Monday, December 31, 2012

Baobabs unharmed

A little while ago I wrote about the bush fires that 'destroyed' some of the Allee the Baobab, one of Madagascar's fantastic natural monuments. I had posted a devestating picture that appeared in a leading newspaper l'Express Madagascar.

I then received reactions that the newspaper picture was photoshopped, that the giants were unharmed and that it was all some sort of stupid political game.

On our recent trip to Morondava, I can confirm that the beautiful giants are doing well and that they're as stunning as they've been... for the past 700 or so years.

Of course I gave them a long big fat case another clown comes up with a stupid idea and sets real fire to them...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tratra Ny Krismasy

As a language lover, I am always delighted to find foreign words in a language. Of course there are quite a few French words in the Malagasy language. But while distributing toys and candies in a few remote villages this week, I was surprised to hear the word Krismasy over and over...

It almost felt like being in a snowy Christmas setting, except that the snow was rain, Father Chrismas wore a Jester hat and Santa's little was my Soleine wearing a purple rain coat!

Giving (if you can) is more rewarding than receiving...
On On to bring Krismasy gifts and joy!

No snow but lots of red earth mud!

Santa's little helper
Surprise! Will this baby wake up happy? Or scared shitless...?

In any case, we wish you all a joyful and generous Krismasy!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Zie ginds komt de stoomboot...

Yonder See the Steamboat Coming (free translation :-). Every year millions of Dutch children are singing this traditional Dutch Saint Nicholas song, their little hearts beating with anticipation....

In Holland we believe in the holy Saint Nicholas, patron of the children. He arrives from Spain in our small county by steamboat. Don't ask me why. He celebrates his birthday on December 5th, and that is when the children get gifts and sweets... if they have been good all year, because Sint knows and sees everything.

A few days before the big day of December 5th, children put their shoe in front of the chimney to get some sweets.  Saint Nicholas is always accompanied by Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters) who enter the homes through the chimney, hence their blackness.

This week our own Saint Nicholas arrived in Madagascar....not by steam boat but in a Zebu cart, but we kept singing Steamboat anyway... ha ha...


As I child I fiercely believed in all this. All children do, until the age of 6 or 7. Soleine is now 8, and I had to tell her that Sinterklaas in Madagascar is not the real one, because Antoine was going to be Zwarte Piet. But most children want to believe so hard, that they refuse to give up. Soleine still believes in the real Saint and she put her shoe several times.

Not easy to be Zwarte Piet in the heat

Vol verwachting klopt ons hart
Soleine (8) is no longer afraid of Saint Nicholas

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Baobabs on Fire!!

Bush fires are a huge problem in Madagascar. People have all kinds of reasons to set fire to land: to clear it for agriculture, to burn useless weeds and make room for french new graze, or to produce charcoal.

A major disaster struck last weekend: the stunning Allee de Baobab in Morondava, has been victim to wild fire. It took five hours to discover the fire, and many many more to kill it. Local people tried, but all they had was plastic water cans and branches. There is no proper fire brigade.

Seeing this picture brought tears to my eyes. Some of these trees are over 800 years old!


Natural monument of Madagascar before the fire

So if you see a Baobab or any other big old beautiful tree, give it a big, fat, long hug, you never know for how long it will be there for!

Tree hugging is good for you...and for the trees!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What do you mean, carrots are orange?

A Belgian guy asked me once: Susanne, do you know why carrots are orange? He insisted that I, especially should know the answer to this question.

I had never thought about this. To me it's like: why are bananas crooked? A fact, a given from mother nature.

But is it, really?

Every two weeks I order a basket (called Sobika) full of fresh, organically grown, healthy vegetables from Ferme Ivato. It takes me one minute to click on three online buttons, et voila...on Tuesdays the Sobika is develired to our house for 15,000 Ariary (4,50 euro) - what a pleasure.

It's always a bit of a surprise to see what is in it. Look what I found last week:

Purple carrots from La Ferme d'Ivato

Of course this made me think of the question why carrots are orange? After some googling I found out that the first orange carrots emerged in the Netherlands in the 17th century. Dutch cultivators had developed a new strain containing high amounts of beta-carotene. Why? In honor of the Dutch Royal Family and William of Orange!!

So now I know why I should have known...

For those who don't believe me: pay a visit to the carrot museum in Belgium. Yes, that is also true!

