“You” he said “are a terribly real thing in a terribly false world, and that, I believe, is why you are in so much pain” – Alice in Wonderland
Antananarivo. A major city. The capital and largest in Madagascar. It is the historical, political, economical, educational and cultural heart of the island. It has palaces, housing developments, markets, schools, universities, medical services and art venues. Tana has 2.1 million inhabitants, dominated by the Merina people with 18 Malagasy ethnic groups as well as Indian, European and Chinese residents. The Malagasy people are one of a kind, like nobody I’ve ever seen before. Beautifully unique and unexampled with their perfect mixture of African, Asian and European attributes (since the country is French colonial). Madagascar compares to no other African nation. Truly matchless, distinct and wonderfully diverse.
I’ll never forget my first drive through the streets of Antananarivo. It was dusk and the sun was hanging low in the sky almost touching the horizon. I was exposed to a world I had never imagined before. I could see vivacity, spirit, vitality but most strikingly and remarkably colour as we drove down the dusty roads. It was as if someone had splashed a paint brush of vibrant colours all over the city. Maybe God had poured out gallons and gallons of rich paint from heaven, drenching Madagascar like a rainstorm. Or my favourite notion, a wild explosion and wreckage of powder colour bombs showering the city in glow and colouration.
To put it simply, it was fascinating.
Like me, Tana was wide awake. It was bustling with people walking along the roadside markets; an aroma of zesty spices and tasty fried Malagasy delicacies; rhythmical music playing loudly; reckless drivers swerving on dirt roads, beeping and cursing to each other; young people sitting on the edge of the road with their shoes off; women stood faithfully by their stalls selling fish, chicken, fruit and vegetables; heavy carts being pushed up steep hills by workmen; the pavements and even the main road were overflowing and streaming with people walking freely.
My first view of Antananarivo was a true one – a restless and colourful city. However there is more to it than what meets the initial first look. I wish I could only tell you the good news, merely describe to you how enticing, exciting and beautiful this city was to me. But honestly, that wouldn’t be the truth and honestly, that wouldn’t be reality. I could paint you a glossy picture of a tropical island and glaze over any imperfections and blemishes. Or I could write to you about a relaxing holiday or a traveller’s adventure but that would be deceiving. I could tell you about the weather or the best sights for tourists but then I would be missing the point. I could tell you about the nicest restaurants and the hottest beaches but that would make me oblivious. I could disguise, misrepresent, falsify or conceal the truth but that would make me dishonest. I could ignore the oppression but surely that would make me an oppressor too?
So for their sake I want to tell you how it really was. For the ones who cannot tell you for themselves. For the ones who have not been heard. For the sake of the ones.