We haven’t even been in Madagascar for 24 hours yet and my heart could already burst for this beautiful, strange, mysterious and amazing country.
As expected, we didn’t arrive at our hotel until 2am last night, which had most of us getting to bed between 3 and 4. We didn’t have to be at breakfast until 9, though, so we all managed to get some sleep.
After breakfast, we had our briefing with WaterAid and went over our general itinerary. We have such an amazing week ahead, I can already tell it’s going to fly by. After our meeting, Rami and Darlene separated from the group to do some videography and the rest of us spent the day with Ernest.
I need to take a minute to explain Ernest. He is the head of our study tour here with WaterAid Madagascar. When others would talk about him, it was impossible not to build up these ridiculously high expectations. I was told of his energy, his optimism, his sweet and caring personality. And he is all of those things, and more. He’s the kind of man who shows up at the airport at 1 in the morning to greet 8 weary travellers, wearing his Canada T Shirt, Malagasy Welcome Chocolates in hand, and is full of excitement and enthusiasm even though it is way past his bed time. He speaks his native Malagasy, English and French. He sings and whistles and hums everywhere he goes. He can make anyone laugh.
He calls us all ‘Malala’ which loosely translates to honey / dear / sweetie. He is a husband and a father, and the pride with which he speaks of his family makes my heart flutter. He has dedicated his entire life to bringing clean water to rural communities in Madagascar, and he is absolutely amazing at what he does.
Ernest led us around Antananarivo all day long, and I think we were all very grateful for a low-key day of sightseeing to shake off the jet lag. We walked down Ave de L’Independence, and I was thrilled to see that there was a marathon underway, which – it turns out – really are the same in any country. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hit by even a little culture shock – it doesn’t matter how much I travel, the first little while in a new place always have me wide-eyed and nervous. But once I settled into the sights, sounds and smells of Tana, the day began to get really, really great. We did a driving tour of Tana and area, driving past all kinds of homes, shops, rice fields and monuments. We did a bit of window shopping at a local craft market, which got us all very excited to think about what we might like to pick up next week before we leave.
We went for lunch at this beautiful little French place called Café de la Gare. There, we met Lovy, the country director for WaterAid Madagascar. Over a delicious lunch of vegetable curry, we discussed everything from Politics to The Economy in Madagascar to our individual fundraising methods for WaterAid. It was a wonderful way to spend a few hours, and it made me really happy to see everybody’s passion come out individually. Again, I am traveling with a pretty incredible group.
After lunch, Ernest took us way, way up to the tippy top of Antananarivo where ‘Rova’, or The Queen’s Palace, sits high above the city. We were met by a man named Tahina, who proved to be one of the most articulate English speakers I have ever met, even though it is a second language to him. He guided us through nearly two hours of roaming the palace grounds, the King’s Bedroom, the church, and gazing out at the city below. It was all beautiful. So, so beautiful. Colonial architecture is never at the forefront of my mind when I picture somewhere like Madagascar, but that didn’t stop it from taking my breath away in its beauty.
The craziest thing about the palace was that the majority of the walls are made from a sort of sandstone comprised of sand and egg whites. Up until recently, most Malagasy didn’t actually eat eggs, as they were seen as a kind of taboo. Families would still keep chickens, but the eggs would be taken to the Queen as kind of a tax, and, apparently, she would use them to build her walls. So wild.
One of my favourite things about traveling is watching people, especially the locals. It fascinates me to sit back and silently observe how they live. We peered down over the palace walls and watched people washing dishes, doing their laundry, sweeping their floors. We saw kids collecting wood, laughing and playing games. In the distance, a soccer match was underway in the outdoor stadium. It all made me realize that, no matter how different our lives may be, and no matter where we come from, we all basically want the same things. A clean and comfortable home for our families, food to eat, a roof over our heads, friends to laugh with, and a place to go and watch a sporting event on a Sunday afternoon. It’s all pretty simple, really.
After our day of sightseeing, we all took a few hours of down time before dinner, which was much appreciated. I still haven’t adjusted to the time change, and running on this little sleep is a challenge. I rested, read, washed some of my clothes, and went through my photos from the day.
We reconvened for dinner at 7pm, and again ate an excellent meal at a nearby hotel. We were all back in our rooms by 9, grateful for an early night with an early start tomorrow morning before our 3 hour journey to the next part of our trip. I am so excited to spend the next three days visiting WaterAid’s community projects. It feels like it has been such a long time coming, and THIS is what it’s all about. This is what we came here to do. And in a little over 12 hours, we will be there. I can’t wait.