Monday, December 20, 2010

Why Is This TV Turned Off?

Guess: Why is This TV off? 

A. We’re  participating in ‘No TV week’
B. We’re saving energy by watching on odd days only
C. A cockroach family has nested itself inside the TV
D. Lighting struck our house and destroyed ALL our electrical equipment

Damn damn, the answer is number D. It’s one of those things that are only supposed to happen to other peopls..until it happens to you! Bummer.

Last Friday Soleine and I are playing games by candle light because power has gone off in our home. It’s raining and there’s a thunderstorm. We’re counting the seconds between lighting and thunder, it still far away. Suddenly the house gets lit up followed immediately by the loudest sound I have ever heard. Sparks of fire are flying around in your garden. Holy cow.

Sensor box exploded after lightning struck
We’re fine, because I had switched of our modem as well as the multiplug in the TV corner. When it turns out that the power has returned to all our neighbors’ homes we’re learning the horrid truth: lightning has struck a sensor box that controls our garden lights placed on our pine tree. The box has exploded, but that’s not all! It appears that the lighting power (what voltage would that be  - I have no internet to look it up) has gone into the electricity cable connected to that sensor.  Two fuses burnt, but Michel manages to repair those. Power to the house is restored.

We’re still thinking we got away without major damage until we turn on the TV. Nothing. CD player? Nothing. DVD player? Nothing. Modem? Nothing, Telephone? Nothing… Today we got confirmation from the shops and repairmen…all our electrics  are fried! Beyond repair.  The only thing in our living room that is still working is our Christmas tree.

Lesson learned for the season, when in thunderstorm:


Merry Christmas anyway.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Keeping in Touch with the Dutch

Everywhere in the world you can find Dutch people - whether you like it or not - traveling is in our blood. In Madagascar there is a small community of Dutch people that gets together at least twice a year. On April 30 to celebrate our Queen's birthday, and on December 5 to celebrate the birthday of Sinterklaas. Who? St Nicholas. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children and sailors, and the basis for Santa Claus, the mythical holiday figure in the US.

I like to think of Sinterklaas and Santa Claus as brothers. How else am going to explain my 6-year old?
Sinterklaas is always accompanied by a couple of "Zwarte Pieten', these are his helpers. They're black because they come through the chimney. It has nothing to do with race or Africa or whatsoever, but you can image the confusion by African people when they see white people dressed up as a black persons. Some people find this not P.C. but to them I see B.S, it's just a children's story...

Anyhow...last Sunday Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Piet finally arrived in Madagascar. Not on his traditional white horse, but in a Malgashy zebu cart! With sunglasses. So fun!
Sinterklaas arriving on his zebu cart

Zwarte Piet, black with soot from the chimney
Dutch Kiddo's in Madagascar

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Meet Alex and Akany Fitahiana

Being Dutch, Thanksgiving does not mean anything to me. But when my American friend Shannon McAfee said she'd organize a Thanksgiving lunch for 250 street children, I was happy for the opportunity to help.

There are many many street children in Tana, and it breaks my heart to see their dusty faces, snotty noses, poor-teethed smiles, and sad eyes. Most seem to have lost the innocent look of a child.

This is how I met Alex (26), a very special guy. A former street child himself - his pretty but poor mother was abandoned by his rich father in a not so pretty way, taking away all the possessions in their house and leaving the children on the streets. He got lucky, a stranger (?) met him and decided to pay for his education. Alex managed to finish his secondary school diploma and studied IT. He then found a job as an assistant manager, making a decent living and with his first earnings he opened, at the age of twenty, his centre d'acceuil Akany Fitahiana to help some of the the thousands of enfants de la rue.

Alex with Malala (16), 
her dad's a drug addict

Alex with Tanteroka (13)
 born on the street
Alex is now 26. His center provides education, life skills and occasional meals for 255 children between the age of two and sixteen - he started with 18 kids. He also finds hosts families in the neighborhood where the homeless children can stay for the night. 

