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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cost of Living
- A French baguette is 1,800 Ariary is 0.53 cents.
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
See you next week!