That’s a good question and not necessarily one that you want to test.
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In the USA and in Europe you find folks that drink bottled water or put filters in their house more out of vanity or personal preference than actual need. Here in Madagascar, it’s a necessity.
Pretty much every family and most restaurants that serve tourists, have has a ceramic filter system sitting around that it is used for drinking water, hot drinks, and to wash your fresh fruits and veggies.
In our town of Fort Dauphin, the water is supposedly treated, but it shows up at the house full of sediment and dirt (we know because we store water in a cistern for the days that the city water doesn’t run).
Drinking Water as a Tourist
Most visitors stick to Eau Vive which is the Malagasy Bottled Water equivalent of Evian or Aquafina. The problem with Eau Vive is the bottles. If you, plan on drinking a liter per day and you visit for say 30 days and maybe you also want to wash some fruits and vegetables, you’ll be going through at least 30 bottles.
30 Bottles that will not get recycled and might end up in the ocean.
For this reason, for short term visitors to Madagascar, I highly recommend a personal water filtration system.
Water Bottles with Integrated Filters
One of the neatest inventions of the last two decades is super efficient personal filtrations systems. You can get straws that go in any cup or bottle or you can buy water bottles designed with an integrated filter. I’ve gathered together a few options:
Standard Life Straw
According to LifeStraw, their filters remove “99.999999% of waterborne bacteria (including E. coli and salmonella), and 99.999% of waterborne parasites (including giardia and cryptosporidium). Unlike your standard Brita or another household filter, these guys don’t just improve taste, they really clean your water.
The LifeStraw Go Water Bottle
This is LifeStraw’s water bottle with integrated filter. These work well and folks that I know like them. Something to keep in mind is that these to of the lesser expensive versions of LifeStraws are not guaranteed to remove the smallest parasites and or metal contaminants. If your water is questionable, you may still want to treat it with a chlorine tab or “sirop” (see below) and then use the filter.
LifeStraw’s Stainless Steel Version
This version is more expensive, but if you are not a fan of plastic in any form, you might want to give this newer model a go!
Large Water Filter
If you are traveling as a group or family and want to be able to filter larger quantities of water, LifeStraw also offers this bag system which can pack fairly compactly, but then filter larger quantities of water.
Traveling with Kids?
LifeStraw also has a kid friendly version of their best water filter.
Backup water safety.
Water filters can fail and they can also get lost. I always travel with chlorine tabs in my purse if we are going on a day trip or overnight. I’ve yet to have to use them, but I’d rather know that I can drink safe water if I need it.
Chlorine tabs generally treat a larger quantity of water 1 to 10 L or Gallons, so be sure to read you box and make sure to follow directions. Here in Madagascar you can also buy little blue bottles of “Sur Eau” which means “sure water” in French and is pronounced like “syrup” minus the “p” in Malagasy.
Some water purification tabs come in a glass bottle, I don’t like to travel with those, so I keep these Aquatabs on hand.
Things to Ask
When you are in Madagascar it is advised that you wash your fruits and vegetables in filtered water before eating them. If you want to eat lettuce or other salad greens, you should wash (soak them) in a fresh batch of water treated with Aquatabs or Sur Eau for at least 10 minutes.
When eating out, you will notice that many tourist friendly restaurants have more expensive prices that some of the local spots. This is partially because of their food preparation practices.
The general rule of thumb is to only drink bottled (filtered water) and eat cooked food, unless you are sure of the preparation. This will help keep your tummy happy and the doctor away!
Yesterday we ended my yoga class with a long Savasana (also known as corpse pose, a restorative pose on the back combined with a deep guided relaxation of the whole body).
We could hear birds, the surf, the wind, and various car and human sounds, we felt the soft breeze and inhaled deeply.
As we sat up, we looked around to discover that we’d been joined by three sleeping dogs, an asleep kitten and a mother hen and her chicks.
The hen had her eyes closed, and she and the chicks were sleeping not two feet from the dogs.
Our communal animal relaxation was an amazing experience on so many levels; the animals felt utterly safe; at this moment they trusted us dangerous humans, and each other, in this moment.
The dogs, however, have a job. They are guardians because it is not uncommon for people to break and enter. We have the dogs because we don’t trust our community.
I want to say this is silly; however, each day that I am here in Madagascar, I learn a lesson or two in not trusting.
Prices here are rarely fixed. Overcharging or outright taking from a “perceived wealthy stranger” is perfectly normal. I avoid shopping in stores without premarked prices.
If you venture to the open market or take a taxi, it’s best to note ahead of time the correct or fair price. If you don’t know, it’s best to attempt to bargain.
I’ve found that even offering as little as 20% or 30% of the original price is a good indicator to see if someone was trying to overcharge seriously.
If you can “drive” a good bargain — it doesn’t mean you got a deal — it says you got much closer to the correct price. If something is lost here, it’s rarely found. Money dropped is money lost. Friends are unabashed about overcharging or cheating other friends. Of course, that doesn’t serve friendships well. A wise friend shared a while back on Facebook: “Consider money lent out a gift until it’s repaid, then you can call it a loan.” That seems like wise advice — don’t lend out — what you are not willing or able to give up.
On the flipside, when investing in car-repairs or building supplies, one would expect to be dealt with fairly and honestly; especially when it is known that you plan to continue doing business. The honest and reliable business builds long-term relationships and long-term clients. If you cheat your clients, you tend not to get repeat business.
Sadly, we’ve learned that buying or ordering services through long-term acquaintances and friends here is far from a guarantee of honesty. Of course, this is why in the USA we use contracts and printed agreements for everything. Contracts save friendships.
Another oddity, in my opinion, is related to trust and respect: there is a tendency for people to outright ask for gifts from your possessions. Someone will see something you have and ask for it and then be offended when your response is not positive.
