Monday, August 30, 2010

"Good Old Times"

Every former colony has at least one. Some have been very well maintained and are still operating at the highest levels; others have been totally abandoned. In my 'career' as expat, I have had the pleasure to stay at quite a few. I am talking about colonial hotels. The Mount Lavinia hotel in Sri Lanka, the grand old Victoria Falls hotel in Zimbabwe, and the Raffles in Singapore come to mind as examples of well-preserved places where you can still sniff the odor of  'the good old times' and yet be pampered by 20th century luxuries.

The Grand Hotel da Beira - my first foreign post -, is a textbook example of good old times gone bad. It was only functional for a few years until the Portugese were chased out in the 1960s. Ever since, trees are growing out of the windows, goats run around in the lobby, all parquet floors have been burnt up by squatters and street children slide down the grand entry stairways. Can't blame them.
Grande Hotel da Beira - before and after

Madagascar has its own colonial icon: l'Hotel des Thermes in Antsirabe, the epitome of french colonization in this country. As Michel is conducting a 10-day training for the National Park managers (not in that hotel!), we joined him for the weekend and could not resist the temptation to stay there - as well as to hide from obnoxious pousse-pousse drivers. Hotel des Thermes was built in 1897 hence over 110 years later it is still operational. It has been refurbished with a 'sixties chique' decor, but the original glory has since long faded.

Hotel des Thermes Antsirabe - before and after

Of course I can write about the cob webs under the attic, the cracks in our room's window - fixed with scotch tape and a coaster -, the green water in the swimming pool, the holes in the tennis nets, the TV with only one local channel, the unlevel pool table, the faded jackets of the waiters and so on, but I don't want to do that :-)

I prefer to reminisce and pretend to live in the fifties again. And that you can do very well at this hotel. So we enjoyed a leisurely game of afternoon tennis, then sipped on a Planters Cocktail at the terrace, enjoyed a 3-course dinner with frog legs and red wine, and ended our stay with a game of pool in the bar before retiring to our spacious chamber. We were the only guests....but had a grand old time, for 45 euro's per night.

No shoes allowed in the pool!

Cuisses de Nymphes - sounds better than frog legs

Spacious rooms at the Hotel des Thermes

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

La Grande Rentree

7 AM.

My mobile phone's alarm is waking me up. I have a distant feeling of something big is happening today but I can't figure out what - I don't usually awake at 7 :-). Then I remember, it's my daughter's first day at The Big School. This is how we used to call it in Holland. De Grote School is when kindergartens are over and you're entering grade 1. No more arts and crafts, singing songs and playing with dolls and trucks: serious work starts here! French and Math. Reading and Writing. I don't know who was more nervous for La Grande Rentree this morning, me or my daughter.

Arriving at the parking lot the typical picture of an international school emerges: lots of big cars with drivers. many CD-plates. In Soleine's class there are twelve nationalities, from Swedish to Indonesian, 10 boys and 4 girls. The teacher is Tammy and she's great. Soleine seems cool, she sits down next to an American girl and starts coloring.. When I leave she hardly says good bye to me.

It was definitely me the most nervous....

Monday, August 23, 2010

French Diplomacy

Last weekend I met a French diplomat at a friend's house. He introduced himself as Jean Yves, diplomate, as if it were his last name. That seemed a little odd to me, also because I find 'French' and 'Diplomatic' a bit of a contradiction in terms, like a romantic Dutchman, a funny German or a soft-spoken American

Anyway, we were chatting about our children and I tell him that our daughter will go to the American school. He immediately says: - as if I'd asked him for his opinion - 'Well, that is a big mistake'. Politely I ask him to clarify himself, and he goes on: 'The Americans have absolutely no future here in Madagascar'.

I think he is referring to the fact that the Americans have pulled out much of their support to this country, and that the American ambassador has left without being replaced. This is kind of a punishment until the interim government will get their act together.

"I am not putting here there because of the American future in Madagascar", I explain him, "I am sending her there because English is the number one language in the world, and that's the future". I also want to tell him that French isn't , and that France is not the center of the universe, even in Madagascar. I want to remind him that the French did not even make it through the first round of world cup football, while the Americans did, and WE the DUTCH we're in the final!! I want to say all that, but I don't. I try not to be stereotype Dutch; straight-to-the-point-not-to-say-blunt.

