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...