As far as I understand, there are two types of guides if you want to go with a tour in Madagascar. One is the foreigners who have set up travel agencies, the other is locals. As can be imagined, foreign travel agencies are much more expensive than the locals. I suppose their services are a bit above the average of the local guides even though I'm not sure if it's worth the price difference.
Anyway... Of course it's always better to support the locals, so we decided to go with Jean-Claude. Even though I read he was way expensive than other local guides, it was fine as we see travel as contributing to the economy of the country. The tour went fine, Jean-Claude was friendly and on time with everything, all was smooth. I wish we had only good things to say about him. Things soured on our return trip and we left Madagascar with a bad taste in our mouth.
It started when I mentioned to Jean-Claude that he should have told us how much the gas for the car would cost. Sure, he had mentioned the gas of the car from Antananarivo to Morondava and back was not included in the price, but I had just assumed it would be something negligible like 50 USD or so. My mistake, I admit. Instead, it turned out to be 200 USD. Another local had asked us for 1000 USD for the whole trip including gas; we had paid Jean-Claude 1150 USD without gas. As I said, I was ready to pay 15-20 % more than the normal, but ending up paying 35 % more did not feel nice at all.
That's still not the problem. What Jean-Claude did was come empty tank to pick us up from the airport, make us fill it up and on return fill it up again to have half a tank full upon leaving us. Still, not important. We could have considered it as gratuity. But it sure felt like a sneaky way of cheating, -like small letters written in hidden corners in contracts-, which is never nice.
I said “felt like” because I thought they might not know how to do such things in Madagascar. I give people the benefit of the doubt. So I told Jean-Claude that if one is to pay for the gas, the car is given full tank and then left full tank on return. This is where things got ugly. Instead of acknowledging the advice, Jean-Claude retorted “We always do it this way.” The way he responded made me think: So perhaps, it was in fact a sneaky cheating, done knowingly.
Then I told him he should have told us how much the gas would cost in advance. He claimed we should have asked the price, that some of his customers ask. I don't know why he couldn't simply say “Yes, perhaps it would have been better if I had told you. Next time, I'll be doing that.” But he didn't.
No, instead, he still tried to assert his position claiming we should have known the price of gas, how much it would cost for the distances we were to travel! Now... Sure, we could and should have asked. But again sure, he could and should have told us how much it would roughly cost. And I actually asked how much cash we should be taking with us and he did not mention the gas cost being 200 USD even at that point. So that was a very nasty surprise.
What's more, as I said, he didn't charge us the fuel used, they (together with the driver) calculated and charged us EXACTLY 200 USD, which was more than the gas consumed in our trip, about half a tank more. The issue here is not the money but Jean-Claude's approach, his attitude. Cheating and then defending his cheating!
This still is not the big issue. At the airport on our return, the moment we parked, before I could even get out, we were surrounded by locals; they had blocked the door and were begging us to give them paper bills for coins. They said “Problem with the bank.” There were about 8-10 people between me and my husband, all shrieking “Please please please...”
The way they were asking, swarming around us and distracting attention, I suspected something was wrong and asked “Jean-Claude, is this a scam?”
He replied “I don't know” and went on checking his phone.
Seeing his unconcerned, calm attitude, and knowing that banks do not accept coins when exchanging money, we wanted to help them out.
Guess what? Of course it was a scam!
We realized this only after getting into the airport and counting in peace. They had counted the coins in their hands, they must have given us less than half of it, mostly the 10-20 cents that they counted last, keeping the big coins in their palm.
I actually remember very clearly. I was about to count the money they gave in my hand, and they started making turmoil “Please madame please, me too” etc. This was of course meant to distract my attention. I'm sorry to say it worked.
It feels miserable to be tricked. It feels even more miserable to be tricked when you were trying to help someone out.
It also feels miserable to be tricked when there was someone there whom you had paid and who should have covered your back. This shouldn't have happened under the watch of a private tour-guide.
