Today’s tale is a travelogue of an unusual trip from Diego to Sainte Marie, with my baby son Fred, my Mum (white Granny), Jean’s Mum (black Granny)
So, 3 women set out on the same journey with a collection of objectives.
- To visit your birthplace and family
- To meet new family
- To indulge in relaxation
- To see another part of Madagascar
- To scout Sainte Marie out as potential future home (this is a vague notion of mine and a more serious consideration for Jean’s Mum)
What a privilege to be travelling with my son and his two Grandmothers – especially on such an exotic trip. Fred doesn’t realise how lucky he is now but I’m happy that he is loved already so much by the people close to me.
We piled into our car and another taxi to get to Antsiranana airport – which has been improved during my stay in England. There’s two check in desks, an information desk (a rare thing indeed in Madagascar) and sliding doors.
Air Madagascar customer service
Nil points – when in doubt, lie
I had one experience with Malagasy customer service that would have once tried my patience much more than it does now.
Air travellers with small children now normally have the right to keep a pushchair / buggy with them right up to the plane door. It is stowed and then returned to them when they arrive at the next airport. I have done this before with Air Madagascar.
I had pre-packed my buggy this time to save time. The check in desk insisted on checking it in and putting it straight in the hold. They claimed it would magically appear at Tana if I spoke to ‘someone’. My experience on any international travel indicates this is not likely – and in Madagascar even less so.
As a response to my insistence, a man said he’d phone Tana and disappeared. I told the lady I’d return in 10 minutes to find out who they’d spoken to and what I needed to do at Tana. When, to her dismay, I did return, she told me I should go and speak to her boss, the man who had disappeared ‘to phone Tana’. He then told me there was no need to phone Tana and then went on to explain that people getting their pushchairs depends on the amount of flight traffic.
So, the bald fact is he’d lied about phoning Tana and was now making up Air Madagascar policy. I don’t know for a fact that he was wrong but it was already clear he was not an expert on the Air Madagascar pushchair policy.
Anyway, instead of the seething rage this might once have produced, I only suffered mild, amused disapproval. I realise that he may be breaking my code of customer service but I was also making many Malagasy cultural faux pas (I still make them all the time but I’m more aware of when I’m making some of them).
Firstly I was expecting to receive full customer satisfaction. Secondly, I kept driving at a point when it had become obvious somebody didn’t know what to do – to Malagasys, my insistence at this point is justification enough for the man lying, it was the acceptable thing to do to save everybody’s face. Thirdly, Malagasys don’t have pushchairs so my insistence that it was a necessity for a 5 hour stopover at Tana, is incomprehensible.
Thankfully, I avoided the major faux pas of losing my rag and criticising, as this is not the Malagasy way. So, I left the situation ensuring that the man’s professional status had been respected and by making a joke so we could all laugh together and know there are no hard feelings.
Mille points – gold star to him
The male air steward on the plane needs special commendation for his enthusiasm for his job and determination to love each and every customer. I have never seen an air steward who doesn’t at least look a little jaded – not this chap – job satisfaction all the way. He assured me my buggy would be no problem (he didn’t actually appear to help me at Tana but at least this gave me confidence to keep trying).
A chill at Antananarivo airport
The staff at Tana airport were very helpful although I did have to continue to be the insistent traveller. I got the buggy. Sat in the shade outside the airport, there was a surpisingly chilly wind which saw black granny reaching for her huge cardigan and white granny smiling, though still having to put a scarf round her shoulders.
Madagascar developing in small and big ways
I hate to trivialise the march for development, but I couldn’t help noticing that the toilets were clean and had toilet paper and soap. Small things like this give outsiders an impression of development, which is a plus in itself. I haven’t yet worked out any more complex analysis of Malagasy economics but little things add up.
As if to remind us just how far development can take you, the TV in the departure lounge was showing a non-stop infomercial for some flab wobbling, muscle toner. I suspect the majority of the Malagasy population is a long way from being customers.
Sainte Marie – plane lands, moods lift
I’d talked all week about Ile Sainte Marie as a tropical island paradise but what we’d find in reality was far from certain. Anyone who’s heard of Madagascar usually oos and ahs about the exotic, lush, mysteriousness of it. The reality of much of what I have seen is very different, and not that amazing.
So, as we came into land with our wheels skimming turquoise water and our wing tip floating between a white sandy beach and lush tropical vegetation, things were looking promising.
By the time we walked out of the terminal with our bags my Mum and I were already declaring that Sainte Marie is lovely. ‘Wait until you see the roads’, Jean’s Mum said.
What’s worse – the car or the road?
Any emotional buoyancy soon withered when we saw our transport, a battered minibus without seat belts that brought back horrible memories of previous dances with deaths in a taxi brousse with my Mum.
It was the first time I was taking Fred in a car without a car seat – I told the driver I was very nervous so to go slow – although this was also for my Mum’s benefit, who is a nervous passenger, to say the least.
Then it wouldn’t start and required a push start. Mum’s mood was blackening – I would be more zen if she wasn’t there but I know how car transport can worry her.
Poor Jean’s Mum had been terrified of the flight. We were more scared of the car journey (more faith in science and statistics?)..
Mum had had to close her eyes during the ‘bridge’ crossing of the bays south of Ambodifotatra. I had kept my eyes open, mainly to plan how I would evacuate myself with my son, before going back to rescue my Mum and Jean’s Mum, if we ended up under water.
All’s well that ends well
As nearly always, we arrived safely at our destination. Things were definitely looking up. Our hotel is a gorgeous little place nestled in a secluded bay, and it is a gorgeous tropical little bay.
Looks like we’ve found our tropical island paradise after all.