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

Friday, September 3, 2010

Just like Horses

"Look mama, they have such funny horses here, they look just like people!"

I was reminded of this quote when we were walking in Antsirabe last weekend. It came from an 1968-booklet which belonged to my grandma, entitled: 'Juf, er zit een weduwe in de boom' ('Teacher, See that Widow in theTree' - referring to a black crow) in the same series as 'Teacher, that Butterfly is Wearing my Pyjamas'. The booklet has funny quotes from children, the above came from a 3-year old boy who observed rickshaw drivers in Singapore.

Seen from the eyes of a 3-year old, the skinny, muscular men running in front of their carriages that carry passengers do remind of horses. I am talking about pousse-pousse drivers. In Antsirabe you can still find hundreds of them. In fact, they are so many, and there are so few tourists that you can guess what will happen. They harass you.

'Madame, madame prends-moi, Gilbert numero trois, Bernard, numero cinq, Christian numero douze. Take me, take me, the guys are promoting themselves as if they are race horses in a betting competition.

Nicely painted Pouss-Pousse (Tire-Tire)

In fact, they are so annoying that you end up walking. And that's a pity, because we all know they need the money, and we need the rides. But no, I don't think they look like horses. What I am wondering about is what they call them 'pousse-pousse' in french, while clearly they don't push but pull! Could it be cause they're so pushy?