“Hey! Sure! I want you to take this Boss speaker that I worked hard to earn the funds for that I use daily and cannot easily replace…” Not.
Both of these experiences take me back to Robert Lupton and his idea of Toxic Charity.
Give once, and you elicit appreciation; Give twice, and you create anticipation; Give three times, and you create expectation; Give four times, and it becomes entitlement; Give five times, and you establish dependency.
Charity disempowers people and creates dependency. I’d also argue that it creates a lack of trust at the level of entitlement. Entitlement creates a situation in which the “receivers” have the right to receive and the “givers” are obligated to give.
If you fall into a socially perceived role of “giver” than a self-identified receiver feels justified taking from you whether it’s through cheating, deception, lying, or theft.When this happens between friends and strangers, it merely results in a shortened relationship.
People chose to do business elsewhere. When it occurs amongst family, it creates feuds. I’ve seen it all in the last four months, and it’s disheartening. Why do I care? Above and beyond the fact that this lack of trust is an expensive proposition for my “Giver” family, I care because there is also a strong correlation between the poorest countries and the countries that exhibit the lowest levels of social trust.
Before a nation can build economic capital, it needs a reserve of social capital. Right now Madagascar, despite its natural beauty, the laughter, the kindness, and generosity displayed, from the office of the President to the street vendor; is functionally low on social capital.
“A few lies, statistics and damn statistics” (Benjamin Disraeli, Former British PM) to backup my arguements.
GNI or the income of the average Malagasy is USD 400 per year in 2017
Life in Madagascar: we’ve been in Madagascar as residents now for four weeks. (If you are new to our blog you can read our first post here.)Well technically three of us are residents, and yours truly is on a 90-day visitor visa. That may present a conflict shortly, but for now let’s focus on what it’s like here and now, our day-to-day life.
We’ve been In Madagascar long enough to drive home that we are not on vacation. I’d like to say everything is sunshine and pina colada sunsets on the beach, but real life here is like anywhere, there are good days and bad days, and things we wish we could change with the tap of a magic wand. We’ve all been sick at least once.
Fresh juice at Club Sandwich: pineapple, parsley and lemon juice. Yum!
Life is not perfect
I am doing my best to learn to live with never ending sand in the house, my hair, and my feet. I am trying my best to figure out how to rid the region (not just our yard) of sand fleas — I think the solution may be dichotomous earth (also used for killing ants), but I need to source it. That said we are content and happy — the most significant thing here is the lack of stress — day by day we are adapting to “la vie mora mora.”
The negatives are sand and sanitation. There is a trash problem in the town. The water only runs some days and sometimes just at night. We had to get a water tank and pump installed, and even then sometimes there isn’t water for three days, so we run out. We need a bigger tank. The electricity also periodically goes out for a random 30 minutes to 5 hours. We need a backup system.
I’ve been learning to keep my laptop charged, and the good news is that with a 4G wifi dongle, even if the power goes out if I’ve got juice in my laptop (or my solar charger), I’ve still got wifi. It is a bit odd to have at times wife, but no water or electricity. These are all things we didn’t notice when we stayed here in January because our stay with Le Nepenthes Bungalows (owned by one of Yves’ aunties) meant we were sheltered from some of the local-life inconveniences.
Working on one of the stone paths in front of the outdoor kitchen.
Life is Beautiful
I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that we’ve had statistically more sunsets and drinks on the beach than we did in France. The best thing about living here is that literally, nobody is stressed. And the kids are free to run and play outside. Life here is not easy, but at the same time, it’s not stressful.
The little butterfly who never went to bed in France, is now usually asleep on the couch by 8 PM here, after a day spent mostly outdoors playing hard, she is exhausted and content. I am beginning to think that stress and anxiety are maladies of American and European culture.
Beloa with his tatie Veronique
Laughter is the Good Medicine
Here, even strangers generously share their smiles and laughter. Even people without enough food or work, are happy. Frankly, it’s a bit odd. I confess it feels like I might be both lying and making an ethical faux pas, to say that someone living in extreme poverty is happy. You might need to come and see for yourself. Life here is not easy, but it is good.
Of course, perhaps it is that an easy life doesn’t necessarily mean a happy life. And a hard life doesn’t necessarily equate to unhappiness. Things to ponder.
One of our amazing salads at lunch.
Slow Food is Good Food
Speaking of food: life is good in Madagascar, and so is the food, especially when you’ve got enough money. The food is good. Everything we eat tastes so good with our daily based upon traditional Malagasy dishes; meats or seafood, cooked in sauce, with a healthy serving of rice, salads on the side and of course SAKAY.
I am working on a motto for Madagascar — something like “Everything is better with cheddar.” So far I have “The sky’s the limit with sakay.” Sakay is a hot sauce or more like a hot paste — if you’ve dined with us before you know that a little sakay in your food or on your samosa is the icing on the cake. It’s sooooo good.
When we eat out, the prices are fair, and the restaurants have fresh food cooked fresh. You notice I used the word FRESH. It’s true. No frozen french fries or pre-prepped grub here — not the food is REALLY fresh.
From pizza to grilled lobster to traditional Malagasy dishes, we eat well. Almost everything is local, except for vegetables which primarily get imported from the north (the soil here is crazy sand) and the butter, which is French. Ha. Fish is freshly caught every morning; chickens get butchered the day you eat them. Eggs come from actual chickens and just might have a feather or two stuck to the shell.
Our cook has been making fresh yogurt from fresh Zebu milk (Zebu = cow). She also makes the best salads, from grated carrots to beautiful displays of mixed vegetables and always a fantastic vinaigrette. If you ate Fleur’s vinaigrette, you’d never touch a bottled salad dressing again. Never. For our family, life in Madagascar means eating well.
Scenic view of Protestant church with Indian ocean in the distance.