Confronting Jean-Claude with this and his not doing anything while we got swindled, he became very aggressive and tried to blame us as he did for the gas money. He said we were adults and we should have been more careful. Sure we are adults; on the other hand I'm sorry but it was his responsibility to protect us. We could have been idiots for God's sake! He should have warned us to not deal with money with unknown people. Besides, I have asked if it was a scam. I felt something was going on, I was suspicious. He should have done his duty and interfered on our behalf. We hired a guide to protect us from any kind of harm. As adults we could have travelled on our own; however, we have a 6 year-old and travelling as a family in an impoverished country, we wanted the protection and guidance of a guide. Such a thing should NOT have happened under his watch. Mind you, this definitely would NOT have happened had we been on our own. I would not have dealt with a crowd of people knowing that I'd be robbed somehow. It's NEVER OK when you are alone and there is a crowd around you. I felt helpless not being able to reach my husband who was out and surrounded by these people while I was in the car, with people blocking the door. Jean-Claude was there, doing nothing but watching!
It's true, sure, we are responsible; however, again sure, we believe Jean-Claude is responsible too. His lame excuse of putting the blame on us instead of saying sorry is unacceptable. It is part of his job to keep unsolicited requests away from us. He had done a similar thing with people begging us to buy things. It was obvious we did not wish to buy anything, but they were pestering us even after we got in the van. Jean-Claude waited and waited. He was sitting at the back, doing nothing but watching. I felt very uncomfortable. I have no trouble saying “No”, however having to say “No” a dozen times is exhausting. I bought one more thing after already buying three things I didn't want in the first place. Then I had to turn away my head. I couldn't take it any longer. Only then did Jean-Claude close the car's door and told the driver to move. When I confronted him, Jean-Claude defended himself and them saying “It's their job to sell.”
They weren't trying to sell! They were pressuring us into buying. Pressuring and pestering! Those are two very, VERY different things. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries, even in Africa. In such a poor country, you feel compelled; with so many around begging you to buy something you feel obligated to buy things you really don't want just to help out a little. However, as neither we nor anyone (not even Bill Gates!) can help everyone in such a situation, and there is no end to this we had to turn our backs in the end. I understand, Jean-Claude may have wanted his kinsman to make money, but it shouldn't have been at the cost of our being harassed.
I suppose that's something unavoidable when one travels to such poor places, that's why I have decided not to travel to Africa with my family anymore. I thought coming with a tour would prevent such situations; apparently it may not, and if not, it is very bothering.
Coming back to the swindling story... Jean-Claude once again tried to defend himself by claiming he thought we had Ariary left on us and wanted to change it back. Which is just so unacceptable because we had changed 2 USD from him to get Ariary to pay for a small souvenir right before getting to the airport. So he definitely knew very well we did not have any local money on us and we did not need to exchange. Unfortunately, all this made us think he might have been in on this scam. It's not nice, we are not claiming he is, he probably wasn't, but unfortunately a question mark arises when a guide is so nonchalant even when you have asked if this is a scam. Jean-Claude's behavior was inexcusable, but his lame excuses afterwards are even more inexcusable!
What's worse, he started answering our messages in capital letters, which is shouting. Totally unacceptable, uncivil, vulgar behavior.
During our trip Jean-Claude had mentioned he worked with ToursByLocals and that they provided counsel when an issue arose with a customer. So I told him to check with ToursByLocals to find out about the things I said. I had no doubt that they'd be confirming how the gas money is done. I was also sure they'd be backing me about being hassled by peddlers/hawkers as their foundation story is based on such an experience.
Jean-Claude retorted “Why should I be doing that?”
Obviously to learn and improve his services! But again obviously, he had no intention of doing that.
In the end, I asked him:
1) Do you really think your customers should have to know and calculate fuel prices for the distances you quote, or do you think it’s more reasonable that you give them full information?
2) We believe that when locals jump on your customers you are supposed to keep them away. Do you think “I don’t know” is an answer to give to a customer asking if this is a scam?
He did not answer.
We have been swindled about 90 Euros. Jean-Claude's original quote to us, including the gas money, ended up being 300 Euros (350 USD) more than another local tour guide gave us. So we asked him to pay us back 100-150 Euros -I believe it is quite a fair and reasonable request given how much money he made out of us in a place like Madagascar and given his responsibility in the situation- but of course he didn't.
We let it go. I mean what can you do anyway? He's got the money.
