Two weeks down and so much to say! Who would have thought that the 4th time around tackling this huge and exotic island would present itself with as much gusto as I have encountered! Apart from atrocious weather, (torrential rain bursts every hour or so), it has now cleared to be the sun soaked, palm tree fringed seafront city that I know and it seems to be buzzing with activity every minute of the day until the bewitching hour of 9pm when the CURFEW or Couvre – feu begins. (FYI: Couvre -feu means to cover the fire/flame and originates from war times when they had to put out the candles during an air raid. Isn’t that awesome!) Anyway, I digress…Tamatave is alive and kicking serious island city butt and is attempting and succeeding to shrug off her ‘poor 3rd world country’ image. Gangs of fluorescent vested ladies furiously sweep the streets every morning and muscled coconut vendors set up their carts for the day, rusted ancient machetes poised and ready to strike. Little stalls open their makeshift umbrellas to fend off the (now) blazing sun from fading their bizarre assortment of goods and even the street kids selling masks and samosas, oranges and peanuts smile broadly whilst taking pride in their jobs. All is good and grand here for the moment and it’s up to ME now to make the most of it!
The introduction of the TUK TUK is now in full force here, their expressive little Piaggio faces beaming at you as they whizz up and down the streets like frenzied yellow M&M’s! At 30 cents per ride to literally anywhere in town, it’s an embarrassingly cheap, fun AND convenient way to get around when the weather is rough or my legs have given up the ghost from too much activity. There’s no UBER rating required or pre booking and I ADORE them! The POUSSE POUSSE men (only guys do it) are still holding their own too, their rickety metal tricycles are painted and decorated within an inch of their lives with cd’s dangling from the back as makeshift reflectors, and they are still a necessary mode of transport for smaller journeys. Tiny locals loaded with baskets of goods sit within the confines of their hooded seats, the driver lithe and sweaty, pushing down hard on the broken pedals in their plastic thongs or bare feet. It’s definitely not a job for the old and unfit! The constant squealing of brakes make you aware of their arrival and proximity in case you venture out too far into the road when trying to avoid dangerously low tree branches, pointed wooden stakes or protruding corrugated iron roofs. Getting a blow to the head from one of these is not a fun way to start the day!
Various animals have crossed my path during the last few weeks as well! “There’s a mouse in the house!” were my first words upon entering the kitchen on my second morning here in our beautiful 1883 heritage style apartment! Gnawed baby bananas and droppings on the floor provided all the evidence required and having dealt with ‘vermin’ on various occasions, we unfortunately knew the signs. I found an enormous dead rat on top of our water cooler when we lived here last… What a charming housewarming gift for us! The cheeky little grey critter avoided our attempts at capture (a chunk of expensive French Comté cheese was not its repas du moment) and it sensibly albeit cleverly decided to flee the comfy confines of the house of its own accord. We saw it outside one evening and made so much noise to get him to flee that I think we frightened the poor thing into suiciding off the balcony! He has not been seen since…
I’ve been offered a cat and a tortoise as pets (neither of which would flourish well under my care); various live chickens and roosters dangling from their scrawny legs have been waved in my face in case I felt like slaughtering poultry in my spare time; fresh fish and prawns and last but not least, two sad looking Tenrecs (which are a rat/ ferret/hedgehog mix and are native to Madagascar and used as food)… Tempting but NO! I could have got a pig too, at a push, the poor creatures literally hog tired upside down to scooter floors or a pousse pousse on their final journey to hell. Sad but true. My good friend Anna who used to live here would have adopted/rescued all of the above and started a menagerie. Anna’s Arc we used to call her house in the end! Sorry babe…I’m waiting for a Lemur!
Quentin Tarantino and Tom Cruise better watch out, as on Saturday afternoon we had a real live movie happening right outside our building! Guns and fake blood were flying as the young and upcoming directors shot the gruesome scene on their iPhones. We watched from the (mouse-less) balcony and it was all quite realistic. Good on them! A fashion shoot was also going on this week inside one of the other apartments, as the moroccan tiled floors and authentic surrounds lend well to photography. Eat your heart out Gucci…we have Maki Fashion! Unfortunately I was not invited to join the sari clad crew and model their designs as I don’t think a 5’7, 49 year old white chick is their desired demographic! I’m a bit peeved…?