Soleine's helping to serve a Thanksgiving meal - no, not turkey
Most kids were up since 6 AM...waiting hours for the feast to start

Pretty girls, but oh so serious..

These are hard times in Madagascar. Since the crisis started in 2009, the transitional government hasn't provided much support to the underprivileged. The center is on the brink of closing down. They're in need of pretty much everything: proper toilets, lights, school materials, toys, clothes, underwear, tooth brushes, food, soap; you name it. 

I am going to keep in touch with Alex, see what I can do to help.
You're welcome to help too!

The typical sad look of a child that has never known innocence

At least we managed to make this one smile...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How to Talk Yourself into Someone's Bedroom

Today I have discovered the best way to talk yourself into someone’s bedroom! Just kidding, or… not really. I just completed my first field trip in Madagascar by visiting a dozen rural bedrooms in and around Maevatanana. 

For my work as a consultant for PSI, an American NGO, I am involved in the monitoring of a large mosquito net distribution campaign. PSI is distributing more than 5.5 million nets all over Madagascar, in 6 days.  The campaign is part of a world wide effort to roll back malaria, financed by USAID, Global Fund, and others.

It sounds pretty easy, right? Just go door-to-door and hand over one net for every three people in each house. Well, it's not really. 

Firstly, there are no records about the number of houses or how many members each household has. That makes it hard to plan logistics. 

Secondly, it’s not enough to just hand out mosquito nets; people need to know why they need them, how to hang them up, and what to do with the packaging which is contaminated with insecticide, for example. Also we need to know exactly how many nets have been distributed. We cooperate with existing authorities, such as health centers, village chiefs, and community agents. They all need to be informed, trained, compensated, monitored, and supervised. 

To give you some stats:

  • Number of mosquito nets (think: importation, boarder formalities, storage, transportation, distribution) : 5.5 million
  •  Total population (think: inform them when to get it, how to use it – not for fishing or as curtains!):  13.329.250 people
  • Number of locations: 72 districts divided into 11.131 divisions (think: some of them are two days walking distance from the distribution point, a pack can weigh up to 30 kilos)
  • Number of community agents: 41,134 (think: equip all of them with forms and tools for the campaign).
  • Total campaign costs : around USD 8M, excluding the costs of the nets. This comes down to one dollar and 45 cents per net which last 2 years, or less than a dollar per person.

Get the picture? It’s big. My humble task is to help with the monitoring, making sure the records are kept and that data are being entered and analyzed (think: databases, computers, typists) for the final report.

I had to go see for myself how this is all working out. And you know what? In the region I went it worked out G-R-E-A-T.  All the households I visited- by surprise - had their nets hanging happily. At all the sites I've seen people buried the trash ‘comme il faut’. 

Of course, the real impact in terms of  malaria reduction can only be measured after some time, and there were many logistical and political hiccups to overcome during the distribution, but my impression still stands: NE(A)T.

So, sleep tight Maevatanana, don't let the mozzies bite!

Sleep well, US and European tax payers, rest assuredyour money has reached the poorest of the poor, the 'farest' of the far, all the way on the mystical island of Madgascar (it rhymes!).

66 packs of 50 nets and 174 packs of 20 nets still in stock

Community mobilizer in rural commune

Children under 5 yrs are the most vulnerable to malaria

Bags are taken off the nets and buried before distribution, to prevent nets from being sold

En route to yet another bedroom!

Blue is better than white, as white is for covering the dead.

For the first time in his life he will sleep under a net

During the day the nets are put up

Boy resting in his parents bed

Sleep tight - Maevatanana, don't let the mozzies bite!

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Coup - Putsch - Overthrow

It's done. For the first time ever in my life I stocked up on food. Well, that is to say: I bought items that I don't immediately need. I am talking about two packs of sugar, an extra pack of butter, a kilo of flour, 12 liters of water for example. Ha ha, I know that won't last us very long. I also got other 'essentials' like movies and red wine. There happened to be a wine promotion at the Jumbo; these supermarket managers sure are clever.

