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Madagascar: A Mix Between Haiti and Harry Potter

Finally. THIS is what I expected from the World Race! We stepped off the plane in Antananarivo, Madagascar and into a whole new world. The airport was a tiny, dirty building with (from what I could tell) only one baggage carousel. I honestly had absolutely no idea what to expect from Madagascar - I’ve never even seen the Disney movie. The only thing I knew about the place was that it had lemurs and the best vanilla in the world. I had no idea how to pronounce the name (try saying “Antananarivo” out loud). The first thing I noticed in the airport were the people. Beautiful dark brown skin and almond eyes with soft-spoken voices. Malagasy people are as diverse as the country itself - a unique blend of ethnicities from Africa and Asia.

Madagascar is technically part of the African continent - but it is unlike ANYWHERE else in the world. I found out when we were in Africa that Africans don’t really consider Madagascar part of Africa. One book I saw online calls it the “Eighth Continent.” It is essentially ‘no man’s land.’

Going through the line to get our visas and have our passports stamped, I asked a Malagasy police officer how to pronounce the name of the capital (where we were) and after some giggles, he told us… but no matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t say it right. After a few weeks here, I now know it’s Ann-TAN-na-naRIVE.

We grabbed our backpacks and headed for our ride - two public buses that we would fill to the brim with people and luggage. I sat next to my teammate Taylor Toaster (Kloster for those of you who don't know her) and another teammate stood next to me in the aisle with a massive daypack that shoved into my side at the slightest move - we were crammed in just about as tightly as we could be with daypacks on our laps. As soon as we started driving, Taylor and I were transfixed - trying to take in every sight outside the bus. Colorful old buildings were tightly packed together, row after row right on the road. The buildings looked very old, older than any building I’d ever seen in the United States - all painted brightly in different colors. I couldn’t stop staring - and I couldn’t think of any place I’d ever been or seen pictures of that it reminded me of. The soft blue-green rolling mountains in the distance reminded me of Haiti - and the poverty definitely reflected a 3rd world country like Haiti - but even then, Madagascar is uniquely it’s own. Something about the hectic-ness and busyness and also the building structure reminds me of Diagon Alley on Harry Potter. During our first view of the city - we saw that there were people everywhere. No street signs or painted lines on the road - it didn’t look like there were any rules here. The streets were barely enough for two lanes, much less the people who took up the sides of the road. There were sidewalks - but they were all taken up by vendors spilling onto the streets - their goods lined up on tables or in baskets or spilling onto the concrete from blankets - they were selling everything imaginable from fruits and vegetables to clothing, shiny pots and pans, sim cards and little toys. Behind the vendors were tiny shops - little storefronts cut into tiny rooms with women cooking pastries or handing tin cups of coffee to customers. Without a word, we looked and looked around and I was hooked. Before we even got to the compound where we are staying, I was in love with Madagascar. I told Taylor I feel like we were driving through the scene of a Broadway play, every building intricate and interesting, every 15 feet showing a different scene. We were experiencing something that very few people in the world get to see. An up close view of the one of the most incredibly different countries in the world!

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