Inside Madagascar: Part One
From the get go, the whole trip was one big roller coaster ride. It was exhilarating, hard, humbling and definitely an eye opener. Apart from booking a local guide and educating myself about obvious health and safety precautions, not once did I look into a travel guide book or researched websites for more detailed information. I wanted to surprise myself and let the place speak to me.
My trip to Madagascar was mainly for the wildlife, but I left with a number of unexpected moments that made my trip so much more interesting and memorable. These are the stories that I would like to share with you. Since I cannot cover everything in this one piece, I will be publishing them in three parts: (1) Are you Malagasy? (2) Food and Accommodation, and (3) Charcoal, Nature, and Guides.
Are you Malagasy?
The locals in Madagascar are addressed as ‘Malagasy’ people and are further divided into 18 separate ethnic groups such as the ‘Merina’ and ‘Sakalava’, the only names I can remember right now. Each group is spread across different parts of Madagascar with each observing variations in their way of living, culture and even the way they built their houses. I was amazed to learn that many of the early settlers had arrived from Indonesia which explained their familiar appearance to me as I grew up with many Malaysian and Indonesian neighbours.
As I was waiting in the queue to get clearance to enter Antananarivo (commonly referred to as Tana which is also the capital), I noticed the immigration officers curiously peeking over in my direction. I was so nervous. I had nothing on me which could get me in trouble, but given our world today, the sight of immigration officers just glancing at me made my knees shiver. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I reached the counter. Then the mystery unfolded. After glancing back and forth between me and my Australian passport about five times, the puzzled officers asked me if I was ‘Malagasy’? With a silly smirk on my face (and still scared), I calmly said no. Then they wanted to know if I was born in Madagascar, moved overseas and decided to return home…again my reply was no. Finally, they asked me if I would like a Madagascar passport. I said, “Ok, why not?”. My unexpected agreement triggered a few minutes of silence from both ends. After a few more attempts of trying to make me confess if I was indeed a Malagasy woman, they finally gave up and let me through.
This did not end here. As it turned out, I was greeted with this question almost everywhere I went in Madagascar. The question was frequently addressed either in French or Malagasy language to my tour guide or the driver. The fact that I was conversing in English further confused many of the locals. They could not fathom why on earth I didn’t seem to understand their language. At times, some of the locals got very annoyed thinking I was deliberately hiding my identity which was clearly demonstrated by their animated conversation with the guide.
As the trip progressed, this cultural identity confusion got even worst. During this time, I was travelling with my partner who is German. Whenever we were seen together (which was almost always), I remembered getting some strange looks and the occasional stare while passing through villages or small towns. I always attributed this to the ongoing confusion of my origin. As it turned out, I later learnt that some Malagasy women worked as social escorts to visiting tourists (mostly from westernised countries). This practice was apparently often approved and supported by their boyfriends or husbands but generally frowned upon by society. As I was happily going around with my German partner, in addition to my new identity as a Malagasy woman, I soon realised that I now had a new occupation too.
Sights Around Madagascar
Still to come…PART TWO 🙂
Please Note: The opinions and thoughts expressed here represent my own. I visited Madagascar in January 2015.