I felt so bad with my huge cart stacked with groceries. I'm just not a bulk person. Growing up in a family of eight you'd think I would be used to it, but I am not. We lived walking distance from the Albert Hein Supermarket in my village, and almost every day my mom sent me out to buy a few quick groceries, never the big quantity planner either. Obviously here it feels even worse: the lady before me at the vegetables weighed one single banana. One! Compared to her my cart was obscene.

Our 'essentials' to help us through the 'coup d'etat' :-)
Anyhow, the reason I am doing this is of course: The Coup! Yes we had a real 'coup d'etat' here two days ago. At least, according to the media. Suddenly I got emails and FB message from all over the world - we happen to be global citizens - asking us about the coup. The bizarre thing is: we don't know anymore than you do! The referendum itself was calm, we all stayed home and read on the internet  that a group of 20 military guys declared a coup d'etat. I did not know it was so easy to do. Honestly, I don't really understand the intricacies and the whys and the whos, and if I did I would not blog about it anyhow.

 All I know are the personal consequences for us, so far
  • My field trip got cancelled, real bummer
  • We're not supposed to go near the airport, for fear of attacks on the army camp close by
  • I just bought an embarrassing amount of groceries
  • The first-ever US Marine ball in Tana which was supposed to take place this Saturday, has been postponed. Major backlash for the beauty parlors tomorrow!
  • We can't plan anything ahead as nobody has any information about when or if the .. hits the fan
Lastly, a thing that really bugs me is this: In English we use the French word coup d'etat, while the French use the German word 'putsch' (what kind of a word is that anyway?). So, would it only be logic that in German they use an English term like overthrow? But they don't, they have their own German word, Staatsstreich. Not logical, people.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Morondava Avenue of the Baobabs

Here's another article by my guest writer. 

The majority of visitors to the region of Madagascar come here solely to see one of the most famous natural sights in the entire African continent: the Avenue of the Baobabs... and rightly so. After all, these trees, which have straight trunks that can reach a height of 30 metres, are a stunning sight which looks particularly magical at sunset. 
Perhaps the most famous of the trees is the one named 'Les Baobabs Amoureux' and, although situated a bit further away from the main avenue than some of the largest trees, it's worth making the journey to see it. There are organised tours you can take that will show you the major sights, or you can hire a bicycle and attempt the lengthy bike ride between the beach at Morondava and the avenue. If you do decide to do this, make sure you take a decent cycle repair kit as the roads aren't in great condition and the track is sandy for the final few kilometres as you approach the trees. 

There is, however, so much more to this region than just the Avenue of the Baobabs. Morondava itself is a laid back beach town that promises relaxation and gorgeous weather in equal measure. With white sandy beaches and crystal clear seas that are perfect for cooling off in after a day of sunbathing, the town is the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of some of Madagascar's larger towns and cities. 

There are a number of small hotels and restaurants dotted along the beach, with many owned by Europeans who made the trip out to Morondava and never returned. Similarly, there are a few American and Australian hoteliers who have managed to transform their establishments into destinations a far cry from the sort of Sydney hotels or New York hotels they've grown up with. These hotels and restaurants tend to serve the traditional Malagasy fare you grow to expect whilst touring the country (the prawns here are amazing) but also some decent pasta dishes and meat dishes. 

Accommodation can be slightly more expensive here than in other parts of the country, partly because of the stunning surroundings and partly because the town is so small, so make sure you do your research carefully before booking. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Referendum

The interim government in Madagascar is organizing a constitutional referendum next week. I believe this is a step in the right direction, as it had previously been postponed 'indefinitely' for lack of a constitutional draft.

The main reason for the referendum is a proposal to decrease the official age to become president of the country from 50 to 35 years. This is so that the current interim president, former mayor and DJ in his mid-thirties, can be elected in next year's election. Kind of funny, don't you think?

