Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Hills Are Alive

I had a little time to get a sense of the city again this morning, but this time Joanne Zurcher, Director of Legislative Affairs was with me. It was certainly a different experience exploring Tana with her than it was the day prior. Joanne- 6 months pregnant, fairly tall-even in the U.S., and more typically American looking than me was a sight to see for the natives. I’d noticed that the features of some of the Malagasy people were quite similar to Sri Lankans, but I didn’t realize how much I blended in, until I was with someone without the same fortune. Suddenly, we were bombarded with street vendors trying to sell us trinkets and keepsakes. People walked up and down the streets with packets of Vanilla (ahh, yes, the Vanilla Coast of Madagascar), spices, small wooden guitars, horns and the likes.

Unlike me who brought only one book with me on the plane (Mastering French), Joanne had a medley of historical information in her memory and Guidebooks on hand as back-ups. Lucky for me to be with such a prepared travel companion! She explained to me that the city is divided in two—upper town and lower town and the two areas are connected by a few steep staircases in different corners of the city.

Since we had an early start and it was a Sunday, the streets were quiet, most shops were closed and the few locals we encountered (outside of the street vendors) were dressed in their Sunday best returning home from Church. Music still emanated from the town center speakers—and today’s kick off song was Wamm’s Careless Whispers. Just next to the speakers was a bouncy castle, which again, I really didn’t expect to see, and then an outdoor market was on the opposite side. We laughed about the throw back to the 80’s but I still can’t deny that the familiarity of the tune was welcoming.

We soon met up with Dr. Rabary and her husband, as well as Gisele, our main liaison at UNFPA Madagascar; Solo, our translator; and Njaka, our cameraman. One of our primary purposes of the visit is to obtain footage to produce a video to show at our Gala in October where Dr. Rabary will be honored.

After going through the logistics for the upcoming week, we went to dinner at Le Rossini, which is the oldest house in Tana and used to be owned by Dr. Rabary’s mom. It was amazing to walk through the restaurant, and have Dr. Rabary point of bedrooms and playrooms that were now private dining and banquet rooms.

Dr. Rabary is very humble. She seems to have so many interests and a strong balance between them. She spoke fondly of her 5 children, their spouses and her grandchildren. She spoke with fond remembrance of her 1st husband, and shared the modern day love story of Mr. Arima, her now husband of 3 years. She was a teacher and a doctor and now works to provide justice for women through legal advocacy. In her spare time she crochets, knits and embroiders. Her life has been at risk many times because of her efforts to unveil and rectify human rights violations in her country. I’m sure I’ll learn more about all of this in the days to come…

After a jet lagged slumber, I wake up and get ready for my day of sightseeing with Angeline. I’ve done a lot of reading up on Tana and have several areas I am interested in seeing in town. As we got into the taxi to Tana, it is the first time I realize that I might be a bit taller than the average Malagasy citizen.

When we arrive in downtown Tana, it is a very quiet Sunday morning. There are a few people walking around trying to sell us their wares. Angeline and I decide to climb the steps to the upper portion of town to get a better perspective of Tana and buy a cup of coffee.

Lining the stone steps to the Upper Town are various Malagasy selling their wares and I begin to see abject poverty up close.

Upon reaching the top, Angeline and I turn around to take in the view of Tana — the size of Tana is what I notice first and how the mountains frame the city. It looks like a lot of coastal cities I’ve been to, in that the houses and buildings are built into the sides of hills. The only difference, of course, is that Tana is landlocked.

Sunday is truly a non-workday in Tana. All the stores are closed, with the exception of restaurants and patisseries. Instead, there is a small market that’s open and music is being played. Much to our surprise, the first song we hear played in Tana is from the band Wham.

As we walk along the upper town, I begin to realize how small the world is. I began noticing that families walking passed us dressed in their Sunday finest are on their way to church. We stumbled upon an old church, and upon further investigation, we believe it to be Protestant, as there are very few Catholic churches in Tana.

We spend the rest of our time sightseeing just walking around and taking in downtown. It is hard to do much with everything closed. After lunch at a small but tasty restaurant, we decide to check out the market. You can buy just about anything at this market, from beef to baby’s clothes. But nothing really strikes our fancy, and we move on.

As we are walking away from the market, a group of boys comes running toward us and begins asking for my empty water bottle. I am surprised that is all that they want and happily give it to them. Apparently, they want to use it to get water from the fire hydrant that had been opened.

We returned to our hotel to rest before meeting Dr. Rabary. At five p.m. sharp, Dr. Rabary, her husband Mr. Rabesara Arima, Gisele; our UNFPA liasion and Solo — our translator — arrived to meet with us and go over our itinerary for the week.

My first impression of Dr. Rabary is that her English is much better than my French. In addition, she has this presence about her that you know she is someone special and yet extremely humble. We discuss the itinerary for the week and decide when we will need the cameraman.

After getting the logistics for the week out of the way, our little entourage goes to dinner at a restaurant that's in an old house. The reason Dr. Rabary wants to take us to this particular place is that the house is the very house that Dr. Rabary’s mother grew up in. At first this seems to make the restaurant very special, but after talking to Dr. Rabary, you get the sense that her mother would not be pleased that her childhood home has become a public place.
After ordering our dinner, we are given a tour of the entire house, and Dr. Rabary tells us what changes have been made to the house and what each room was originally used for. Then we return to our table for a delicious meal and interesting conversation about life in the United States and life in Madagascar. As we are enjoying our dinner, I notice that a gentleman at the next table is wearing an Obama for President t-shirt. Once again, I am reminded how small our world has become.


lin said...


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