Awjoo – No Blacks Allowed
I have been much blessed to have traveled the world filled with adventure and risk, and the recent trip to Madagascar is no exception. The island is in a grip of misfortune and hunger brought about by both drought and typhoons. Whereas it would take me less than 6 hours to fly from Dar to Antananarivo (Tana) via Nairobi before the doodoo struck, I will now have to fly to Doha, then to Paris, and then retrace back to Tana; flights to the island are possible from Paris only. A daunting spree I am reluctant to battle. But when Akbaraly Haniphe dangles the prospect of a school project for poor kids in remote Manakara, I relent.
I land at Tana both fatigued and disorientated from being in the air for 22 hours, not counting the 12 hours of layovers in Doha and Paris. After a painful process of getting a sleepy, unmotivated immigration officer with bad breath to stamp an entry visa on my passport and getting a PCR test from which the nurse steals $5 from me, I finally get to meet my host, Akbaraly Haniphe. He has more bad news. We were supposed to fly to Manakara the next day in a personal aircraft borrowed from a well-wisher, but Typhoon Emnati is heading towards the island, predicted to hit the same area devasted by Typhoon Batsirai 2 weeks ago. Akberali decides to wait, so I spend 3 days in Tana visiting projects that Akbaraly’s NGO FCRA dabbles in – educating the poor, orphan care, feeding, and medical aid, something akin to what CAI does.
Tana is a dreary city, with an unkempt and disorganized look. The hotel I am in is new and comfortable, except the power knocks off and on multiple times a day, sometimes several times in a minute, confusing the hell out of the hotel’s automatic generator, which rebels. The weather is surprisingly pleasant, with cool evenings and comfortable days. I am put up in Le Centell, a pleasant and comfortable hotel owned by a Khoja businessman. The one problem is language – there are very few employees who understand English, Malagasies speak French for business.
Most Khojas of Madagascar have established businesses and seem to be doing exceptionally well. They are hospitable and generous, with words like abaad (wonderful) and awjoo (come-again) in their vocabulary. The main religious center in Tana is beautiful and huge and almost empty – and no Blacks allowed, however; they must go to another center where most Khojas shun.
Typhoon Emnati decides to strike further south so we decide to follow her path after she has passed and hopefully get to Manakara after her main sting has been dealt. My focus is on providing CAI donor funds for educating the poor and partake in the distribution of food to about 6,000 families cut off from the world due to a washed-away bridge.
Instead of narrating the whole episode of the adventure I had on the trip to Manakara and back, these photographs will tell a telling tale of the country and her people, especially children, and the vista I found.
- We start our descent towards Manakara, some 700 kilometers away at about 9 AM. Joining us is Rizwan Moramali Satsou, a well-wisher.
- After salaat and lunch along the single-lane tar-top highway, we arrive at Ramu Mofana where we break for the night. Akberali takes down several surprised unsuspecting local hens pecking for worms along the winding road.
- The stay at a seedy hotel is torture. Bedbugs eat me alive, and I am on fire scratching the whole night. I am so happy to be back in the Land Cruiser.
- The destruction from Typhoon Emnati is evident from washed-out roads, bridges, and landslides. We reach Manakara late in the day. Being in a vehicle for eighteen hours going downhill on a twisting road and avoiding unceasing potholes leaves me wobbly and unsteady on my feet. It is very warm and sticky, and Manakara has no power. The entire city is in the dark with the main grid knocked out by the typhoon.
- The hotel we are staying at in Manakara is a bit better with a generator but the burden of every room turning on the AC quickly shuts the lights out. It is stiflingly hot, and I can’t open the windows for the fear of mosquitos and other bugs. Bathing, shaving, and taking a dump with the aid of a cellphone light have unique challenges.
- I join Akberali in distributing the food for the hungry people, visiting the destroyed school site and other areas requiring attention.
- A private aircraft is supposed to pick us up and return me to Tana 2 days later. On the morning of my return, I’m on edge because the weather reports do not favor a remote landing. But the weather improves, the flight takes off from Tana and promptly returns. The pilot deems it unstable because of severe vibrations. Bummer.
- We make an immediate dash for Tana, I have a flight to catch in about 2 days, returning to Dar. If I miss it, the next flight is 5 days away. It’s going to be a close call.
- The ride back is filled with risks and close calls on the road going uphill this time. We burst a tire hitting a massive pothole; it’s changed fast enough. All is well until it gets dark, then we hit another pothole and burst yet another tire. Now we are in trouble, we have no spare one. It’s a good thing we are 10 kilometers from a city. We call for help and wait it out along the only road where trucks and other vehicles rush up from a curve in the way only to brake hard when they see our blinking lights. Rizwan proves invaluable with the repairs, with his powerful arms. I’m not sure what we’d do without this physical and capable experience along the way.
We limp into Tana eighteen hours later, exhausted yes, but in one piece. I still have 22 hours of air travel the next day, so I try and rest. It’s been an eventful week, certainly. I must thank Akbaraly Haniphe and his team for inviting me and taking very good care of me.
Flying to Paris, we are almost atop Dar, and I am tempted to feign a painful heart attack. Perhaps the pilot will land in Nairobi, offload me and I can return to Dar? Fat chance.
Do view the photos here.