What is less funny is that the prelude to the referendum always seems to have go together with riots. Indeed, there are demonstrations and troubles in Tana - though it's still on a small scale.
We get messages through the French Embassy to avoid certain areas down-town.

It causes major traffic jams in a city that is already hyperly jammed. This week it took me an hour-and-twenty minutes to get to work. I can now join the ranks of the millions of Dutch people who spend more than 50 minutes per day to travel to work. I just read this week that the Dutch officially have the longest commuting times in Europe (OESO -2010)!!

Also, the Americans advise us to stock up on milk and cooking oil. Internationally however, nobody seems to know or care, and googling 'riots' and 'Madagascar' only brings up pages from 2009 and 2002. So I take it it's not that serious; well, who knows? Should I run to the supermarket and load my cart with milk?

I don't know. I'm thinking...if we're out of milk, we'll drink something else. Beer for example :-). Beer never runs out in a country. Because that will be cause of serious rioting! 

Friday, November 5, 2010


The French influences in Madagascar are obvious and omnipotent. Of course they ruled for many years, and still today there are at least 15,000 French living in Madagascar - more than in Algeria, Cote d'Ivoire or Senegal.

I'd like to write about the positive influence of the French in Madagascar.  It has four letters: E-P-F-D. Everybody knows the French love their food.
French influence in Tana

When we get invited by French friends, the meals last long. It's like dining in a 4-star restaurant, with an entree, plat principal, fromage and dessert, or EPFD as I call it. When there are other French guests the dinner conversation turns around what they like to eat, where the best artichokes are from (Bretagne), how awful the lamb meat in Madagascar is (true), where to buy the best strawberries (nowhere), who makes the best French bread in Tana (Divina bakery), and how to make an excellent rillette de porc (with pig head, love and patience).

After a year-and-a-half of rice and beans and beans and rice in Belize, where the culinary highlight of our week was Sunday lunch in a Chinese restaurant, we are really truly enjoying the food in Madagascar. The choice of charcuterie (cut meats), cheeses, fresh crispy baguettes, duck meat, fois gras... all the good French food has been well adopted here.  Of course you have to dig deep in your pockets but there's always the local variant for which you pay half or less.

Made in Madagascar
One good thing I noticed is that eating well seems to be contagious! Not a culinary person by nature to say the least - I'am more the bread and peanut butter type - I do enjoy trying to eat better and more varied, also for my daughter's sake. French kids are exemplary, they munch on artichokes and raw courgettes with vinaigrette, they eat crab and prawn!

There's only one problem I'm having with all this fancy French food and good eating habits. No, it's not the calories, it's not the fact that I have to go to three supermarkets to buy it, or the time it all takes to cook (read: have it cooked)'s the fear to receive the French! I am not sure if I am capable to do the EPFD thing!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pretzels in Madagascar!

After my succesful pinhata story two weeks ago, I thought I'd continue with my mission to introduce foreign objects in Madagascar. The American Marines were organizing an October Fest last week, and you know - we're always in for beer drinking parties. So I was going to contribute by making pretzels. Can't get more German than that!

What you may not know, is that Pretzels have a secret ingredient that is very hard to come by. It's called caustic soda, it's a chemical also used for unclogging toilets and killing insects. Before baking the pretzels, you have to dip them into caustic soda to make them brown, shiny and crispy. Believe me, egg yolk won't do!!

So I am asking around for this stuff at a pharmacy in Tana, not knowing even what it is in French. The pharmacist doesn't understand anything of my story -can't blame him, - and I am about to step out until an old man asks me if I am looking for Soude Castique. And then he popped the question that almost made me faint with surprise: "Are you going to make pretzels??"  How the #$%$% did he know? Nobody knows this stuff even exists, let alone that it's used for pretzels.

As it turns out, he's German who ran a German restaurants for many years in Tana. He kindly explained to me that caustic soda is really hard to find here, but why don't I come by his house to get some. I couldn't believe my luck!

