Friday, January 28, 2011

Growing Rice for Dummies

The people in Madagascar eat incredible amounts of rice each day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner that is. With an average consumption of up to half a kilo per person per day, mostly home-grown, it is no wonder that the country is covered in rice fields, in all regions, and even in the city of Antananarivo.

Personally I am a potato lover, as many of my Dutch compatriots, including Vincent van Gogh who has named his famous painting The Potato Eaters after our 'gastronomical' habit. But having lived for more than twelve years in tropical countries, I can not escape the rice culture. 

While living in Africa and Asia, I must have seen, crossed over, and passed by thousands of rice field in all possible shades of green. But not once have I ever asked myself how rice is grown...

Until this week! 

For the first time with my feet in the rice paddy

I participated in a study visit with my new Aga Khan Foundation project. Twelve farmers and project staff from the Sofia region went to Ambatonradzaka to see a the largest rice cultivation area of Madagascar. The farmers, most of whom had never left their home town, had a blast! And so did I. 

And boy, did I learn a lot. Too much to share on this blog, but here's a crash course on rice cultivation for dummies:

The Rice Rythm in Madagascar

There are roughly two campaigns per year - wet or dry zone, with the following steps:

  • Sowing seeds in the nursery: once sprouted plants are to be transplanted
Sowing germinated seeds
  • Cultivating the nursery: the young rice plants are picked to be transplanted
Girl picking and bundling rice plants
  • Preparation of the land: ploughing to prepare the soil for planting
Ploughing with help of Zubus
Or with help of a machine
  • Water management / irrigation: in the case of wetland rice, the field has to be filled with water
Water leading to various rice field
  • Transplanting (Repiquage): the young plants are transplanted
Planting the rice, usually done by women
  • Growing: rice fields  have to be monitored. For dry zone rice, weeding and spraying may be needed
Spot the difference: rice or weed?
Pesticides are needed, so are gloves!
  • Et voila!

  • And lastly: Harvesting, Processing,  Stocking and Eating 3 times per day!
This is what 80% of the Malagasy people do; year in, year  out. 

Bon appetit! I am going to stick to my potatoes...

The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How to Add Seven Years to Your Life in Madagascar

We've been here for over 6 months now, and  for the most I have good experiences. Apart from one... which  really exhausts me sometimes.

Driving around in this city is really stressful, to say the least, mainly for three reasons:

1. People and traffic jams EVERYWHERE. People are walking on the street en masse, and you have to drive through markets and their hundreds of people.

2. It's horribly hot with the sun on your car - investing in air-conditioning seems worthwhile - and you can't open the windows because of stinky fumes and security issues (I always 'hide' my purse under the passenger's seat - you just never know)

3. There are millions of vendors and beggars. How many times per day can one politely decline to buy: 'Chanel' sunglasses and ditto perfume, Scrabble or Monopoly games, electrical mosquito rackets, dish towels, dust towels, beach towels, wash towels, whatever towels, sponges, car seat covers, Christmas lights and hats, mobile phone chargers, etc, etc

Sometimes it would take me 1.5 hours to come back home from work, and I would be physically exhausted. Not conducive for family life.

So I decided to hire a driver, like every other sensible expat man and woman here. But how to find a trust-worthy, not-too-old driver without B.O that lives nearby our house? Yes, these were my three criteria. I know, typical female. A man would probably ask for an experienced driver with a valid driver's license who knows his way around the city and can change a tire.

I am being driven around like a princess...
To cut a long story short: I have found my driver. His name is Tina and he came highly highly recommended, from three different sources. He is young, he smells fresh, and lives at 5 minutes walking distance from our house.  There's only one thing. He just doesn't look like a driver. But then again, my mother always taught me not to judge a book by its cover, didn't yours?

I am so happy to be driven around here. It saves my day, I can drink coffee in the car, read a book, send text messages, and, most of all, I come home without feeling stressed.  I just added seven years to my life! 

Meet Tina! (pronounce Teen)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Ocean...Enfin!

Madagascar is an island but so far I never once felt being surrounded by oceans. Until we went on a Christmas holiday to Nosy Be, local language for Big Island. It's off the North-Western coast of Madagascar, "near" Mozambique. We drove from Tana to Mahajanga, in 3 days, a lovely road trip, and spent one night in a national park Ankarafansika, managed by MNP or Madagascar National Parks which is Michel's project.

The park itself is nice enough, but what was really cool is that we made this interesting and  unique discovery: a huge canyon eroded by water, turned into some sort of gigantic sand castle. Amazing, going down the canyon was like walking in a deserted city made of golden sand. Never seen such landscape before and with the sun setting on it, it was truly unique:  It made me feel like being in a Harry Potter novel.

We then stayed one night in Mahajanga, nothing interesting there, to fly to Nosy Be, a stunningly beautiful island, Now I will let the photo's tell the story.

The one and only Baobab in Ankarafansika

Michel on the Swing Bridge

Sand City

Like a huge sand castle on the beach - sand cathedral rather


View from hotel Anjiamarango beach resort

Soleine met fietsenrek!

View from our room!