Food is good, and the sunsets are beautiful, there is no stress. BUT…
Unfortunately, there are an abundance of corruption and or attempts to take advantage of foreigners. From taxi drivers to the local government, the involuntary Vazaha (foreigner) tax is common. As is the “little gift” or “cadeau” request to get something signed and approved. I’d say about a ⅓ of vendors and or taxi drivers are happy to try and overcharge you merely for being foreign and not knowing any better. Official business is probably similar. There are the folks with ethics and the people who know how to make the system work for their benefit.
On the flip side, life in Madagascar means that the cost of living is still so inexpensive to an American or European budget; it’s the principle of the matter that is the root of this problem, not the actual expense.
Mofo gasy — a lighter version of a baguette is 1,000 Ariary or $0.29
A daytime taxi ride in town is also 1,000 Ariary per person, so for 29 cents you can get a ride just about anywhere.
A cafe au lait on the Terrace at the Hotel Colbert made from locally grown, and roasted Malagasy coffee and local milk is 3,000 ariary or less than a dollar (sorry Starbucks).
Minimum wage and what many people working service jobs get paid 200,000 Ariary or about $60 bucks per month. Many people work for less. This claim is not an exaggeration, and it’s a hard truth.
Living the way we do, not excessive, but by consuming luxury goods, such as yogurt, butter, bottled water and drinks, fresh vegetables, ice cream and such, we are spending about $50 per week for a family of four + a guest or two + meals for the ladies that work for us during the day (nanny, cook, housekeeper).
We’ve been spending another $20 to $60 per week eating out, which is extravagant here, but when we eat out, we order as we wish. For this expense, we get not only drinks, wine, fresh grilled lobster or a delicious pizza, meals that would easily cost upwards of at least $60 to $300 in expense in the USA or Europe.
The result is that with an income mixed in Euros and dollars we can live like royalty. Of course, this is moderated a bit by the desire not to be excessive or out of touch. When you come to visit us here in Madagascar, you can rest assured that for $20 per day, you can eat well.
My temporary workspace.
Sunrise to Sunset
We wake up between 5:30 AM and 7 AM, usually on the earlier side to get our exercise in before the kiddos are up and before our house help shows up to work at 7:15. The first thing I do when I get up is let out the chickens. We’ve got eight young adults, one momma hen and a dozen baby chicks that hatched about a week ago.
A day in my life:
Long lunch + kids
Yves and I don’t cook, except on Sundays, because we have a cook. I do miss cooking, but it’s also a dream to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner prepared, so I can focus on work and spend time with the kiddos. There is still plenty of other physical labor each day too, from walking for errands to raking, cleaning out sheds or watering plants that by 9 or 9:30 PM we are often zonked out in bed.
Our little Butterfly carrying a teddy bear the way Malagasy women carry babies.
General Report: Life in Madagascar
We’ve met some interesting people from Peace Corps volunteers to the South African doctor who runs the local medical clinic. The same clinic that made it feasible for us to move here with two small kids. Dr. Jane runs a Robin Hood clinic that is a for-profit model; however, they don’t refuse anyone care, and they accompany women through an entire pregnancy free of charge. I’ll write more about the clinic another day — Dr. Jane’s work deserves a dedicated post.
The kids have a nanny, who is amazingly sweet and kind to them. The kids could be more generous and more sympathetic to the nanny. We are working on their training. They love the weekends, especially any time we leave the house as a family, be it to run an errand in a taxi, go to eat or hit the beach or the Talinjoo hotel.
We’ve had a round or two of funny tummy syndrome, but nothing too wrong. We do drink bottled water and use kitchen grade chlorine-based wash for our fruits and veggies.
View of north facing bay from the taxi window!
Living the Dream Update
The last time I wrote, I compared our land to Grand Central Station. The work has slowed a bit, but not really. Yve’s has successfully had the house painted, the electricity updated, the shower and toilet rooms re-tiled, and the front door lock replaced, a water tank and pump installed, a gate built and several walkways around the house to reduce the amount of sand coming in. Most of these projects he is overseeing; however the gate he built himself, once again proving he can do almost anything.
Current in progress work includes the construction of a perimeter fence, the construction of a long steep driveway, and our first bungalow. Our container arrives this week, so we’ll soon have access to a few items that we have started to miss, as well as, our paddle boards, bikes, and other toys! Hopefully we will have plans soon for our house or what we intend to build, but for now, we are waiting and watching to see what we can do with the land, and how best to lay it all out.
I am going to commit to updating this blog weekly — and to finally getting publishes our posts from our crazy summer road-trip. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram (Voky_Be & RodmanJarhead) for daily picture updates. I also created a Facebook page called VokyBeTravel, which I invite you to follow it, it might be the most natural place to share these updates (versus MailChimp). We’ll see!
In July 2018 our family of four kids and two adults hit the road to do 4500 + miles (2750 km) in 15-days. We had a blast, but we also learned what not to do on such a trip!
We started off our trip on the right foot, although it wasn’t planned: to make up for a previous car rental snafu in France, the Denver Budget office upgraded our minivan to a brand new 8-passenger Chevy Suburban.
I cannot imagine how we would have survived a smaller vehicle, as we fell in love with the Suburban.
Bonus: thanks to an “eco-drive” it miraculously gets about 23 miles to the gallon!
I start this tale with the car as, without it, I don’t think we could have survived our executed trip with nearly as much fun or enjoyment as we did.
Planning several months in advance, we’d decided we wanted to hit a few key places, such as Yellowstone National Park, Seattle, the Redwoods, HWY 101, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon. We’d also been hoping to catch a few friends and family: Bozeman, MT; Olympia, WA, a handful in the Bay Area, my Aunt in northern Utah, and my brother in southern CO.
We started out by heading North on I-25 from Denver into Wyoming, where we cut across to Yellowstone, spent a night on either side and rolled into Bozeman, MT.
