Now where was I? Ah yes, Berenty Reserve in the south of Madagascar and by the time we left Berenty we had enjoyed the company of our Malagasy guide for a few days. Dennis had made sure that we got on the right bus, the right plane, made sure we got fed, made sure our bags got to our rooms. In short he had looked after us very well but he had also been our guide in the true sense of the word.
He had introduced us to the Malagasy world, a world of different customs regarding marriage, the treatment of the dead, fady (taboos). He gave us the chance to see through Malagasy eyes and always with a smile and gentle good humour.
Madagascar life is pretty tough. Most homes have neither electricity or running water. Cooking is mostly done on charcoal, washing is done on the river bank or beside a communal tap. The only power available to most is man power … if you want it somewhere else then carry it or haul it.
The guy with the sack is carrying charcoal. Hand drawn carts are a common sight.
If someone doesn’t have anything in the bank and little in the cupboard we might say they are living day to day. The equivalent Malagasy saying reveals a deeper layer of feeling … “It is better to die tomorrow than today”.
So what was Dennis’ own story? He was in no rush to tell it but it emerged that Dennis had set out to make something of himself in one area that seemed to offer good prospects by studying English and tourism. How had he financed that? Well, Dennis had sold second-hand magazines to tourists right outside the Hotel Colbert. He had a cousin that worked at the airport who would rescue magazines abandoned on incoming flights and sell them to Dennis. He would tidy them up, do his best to get rid of the creases and head for town. Tourists coming back from the remoter parts would have had no news for a few days and some would buy a magazine.
McGee would never see the pesterers outside the Colbert through the same eyes again.