However, I could do one thing. Report this to ToursByLocals myself. Which I did. Unfortunately, I got a very disappointing answer from them. Please read about their response here: ToursByLocals
As I had used up the two resorts, i.e. the personal and the higher authority, there was only one more left. To write this post with the hope of warning other people. I want to emphasize one thing strongly: I never wish to “play with anyone's bread” as we say in Turkish; meaning I would never want to be the cause of someone's losing a bread-earning job. However, I also have a strong wish for people who deserve better to make money. Money should definitely be going to people with integrity more than the ones who seek it aggressively. Unfortunately, the way the world is set-up rewards the latter ones. I wrote this in the hope to just make a dent in the better direction.
Conclusion: I'm sure you'll be fine if you go with Jean-Claude through ToursByLocals. In fact, he includes the price of fuel in the cost of the tour on the page of ToursByLocals
He does not resort to the gas money cheap-trick while quoting the price of the tour on ToursByLocals. I also have no doubt he will be extra careful not to get any negative reviews there so he will be protecting you from street-sellers and scammers. Even if not, I'm sure you will be refunded by ToursByLocals in case of any issues. They are a five-star company and from what I have read online take great care to keep up their reputation. However, if you are like me in the sense that you would like to give your money and business to decent, humble people with integrity, to people who will not resort to cheap tricks when not kept in check by a higher authority, please avoid Jean-Claude.
As we pulled in at the gate of the airport in Antananarivo I had a sigh of relief that we completed our family trip in Madagascar without any mishap.
The moment we parked, before I could even get out, we were surrounded by locals. They had blocked the door and were begging us to give them paper bills for coins. They said “Problem with the bank.” There were about 8-10 people between me and my husband, all shrieking “Please please please...”
Carlo was already out, I didn't like that we were blocked from each other. The way these people were asking, swarming around us and distracting attention, I suspected something was wrong. I asked our guide.
“Jean-Claude, is this a scam?”
His reply was “I don't know.”
Seeing his unconcerned, calm attitude, and knowing that banks do not accept coins when exchanging money, we wanted to help them out.
They seemed desperate. They were even offering “22 Euros in exchange for 20 Euros.” Of course, you don't want to take advantage of the bad situation of these people. These must have been coins that foreigners gave as tips for carrying their bags or something.
I started changing the money. In the meantime, I was very bothered that Carlo was standing there alone, surrounded by all the locals. They could have just pulled out his wallet or something else without him noticing. You never stand in the crowd alone like that. I had my back covered in the safety of the van, but I still felt helpless I couldn't reach out to Carlo. He had started changing too and I couldn't stop him, which added another stress to me. I handle the money when we are travelling. We got into a couple of troubling situations beforehand. He is not used to travel and deal with hustlers in such countries. I am. Yet here we were, and I was getting annoyed with the situation.
I changed a couple of 20 Euros. But they kept asking for more.
“Please, me too, me too...”
But you cannot keep changing forever, help them all out. There are other foreigners around, they do a bit too, I figured out. Then I said “Enough!”
If you don't say enough and act like you mean it, you never get out of the pressure. It's really bothering.
So we got our luggage, went in, did the check-in, passed through immigration and security. When we finally sat down in peace, Carlo said “Let's count the money.” I wasn't keen on doing it to be honest, I was just glad that the whole ordeal was over. Still, we gathered all the coins between Carlo and me, started counting. Sure enough, money was missing. In between us, we had given them 160 Euros and we had less than 80 Euros in coins now all together.
But how could that be?
We had seen them count the money.
Then we figured it out. They had counted the coins in their own hands. After counting, when giving the coins in our hands, they must have kept some in their palm. The bigger coins like 1-2 Euros were obviously closer to their thumbs, so they emptied the smaller change 10-20 cents in our hands.
Then I remembered. I remembered a detail. When the first man counted and gave the money to me, I had started counting it myself. Because that's what I always do automatically. Then they started making turmoil, clamoring “Please madame please, me too” etc. This was of course meant to distract my attention. I'm sorry to say it worked
It feels miserable to be tricked. It feels even doubly miserable to be swindled when you were trying to help someone out.
What makes it all the worse is this robs trust. I've had another incident where someone whom I gave money to started hassling me for more money. I kept saying “No”, he wouldn't stop. You can be sure, I'm not helping anybody out from now on. I have trusted people until now and have been disillusioned too many times. Mostly, people take advantage of your goodwill. This includes people whom I opened up my house to robbing my stuff. It feels bad. It actually feels awful. Be it my best friend, or someone whom I had called best-friend for a decade “robbing” my car for her boyfriend, be it a total stranger... True, I am the stupid one in each of these situations. I am the one who trusted and gave people my house, my car without any binding agreement; yet, this doesn't excuse the behavior. True, there are people who return the favor and do not exploit you. But they are the small minority. No, I won't keep on doing good for their sake, not when I end up feeling so bad about it afterwards. I won't take my chances again. I won't trust people.