From Bozeman, we headed towards Seattle, and from Seattle to Olympia and then down HWY 101 to the Redwoods through San Francisco into Santa Cruz and then on to LA.
From LA we headed east to Las Vegas, where we continued on to Flagstaff, AZ and the Grand Canyon. From the Grand Canyon we hit Cortez in SW Colorado, before heading north back into Utah and Dinosaur Nat’l Monument.
We only stayed in each location for a single night (except Olympia & Las Vegas), we had some amazing visits with friends, and we missed a few friends. We never did make it to my brother in southern, CO — by day 15 we were fried (particularly the driver).
What not to do…
Technically, our road trip was a HUGE success because we traveled with four kids who managed to avoid arguing and vomiting; basically, a feat unheard when it comes to family road-trips.
It’s never happened to us before and who knows if it will ever happen again!
Mistake #1: Moving Too Often
The biggest mistake we made was to only give ourselves enough time to stay in each location for one night. Except for LA, we managed to snag super sleeping spots (Booking; Airbnb; KOA Campgrounds; and friends) and we would have loved to stay in each spot for at least a few nights, if not a week.
Of course, this also kept everyone on their toes, avoided boredom or getting too settled and is perhaps the reason we managed without any arguments!
On the flipside, we now have about a dozen future vacations planned of places that we want to visit and we already know where to stay and how to get there!
Mistake #2: Driving Too Far
Driving 4500 miles in 15 days basically means an average of 350 miles per day. As we didn’t drive every day (just most) our average daily trips were 400 to 600+ miles which is doable, if not a tad uncomfortable, if you are on VACATION.
We generally chose to follow roads with slower speeds for the scenery and of course with four kids we had to plan not only for scenic stops but to eat and use the toilet.
On driving days we did a minimum of 5 hours in the car; our longest day was 12 + hours. This was the only day the driver and I had an argument. I set the itinerary, so his palatable frustration was more than understandable. Ahem.
What we learned is that if you are doing a road trip to get from A to Z; you can make a contest out of how far you can drive in a day. However, if you are driving for fun and to see the sights, you’ll want to keep your driving days to about 6 hours; with a leisurely lunch stop in the middle!
The days that we did this, we were able to enjoy breakfast and local scenery in the morning; and then arrive in time to enjoy the local scenery and a pleasant dinner in the afternoon. We did this really well between Colorado and Seattle, the place we failed was the entire coastal route from Olympia to LA. And then again driving back to Colorado.
The last place you want to feel rushed is driving through the Redwoods or along HWY 101! California and the west coast are MUCH bigger than you think or than they look on a map. We’ve learned to plan accordingly!
Mistake #3: Not Planning Where to Eat
I knew that neither our budget nor our sleep was worth risking not planning where to sleep, so I reserved all our sleeping spots well ahead of time. For the most part this worked out fantastic.
However, outside of preparing to have picnic breakfasts and picnic lunches, I left our dinners to be determined upon arrival. Sadly, this mostly met hopping from place to place, trying to find someplace open or that pleased everyone, and often ended up in yucky tasteless and too expensive for what it was dinners.
The only place we lucked out on dinner was eating delicious home-cooked food with friends and our dinner out in LA (which is good, since that is the one place our Airbnb was a flop).
This mostly makes me really sad, because I know that we went through some areas that have amazing local restaurants, but they were not findable or feasible last minute. Next time I will do some foodie research before we hit the road!
Mistake #4: Assuming Cellular Networks & Google Work
Old School: Plan Yellowstone Itinerary Before You Go
The first place we discovered we could rely on Google and our cell phones was on Day 2 of our trip in Yellowstone. Yellowstone is a wifi and cell-free zone. The good news is it made sure the kids work looking out the window, not so good for “googling” what to do.
Old School: Plan HWY 101 Itinerary Before You Go
One of the primary reasons we had trouble finding good places to eat, particularly along HWY 101 is that in many places there are ZERO cell towers.
On the day of our long drive, the driver decided he wanted a Chinese Buffet. We were still in Oregon when I searched Google, only to get a report back that Google Maps found the nearest Chinese restaurant to be in LA.
Obviously false, I tried searching restaurants up and down the coast during the short passes through little towns in which we actually got a signal (we were traveling with both Verizon and AT&T) and got just about zilch.
Finally about 9 PM (in the dark) we passed a Chinese restaurant that I saw out of the corner of my eye. They kindly let me order to go if I paid cash, as they were technically closed.
If I were to travel this route ahead of time I would identify several options for food and rest stops and give ourselves at least two to three days to travel the coast from WA to CA.
What Went Really Well
In my early 20s I worked in hotels, and I am a bit of a clean freak, which means that I am really picky about where I lay my head at night. I also adore camping and sleeping outdoors, but although I may have been overly ambitious with our route, I was clever enough to realize that actual camping (and setting/breaking camp daily, would have been too much!
My solution? Glamping.
I did a search on Airbnb for “glamping” and was pleasantly surprised to find old western canvas tents and RVs. I found two RVs, a canvas tent and a historic cabin.
In Montana, we stayed at the historic tiny town of De Borgia, a little hunters village with tents, cabins, horses, a big rec room and beautiful scenery. Our Canvas ‘pup tent’ was outfitted to the T with the most amazing gas stove, cast iron cookware set, solar shower, composting toilet, campfire, and luxury quality bedding.
We could have stayed in De Borgia for a week, hiking, riding horses, exploring, roasting marshmallows and telling campfire stories, but alas, we had a single night in this little paradise, before hitting the road again.
Retro Trailer (not so good)
In LA we got a retro trailer that the videographer owner had managed to make look twice as big in the pictures. It turned out to be tiny, rickety, the door didn’t lock, the neighbor’s floodlight kept turning on, there was no running water nor a bathroom…except in their house which was a bit awkward. The only good news is that we did sleep 6 in LA on clean sheets for only $100 bucks!
