collection of  beer cans (empty) over the years. And that he would love to add a specimen from Madagascar. Three Horse Beer (THB) is the most classical beer here, and recently we have Madagascar-brewed SKOL beer (our favorite).

I packed the two empty cans with bubble wrap and send them off with a traveling friend. The cans went from Tana to Paris, from Paris to Washington and from Washington to ... Brazil.

Wilbur had over 8,000 beer cans from 91 countries. Now 92!

Proudly showing his Mada beer cans in front of  Oliveira Bridge in Sao Paulo
Anyone willing to send an exotic beer can to Wilbur, contact me.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Happy 2014 Madagascar!

Dear Madagascar,
I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a happy new year. May 2014 be healthy and prosperous. May it bring economic growth and a more wealth for the 92% of your population that currently live with 2 USD (!) a day or less. So that they can afford to buy shoes...

I also wish for you to attract new investors and foreign aid. With that, may you invest in your deteriorating infrastructure; roads, power and water projects which have suffered tremendously due to unrepaired damages from cyclones and severe budget cuts while there's been zero maintenance in the past four years.   (I am not counting the rugby stadium and the Coliseum music dome, I am referring to useful projects). 

May you then also invest in your ailing agricultural sector which has so much potential (rice, vanilla, dairy, horticulture, fruits) but suffers from drought, floods, and locusts infestations and a total incapability to buffer these threats. May you protect your incredible nature and biodiversity, stop deforestation, provide alternatives to charcoal, and invest in renewable energy sources. Oh and while your at it, ban the use of plastic bags. You were doing so well with your raffia baskets, but recently the country is as polluted as a garbage belt.

Madagascar, I wish you peace and wisdom. May your new leaders - whoever they will be in 2014 - be wise and honest. I wish your leaders integrity to combat the rampant corruption in key sectors like justice, police and forestry. I wish them commitment to a transparent use of public funds and to restore the private sector's faith so that it can create the much needed jobs. 

Madagascar, I wish you compassion and generosity to look after the mentally and physically handicapped, the homeless and the street children, and that nobody has to eat out of the garbage containers.

And lastly Mada, I wish you lots and lots of toilets and latrines, so that I (am I being selfish here?) don't have to watch your people relieving (and revealing!!) themselves in public.

Madagascar, the past four years have brought you nothing. You deserve progress!


For more info:

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!