Worse yet, I won't ever try to help people I don't know.
My husband said we should report to the police. I tried to. I even went out of the airport to find the police. Yet, they didn't care. The three officers I found just brushed me off when I told them what had happened. Another told me to show her the people and walked away. I mean how can you identify them?! I didn't look at their faces. I wouldn't have recognized even if one of them was my friend, I am a looker but non-seer. Still... I tried to have a look around. I had one idea of a woman whom I had noticed somehow, but I could never be sure; so no need to accuse anyone. I went back in disheartened.
Then I started questioning...
Why and how come they get to do this?... I wondered about the people who swindled us. What kind of people were they, what were their lives like? How many times had they done this before, how had this scam first occurred to them? Was it a collective thing that came up as a solution to their plight or was it the doing of one person organizing the others? How did they split the money after the deal? Did each get what s/he could get away with or did they share as they were all there doing their part? I wondered if they fought with each other over their share.
I have no answers to any of these questions. I can only guess there are different types of personalities and different reasons that drive people to do such things. Some learn, they are forced to learn to swindle. I suppose I'd have learnt it too if I was left in dire circumstances. Instead of suffering or resigning to my fate, I'd have done something to get some food for my family. I wouldn't have done anything harmful. I wouldn't have stolen probably. Like breaking into someone's house or mugging anyone. No, I wouldn't be able to do that kind of stealing. But yeah, if I could get away with some sneaky means, like messing up with bank accounts, or picking up money from a stack which no one would notice, I'd have done it. I could perhaps even swindle people like they did with us. Who knows? I might be capable of doing that. You never know such things until you are tested.
The reason I don't do any of these now is not a sign of my virtue but a sign of my circumstances not requiring me to do such things. I most probably would have rationalized my behavior if I was in their place. What's wrong with what they did? They didn't harm us. Not physically. They didn't harm us much materially either. They know we have money, and it's obvious we can afford to lose that money without any significant setback in our life circumstances. It is true.
It is also true that they can make better use of that money. Yeah, I have to be fair. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in Africa. Like the way I reasoned when I had money stolen in Buenos Aires back in 2001, I had reasoned “I'm glad my money went into the Argentinian economy. They can use it. I hope the man used it for something good like buying his sick mother medicines or food for his children.”
Besides, I give money away anyway. I donate. I can assume I donated that money to them.
The thing is... I cannot really assume that. Because I want to pick whom I donate “my” money to. I want to get to decide on that. And I definitely would have preferred to donate it to people who do not even ask let alone resort to such tricks which rob trust.
That is the main reason I hurt. That my trust has been stolen. I didn't think much highly of humanity before this, knowing all the cruelty man can impose on another. All the killings, all the torture, all the slavery, all the kidnappings, all the human trafficking, all the sexual abuse... I cannot complain about my share. (You always need to see the bigger perspective and keep it in mind. Always.) I am among the fortunate. At least until now I've been so. Still... it adds one more tile upon the pile of reasons to retreat from society at large.
May God (or whatever that higher force is) protect people from man's cruelty.
PS: This wouldn't have happened if I was travelling alone. What makes it worse is that it happened under the watch of a guide, it certainly wouldn't have happened if we were on our own either.
Jean-Claude should have intervened on our behalf and scattered the people away from us. So we believe it was a grave failing on his part as a guide. Sadly, his nonchalant attitude even after I asked him if this was a scam made us question if he was in on this scam. Jean-Claude works for ToursByLocals, a five-star firm. We have notified them of the situation. Unfortunately, they didn't do anything about it. So just beware of Jean-Claude in Madagascar.
There are two Tsingy's. The Big Tsingy and the Small Tsingy. Or rather the Great Tsingy and the Little Tsingy. They said the Big Tsingy is not for children less than 10 or for people older than 60. I thought the two Tsingys were close to each other, so I figured I might be doing the Big one while Carlo and Lara did the Small and we'd meet up afterwards. The Big Tsingy was supposed to last four hours, the Small about an hour, but they could hang around while waiting for me.