Outside of Flagstaff, we lucked out again, with a brand new RV on a little plot of land hosted by a young homesteading family. They provided us with pancake mix and fresh ground coffee, and freshly collected chicken eggs. The RV had water and a proper toilet, a beautiful view, and a functioning kitchen.
We chose this RV for its proximity to the Grand Canyon, but again the area was so beautiful, we could have stayed longer, both hiking around the camper and spending more time exploring Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.
Updated Historic Cabin
Outside of Cortez I found us a historic wooden cabin, built originally by our host’s grandfather as a spot to sleep with his hunting buddies. It had a Coleman cookstove and a funky 50% modern/50% historic sink, a wifi-repeater, and wood burning stove.
He’d also added in running water, a shower and a proper toilet, so this spot was again the epitome of glamping and we could have easily stayed a week!
The Best Parts
The best parts of our trip were our days visiting friends. Scenery is lovely, but there is something about that time spent cooking, eating, hiking and generally doing things with other human beings that are part of your tribe, even if we are normally separated by miles and miles.
In Bozeman, MT we connected with our friend Jim and his family. We had an amazing BBQ with ribs made by his brother and plenty of local microbrews. The next morning he took us on a hike to a gorgeous waterfall on a hike that was just steep enough and just long enough that it challenged our littles but was enjoyed by all.
In Olympia, WA we connected with my friend Daisha and her family. We enjoyed cooking together, wandering Olympia and another hike to waterfall and swimming hole. Our kids were thrilled as were our grownups.
The morning we left was the final game of the 2018 Football (Soccer) World Cup and they happened to have some neighbors who were half French, so we joined them for an early morning World Cup viewing party “Vive la France” before hitting the road once again.
A few of the things that made the trip a success were the small investments I put into our time on the road. These centered around comfy kids (pillows, blankets, lovies) and picnic gear.
Our two oldest kids were ages 11 and 14. They both had ipads with permission to watch movies for 1 to 2 hours per day; they also had books, their lovies, and their personal pillows and blankets.
Our two youngest kids were ages 2 and 3; I bought them sleep rolls off of Etsy that they could use both in the car and anywhere we stopped for a quick nap or a secure night’s rest.
On Etsy I also ordered us a picnic blanket with stakes that could be packed compactly and setup in a minute.
On Amazon, I ordered us stainless steel eating ware (easy to wash, unbreakable) and hot/cold stainless steel cups that we could use for water, coffee, and wine!
These stainless wine glass/coffee cups (see Amazon affiliate link below) made me happy EVERY DAY. Before we left I’d bought 16oz versions for the adults and 12oz versions for the kids. We used them for coffee, water, hot cocoa, margaritas, instant oatmeal, and wine. My only regret is that I left them in Colorado and did not pack them to take with us to Madagascar!
We also had a super cooler, and Tupperware. Each day I made sure we had healthy snacks (carrots, celery, fruit, nuts, cheese etcetera). All the kids had a personal water bottle and we kept the driver stocked with Redbull (I did limit him to 2 per day).
Day trips in big cities — when you roll in for the day and need to find parking, Seattle, San Francisco, and even LA lose their charm. These are all cities that I’ve previously enjoyed as a single person staying in a downtown hotel. However, visiting as a family on a road trip, the cities just felt dirty, crowded, expensive with not very good food.
We loved all the natural parks, hikes and moments spent in nature. We did not love the big cities. But that said, by the time we made it back to Colorado we had to cut our itinerary short. We’d hoped to visit my brother in Pueblo and Mesa Verde, but we were cooked, so we headed back to my parents house and didn’t move for two or three days!
Maybe road-trips are meant for camping, hiking and appreciating mother nature?
In Malagasy, there is a phrase and concept called “mora mora” that directly translates to “ slowly slowly.”
La vie Mora-mora is a huge part of why we’ve come to Madagascar.
To date, we’ve failed miserably at achieving mora mora.
Why have we failed? From 7 AM to 10 PM our house is as busy as Grand Central Station at rush hour in NYC.
We’ve been living life at full speed for the last two months.
From moving, packing, flying, traveling, driving, we’ve had a crazy summer.
We’ve got a bunch of pictures and stories from our USA visit with family and road trip to that we promise to share with you soon, but for today, I’ll just catch you up to speed on the last two weeks.
Arrival August 18, 2018.
Our plane landed in Antananarivo Ivato Airport on time — it was about 2 AM. We successfully deplaned and made our way through immigration, got all of our bags, plus an extra one that we had to take back (oops and sorry).
At this point, they brought out Elvis in his travel kennel. The poor dog had been terrified on the flight and as they say, scared shitless. The poor dog was swimming in dog shit.
We are good at finding the bright side in this family, and the bright side of Elvis’ putrid situation? Is that we got to skip the customs control. The airport staff kindly ushered our stinky dog and all of our luggage right out of the international terminal without scanning our suitcases and into the fresh night air and over to the local terminal.
After checking in for our next flight, one kindly airport worker invited Yves out onto the tarmac, and together they hosed down Elvis’ cage. It wasn’t perfect, but at least the poor beast got a bit of fresh air, stretched his legs and had the worst of his mess cleaned up before having to take his last flight.
We timed our arrival in Fort Dauphin just in time to attend the wedding party of one of Yves’ many nieces. For the past few years Andrea had been a nanny for a French family with a vacation home in St. Jean de Luz, so the kids and we had seen her periodically for a short visit each year, over the last few years.
Andrea in France at Cent Marches with family
We were a bit concerned that we’d be too tired and wrinkled to attend the wedding, but it ended up being an all around blessing. The joy and beauty of a Malagasy wedding held on Akomba beach were just amazing. The kids were free to roam and dance, and Yves enjoyed catching up with various family and friends, and our bellies were filled with local delicacies from rotisserie goat to fresh shrimp and crab. And of course, a little beer, wine, and whiskey.
