When Relyn asked me to be a guest blogger and talk about one of my passions, I first thought of my boyfriend who is my adorable muse, then my design work, then flamenco… In the end, the recent political upheaval in my country of origin Madagascar brought back lots of cherished memories of the faraway island which I haven’t visited for a long time. And I felt like sharing the muted passion I have for this island, its people, its customs, its music and its colours.
When I think of Madagascar, I have vivid remembrances of a myriad of colours. I remember quite well landing in near the capital city . The earth was red and here and there, spots of colour made a funny pattern. As the plane was descending, I could see the spots of colours were sheets and clothes drying on the ground.
I was born in France and discovered Madagascar when I was 8. It was my first time in a tropical country and also the very fist time I knew what real poverty is. Children begging in the street were a shock to me and most often my sisters and I were at a loss when in the end, we would have no more coins to give. "You cannot give to everybody" my parents would say.
During these holidays, we usually stayed at my uncle's and aunt’s place in Antananarivo. It was swarming of kids, my cousins being quite numerous (7 or 8, I can't even remember), plus some children who would stay to share the meals, my aunt prepared in a very basic kitchen. My sisters and I quickly got used to eat rice three times a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, served with dried manioc leaves or corn or meatballs.
We spent the afternoons with my cousins, playing around, going to the zoo, answering endless questions about our life in France but the most brilliant time was the music sessions. There was always someone playing the guitar, other kids beating the rhythm on tins. My sisters and I did our best to sing along. We learnt by heart the songs of the Mahaleo group. I think my sisters will never admit it but I’m sure, like me, their eyes are filled with tears when they listen to this group in particular. Mahaelo writes songs about the endless struggle to get rid of poverty and corruption in Madagascar.
One day in the week, my aunt would take us to the enormous market, the zoma, which since then has been shut down for hygienic reasons. It’s impossible for me to describe the powerful impressions this place made on me….so many colours, the piles of raffia baskets and hats, the fabrics with exotic patterns, the small piles of fruits. The butcher's sector was by far, my less favourite place in the market and I would help my aunt reluctantly when she'd decide to buy a hen.
On the other hand, I was mesmerized by the jewelery workshops usually owned by Indians, where I learnt all the different precious and semi precious which can be found in the island.
Years later, I went back on holiday again to visit another uncle and his wife on the coast in Tamatavo. My aunt lived quite an easy life, she had numerous helpers, a nice house but she dreamt of crossing the ocean to have what she thought would be a better life. She would take me to her favourite place in town, an ice tea parlour with pale green walls. I can still remember the amazing taste of home made pistachio ice cream.
Watching my aunt cook was a real treat for me. She had an outdoor kitchen where fish was brought fresh from the sea. She prepared food on a coal burner. Her meals were just like her, colourful, sensuous, generous and nearly always flavoured with a slight touch of coconut. The smell of coconut always reminds me of Malagasy women as they use coconut oil to smooth their long dark hair.
Besides the walks in the rainforest, the long days on the beach, the impossible task of pounding rice with an enormous wooden mortar, my best souvenir was an entire day spent waiting for a train, in the middle of the forest. The whole quay was converted into a giant picnic. It was such a joy to watch the happy confusion.
After having spent many years in France, my parents decided to go back to Madagascar. They kept their house in France though so that they could come back from time to time. Since the recent takeover (which is now seen as a coup by the African Union), by former mayor of the capital city, , they’re thinking of going back to France and stay there for a while until things stabilize more or less.
As for me, I still hope to make a trip to the red island, next year if possible. My boyfriend and I have been dreaming of it for quite a time now.For now, I say veloma, veloma Madagasikary...!..(bye bye Madagascar)
Words by Lala of My Castle In Spain. Boababs by Wildmadagascar.org. Limestone Peaks by National Geographic.