When Carlo announced he wanted to do the Big Tsingy as well, I now had a dilemma: How could I deny him that? But Lara's coming with us was out of the question. So what were we going to do?
Jean-Claude, our guide, said people took along younger children by signing a waiver to the authorities. Neither I nor Carlo were ready to do such a thing risking Lara. Also, we found out, that Small Tsingy was close to where we were staying, an hour away from Big Tsingy that is.
Here comes in Lara's great quality to interact with strangers. I love it that she is very well adjusted to a foreign environment and has no reservations about being among “others”. Almost none of her friends at school would be capable of doing that, I hear that most do not even want to stay the night at their grandparents. Ok, we weren't going to leave Lara for the night, but if there was a need and we told her it was okay, I'm sure she would have done that too without any fuss. She loves company, she loves being among people. As long as they are friendly, it doesn't matter who they are, their color, their age, their nationality... She doesn't have those differentiations. I'm not sure how long she will keep that trait, I sure do hope she doesn't meet any bad people in her life to make her lose faith and trust in people.
Anyway, when we told her she'd be staying with Jean-Claude while we went on trekking, Lara was more than happy. We had our reservations, to be honest, as parents... We were going to leave our precious daughter with an unfamiliar person for the first time.
“Are we really going to do this?” we asked each other.
Weighing the alternatives, this being the special thing to do in Madagascar apart from seeing the baobabs, having no extra-day, and Jean-Claude being a well-recommended person who looked trustworthy, plus given Lara's enthusiasm about interaction with local kids, Carlo said “Yes, I suppose so.”
“I suppose so too,” I echoed
As we had to hire a separate guide for the park, Jean-Claude was free. So he'd be staying with Lara while we did our Big Tsingy trek. We'd do the Small Tsingy all together after we returned.
Reason 1: Pressure of Guilt Too High
Okay, I got that it was a trek but I had not imagined it to be anything like this. Even when they said we had to use a harness, I don't know why I just imagined it to be on a huge big rock, just slanted, so no big risk there.
When we got there with Carlo and I saw the reality of the trek in the pinnacles I had seen in photos, the risk, the precariousness became real too. Ok, we were harnessed, but say an accident happened... Who is there to help save you? Where is the nearest hospital? What can be done as first-aid?
If something happens, and it can... Just one mis-step, just a slight turn of the head, dizziness, that is a quite high possibility too, after all, it is hot and exhausting... Just one missed mistaken step and we are all in for trouble as a family.
If something happened to one of us, be it Lara, Carlo or me, I know very well who my mother is going to put all the blame on. Me!
Who is my mother-in-law going to blame? Of course everybody knows that I am the one who is dragging my family into this. I don't know if she'd only blame me, I suppose she'd see Carlo as responsible as well, as he has followed me and/or given into my wishes. Still... I'll be the main responsible. I'm going to be made to feel guilty. It's going to be all my fault, my doing. Take me out of this equation, none of this would have happened.
Mind you, both of these grandmothers are supposedly religious, i.e. they should be believing in fate/destiny. As I said, I cannot talk much for my mother-in-law but there is not the slightest doubt of my own mother's reaction. I have to confess -it's a hard thing to say, but... I hate her for that. I hate her for loading all the guilt of the world on me.
No, I wouldn't expect her to say “It was the will of God”, “Everything has a purpose” or anything... Just accepting life as it is would do. I know it's very hard sometimes. I know how next to impossible the difficulty is when you see a loved one suffer, come to harm, or to even lose her. I know because I have lived it. Yet, it has to be done.
I will be blamed if anything happens to any one of us. I don't want this!
I kept thinking of all these all the time we were climbing. I watched Carlo with attention. Is he putting his foot in the right place? We are now in a cave in the dark, is he watching out his head? Did he put his harness in the right place? Is he strong enough to do this? He fainted in both of our girls' births. I was doing the one giving the birth, I was in labor, he fainted.
Well, I suppose you cannot afford to faint when you are actually giving birth. Unless they put you out on purpose.
What if he faints now? Is his blood sugar fine?
We are at the top now. A successful climb. Is the view worth it?
I mean it is nice. I would have enjoyed it had I been alone. But is it worth with all the stress attached to it? It will be much better when we are finished and done with it.