Starting off our arrival with a wedding party was just perfect. We went home before the whiskey could be passed again, with our heads sound asleep on our pillows by 10 pm.
I like to Move It Move It
The next morning we woke up and realized the huge work that lay ahead of us. Because the family house that we are staying in is often closed up and uninhabited, we found it needed a bit more work than we expected for us to be comfortable simply.
Things like flushing toilets and consistently running water (hot!) water with actual water pressure are things that are hard to let go of. Ants that think they are invited to all meals, not just the occasional picnic are more than a nuisance.
And the sand. Sand everywhere. EVERYWHERE.
So, for those of you who’ve been trying to imagine Yves sitting around on the couch drinking beer and enjoying his retirement, let me set you straight right now.
He is enjoying his retirement, but not from a reclined position!
For the last two weeks, he pretty much pops awake at 5:30 AM and goes for a run or works out. By 7 AM we’ve got various workers showing up at the house and to our land, which he is then directing to deconstruct, construct, fix, repair, plant, and water.
On a daily basis, he’s got about 6 or 7 different projects underway. Somedays he barely sits down to eat, and I’ve got to catch him and remind him that even though he is doing all his work for his family, he’s got to take time to enjoy his family too!
High priority projects have been getting the shower and water systems redone, updating some electrical issues and lights, painting, repairing rotten holes in the roof, building stone and cement pathways to reduce the sand, and getting fiber internet service installed. We’ve also planted about 40 trees from papaya and banana palms to litchi trees and travelers palms.
Just to make things more complicated, Yves also had a last minute 4-day trip back to Tana to deal with bureaucracy and customs and secure the delivery of our container which is supposed to arrive in the next few weeks. If he hadn’t gone, we would have had to pay something like $25,000 in customs duties to receive our stuff.
In Tana, he also picked up Gotty our Malinois pup and future evil guard dog. Thankfully, before he left for Tana, he’d found us several women to help in the house with both cooking, cleaning, and essential sand mitigation duties.
I will go into more detail in future posts, but for better or worse (the jury is still out) we are very much still living with traditional methods for cooking and cleaning. From meals cooked on a charcoal stove in a small external house to laundry washed by hand, we need “help.”
As a lonely extrovert, I welcome the two ladies who have joined our household from 7 Am to 6 PM, and I seriously appreciate not having to cook, clean and do my work, but it’s also an adjustment.
In France, if we wanted to eat a traditional Malagasy meal like Ravatoto, cassava or manioc leaves pounded and then cooked with meat, we’d have stopped by the Asian market and bought a few bags of frozen leaves for less than 5 Euros. Here in Fort Dauphin, one buys the leaves fresh and pulverizes them by hand.
We say grace before every meal here because thanking those who have prepared our food and honoring those who don’t have enough to it is simply part of recognizing the reality of our situation and demonstrating gratitude for all that we can do and have.
I’ve been incredibly grateful for the opportunity to focus on both my work and my kids, and start my day with both yoga and running. I also love that there are always people around. The life of a military wife can be so lonely, so this is a beautiful change, especially since I hate being alone.
I’ve set up an office in an upstairs bedroom, and I am looking forward to the construction of a remote work true bungalow aka office in the next few weeks.
On the flip-side, when I work, I do need to focus, so I’ve periodically been escaping to a local hotel lobby with wifi when the construction noise is too much.
It’s been a good summer. It’s been a busy summer.
So now you know why we’ve only published two blog posts this summer. It’s not that we have nothing to share, it’s that we have too much to share.
And now as we approach Labor Day the traditional “divider” of seasons in the USA we are ready for the next phase.
A phase in which we hope to incorporate a bit more “mora mora” into our daily lives, while still making shit happen.
For eons, humans have been working to build stability and predictability into human culture. And yet, new ideas, new foods, fabulous changes often arise when we do something different.
And just as entire cities work to build stability there have always been the explorers and the nomads that venture out to find new paths, new ideas and generate innovation.
A nomad I will remain for life, in love with distant and uncharted places.Isabelle Eberhardt
In the last few years, my husband and I have recognized that we thrive on the unknown. We love going to bed not knowing what tomorrow might bring. And in fact, we start to feel suffocated by the predictable. We love a good challenge. We benefit from daily routines like coffee, yoga and working out, but at the same time, we prefer the experiential over the predictable.
What scares the shit out of many people is exactly what gets our blood pumping. One of our favorite quotes is that “by stepping into our fear, we find our courage.” We love our families and friends, we honor our traditions, and we love learning about new ones. We adore traveling the world, making new friends, spreading love, courage, and goodwill wherever we go.
What scares the shit out of us is not going after our many goals. We want to make something fantastic happen.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.
Sometimes when we talk with friends and family, we get the impression that they think our life is easy, full of butterflies and rainbows, always running along like a well-oiled machine. We get told we are brave. Or that folks wish they could do what we do.
One reason we’ve decided to share this journey with you here on this blog is to show you that we’ve got our problems and challenges. Life changes and rarely is life easy, but we like to push the boundaries and we love the rush of overcoming challenges and problems and coming out the other side. We get scared. We worry. And we set goals and step into our fears.
Some days we suck on our lemons to fully experience the bitter juice and other times we make lemonade. Sometimes we make mixed fruit juice and simply toss in a lemon to preserve the color.
What’s for certain is that we see life as an adventure to be lived.
Recipe: Juicing for Adventure
Planning an adventure is a bit like making juice. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it makes a big mess. Generally, speaking though, fresh juice is damn good.
Our current recipe for adventure as recounted in this blog post required the following:
25 parts official military paperwork for retirement
40 parts French bureaucracy
10 parts figuring out what to do with our house
5 parts figuring out what to do with our cars
5 parts deciding what to do with our stuff
10 parts packing a shipping container full of stuff. And a car.
