Marooned in Madagascar

Trip Start Mar 26, 2012
Trip End Apr 29, 2012

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Where I stayed
Orchid Hotel

Flag of Madagascar  ,
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

This morning as I was having a steaming cup of café au lait on the small outdoor terrace in front of the hotel, I heard an American coming down the stairs, speaking rather loudly (as we do compared to many other cultures), when he walked by me he said "hello" to which I replied “good morning.” He stopped, surprised. “You speak English?” (People are usually surprised that I speak French!)

“I do.”
“Well you're one of the few around here!”
“I’m from Cincinnati.”
“You’re kidding, I’m from Lawrenceville, Indiana.”
“That’s not far.”
“75 minutes!”

He was really stunned. We chatted for a minute; he told me he was on his way to Arusha to visit friends. I told him I was on my way to Rwanda. We may end up on the same flight to Nairobi today. It’s often a small world for expatriates.

Pascal was right on time to pick me up at the hotel. We drove around town for about an hour. There aren’t many points of interest, at the same time the architecture and the streets are interesting in themselves. He showed me the train station which is now closed; there are no passenger trains any more, just merchandise. We drove up the mountain the Queen’s palace, the interior of which burned 20 years ago and the restoration funds have not yet been allocated.

We stopped briefly to allow me to take in the view and shoot some photos. Immediately at my side were touts and prospective guides offering their services. They tried in French, and in English, before I told them I wasn’t interested. There were beggars as well, it’s clear that life is not easy for many people.

I was struck again by how French many things looked: streets, the train station, traffic patterns, and road signs. There were many old French cars driving around, it was like going back in time 25 years when Marjolaine and I first moved to France.

The difference of course was the location and the situation.  This is not part of the developed world. When I pulled my camera out to take photos, Pascal raised my window to make it harder for anyone to quickly reach inside. “Snatch and run?” I asked. “Yes, if we get stopped in traffic, one must be careful; people are very poor.”

The people are darker complexioned (many definitely look Asian which the original Malagasy were), smaller in build, and many are obviously living in poverty.  Pascal drove me through the “popular” section of town, the poorer quarters. Those streets were like what one finds in many parts of Africa; pushcarts, hawkers of all sorts of things with their wares on the ground or on a case of some sort, children playing in rags, mothers and fathers caring for their children, mentally alienated people walking around unwashed with their dirty hair matted together, it’s quite another view of how quite a few people live day to day.

We stopped briefly at a craft market on the way to the airport, it’s part of the city tour. I picked up some fresh vanilla for Marjolaine and I surprise for my daughters and then we drove on to the airport. I paid Pascal and said goodbye and a porter whisked my suitcase inside. We waited in the check in line for half an hour. The staff was waiting for something; I thought the luggage belts might not be workings since there were bags left on the scales. Finally after the wait we were told that the flight to Nairobi was cancelled. That’s unusual for Kenya Airways and one reason we pay a little more to fly with them when it’s possible.

The next flight should be at 02:10 tomorrow morning; in the middle of the night. We won’t sleep much since they want us there 2 ˝ hours early. At least Kenya Airways arranged for hotel rooms for the passengers. When all was said and done, we were a small shuttle bus full of stranded passengers, of whom one was indeed the man from Indiana who had come to Africa from the save Cincinnati airport as I had. We drove about 3 km (2 miles) to the Orchid Hotel, which obviously caters to many Asian clients. The rooms are fairly nice and have Internet access.

About 90 minutes after checking in we were served a lunch of mixed salad and chicken curry with rice. Now it’s time to wait and keep our selves occupied until dinner and then we’ll see if the flight comes off as planned. I informed Jim Franks by an e-mail which he acknowledged. He’s an old hand around Africa, so he’ll make his way just fine.

I called Jean-Marie Mundeli in Rwanda to let him know as well, so everything should be adjusted as needed to meet this not uncommon African occurrence.
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Judy Dane on

It must be very hard to readjust to the American life style when you return. I would think that it would be like living in separate worlds. May God be with you and protect you.

Tess Washington on

"Thy Kingdom Come" came to my mind as I read your description of how people look and live in that part of the world! We truly need God and His blessings for all mankind! I felt sad as I read about the conditions of this people...God will be with you Mr. Meeker as you move on to the next leg of your journey in Africa...and we will be with you in prayers! Thank you very much for the time you spent in writing about your travel!

David Johnson on

Hi Joel,

Thanks for the continuing blog. We've only traveled a little in the third world and it's so easy to forget what most of mankind faces every day. UB is going well here, though going, to borrow a phrase, which I will probably slaughter, "tres grand vitesse." We really enjoyed having Marjolaine and Tatiana with us for the NTBO. Safe travels, mon ami.

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