When you read the instruction on how to use this stuff, you'll get scared. It's a poison, and it's recommended to use gloves and even goggles when dipping the pretzels in it. Seriously!

Dipping pretzels in their poison - scary stuff

The German man, his name his Horst, tells me to dilute the powder in hot water before dipping the unbaked pretzels. But the recipe I am following on internet mentions cold water. I choose the latter. Very very bad choice! After two hours of hard work, I dip them and put them in the oven, but they come out as bread sticks. Not crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Just hard pieces of  baked dough.

I should have listened better to Horst. Not to the internet!

Two valuable lessons I learned that day:

1. Never think you know better than the locals

2. People will eat anything after a few beers!


Monday, October 25, 2010

The Island of the Unpronounceable Names

The city of Tana is actually one big market. Wherever you go, you'll find stalls, vendors, sellers, you name it. You can find anything and everything on these markets, from Made-in-China plastic sneakers to beautifully crafted furniture, from home-made rat traps to crocodile meat.

There is also a cute second hand book market, where you can buy French Marie Claire magazines from the nineties, and all kinds of second (third, fourth who knows?)-hand books. Some time ago I came across an old history book published in the fifties, for usage in primary schools. I paid, after stern negotiation, 5,000 Ar for it - two Euro.

Super-contented with my purchase, I started reading it immediately, a chapter about the demography of the then four million Malasy.  The school book described the division of the people among at least ten tribes, with adventurous names that translate like: the Invincibles, the Inseparables, the Warriors, and They who are tempted by commandments.

After a few pages however, I began to lose my reading appetite. A chapter about the royal history read as follows: "And when Andianampoinimerina had become the king of Ambohimanagan, he appeased his parents Andrianamabotsimarofy and Ravorombatodambohidratimo, who was also called 'the wild boar'. He ordered a department of more than a thousand soldiers from Tsimanahotsy andTsimiamboholahy to protect Antananarivo. He then prepared himself to defeat Andrianamanalinorivo and Ravoekamabahoaka at which he succeeded at Kiririokafisakana’.

I kid you not. These poor, poor Malgasy primary school kids who have to memorize this! They must be very smart!

Of course the people here have found a way to handle these names, only one out of every so many syllables is pronounced. Hence Tana. I bet you the above two names are Raz and Andj. Or something.
Nevertheless, to me Madagascar is the Island of the Unpronounceable Names.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Does Antananarivo Have Any Highlights?

By: Charlotte Cook, guest-writer
I received a request from a writer to post on my blog. No problem, I said, and here's the article. I agree with her. Tana is not exactly bursting with touristy highlights. Probably the only reason worth visiting Tana for, We are the highlight of Antanananarivo ( ha ha).
Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital city, has a reputation and it’s not particularly good. Not exactly known for its up-market package holidays, the majority of people travel to the African island to sample its unique wildlife and this can seem like a prospect far removed from the bustling city. Most tourists land at the capital city's airport (with some cheap flights available at certain times of year) before heading off on their travels but you can not visit a country without visiting its capital.
If you want to get the best out of Antananarivo, you have to be prepared to do some walking, and a lot of this is up and down hills. The highest point is 2643m above sea level, making the city one of the highest capitals in the world, but even at an average height of 1400m means that packing some decent walking shoes is advisable. The effects of altitude also need to be considered, whilst it is wise to prepare for a temperate, rather than an equatorial, climate due to the height of the city. The rainy season is between November and April, which is something else for tourists to bear in mind.
Rova Queen's Palace
If you accept the need to climb hundreds of stone steps if you wish to see the main sights, you will discover a city rich in cultural, historical and architectural attractions, albeit one which is quietly crumbling. The highlights are definitely the Queen’s Palace (Rova), which is a long walk from the hotel district and the nearby Prime Minister’s Palace. However, the former was destroyed by fire some fifteen years ago and is merely a shell.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Antananarivo was the capital of the Merina monarchs and they conquered the rest of Madagascar from here. Buildings from this era were typically made out of wood or rushes before the introduction of stone in 1869, so few survive. Some of the timber palaces from the pre-stone era still sit atop the ridge on which the capital is built and provide an Indonesian influence to the city. Since then, buildings from the French colonial era have been dominant. These include more palaces, Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals, and civil buildings including hospitals and colleges.
The pastel terracotta of the buildings blends seamlessly with the rice paddies, which are prevalent throughout the capital. Visiting the markets is definitely worth it, particularly The Lemur Park, which is 45 minutes out of the city and has a good restaurant. 
Walking is definitely the best way to see the city but the poverty is endemic. Beggars will hassle tourists for money, so remember to keep your guard but a forceful ‘Non, merci’ should see them leave you alone.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Pinhata in Madagascar

