Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ambohimahasoa, Madagascar


Riding in the highlands on a road that rarely straightens or flattens for more than a few tenth of a mile through small villages with rarely any food other than the omni-present platters of three-cent fritters, when I came upon a couple of girls standing along the road offering eggs it was almost an answer to a prayer.

I was into my third day of this leg-sapping terrain after my climb up from the coast.  I knew I needed some better nourishment than what I'd been getting, as my legs began to feel depleted after spending so much time climbing in my lowest gear. I realized it had been days since I'd seen a hard-boiled egg, instantly giving me a craving for these protein-rich nuggetts.  And then almost within minutes, there were these two, almost angelic, creatures holding bowls with eggs.  I had to blink to make sure they weren't an apparition.

There was enough space in one girl's bowl for me to give an egg a spin to confirm it was hard-boiled. I would have been thrilled to pay anything she asked, so didn't quibble when she only let me take two when I gave her a 2,000 Ariary note, thinking I might get four for that price.  But I wanted four so handed her another 2,000 bill, all of sixty cents.  She was so ecstatic that she sprinted down the street to show her mother her mighty windfall, before I was tempted to buy two more.  She disappeared so fast, I had to look at the eggs I had already placed in my handlebar bag to make sure this had really happened.

With no amenable place to plop down and eat them in the row of shacks that comprised this typical village, I pedaled down the road, as I customarily do after getting something to eat, in search of a secluded, shady spot.  Within a mile I found a nook beside a stack of wood.  And as usual after a few minutes either kids walking the road or from an unseen nearby habitation spotted me and came to stare.  It's usually a posse of girls or of boys, rarely a mixed group. The girls will shyly let out a giggle or two after a couple of minutes, while the boys have a hint of a sneer in their guffaws.  None are threatening and only rarely demanding.  The girls tend to be better attired than the boys.  Like their mothers, their garb is usually colorful and has some flair to it. They are often attired with a wide-brimmed hat with a distinguishing sash.  A woman may be barefoot, but a hat to spare her of the sun she is not without.  It brings to mind the saying of the read-a-holic Icelanders, "Better to be barefoot than without a book."

Passing adults will give me a "bonjour," but otherwise leave me in peace.  If my head is bent sometimes I catch a whiff of them before I hear them.  But never is it a scent of tobacco.  Contrary to the experience of Dervla Murphy in 1983, who was continually encountering women smoking, making her fit right in, rarely do I encounter any nicotine use.  Whether it's less disposable income or enlightenment, smoking is almost extinct. A couple days ago when I was seated on a bench I was startled when someone sat down at the other end and lit up a cigarette. When I coughed at his first exhale, he politely moved away, the Malagasy way.

One strong impression of Murphy's that has been maintained is how child-friendly the men are.  It is almost as common to see men carrying young ones or walking hand-in-hand with a child as it is to see women in the act.  The men may not look quite as natural carrying a child in their arms, rather than wrapped in a papoose of some sort, but they seem no less nurturing or caring.

Even though my legs were beginning to feel the strain of the seemingly non-stop climbing, with the descents done in a minute or two, barely enough time to recover, followed by another ten or twelve minute climb, I had some extra impetus on day two after learning a day after the Oscar telecast that "Moonlight" had upset "La La Land" and won the best picture.  Having known the director Barry Jenkins since he was a 22-year old intern at the Telluride Film Festival fifteen years ago and working with him every year since, I couldn't have been more thrilled. It had me reveling almost as if the Oscar were my own.    It was a shame that all the post-Oscar conversation had to be about the snafu of the wrong envelope, rather than why the Academy justly awarded this much more meaningful and significant and enduring film over the heavy favorite "La La Land."

Even if Barry hadn't won I have been greatly looking forward to seeing him again this fall and hearing all about his six-month whirlwind since debuting "Moonlight" at Telluride.  He is well-liked by all.  Everyone will be in a great state of exaltation this fall over his success and recalling being the first to see the film and interacting with the cast.  One of the highlights of the festival was a panel discussion in the park with Barry and the five principals of the cast which can be seen at the film festival website  And that was topped off with my own brief  conversation with Naomi Harris, the British actress who so powerfully played the crack-addicted mother and who would have won the best-supporting actress Oscar if Viola Davis had more justly been in the best actress category.

The latest Warren Cycling podcast once again gave me some extra energy, especially when Randy concluded his latest with an acknowledgment of my presence in Madagascar.  He and his brother had been pleasantly diverting me with their reports on Oman and its Green Mountain, where I had been cycling two years ago, and entertaining me with their interesting asides, when I was suddenly brought into the conversation.  Though they focus their attention almost exclusively on racing, they branch out to related topics.  Randy managed to acknowledge the great rivalry between he and his brother's college, Hope, and Calvin, two division-three schools in Michigan.  They don't play football, but their basketball games rank in fervor with those of Duke and North Carolina.  Randy also gave a mention to the football program at Indiana University.  He coaches a former fullback for IU, who says that he finds cycling is a tougher sport than football. 

My mind also took a wander to previous travels in Nepal and Laos. The terrain and habitations and look of the people were similar.  I hardly seem to be in Africa.  The South Asian-African racial mix gives more of a chocolate than black hue to the people.  Only along the west coast did I encounter the truly dark-skinned.  Madagascar is truly a place unto its own.

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