Massage boutiques and nail bars are also now on trend here in Tamatave and at a bargain $15 for an hour long, professional relaxation-style massage in an air-conditioned room with incense and music, I can see their popularity rising very soon. I will certainly be frequenting these salons once a week or fortnight, and an essential oil facial might be thrown in somewhere along the way too. Winning!
A new development called Miami Beach is being erected along the seafront and it’s going to be very posh! A huge pedestrian walkway is being constructed along with an outside gymnasium (Santa Monica style) and a ‘Lovers Wall’ (Hervé and I call it the Pashing Pit!) It will be really fantastic when it’s completed and I just hope it’s done before we leave. I can’t wait! Another huge road and pedestrian walkway is also being built near our favourite restaurant by the sea, giving access to cars and joggers and a new playground for the locals at sunset. This will also be on a grand scale and have a huge impact on the surrounding businesses. All is looking incredibly modern and very 2021! I’m sorry…has there been a worldwide pandemic? Even with the airport and borders closed, Tamatave doesn’t seem to have suffered too much and has turned this tragedy into a victory for its locals and expats. I’m more than impressed.
Along the waterfront near our apartment, we also have a shiny new supermarket AND an Italian Pizzeria (which is being fitted out as we speak, large murals depicting scenes from Venice and Rome are being painted on the walls) and getting ready to fling open its doors to the public within the month! I just hope they invest in some parmesan and prosciutto to decorate their pies! Knowing my luck so far, I’ll probably be asked to be the Italian Food consultant, as I’m the most ‘Italian’ person in town! The best bit is that it’s only a five minute walk from our place and right next door to the new Gelateria. An Italian Corner around the corner? I’m in! Grazie! Prego! Andiamo!
My local gym is still functioning and is moving to the newly renovated and updated Neptune Hotel which was my very first home here (for three days) in 2010. It even has a disco and a casino! I’m in shock. I have been offered a job there as the new resident Aqua Gym instructor (which is quite random) and I am flattered if not a trifle terrified at the prospect! I haven’t as yet accepted this prestigious position, and will probably end up doing it for free (no $50 per hour rates in this town) and at $1.75 per class, can I really say no? We shall see. A whole session performed in English with a freakishly energetic Aussie teacher will be a shock to all, but hey, it’s all about ‘The New Age’ here it seems so why not be a contributor! If I only last a few lessons then so be it… just don’t want to get known as the crappy teacher if it all fails miserably… it is a VERY small town!
Today I visited the local nutrition and education centre for women and their babies. It’s called TAMATAVE AIDE and has been around for 10 years. It concentrates on educating local women (many of the mothers die during childbirth so another family member has to adopt the child), with new borns and babies up to one year, about how to feed and clean them and also about hygiene at home. The babies/children are measured and weighed once a week and all are given free formula and are taught its preparation. They also have access to a shower, a baby bathing area, a toilet and clean drinking water. Some also receive donations of rice, oil or nappies to assist them as they are all very poor. One young lady walked 2hrs in bare feet with two children and a new born to make the appointment. Just think about that. My yoga teacher is the under president of the society and due to her background in nursing, looks after all the behind the scenes activity that is needed to ensure the smooth running of the clinic. She works 3 days a week and it is all volunteered. It is a wonderful and important organisation, small yet doing big things. I have been asked to help out here as well, and again…can I say no?
All this information might not sound very exciting to many, but it is a HUGE deal for me! It’s been six years since we lived here last and not much has changed but then again, so much has. If you only knew! I miss my daily walks along the beach, but with all the activity going on it is a pointless exercise and nobody wants a hook in the foot or an abandoned nail in the toe. I will just have to wait for Miami Beach to open! Everyday I walk everywhere, overtaking the glacial pace of the locals and being stared at like a lunatic, but I’m used to it now and they too have become desensitised to my routine and modern outfits I’m sure!
YES we have to wear masks all the time (the punishment for those who don’t is sweeping the street for two hours or for the ‘poorer’ folk, being loaded into a van and taken 20 kms away and having to walk back home! Mmmm….nasty), and YES we have a nightly curfew, but this too will pass and very soon the town will be firing on all cylinders once again, so watch this space!
? Loads of island love from Madame Paris in Madagascar ??
…”If you wish to move mountains tomorrow, you must start by lifting stones today”… African Proverb