With our stuff arriving last week, came a real pinhata made in Mexico (I believe). Our good friend Margarita Mena, party queen of Belmopan, had smuggled it into our container, which arrived - oh good fortune - just days before Soleine's 6ht birthday. What a pleasure to discover!

This may have been the first ever real pinhata in Antanananarivo, who knows?

For those who have known me in Belize, they may chuckle...because the very first time I used a pinhata - in Belize- I forgot to put candy in it. I did not know, I thought I had bought the damn thing full of sweets.

Anyway, this time I knew and I filled it up with sweets, colourful little hair clips, crayons, plastic wild animals and marbles. The latter not the best idea because they look just like sweets...image ooouch your teeth - another learning curve for me.

All in all, it was a great success last Sunday, at my little big girl's birthday party. Long live multicultural habits, a true exchange of cultures across the globe!

After - with contents this time!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Difference

One thing worth mentioning...when we received our stuff, I immediately started attacking the boxes with a kitchen knife, ripping off pieces of scotch tape, tearing the wrapping paper into shreds...a bit like a crazy deprived person. It felt therapeutic to 'mutilate' those boxes that had kept us waiting so long.
When our housekeeper started to help us, the difference between her and my working mode became immediately clear. She carefully took off every piece of wrapping paper, then ironed it with her hands. Boxes were not ripped but opened with care, and the larger pieces of carton were nicely stacked. The 'loot' was later on divided among our three house staff. Of course I followed the good example.

Everything piece of trash in gets recycled Madagascar. 
There is not a piece of garbage that is wasted. Some people live in the garbage containers. Bottle tops, yogurt cups, newspapers, straws, you name it, it's all collected. A lot of it goes into new products. People are very creative here.

On the one hand I feel it's quite reassuring, you know that most of your waste will find a new purpose. On the other hand... you really have to think twice before chucking something in the bin. I am kind of suspecting that there's a business of selling full trash bags going on here. In our previous apartment the concierge insisted on taking out our bags herself, and she would not let anyone come near them. Could it be that she was selling them on? Surely a good full Vazaha trashbag is worth something, in the country where everything is recycled...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Call

...Oh yes! It happened...finally!

Last night, at 1.30 AM, Michel (thank God not me) received a phone call. A truck driver, speaking in loud Malagasy,asked  if he could deliver a container? Well, yes sir! After three months of traveling the big oceans, eight weeks of waiting for paper work in the port of Tamatave, followed by 20 days of strike, our container finally found its way to our house. We got the call. Can we deliver? Yes you can. Even at two in the morning.

Apparently, and rightly so, container-truck drivers are not allowed to enter Antanananarivo during the day, that's why he came at two AM, and had to be out before four in the morning. So in less than two hours, Michel and our night guard Nirine, had to unload a 20-foot container. Unloading was the easy part, as gravity helps, but after that all the stuff had to be carried inside the house. And they did it!
And I? I was asleep, soundly, only to wake up in the morning with Soleine, and to find that Father Christmas had passed int he night.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oh Lord Won't You Give Me...Some Patience Please

My two visitors from last week remarked that we are living quite a privileged life. This made me think, and of course I came to the conclusion that it is true. It's an exciting life, full of opportunities to explore extraordinary nature, a variety of cultures; always living in comfortable houses, with large gardens and house staff.  

