Saturday, December 8, 2012

A City Down Under Lost in TIme

No, I'm not writing about the Australia zone. Have yet to go there. But being recently returned from Madagascar ("Le Grand Isle" as it is known by its most loyal residents) I can comment about its somewhat urban capital, Antananarivo, whose 'urbanity' is a special one .

I say that having observed the patience of its drivers and the peculiar insistence of the city fathers (whoever they may be) not to post many street names  nor bother  with traffic lights. Consider that there are millions in and around the city, many  more flocking in daily to find some subsistence, out of a country's population of roughly  22 million. In spite of  blocked roadways, mere like country lanes, NOBODY USES THEIR HORN! It is strange to be part of long rows of cars and trucks waiting patiently to go a few yards at a stretch.Traffic is so deplorable that the illegal government's free newspaper even publishes stories regarding the mayhem of its so-called urban transportation system. I recall that news- in French and Malagasy - was second to the day's announcement that fresh lichees could now officially be sold for export and a warning to readers not to eat too many mangoes then in season lest they incur digestive disorders.

The musical sound of the nearly unpronounceable name Antananarivo - Tana for short - tempts a first-time visitor to relate the native Malagasy language to the strikingly mellow personality of the Malagache people. Outwardly easygoing, friendly, gentle, it would seem. But this hides a very mixed political history and range of extraordinary social customs in a country that only achieved independence in 1960. For long years before that, Madagascar was more or less a French colony  plundered for its valuable wood and mineral products in just the way it now is being exploited by outsiders - China among them - and mismanagement by its own citizens. (A former radio disk jockey helped mastermind a military coup three years ago and is now president; the coup inspired western democracies to institute sanctions against the country - US included - thereby harming further the economic wellbeing of its people.)

Lost in time because Tana has lost a great deal of time catching up to the 20th century, much less the 21st. Rice paddies provide a gorgeously green and brown carpet practically right up to the city center - wherever the hills permit. Its most famous historical monuments are closed; apparently there is no money or willpower to repair and guard them. Geniality exists, possibly, due to the fatalism required to endure deprivation. Still, there is great promise here. One of the most underdeveloped countries in the world, Madagascar at least has a relatively high literacy rate, said to be upwards of 60 percent in the capital. People look busy and energetic, by necessity in  most cases since public services such as fresh water and trash collection barely exist. They have to make do with manual labor. Crime is up, as expected  - but then what capital city doesn't suffer this way.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ann,

    I am currently researching Madagascar for my thesis, particularly the destination image that US leisure travelers have of the country, and came across your article in the Washington Post, as well as this blog. Would it be possible if I email you a few questions regarding your article? It would be greatly appreciated and adds quite some depth to my study. My email is

    Thank you so much in advance!

    Kind Regards,