Madaworks in Madagascar: Part 1
Welcome to our blog where I hope to bring you closer to understanding the place and people Madaworks is trying to help.
We start out in Tana or Antananarivo as it is properly called. It’s the capitol of Madagascar. All international arrivals start their journey here.
I arrived at nearly midnight, after about 21 hours of flying from New York via Paris, and had to have my visa processed. Visitors staying less than 30 days are required to have a visa which is given free of charge at the airport. It was a very orderly if somewhat slow process but that is part of the charm of Madagascar. People don’t rush here. Another hour passed before I was able to collect my luggage.
I was told I would be met by a member of the MICET team in the luggage area; MICET is the Madagascar branch of the Institute for Conservation of Tropical Environments, a division of Stony Brook University. I was going to be doing marketing consulting work on Ecotourism for Dr. Pat Wright at Centre ValBio, which is also a part of Stony Brook University.
Nobody seemed to be meeting me. That’s ok; I figured I would wait until the morning and snooze at the airport if worse came to worse. I didn’t have a working phone or even any phone number with me. I had read that it is unadvisable to take a taxi, as they can be notoriously overcharging or worse.
Finally after exiting the customs area and moving into the fray of a bustling world of people, I found my ride who was a lovely young man from MICET. I was met with a warm handshake and a friendly smile along with the welcoming words “Welcome to Madagascar”. He helped me exchange my dollars into Ariary, the currency of Madagascar.
The exchange bureau was not exactly a bank, but just a fellow with pad of paper, a calculator and a pencil. Was this legit? Sure thing! I left with my receipt of over a million ariary. The exchange rate to the dollar is about 0.0003 ariary to a dollar. Very colorful money!
The 45-minute ride into Tana was dark and mysterious. I noticed numerous buildings, shacks and what appeared to be derelict structures with an apparent absence of people. Surely in a city of nearly 3 million people, someone would be up? A light bulb here a light bulb there…no street lighting, no people, just a silent darkness.
I did notice a number of large cargo trucks with covered beds, possibly illicit logging being shipped out under cover of darkness? Why else would they be working at 2AM? Madagascar struggles with crippling exploitation of its natural resources, which has gone unabated for years.
Finally as we got closer to my destination, The Sakamanga Hotel, I saw there were people who actually lived here. They were huddled on street corners, over fires, cooking and drinking. Some of them were playing cards, some of them were sleeping on cardboard. All of them appeared to be homeless. Across the street from the hotel there was a mother and small child asleep on the sidewalk and while I am from New York, it was still arresting to see.
More coming soon!