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Madagascar: Tana

I have always held the belief that when it is love, you know it from the first second. This assumption gives some sort of sense to my life, and at the moment it guides my meandering through the streets of Antananarivo, the capitol of that mystic island Madagascar.

Antananarivo: a view of Haute Ville.

The moment I had set my foot on the crumbling asphalt of the minuscule airport, where gangways or busses are non-existant, and felt the warm, lazy breeze bathe me over, I had already taken a liking to the place. Even before, straining through the airplane window, glimpsing the first stretch of ragged coast-line which quickly turned from beach white to lush green to rich African red as we headed inland, and I realized that Madagascar is an endless tapestry of one fantastically eroded hill, ravine, and mountain after the other, I felt beguiled. The ten minutes or so my passport was handed from one official to the next at customs, each one trying to outcompete the friendly smile of his or her predecessor, however, were enough to calm my anxiously thumping heart, relax my hunched shoulders and turn my travel-worn frown into a smile in its own right.

All Tana is a market. Streets are shops.

Tana, as it is commonly (and less tongue twistingly) called, is a dump, there is no denying. But it is a lovely dump, if there be such a thing, a charming chaos full of vibrant colour, the sweet smell of sweat and rot permeating the mountain air, which is cleared from smog by tepid rainfalls evening after evening. Buildings in different stages of decay crumble and are recycled in the shacks growing between colonial palaces, there does not seem to be a distinct line defined by class, colour or cash. And it is inhabited by a people humble and gracious, extremely poor, but apparently content.

Boys taking a break.

If courtesy as a way of life was ever brought to fruition, it is here. The Malagay are so well behaved, that when asked whether they would object to a photograph, they will just regretfully lower their eyes rather than tell you outright that it is against their wish. But I can hardly set one foot before the other, let alone turn a corner without the immediate wish to take a picture. Strange, bemusing or simply captivating images enter the mind in a steady flow.

Goat anyone?

I walk mile after mile without goal, without plan, but the richness of life, the things to see, the lighting up of faces that a simple Bonjour, a casual ca va or even just a nod in passing will provoke driving me out in the streets time after time, even though the knees ache from the steep hills and crooked cobble stone curbs.

Selling fresh fruit.

The distinct wonder I feel at all of this is the sense that I, obviously the filthy rich tourist, feel completely safe even walking alone at night. The chaos of poverty, and hunger, and dreadful sicknesses, that might in other places come with a pronounced threat to the intruder, here somehow is covered with a benign veil. But just when the old legend, that the poor people are the happier, which we like to comfortably flee to when confronted with unbearable living conditions of the slums, sounds inside yourself in apologetic affirmation, there is this boy, maybe four years old, dressed in dirty shreds, cradling his baby sister, sheltering himself in the shadow of a rotting dung heap from the hard sunshine, looking at you with eyes that are bottomless, and you realize that it is just that: a legend.

You are never alone for long.

1 comment:

Anna said...

Du siehst soooo happy aus. Sigmund!