If you need to think that about something, it probably isn't worth doing in the first place.
The return was not any less stressful. Going down is actually harder than climbing up in many places. What if Carlo stumbles and rolls down?
Minutes like this turned to hours. But in the end, we made it. We made it back safe and sound. I had a sigh of relief. I wiped my forefront with a “Whew!”
Then it was time to go back to the town, to our daughter. We had made Jean-Claude exchange phone numbers with the park guide just in case of need. He has not called. I suppose that means everything is alright. The hour drive back passes with some anxiety too. Not too much. Just a touch.
Back in town. Everything is alright. Lara is happy. She has played with the children a bit, she even made a sister. She played with a cat. Jean-Claude bought her some candies. She is a lively and lovely girl. I am proud of her. Proud of her adaptability. Proud of her independence and ability to interact with different people.
After a lunch composed of a poor skinny fish for me, mixed fruit for Carlo and a big plate of rice and chicken for our guide, we are off to our miniature trek.
Okay, Jean-Claude had made it sound like Small Tsingy would be a walk in the park. Sure enough, it was much easier compared to the Big Tsingy. The steps were a bit lower, the walk was much shorter, about an hour and a half instead of four hours; yet, the same risks were still there. The fact that a harness was not necessary did not mean we did not need to climb or crawl by some dangerous alleys. This time my worry had doubled. Now I had to watch out Lara's every step, making sure she put her foot in the right place. Taking a deep breath every time we got to a risky spot and giving a sigh of relief after she made it. The same would be repeated with Carlo. Then it was my turn. No need to say I didn't feel the same anxiety for myself as I did with Lara or Carlo. Still, I had to make sure I was careful and fine. The family needs me too. My failure would cost them dearly. After I made headway, I'd watch Carlo this time. Take a deep breath, fix your gaze firmly on Carlo's feet, give a sigh of relief after he made it. Lara, me, Carlo. Repeat as many times as necessary. About fifty or so I'd say.
Our guide was a young guy named TB. Of course that was not his real name. He was nicknamed so because he was Tre Bien, Very Good in things he did. He had taught himself English from cassettes. That's typical in such small places. They have to find a way to survive. English is the gate to foreigners, tourists, which means access to money.
TB was really quite good, he helped Lara with high steps and dangerous corners. I trusted him. It's like the little girls who took Lara swimming in Tonga. My first reaction was “What is this kid doing taking my baby to swim?”, the impulse being to stop her. Then I acknowledged the facts: These kids in such places are not really kids, they are given the responsibility of raising their younger siblings at a very young age. They know how to swim, they swim like a fish and probably know well how to handle a baby. They might have been even better than me when I became a new mother at 40. Similarly, this guy probably knows this place inside out. He must have done it several times.
We ask him about his family. He has many sisters and brothers. He is now sending the youngest girl to school. He needs 50.000 Ariary. Which is about 16 USD. His father has gone blind a couple of years ago. These people amaze me, their resilience and acceptance of life as is. We are not capable of doing that. With our reactions to the smallest bit of adversity. We do not like being “beaten” by life and our circumstances. That's why they are survivors more than us.
Anyway... I'll be giving him a big tip once we get out of this all fine and unscathed.
We are nearing the end. How much is a big tip? Perhaps I won't give such a big tip after all, money's worth to them is much higher than it is to us. I asked Carlo. He asked “How much is 10 dollars?”
“We can give 40-50.000. That's about 15 dollars. We can do that.”
Sure, we can do that. He got 100.000 for the day. I mean the park charged us that amount for the guide apart from the park entrance fee. I wonder how much of it TB got.
Yeah yeah, I'll be doing it. This guy needs to be rewarded and encouraged. So we've funded a year of school for his sister, it's the least we could do.
Okay. At the end of the day, we made it back to the hotel safe and sound. Now there is the trip back. It's 880 kilometers in total, we'll be on the road twelve hours each day for two days. The roads are another danger, anything can happen any moment. There are news of Italians or other foreigners dying in accidents here in Madagascar or in other places. It happens. Traffic accidents happen in Italy too, but when you are in your own country it is, or can be, taken more easily, accepted as part of life; however, if it happens when travelling it's going to be taken as you having taken the risk. In a way, it is true too, risks are higher in some countries. Madagascar is one of them. Risk of death in traffic accidents is high. Yet... Do we even know what life is?
