Establishing new routines and habits takes a long time for me. As I blunder through adjusting to this life in Madagascar throwing money at problems, I frequently reflect on the stat that 68 percent of Malagasy live on less than a dollar a day. But here in Antananarivo, those 68-percenters are largely invisible to me.
Among the routines I need to establish here are buying food (i.e. not at a Gouge-A-Rama) and doing laundry.
You know that thing where you pull shirts out of your dirty laundry and sniff the armpits, and you wonder if your co-workers will notice that you just wore the same shirt a couple of days ago? That thing? I’ve been doing that a lot.
Last week I had no clean shirts to wear to work — and none of my work shirts were passing the sniff test.
But I had a plan:
- Pull a clean-ish teeshirt out of my dirty laundry and wear it for my commute.
- On the way, swing by Gouge-A-Rama and buy a cheap new work shirt.
- Change into the new shirt when I get to work.
I ran into trouble when I realized that I was confusing this Gouge-A-Rama with the other one up the road. I had to think fast. I was running late.
This is a freakin’ mall, for chrissakes. There’s got to be another place to buy a shirt.
And there was.
I picked out the least expensive shirt that (a) would fit me, and (b) didn’t have some silly fashion branding on it in giant letters.
I found a simple black shirt. The price was 185,000 Ar. I told myself, That’s not as expensive as it sounds. Buy the thing and get to work.
Which I did.
When I arrived, Sandra, one of my expat co-workers, had what appeared (to my Arizona eyes) to be a huge plate of nachos on her desk. There are nachos in Madagascar!?
I made a mental note: Sweet talk Sandra for some of those nachos after you change into your new shirt.
I emerged from the staff bathroom in my new shirt.
“Sandra, are those nachos?”
Damn you, mangos!
Wait. Mangos are pretty good.
Then I sat down at my desk and did a little currency conversion to see how much I just paid for my shirt.
Shocked, I of course went to the little cafe near my office and spent too much on coffee and a sandwich.
And I sat there and practiced my Malagasy, because if I really want to save money, I am going to have to learn to haggle in the local language.
Tonight I counted up all of the Madagascan cash I have on hand to make it until I get paid (any day now).
That was before I went out tonight and bought rice, toilet paper, and condensed milk — but I at least bought the stuff at my local market.
When you think about it, the overpriced‑shirt incident was less than three weeks since I moved into my place. Give me a break.
Screw you. I’ll give myself a break.
Two days later (wearing a shirt I hand washed myself in my kitchen sink) I went with my co-workers on a staff retreat.
When I heard we were going to the beach, I got very excited — We’re going to the coast!
But Batou Beach is actually just a touristy swimming pool less than an hour out of Tana — whereas the real coast is something like eight hours away by car or bus.
On the bus ride I discovered that many of my co-workers are musicians and they sing quite well.
Here is one of many songs they sang together on the way:
The Batou Beach attraction also promises “The Sexiest Beach Party of the Indian Ocean.”
My co-workers committed acts of karaoke as well as Zumba — choreographed aerobics to soca, samba, salsa, merengue and mambo music. Yes, even I was a good sport and joined in. Photos will emerge eventually.
The outing to Batou Beach was the only time I’ve gotten out of town since I arrived. And the bus trip out there reminded me once again that I need to make the effort to get out of Tana more often.
I wouldn’t deny the Malagasy middle class their diversions — or myself my own. But I have been operating in a world where the Malagasy middle class seems like a typical state of being in this country. The more I see of the other Madagascar, the more I will be reminded why I am here.
Hopefully this will be the last time I whine about money.