Monday, May 30, 2011

Humor on the Street

In Dutch we have the saying: de humor ligt op straat, or the humor is lying on the street. This is very true, even  in Antananarivo where overpopulation and intense poverty can make it easy to lose your sense of humor. But a quick visit to the bakery beneath my office made my day - when I saw the poster on the door.

No further comment...only that in Malgache language the last syllable is not pronounced!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Piggy Bank

Today I went on a little field trip and learned something really interesting. The trip was to see some land that will be used for planting crops to feed the streetchildren in Alex's center I'm supporting.

As we are walking around to talk to village chiefs and farmers, I notice quite a few pigs roaming around.
Alex explains to me that they are Vahaza pigs, foreign pigs, or white pigs, and indeed they look foreign. And white. They're watching me with their piggy little eyes with pink eyelashes.

The village chiefs explains that when you feed them well, pigs can grow up to a 100 kg and can be sold for lots of money. But food is expensive and feeding a pig to reach 100 kg can take up a full year.

Malagasy farmer and his Piggy Bank

"Feeding my pigs daily", the farmer explains, "is like saving money for later".

It then dawns to me...A PIGGY BANK! In Dutch we call it 'spaarvarken' (savings pig) and in french it's cochon tirelire. I never before wondered why pigs are always associated with savings.

Now I know!

p.s. I of course googled the etymology of piggy bank and on Wikepedia it's mentioned from the Middle-English word 'pygg', a type of clay to make jars. Obviously the authors of this Wiki-nonsense have never been to Madagascar :-)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Taking the Dead for a Little Dance

I have lived abroad long enough to know there are many ways to deal with death and the dead. I know first hand that our values and funeral customs are not the same as others.

When my 80-year old father passed away earlier this year, his body was placed in a open casket at our parental house, and we the children, surrounded him with things he liked in life: a set of playing cards, an ashtray, his carnival costume and his favorite sweater (named: 'truitje')

Beer and sausage rolls
After the church ceremony where we held speeches and read self-written poems that made people laugh, we brought him to a cemetery, some 10 kilometers out of town. The casket was lowered into the hole, we threw a handful of sand on it, and proceeded to a bar where we had beers and sausage rolls, just the way dad liked it.

Black or white
When our neighbor in Morocco died, her body was gone before we even knew she had passed. The burial had to be done within 24 hours. In Sri Lanka we once attended a gathering on the occasion of the tragic death of the son of a German colleague. I was dressed in black...the only one amidst all the Sri Lankans in white.

Here in Tana death is everywhere. And I am not talking about the dead meat hanging on each street corner. I am referring to the many graves and crypts across the city. You can find them in between homes and houses, near schools and hospitals, just about everywhere. I assume it is kind of comforting, knowing that you late parents are just around the corner.
Tombs in Ambatobe, overlooking the city
Dance with the dead
What's really special in this country is the Famadihama ritual, or in French: le retournement des morts, the turning of the bones. It is a cultural custom for Madagascar families, once every seven years, to open the family grave, bring out the body which has been wrapped in cloths and carry it around for a little sway. The remains are then re-wrapped n clean cloth and put back. Family and friends are making music,  dancing, eating and drinking rum - for those who can afford it.

Bye Pa
The Famadihama ritual is still performed regularly, though more and more families have abandoned it. My housekeeper for example, says it is way too expensive, and besides, her Christian churches discourages it.
Personally I find it slightly macabre, I prefer to take the R.I.P literally. Yet I would not mind to have my father buried near my home, I'd wave and say:  'Bye Pa', each time I drive my daughter to school.

Large family crypt on way to school

P.S. My driver gave me this little film - worth looking at!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Zoo in the Belly

Did I ever mention that you can eat very well, here in Tana? Coming from Belize where the national dish was rice and beans, and beans and rice (I kid you not, and it's not the same dish!), we feel like we've landed in gastronomy paradise! The influences of the French cuisine are plenty: fois gras, duck confit, the best beef you've ever eaten, prawns, fresh fish, crispy baguettes, flaky croissants, fresh fruit's all easily available here.  One of my favorite restaurant dishes is carpaccio: thin slices of raw meat or fish.

Fish carpaccio with lime and pink peppercorns - Palladios restaurant

Carpaccio de zebu with basil and Parmesan slices- Akoa restaurant

There are also plenty of local street delicacies, but the hygienic circumstances are often poor. I am not paranoid about hygiene or food, and I am not going to wash my vegetables with chlorine, but you have to be careful anyhow.

Last Friday I had lunch at La Plantation, a lovely, colonial-style restaurant which recently opened. As I am happily eating away my starter of vegetable flan on a bed of lettuce, I notice we have company: a tiny, brown worm is wiggling on my plate. Of course I am a little shocked, and so is the restaurant owner. He discounts the dish and offers free coffee. I know that even if you wash salad many times, you sometimes still find wiggly friends in it.

On my way home from the restaurant I remember the advice of an old friend who has been a tropical doctor his whole life. He always said: if you don't want to have a zoo in your belly, take Albendazol for intestinal parasites. It's effective against thread worm, pin worm, roundworm or whip worm.

Well, I have no idea what the little bugger in my salad was, but I don't need him or his friends in my belly.

Say goodbye the the zoo in your belly!