I was privileged to share some evening aperitifs, with Henri Andrianarijaona. Their hospitality kept me some days at his home in Antananarivo. We used to have them before dinner, with his family - wife and two daughters-, a habit closer to French than Malagasy people, but a habit after all. Every sip we swallow we built a better world.
Madagascar is one of the poorest countries on earth. Henri was an idealist, had formed at the Sorbonne and lived the May 68 heydays in Paris. Finishing his studies and doctorate, instead of thriving in France decided to return to Madagascar with his newlywed French wife and try to put their acquired skills in the ancient metropolis at the service of his country. Henri was interested, among other matters, in sports. Along the years, with his management skills and enthusiasm, he ended up in the last government of Didier Ratsiraka as General Secretary in the Youth and Sports Ministry. He must to deal issues with senior managers to develop the sport in their country, engage young people to participate in the Indian Ocean Games and also providing contents to the new Mahamasina Culture and Sports National Palace in the capital, Tana.
Although he had never been there, Henri suggested me to fly to Ankarena, in Nosy Boraha or Ille Sainte Marie
, Madagascar northeast coast. He didn’t confess, but showed a healthy envy sending me to places he never got the chance to visit in his own country.
South Sainte Marie
there are two small surprising islands: Ille aux Nattes
, a small tropical paradise almost uninhabited with incredibly clear water beaches; and Ille des Forbans
, a former pirate and buccaneer hideout from where they attacked during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries the routes of the European powers India companies.
Among tourists Nosy Boraha has not the same popularity as Nosy Be possess further north. Nosy Be has modern infrastructure and lacks the notoriety that Nosy Boraha was due to malaria. The way back from Sainte Marie
to Madagascar mainland is not devoid of emotion. The barges that link the islands usually overloaded passenger up to unimaginable extremes. No one would bet how the boat named Hyspaniola
could accommodate more than twenty people. Actually they carry no less than sixty or seventy passengers, being prudent. Of course with all their belongings, baggage, wooden boxes loading chickens and roosters and
any kind of hardware supplies. But thrill doesn’t start. Not yet. Shortly before reaching mainland the boat must cross a reef barrier through a narrow water passage. With the first fluctuations caused by the waves people begins to put on life jackets. Nobody lands dry. But at least, step on land again.
Going south it’s a long way. Madagascar is in itself a continent. Mahavalona, is a coast village where slave trade flourished in the eighteenth century, when Antongil Bay market collapsed. Half a mile northwards King Radama had built, early in the century, a fort to protect the enclave. The stronghold was made with coral, sand and eggs. It have a round design to avoid and repel more effectively cannonballs. Its walls reach twenty feet high, and at some points it was eighteen feet thick. It was called Madan'ny Foulpointe
. The reason is found in a near British shipwreck. It was loaded with gift items: chinaware, music boxes, clothes ... Someone said the English ship was named Full
, or maybe it was just full. Another story talks about an English pirate, Thomas White, who could name the place Hopeful Point
, later modified by French as Foulpointe
Fianarantsoa, more than three hundred kilometres south the capital, Antananarivo, is the main city of ethnic Betsileo people. Around grows up more than acceptable wines. In any case always better than imported French bottles, usually poorly preserved.
Near Tanana Ambony
, the upper town, a kid less than ten years old was loaded with school books. He wanted to become an Air Madagascar pilot. He knew he had a lot to study. But it was his dream. I invite him to eat pizza. He had not ever tasted and relishes the idea. I asked him what he used to eat. He didn’t hesitated not even one second. And the reply was: rice
. In my stupid curiosity I asked again: How do you eat it?
I’d meant with what else? But he looked at me, more than likely, as he had in front of him a Western illiterate: With the hands. We use to eat the rice with the hands!
Further south, on the way to Isalo National Park an endlessly straight road crosses along Ilakaka. Ilakaka is a recent cluster of wooden buildings. Here sapphire stones were discovered. Just like California or Yukon gold rush, its population has grown
exponentially in the nineties. From just forty people in the early days they are now more than sixty thousand. But growth has not been followed by the corresponding infrastructure development. There’s an absolute lack of elemental services.
Again further south would not be surprising to find Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince on any of the numerous and huge baobab trees that dot the road ... until it starts to disappear. Over kilometres what once was National Road 7 becomes something like a muddy track hundreds of meters wide. It all depends on where last vehicles tried to ford the huge puddles of water and mud on the road to Toliara.
High noon Toliara streets are completely empty. Not even a soul. Nor a shadow. The reason is the Sun. It weights. It’s not just hot. It’s really hot and light is dense, strongly relies on shoulders and head as a heavy burden hard to avoid. Then, even to find a pousse-pousse
is almost impossible though there’s more than three hundred in Toliara streets. Not at midday. Pousse-posse
, literally "run-down" or "push-push", are two-wheeled carts to carry one or two passengers drawn by the force of arms, a veritable institution
in Madagascar public transport.
Last time I saw Henri was in Sète, in the Languedoc. He was paying a visit to his French family. We reminded the appetizers we drank in the hot and sunny days left in Madagascar. Wandering around, we took the walk leading to Sète marine cemetery. We rendered a visit to Paul Valéry tomb.
From the graveyard there is a nice view of the city and the harbour. It provides a longing feeling for things lost forever. Probably the same I had one year later, when his family let me know his heart failed forever. Though things are never lost for evermore, even with the footprint that longing tries to give. Maybe it’s upside down, ‘cause it was his heart who left a everlasting impression in those who knew him. À la vôtre
, Henri! © J.L.Nicolas
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