In a way we live like stars: we have housekeepers, cooks, sometimes even personal trainers, a nanny; we can go to the salon every day, have our toe nails painted weekly, our eyebrows trimmed neatly and our hair blow-dried each Friday. We can live in luxury while most people in the country live in poverty. We buy weekly groceries worth more than a local monthly salary. It is all true. I realize that.

I also know that famous stars always pay a price for their living style: mostly their absence of privacy. You could say that  as expats we also pay a price. There are security threats in most countries, the hygiene is not the same as in western countries - to put it nicely -, we have nerve-racking traffic jams, mosquitos, ants and other creepy crawlies, and so on. Personally, I have learned to live with those inconveniences.

What I find most difficult to accept is the fact that it so hard to get things done in most developing countries. Days seem to trickle by without concrete output. Weeks go by without notable achievement. It's always tomorrow, next time, next week.  Madagascar is no exception. Everything takes long: receiving mail, making a bank transfer, licensing a car, clearing a container, getting insurance cards, you name it.  Let alone trying to build up a project, establishing relationships. A project duration of one or two years seems like a joke.

Even our 5-year old daughter has a watch

Do you know this African proverb? African people may say: They have the watches, but we have the time.
By 'they' they mean us, Westerners, and 'we' is the Africans. It seems so true. Time is on their hands, and patience is not something we learned to have when we grew up.

Therefore my prayer, in the spirit of Janice Joplin.
Oh Lord, don't you buy me Mercedes Benz, just give some patience, I must make amends.

A M E N !

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Don't Know Much Biology...

This week I had a visit of two retired biology teachers from my country. They made an old dream come true with their trip to Madagascar. This island is indeed biology heaven on earth.
I invited them home and while walking around our yard they studied the trees and flowers which just started to blossom. They picked petals, showed me stems, stigmas, styles, stamens and saps; making me feel like a high school student again.

They gave me some lovely Dutch plant names, freely translated into: Mother with Baby in Lap, Little Cheese flowers, Lion's mouths, Christ's Thorn and Hole plants. They of course also knew the Latin names, so now I know we have Philondendron, Poinsettia, Coleus, Drecaenas and even Aloe Vera. Very educational.

Aloe Vera

They even knew the species name of our two turtles, which I already forgot. I just call them Ninja I and Ninja II.

Ninja I
Ninja II

The only flower they could not identify was a huge yellow one, very pretty, and when they fall of they look like deflated balloons. Anyone?

Mystery Flower...before turning into deflated balloon

Friday, September 10, 2010

And Suddenly...

..the moment I waited so long for, is here. Mid-September. The change of season is obvious: no more need to light the fireplace in the evenings, the thick, warm duvet is way too hot now. Spring is in the air! I can awake from hibernation. And that while most of you readers are preparing for autumn. Gna gna...

This is the moment I waited for, as most expats will agree that the first few weeks in a new country are not much fun. No house, no friends, no work (for me), no school, living out of a suitcase, etc. It all takes time, about two months is my experience. These two months have now passed. And what have we achieved so far?

Quite a number of friends from all nationalities, a daughter attending school happily each day, many play-dates after school, a lovely house, and this afternoon I 'scored' my first consultancy assignment as advisor monitoring and evaluation. We even held our first hash mismanagement meeting last night.

So, life's is good here, despite the killing bureaucracy in this country (read: corruption). Our container is still stuck in the port, our car is not yet licensed, my visa hasn't been arranged. But hey, who cares. Spring is in the air. And in our yard!

Flower Girl
Flowery Tree - no idea which one
I thought these were for Christmas
Bird of paradise
Baby papaya
Some kind of orchid living on a dead tree