5 parts planning a USA vacation + road trip with four kids
Let’s start with retirement. We’ve been “planning” my husband’s retirement from the military since we got married in 2012; however, each year little events of life or politics managed to push the date back. Finally, after a particularly challenging year last year and acknowledging that he and ultimately all of us have been living with the challenges of PTSD, we knew we had to finally make it happen.
Retiring from military life is complicated on many levels. On the bureaucratic level, it meant a ridiculous number of meetings and paperwork, pension determinations and all sorts of stuff.
On a personal level, my husband’s identity is that of a soldier. His teammates are his brothers. At the same time, he is a family man. He is also has a very strong internal compass that sometimes means you have to do the “wrong” thing for the right reasons versus the right thing for the wrong reasons. His personal moral code and his commitment to integrity mean that he’s never followed the easy path.
Not one to give up nor one to let something unjust pass, he’s always spoken his mind and done his best to ensure the success of his team and his missions. Unfortunately, military politics are not that different from politics anywhere else and so even in retirement, after serving France for 18+ years, even on his path to retirement he came up against roadblocks because not everyone respects a man who speaks his mind.
Occasionally during the retirement process, he questioned his decision. Watching the news or talking to his teammates he wondered if he should stay another year or two, but then he’d come back and tuck his babies in at night and know that he was on the right path.
The most heartbreaking moment of this process came on an evening that should have been a beautiful salute to his service. In mid-June, his regiment held a ceremony and buffet dinner for soldiers being awarded the next rank, leaving for a long-term overseas assignment, or for those retiring.
Each soldier was called up by name to shake the Colonel’s hand and that of the gentleman in charge of promotions. Our family, with two little squirming kids, stood up front. Several of his friends and former teammates were there with us. When they got to the section to announce and thank the retiring soldiers, they passed my husband by.
The presiding officer happened to be a man that has had a petty argument with my husband for years, and so rather than putting personal emotions aside, the officer chose to take an act of extreme disrespect.
My husband risked the greatest sacrifice on many tours. He lost his best friend. He saw numerous tragedies and walked paths most of us cannot even begin to imagine. He had good moments. And bad moments. As the children and I stood to wait for his name to be called, I felt both the proudness of a wife and a citizen and the heartbreak of a mother that watches soldiers go off to war.
Instead, a petty man made a petty judgment to “forget” to read my husband’s name. As if one can forget a soldier standing in front of you who has given his all. When I realized that this man’s petty politics stole my husband’s 30 seconds of applause, the tiny bit of respect that a retiring soldier hopes for, I felt nauseous. All my husband expected was to walk up, shake the Colonel’s hand, be acknowledged for his service, close that door and open the next door. As the ceremony came to a close and we started to leave, the Colonel realized what had happened, he came over with an attempt to remedy the situation by meekly saying: “Oh, we forgot you!”
At this point, I took a deep breath, and I took the opportunity to very calmly explain in French, that I wonder how France will ever succeed in their war against terrorism if they can’t even manage to show proper respect to their own soldiers. We then thanked the Colonel, and we left.
Indeed, the politics of bureaucracy and the pettiness of humanity served only to confirm that it is indeed time for us to move on and southwest France is not our home. Similarly, this experience further motivated us to dedicate our physical and financial energy to investing in my husband’s country of birth, Madagascar.
Beyond Politics to Trials in Bureaucracy
Deciding to move to Madagascar four months after making the decision meant that we had a million ducks to get in a row and fast. Not only did we need to determine our own strategy, we had to figure out how to navigate the rules and regulations of moving legal human cargo between countries.
As residents of France, it also meant millions of hours spent dealing with, for the most part totally pointless, French bureaucracy.
If you’ve never lived in France or you are not French, I guaranty you have no idea what I even mean. Leave it that way. French cheese and French wine are gifts to the world. French bureaucracy is a curse. Literally.
I’ll share with you one brief example. We had a “contract-less” internet and phone service that could be easily canceled by moving from one provider to another anywhere around France or the European Union; however, moving out of France, a French territory or the EU? Not so easy.
Even after submitting a notarized “declaration of moving” letter from our mayor, a receipt from our moving company showing all our stuff shipped to Madagascar, our airline itineraries, and a proper formal letter of account closure “resiliation” as requested by the provider (Orange), they declined our requests to cancel our service, threatening to bill us for an additional 6 months. Why? They insisted we needed to provide a copy of our new internet contract in Madagascar. My husband literally told the service agent; “Fuck you” although it was a bit more eloquent than if I had said it because of course, he speaks with a lovely French accent.
As an American, I am still shocked that you even have to get a notarized letter from the mayor of your town to “prove” that you are moving out of the area. WTF. Life and living really do not need bureaucracy. It’s not at all efficient.
A house (and mortgage) as you know are a decent commitment, so our first line of action revolved around figuring out what to do with our house “La Soulatine.” At first we thought we’d sell her, but in the end, we decided to rent instead.
This, of course, has its own challenges, but the short-term challenges of being long-distance landlords are worth the long-term benefit of property ownership. Deciding to rent the house did not make our lives any easier, from an emergency water heater replacement in April to expensive, yet slovenly house cleaners at move out, we’ve been kept on our toes non-stop.
Next up, we had to decide whether to keep or sell our cars.
We ended up selling my car, a Ford C-Max and people mover because, with fabric seats in a humid climate, she’d surely have ended up smelly and dank. Furthermore, from a pragmatic standpoint the C-Max profile is too low to the ground and so she would have been a town car and not for ventures out into 4x4 country.
On the flip side, Kendell, my husband’s 2008 Audi Convertible made the cut. She is a beautiful, solid and well loved car. Rolling in a convertible is the bomb. Even Elvis the dog loves this ride. And although she’s totally impractical for moving a 6 person family or 4x4 country roads, we look forward to enjoying her impracticality around town. She is a perfect beach town car.