Oh and for those in Tana,

This week's Surprise Sobika

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Crying Trees

Red dresses under violet tree
"Purple rain...purple rain"...this Prince song has suddenly gotten new meaning for me. Also, a wheeping tree is no longer a willow to me. What I am talking about? About one of the world's most stunning trees: the Jacaranda!

It's spring time and Tana and the elegant purple Jacaranda trees are everywhere. If you're looking up you see an explosion of color - violet flowers against a clear blue sky. On the ground, hunderds of lavender petals covering red earth, or green gras.

There's not a cloud in the sky, and yet...and yet...when walking underneath the Jacarandas you feel large droplets of water... splattering on your face, your arms, on the ground...


Well, everybody in Madagascar knows this... Jacaranda trees cry!!

I wonder why on earth such a pretty tree is crying...
It must be tears of joy!

Explosion of color

Big fat drop on my arm...

Tears of joy?

Jacarandas in Tana. Walk under these and you really get wet!

No, seriously...what makes these trees 'cry' is a cicada-type insect called Jorery in Malgache. They too are fond of the pretty Jacaranda. They absorb water and while sitting in the tree, they pee it out.

So. they're actually peeing trees!

Friday, October 26, 2012

A lot of letters

It never ceases to amaze me how long words are in Malagasy language. Take the names of places. If you want to be able to read a village name, you have to literally stop your car to read the sign. There's no way one can absorb so many letters while driving by... unless you know the 'secret'.

It is actually quite simple, if you know a few basic words in Malagasy. For example:

Tanana         Houses / village
Ambato         Rock
Ambohi         Hill (from: votrahitra)
Ala                Forest
Nosy             Island
Rano             Water
Tani               Land

Mora             Easy / calm
Be                 Big
Kely              Small
Arivo             Thousand / many
Tsangana      Standing Up / elevated
Mahitsy         Straight
Mena             Red
Fotsy             White
Manga           Blue

Voila, now you can start combining. For example:

Ambatobe                 Big Rock
Ambatofotsy             White Rock
Analamahitsy            Straight Trees
Antananarivo            Many many houses
Analakely                  Small forest
Antanimena               Red Land
Antanifotsy               White Land
Menabe                     Big Red
Ambatomistangana    Elevated Rock
Analamanga               Blue Forest
Ambohimanga            Blue Hill
Ambohimangakely      Little Blue Hill
Morarano                   Calm water
Nosy Be                     Big Island

So what does this one mean?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tough Stuff

The social enterprise Tough Stuff produces solar powered solutions for those who live without electricity. In Madagascar that means 90% of the households, including many in the cities.

The company's Chief Technical guy is a Dutch guy named Adriaan Mol (not the one from the children's books :-) who used to live in Madagascar.

I puchased the litlle light recently, to try it out. It comes with a small solar pad to be put in the sun for 8 hours, et power.

They say the Tough Stuff is 'incassable', indistructable Had to see that for myself. So...
  1. we tried to break it with a hammer
  2. I rolled over it with my car
  3. I made a serious effort to drown it. 
And guess what?

It's true! After being mistreated for an entire morning, Tough Stuff keeps shining like never before. 

Took a while to convince our gardener...but he tried!

A scratch on the back is the only damage.

Tyre marks still on it...

Drown baby, drown...

Rise and shine!

P.s. I recently bought a Nixon Coolpix AW 100 that is supposed to be waterproof, shock proof, bush proof, freezeproof, sandproof. I am tempted.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More strange creatures

Olivier, especially for you...more bugs I photographed in Madagascar. Any ideas?

Hey handsome...with you pretty colors!

I find this one particularly gross...and on our kitchen floor!
Inchy winchy in his yellow web...
Come out, come out ...whatever you are!
last but not least:

Wiggley: which end is head and which is tail?

Moth in pretty cloth...bigger than my two hands!
Rupsje Nooitgenoeg

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Check this out!

Living on an ecologically unique island is exciting, as you can encounter the most exotic suprising species, just like that. No need to travel to a national park or protected area, exotic creatures are just around the corner...

Look what we spotted this week, right here on our veranda while sipping from our Libertalia beers..

What IS this? A leaf with wings? A flying piece of plant? A moth with a cloth? A leaf with legs?

Leafy from the top
With a cute bottom...

Anyone has any idea what this camouflaged creature is called?

Friday, August 31, 2012

Back to the Middle Ages?

