As you approach the doors of the Hotel Colbert you are given a warm and enthusiastic welcome. I’m not talking about the staff. By GDP per capita Madagascar is the ninth poorest country in the world. The people that are so pleased to see you are keen to sell you some little cadeau to take home, a musical instrument, an ammonite, a box or even a second-hand magazine. And there are some simply begging, one lady had a baby on her back and primary school age children panhandling for all they were worth.
They will be waiting for you again if you go out. In Australia we are sometimes troubled by the flies. We use the word”sticky” to describe particularly persistent flies. Some of these folk take no for an answer, some are more persistent. My first experience was of a guy who spotted the tourist about a block away from the hotel and wasn’t going to give up whilst I was on the street. Sticky sprang to mind, a good walk spoilt even more than golf.
He was trying to sell me a valiha, a zither like instrument the strings mounted around a bamboo tube. It was the finest little valiha in the universe and mine for a very reasonable price. No matter that I would never get it into Australia, could I not buy it, can you not see that I am in desperate need of a meal, perhaps if I reduce the price …
He circled me as I walked, I several times pulled him from the path of passing cars. The attention was unwelcome, embarrassing, pathetic and eventually beyond endurance. I turned and went back to the hotel. In the last few yards he pointed out the contrast between me who could afford such a nice hotel and himself who could not afford food. Very sticky little pest.
I am an early riser, the following morning I was out before the pests arrived. The streets were already becoming busy, street traders were selling breakfast cooked on charcoal burners. This time I went without a camera. I got little attention.
There are shops, even a small supermarket or two in Antananarivo but the local folk do most of their shopping right there on the street at stalls or at the open fronts of the buildings.
I got back to the hotel at six thirty, the lady with the baby and begging children was just arriving.