I want to be the Africans

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fairy on the Roof?

My daughter Soleine has lost her second baby tooth. She actually wiggled it for so long that it fell out. When this happens in my country, and in many others as well, the tooth fairy will pass by, leaving a coin or some small change. In France, it is a little mouse that brings the coin (la petite souris) - same idea.

In Madagascar they throw their baby teeth on the roof,
while making a wish, something like: "old tooth, go away, and bless this child with healthy teeth"! Nobody seems to know why the roof is the best place for old teeth to be buried but anyway.

Always a fan of local customs, I explain this to my daughter. "But mama, how is the fairy going to go on the roof?", she asked, with coin signs in her eyes. Well, I did not think that was the problem, even a little mouse can climb on a roof, my problem was how are we going to get up to look for the coin? Because there has to be coin.

Too complicated, so I stuck to the little mouse story. Indeed, he brought a lovely, shiny 50 Ariary coin with two big baobabs on it (value: 2 cents).

This morning when Soleine was in school, my housekeeper and I secretly tossed the tiny tooth on our roof. Soleine must not find out that there was no little mouse, that we 'cheated' on her. A good thing she can not read this blog. Please don't tell her...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pardon? Where Are We Again?

Check these pictures! And guess where they were taken?

Can you believe this? We signed up for Africa, tropical weather, palm trees, bananas - that sort of thing. On a weekend trip two hours drive from Tana...
...we found this, Switzerland! C'est incroyable!

It's Lac Mantasoa, where we stayed at a Maison d'Hotes, chez Albert and Lili. Lovely place, great comforting winter food. They make everything themselves: wholewheat bread, vanilla yogurt, merguez sausages and smoked Zebu. And yes, they have a cuckoo clock, how could they not? The only things missing are snow and Edelweiss. To contact Albert and Lili:, tel 034 04 846 74.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


The magic adapter
We've moved into our new house! We quit our drafty  apartment (I looked up the proper spelling of this word -'draft' or 'draught'- and noticed that it has at least 8 totally different meanings) to install ourselves in a charming old bungalow surrounded by a lovely yard with ancient trees and all kinds of strange flowers. We're still kind of camping, because latest news is that our container is somewhere in Oman.
There are various workmen all day long, painting and fixing a multitude of small problems: from leaking taps and scary electricity outlets to shitty shutters. Every day we find something new that needs repairing.  In general,
I find that each day is full of surprises here ,
and they aren't unexpected surprises, we should know better by now.

An example. A few days ago we bought a TV. There was already a cable connection in the house so we thought to simply plug the TV, connect it to the decoder et voila. Wrong. On day 1, after unpacking the TV, it appeared to have an American plug. Arrrgghh, and I though I got rid of these indefinitely when leaving Belize. The decoder also did not fit, the 'prise peritel' could not be plugged into the modern flat screen TV - yes, we have those in Tana. I call the shop, Courts, for advise, and they send their technician the next day. On day 2 we're told to buy a special adapter somewhere in a backstreet shop down town Tana. Risking a life time jail sentence I drive to the shop, through a street where a lot, a lot a lot of people are walking, praying I don't run over one. Back home we reconnect the plug... nothing. It turns out there is no power at all in the outlet. Now my husband risk his life, electrocution and all, and manages to fix the plug. On day 3 we have image but no sound. The magic adapter, no doubt made in China, appears faulty and has to be returned to the shop. I have to wait til day 4 for our driver to take me there. On day 5 we're finally watching TV.

This is just the TV. I know we are in for many more surprises. I am not complaining, I am merely describing. The whole month of August I dedicate to getting the house ready. For one moment or two I envy Embassy people who arrive in their fully equipped, furnished and 'upholstered' houses, but a quick look at their flowery couches with matching drapes, and I am happy to have choice. I have nothing better to do anyway. August is cold and boring, everyone is on holiday. Waiting for our things to arrive and my life to begin takes long.

To be honest: I feel like hibernating. The current weather suits a good winter sleep: gray skies, cold drizzles and a foggy, humid mornings. Just for one month, until the house is ready and our belongings have arrived. Can someone wake me up in September please?