Returning to Madagascar after two months of holidays in Europe is not exactly going back to the future. I can't help but feeling being thrown back into the dark ages. The unlit, eerie neighborhoods, the roads completely dark and deserted after 8 pm in the evening, the businesses closed between noon and 2 pm, our house full of candles on stand-by in case of a powercut, twelve minutes to open a webpage...

Okay, I may be exagerating, there were no webpages in the Middle Ages, and I know it's not all dark and desolate here. But it is unnerving to see so little progress over the years; economically, politically, infrastructurally... In the rural areas where 75% of the population live, the conditions are truly medieval; parents sleep together with children, chickens, and cockroaches in the same room, their sleep-wake rhythm follows that of the sun, they relief themselves in the bushes, and electricity and motorized tools are things they may not even have heard of.

So I can't help wonder, will there be light for these people during their lifetime?

Personally I am convinced that I will find back my own little life light soon. It always takes a few days to readjust to my adopted country. I try to look at the bright side: this morning internet was fast, only seven minutes to open my blog! I went to a brandnew shopping mall! It even boasts the first ever escalator in the country.
And, top of the top, someone was painting white lines on one of Tana's main roads! Real 21st century progress!

Brand new shoprite Mall

Is that a real escalator???

They didn't have white lines in the middle ages did they? :-)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Malagasy in Holland

I've always wondered if there are any people from Madagascar in the Netherlands. A I am 'Dutch in Madagascar, I'd like to know if there are' Malagasy in 'Dutchland'?

Now I know. I visited Nirina van der Schans last week. Origially from Madagascar now living in Den Haag, married to a Dutchman. She can imagine how I live in Tana, I can understand her issues living in   Holland. Her house has many souvenirs from her home country, like I have tulips and black and white cows in my office room.

So is Nirina still Malagasy, or has she become Dutch?

Of course a bit of both. She served me koffie met een koekje, and probably has rice with ravitoto on (some) evenings.

Nice to meet you Nirina!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tsikoni- Childrens Cook Out

It's party time in Madagascar! Yesterday was the annual independance day, June 26. This day is a feast for everyone. But is it really? Many poor people have no means to celebrate. Street children are sent by their masters to beg, because a national day of celebration is also an excellent day for begging.

To avoid letting children go beg on the street, the center for street children I'm supporting had a great idea: organizing a Tsikony. This is a Malagasy tradition whereby children are cooking! But how to finance this? I sent an email to my generous friends here in Tana and raised a good sum of money and support. Thank you Amanda, Patricia, Anita, Nieves, Kyong, David, Pascale, Alain and Fedor!

It was a lovely event. All the food and cooking utensils bought by the center were displayed like a market. The children were getting 'monopoly money' worth 30,000 Ariary per group. They had to buy stuff and prepare the food, in the cutest little dishes, with mini spoons and minuature pots and pans, like in a giant doll house. We the guest, were 'selling' chicken, sausage, even shrimp, and veggies, rice, pasta, fruits, etc and giving points for cleanliness and cooking skills.

So we watched three-year olds cutting tomatoes, six-year olds sweeping the floor, toddlers fanning the  charcoal cookers and all ages running back and forth to buy spoons full of cooking oil. 

Honestely, got to give it to these kids...I don't see 'our' little ones preparing a whole mini-meal in one hour. Bravo!

What donatations bought - a true feast
Three types of cooking gear

The market is open, for the first group of children

Monopoly money - give children some commerical sense

Cute little dishes

Yoghurt: 1 Ariary, Banana 2 Ariary

The guests are 'selling' the stuff

Carrots 10 Ariary per piece

Buy mine! No mine!

Here's your change

The first sales are done

Tables clothes and minipots are indispensible

Wait for your change....

Hmmm, shall I buy chicken or shrimp?

A luxury! Chicken for 10 Ariary

Even dish liquid could be bought!

Mr World Bank counting his money!

Six year old boy cutting chicken

What's on the menu girls?

Boys job: lighting charcoal

Peeling carots

It's getting smokey in here!

Fanning with a slipper

Three year old cutting tomatoes like a chef!

It is starting to smell so good!

Never to young to fan up a fire

Stir so it won't burn

Another technique to light up charcoal

Soleine is cooking too

Alex and I celebrating this great event

This is what's left at the end....nothing!

Cleanliness is important!

Bon app├ętit les enfants!