Even with some mishaps, with delays in the flights, we made it back home safe and sound as well. It doesn't matter. I'm giving up travel as a family in Africa because the pressure of the expectation of guilt being heaped on me is too much to bear. I haven't even taken into account any kind of sickness that any of us could have contracted. Or being attacked... I would have thought Madagascar was sort of safe, especially given that we were with a guide, there was really no chance of our getting mugged or anything. However, we found out from Jean-Claude that, lately, there has been attacks on foreigners on this route. So much that some drivers had started carrying guns and even hotels requiring guests to form convoys when going back. No no, thank you. I'm not taking any risks or responsibility on behalf of my family, the two most precious people in the world for me. My travelling is enough. (Even then, I am now much more reserved than when I was single. I no longer can afford anything happening to me. It's not going to be only me, my being has great importance in two people's lives, one of them a relatively tiny sweet creature. Responsibility is heavy.) We travel together in “safer” places.
After Mauritius and Seychelles, which are actually not Africa, I think Madagascar was a good introduction to Africa, even though that too, is not on mainland Africa. Ah, there is a nice story about that:
One day Jean-Claude was waiting at the bus stop and he saw this man who looked like he was not from Madagascar. Jean-Claude asked “Are you from Africa?” and the man responded “You think you are not African?”
Aaah... People and their sensitivities...
Reason Two: Being a Target
When you travel as a family, with a small child, you are targets. You are hassled as they know you have the money. At the post office in Antsirabe when I was sending some postcards, Carlo was out. Women surrounded him. He said “I told them I didn't have money, that my wife had it. They were nice and calm, telling me about their lives and their families when I was there alone. The moment you came into the picture, they started all the screaming and shouting.”
Yeah, it is always like that. When there is a bounty on the table, people start scrambling for it.
I don't like being a target. We are ruining these places. Tourism is bad, travel is bad in that sense too. Yeah, we bring money. But money should not be coming walking on two legs.
We shouldn't be seen as cash machines. But how can we not be seen as cash machines when we actually are?
I believe this situation, the chasm between the haves and have-nots of the world needs to be addressed and solved at a global level. Individuals going to off-the-beaten countries and “contributing” to the economy do not solve the underlying problem. Sure, it relieves some people for a while, but it is a very short while.
There is also the fact that some of these “Western” travellers exacerbate the situation without meaning to. They have the best of intentions, but they have no concept of the value of money in the places they are travelling to. They dish out “huge” amounts of money, which is actually “small” for themselves. Refer to the example above. I considered that when giving to TB. Then I judged in favor of giving because it was a worth cause. Plus, what I gave was still not so much. There are many people who dish out hundreds of dollars out of fear the locals might hurt them, or just out of a pure selfish desire to get certain photos. I gave 5 USD to stick-fishermen in Sri Lanka, they sort of spit on my face because the rich tourists that stay in the 5 star-hotels nextdoor, who go around with two expensive latest model cameras hanging around their necks give 20-50 or even 100 dollar bills to them. And not only to one but they give to several. These locals then get the idea that all foreigners visiting their country are rich, -I don't blame them, we all have a tendency to dump similar-looking objects or one same-trait objects all together- then they hassle any foreigner to basically feed them. They don't know that the circumstances of all travellers are not the same. They can't process it as they have no knowledge apart from their limited experience. And their limited experience tells them any white man is rich. Sure, we are richer, I was richer than them even when I was a filthy backpacker. However, that doesn't mean I have to give them all I have, that doesn't give them the right to ask from me all I have. Yet, this chasm is unacceptable and unfair. It is not fine that we sleep peacefully in our luxury when a child is starving out there and a mother prostitutes herself for a couple of bucks to provide some crumbles for her children. It is not. But again... I cannot do anything on my own. I need people to back me up in trying to change this corrupt system.
Sure, I am still a target when I travel to these places alone; yet, when I am on my own, I can blend in. Plus, I am a keen observer, my intuition is full open, I am agile to get away from situations. With the family, we are exposed. I cannot act independently, I have two other people to think of. So we are open to scams. In fact, the airport scam in Madagascar left a very bad taste with us on return.
So no... I'd rather face the bad on my own without getting my family involved. No more travelling in the poorest countries of Africa until the world status-quo of musical chairs game changes.
I'm afraid it's going to be a long time...