Chapter I: First Contact

Tuesday, September 26, 2000

I’m finally in Madagascar. In fact, I haven’t been very prepared at all. When my dad had suggested going to Madagascar, I was still busy all day and night defending, handing in theses, and writing papers for conferences on human-computer interaction and radiology. Then, once I was in Germany, I spent all day looking for a job. Last Thursday even, I flew all across Germany for a job interview. I just didn’t think about Madagascar at all.

I’m finally in Madagascar. In fact, I haven’t been here in ten years. And at that time, it was because my parents wanted to go and there was this important celebration (called famadihana). This time, however, it’s probably the first time I am consciously here and certainly the first time I will do stuff on my own (my dad will go back in two weeks, thus two weeks before I will return).

Maybe it is better not to plan everything in advance so there’s some room for surprises and spontaneity. Also I wanted to just cold-turkey into this world which is so different from all countries I’ve been to in the last two years (Canada, US, France, Germany, and Holland). Well, it’s Africa (even if the people are not really Africans) and there are things that Western people may take for granted that you won’t find here.

Maybe it is better to tell you a little bit about my first impressions. First of all, I’m surprised by how familiar things are to me here (although coming out of the airport in Tana and being overwhelmed by a huge crowd of people fiddling with your suitcases makes you want to turn around and fly back home). Madagascar is the red country - not in a political sense (anymore). That is, everything is red here because the earth is red. All stones and bricks are red. There are so many people in the streets that drivers have to be very skilled not to kill anybody. As a tourist, you don’t want to drive here. There are palm trees and zebus and all that. But what’s more interesting is the smell (and you won’t see that in the pictures). Anywhere outside Madagascar, I wouldn’t have been able to describe it. I can now. It smells like smoke. All the time. As if there were BBQs all over the place but without the smell of meat. It’s in the food, too. That’s why, when we made Malagasy food at the International Dinner, it had to burn a little bit at the bottom of the pot to make it genuine.

I have problems with my French. It’s really hard to switch from one foreign language to another. My trip to France two days ago might have helped a little but I’m still saying “because” instead of “parce que”. Good thing I wasn’t too serious about my attempts to learn Spanish.