We really want to embrace a minimalist life. I’d love to have a capsule wardrobe. My husband thinks each kid should be limited to three toys.
And yet, we’ve got so much shit. Somehow we went from setting up overnight in 2012, and a couple trips to Ikea, to an entire house of stuff. Just like being deathly thin is a sign of wealth. I think the minimalist lifestyle is too. If I could just hire someone to figure out what I need and I what I should ditch, I’d gladly do it. At this point, I am pretty sure that they fewer the things you have in your house (outside of true extreme poverty) the more money one has…
Faced with deciding what to pack and what to give away, we basically packed everything that fit. Selling or donating the last few things (like a washing machine and a bunk bed) that wouldn’t go in the container.
We’ve already made a pact that everything we’ve moved to Madagascar is staying there… If we ever move again, it will be with two suitcases max, per person. Stuff really isn’t that important. And now that it’s gone off on a boat for three months, for the most part, we don’t miss it. We really don’t.
That said, my fingers are crossed that the wine glasses, the juicer, the plates we got for our wedding and a few other things, like my “life is beautiful” coffee mug make it down the Suez Canal and out the other side safe and sound.
We do confess to praying that my 27” computer screen and my husband’s iMac also make the journey unscathed.
In the end, packing and sending off our container was very much like life. We did the best we could, we encountered some challenges, we pulled out some hair, but we got it done and in the end, watching the truck drive off towards the port of Le Havre was extremely satisfying. And totally surreal.
Even more surreal, saying goodbye to friends that have become family, a sad reality of military and expat life.
Not for the weak of heart.
International Moving and packing is not for the weak of heart.
As you can see, when you’ve got a few kids, a dog, a house and a houseful of thingamabobs, you can’t just pick up and move. There is a butt-load of work to get done first.
I am going to make up some numbers here, but I’d bet that some social scientist somewhere might back me up. I’d say that in making dreams happen, you only want to maybe spend about 5% of your time on your dreaming.
You then need to invest the rest into strategy and execution. Hoping that you get some sleep and some work done along the way.
We did it
Settling in for our flight from London Heathrow to JFK in New York, we realized, “we made it!”
Shortly after which, we recognized how entirely stressful the previous few weeks had been and in fact our doubts about whether we could actually make our plans work. And whether we could make it all happen and still be talking to each other when it was all said and done.
Well, we did. We made our plans. We did the bureaucracy. We bought our tickets. We packed up our house. We made it to Toulouse. And then we made it onto the airplane (see the photo of the baby watching a movie) and to my parent’s house in Colorado.
We did it and we made it.
Get ready for the ride, because the Rakoto’s are on the move!
Follow Alison, Yves and, CurlyGirl on Instagram (below).
Follow everyone on Facebook at Fort Dauphin Voyage (below).
The dolphin fountain in front of the Mayor’s office in the center of Fort Dauphin.
Our family is American, French, and Malagasy — originally from the Bronx Zoo. Three-quarters of that statement are correct, I’ll let you decide which part is false.
I am starting this blog as our family ventures into a new phase in our lives that includes setting up shop in my husband’s hometown of Fort Dauphin, Madagascar. Our plans include building and small eco-tourism business and raising our kids with a sense of independence and freedom that we find difficult to attain in France or the USA.
You might also find us riding a few too many airplanes as we haul our kids around the world, visiting family, friends and all the wonderful sites our world offers up.
Why Voky Be?
My husband and I firmly believe that life should be lived in full. We are full participants in the school of thought that support the idea of wholehearted living, including helping those around us to live fully.
In the Malagasy language, voky means “satisfied” and “be” is an adjective that indicates “more” or “very.” We are indeed “very satisfied” to be embarking on this journey.
We are also a family of foodies. We love to cook. We like to eat. We take our drink seriously. Our hearts ache for anyone who goes to bed hungry or without access to good food.
The Malagasy phrase “voky be” indicates that one is full, as in fully satisfied following a meal.
After a delicious Sakafo Gasy (Malagasy meal) you will hear the refrain “voky be!” In Malagasy, it is in fact quite rude to thank your host for good food. The proper thing to do is to explain how well you ate and how full you are…
Just in case you feel inclined to switch up the order of these two words, be forewarned that be voky = pregnant! 🤣
Drinking champagne in plastic cups, because our champagne flutes are packed in boxes.
I write this christening post while eating French pizza and drinking French Champagne (the real stuff, mind you) while watching Spain and Portugal play in the World Cup.
The real celebration, however, is today marks the last day of my husband’s life as a soldier.
Today he retires.
Today is the first day of the rest of our lives.
Next week we pack up most of our lives and belongings into a container.
The following week we will fetch my step-daughter from her mom, take our dog Elvis to his “uncle” while the 5 of us (ages 2, 3, 14, 40 and 41) will head to the USA for 5 weeks.
When One Door Closes Many More Open
We’ve rented a Dodge Minivan (or similar). We’ll see what we get at the airport. First, we will visit my family in Boulder, Colorado after which we will embark on a what I predict will be a fabulous adventure through the Pacific West Coast and the South West of the US.
For some of the time, we will be staying with friends and enjoying the joy of the “retrouvaille” a French word for “lost friends, found again.” For a few nights, such as in Yellowstone, we’ll be staying in your classic Buffalo Bill Road Side In (or a Marriott).
And the rest of the nights? I’ve maximized the fact that Airbnb is now nuts. In Montana, we will be glamping in an old school “permanent” Canvas tent with wooden bunks and a wood stove. In LA we’ll be staying in a classic Vintage RV from 1967. In Flagstaff, a luxury RV and in the tiny town of Mancos, CO — a classic wood cabin.