Madagascar is sometimes called The Land That Time Forgot. It is one of the poorest countries in the world and relatively undeveloped. We knew, when we made our travel plans, that we were in for a roller coaster ride of experiences, some of which would be amazing, and some of which would be very challenging.
Antananarivo, or Tana for short, is the capital city. On the drive from the airport to our hotel, we were immediately reminded of cities we’ve seen in Asia and Latin America. Simply replace the donkeys or water buffalo with zebu, the mud with dust, and you could hardly tell which continent you were on. Even the people looked like a little bit of everything, with light brown skin, high cheekbones, almond eyes generously mixed in with arching noses, and straight, glossy hair.
Just like other “Third World”1 cities, Tana is an assault on the senses. The first thing that hit us was the smell of wood smoke and dust. The banks of every pond and ditch were draped with colorful fabrics. “Wash day,” our driver, Frank, said with a laugh. The streets thronged with people, trucks, mini-buses, and carts.
Frank’s English was very limited, and in any case we were quite tired after more than 24 hours of travel to get here, so we didn’t try to make sense of everything we were seeing. Our hotel was an island of quiet on a hilltop in the older part of the city. We watched the sun set through a haze of smoke and dust and retired early.
- Some people object to the term “Third World,” because it has acquired some baggage of negative connotations and over-generalizations; also, its original meaning is rooted in Cold War politics. To capture first impressions, quickly paint a picture, and compare the city on a superficial level to similar places around the world, however, I find the name very useful, as long as we all understand that there are many nuances and complexities and differences that we can only discover over time. I don’t use it to disparage the city or the people.