To the very best of my knowledge there are no elephants in Madagascar.
I arrived for my 10 o'clock meeting with the minister at 9.50 only to find the door I have always used locked. Other people arrived and tried and waited, Eventually there were 10 of us so, at 10.35 mydpatience gave up ans I found a chap who looked completely confused by my French but pointed me to another office. 15 minutes later I was ushered into the minister's office where both he and Volatiana were waitiin. "Je suis desole" I apologised for about the thousandth time. I explained, in French, what had happened and so they both apologised. Volatiana was there to act as interpreter because his English is far worse than my French but we managed to converse and Vol (as I shall now abbreviate her) was largely redundant. Over the next 15 mins it was agreed that he was very busy in his huge office so I will work with his whole cabinet insisting that they all speak English all the time they are with me. I will then go to his house at the weekend and spend an hour speaking English with him and his wife in order to improve their English. Once he was happy with what I had achieved he will then move me around the youth centres he has personally re-commisioned in various regions to work with young people and his regional officers I'll bet they're looking forward to that! He did say however that he would arrang accommodation for me at each stop, probably at the home of the poor official I expect. Could not have asked for better.
On then to his chef de cabinet who is a really nice guy I have met before who speaks very good English to plan who, what, when and where. We agreed to meet this afternoon because I had to get to the bank so he asked for my telephone number and I said I would sort one out before this afternoon. He then got an underling to drive me to the bank saying "Speak only English to them."
Lovely lady at the bank with pretty good English did the basics but need proof that I am not a crook/money launderer so I have to produce bank statement etc. Quick stop at base to have a cuppa and write this then off to buy a phone with Brian and back to the MoY by 3.00.
I've been her for 6 days now and have walked many miles around the city centre areas - 3.6 metres of which have been along the flat so I think it is time for a second impression. Tanna is very, very unbelievably hilly; not doubt at all, it just is. There are also very few sites/monuments to make a special trip to. There are 2 very big lakes, originally designed to combat the annual flooding of rivers. One of these has a very large statue built on a dyke that reaches towards the centre which has become a symbol of political change. I believe the statue was originally black but has changed to silver, white and now green with successive political changes. There are a number of other statues, mostly in concrete so fairly recent, and almost all in the shape of Madagascar, I suppose as a statement of unity since independence
The people of Tanna don't have a lot; many are without shoes and when you are carrying a shed load of timber on your head up the Matterhorn you need shoes. Many young people have mobile phones. I have been asked for my number regularly and am viewed very suspiciously when I say I haven't got one. I may well redress that omission today. Brian says I can buy one for under a fiver and £3 of credit will last a month. That will make PK very happy indeed. Physically it appears that racism has no part as there are some who look very African some who look oriental, some who are clearly Indonesian and every possible combination between. Class also seems not to be founded on race as the very poor are as distinctive or indistinctive as the better off. The better off dress informally as even the minister's assistant was wearing jeans and an old style combat jacket at work. I must have looked a complete wassock in my light beige linen suit. Most people who have a place to sleep smile a lot and appear relaxed and happy. They speak far too loudly for my taste but seemed always to be working hard and helpful to each other. However, they do not step aside for each other but just barge straight ahead which meant I was waiting a long time to pass until I learned to do as they do. The city is crowded but the temperature is pleasant: mid 20s during the day and down around 15C at night. Tannanites, as I shall call them, are all dressed in coats and scarves, all day and complain of the cold. I even saw one woman on Sunday in a fur coat. Maybe I should worry what it's going to be like in the summer.
More than anything else Madagascar reminds me of southern India in the early 80s. Lots of striking poverty is accepted. Sleeping on the street in families of 5 or more is an every day scene with2/3 begging without enthusiasm or hope. Clothes are generally very tatty and unclean although there is a washing industry of thousands all along the banks of the rivers running through the city. Like India, the markets throughout all areas I have seen of the city never close and sell crap including 2nd/3rd/? hand trainers, plastic bottles etc. I haven't yet eaten in the market but will try it in a couple of months maybe. Samosas I bought from at a shack restaurant were OK but not as spicey as I would have liked. Food generally has bordered on the bland even in my hotel where an evening meal costs about £4 and a beer is about £1.
I have now rented a furnished room for a month so really hope now that I can start work here soon. Given my druthers, to quote Atticus Finch, I would move out of Tanna soon and look at the countryside which I believe is far less developed. The waitress I spoke to told me disdainfully that rural people were backward and she is a really nice giggly girl of about 20. Everybody talks very openly about the corruption of government especially with the sentencing of the last president Ravoalamana last week but accepts it. He is now living a life of luxury in South Africa and their attitude seems to be "well what would you do?"
I'm happy and well. Have achieved most of what I wanted in less than a first week but now want to get started on something productive. I'll let you know.