How not to visit Befotaka

This is not so much an instructional piece as it is a thinly veiled rant about someone I happened to meet during my visit to Befotaka. If you ever come to Madagascar please don’t be this person.

It’s approximately 8 in the morning and I’m sitting at my Mama’s hotely (restaurant) having just finished breakfast. A few brousses (buses) stop by on their way up to Diego and weary passengers filter towards the many hotelys that line my town to find something to eat after being on the brousse overnight. One such passenger, a vazaha (foreigner), is wandering aimlessly along the street until he spots me. Before I go any further I would like to mention that he is white and not American or French. (almost all vazahas here are French) I will not guess as to his nationality because I don’t want to be wrong and insult an underserving country. For this sake of this story we’ll call him Gus.

Once he spots me, the only other vazaha in sight, he makes a beeline over to me and before I can say hello…

“Do you speak English?” asks Gus, while smoking a cigarette

“Yes”

“Can you ask him how much longer?”

At this point I see that he is pointing to a Malagasy man talking to my Mama. I ask Gus where he is going and he responds with a blank look.  I turn to the Malagasy man and do my best to ask where the brousse is going, knowing that my question may be interpreted as

“where is this random vazaha going?”

“Where is the brousse going?” or

“Where are you going?”

“asdfkjasdfjsadfkjsdfjsdkjdsaf” (complete gibberish because my malagasy isn’t great)

Thankfully between me and my Mamma we determine that Gus is going to Ambanja, (which compared to the names of other towns in Mada isn’t a very complicated)

I turn to Gus and ask “Ambanja?”

“That’s it, how much longer?”

I again turn to the Malagasy man and ask how far to Ambanja. I’m told two hours.

“It’s only two hours from here to Ambanja” I tell Gus

“Two more hours! That’s ridiculous, I‘ve been on this brousse since yesterday afternoon…”

I interrupt Gus to mention that he’s made good time, but this look on his face says I’m making the world’s worst joke.

“…. If I had known how long it was going to be I would have just flown. I haven’t slept since the day before yesterday. I drank a whole bottle of rum last night to try and sleep and it didn’t work”

My mamma asks me if he’s going to Nosy Be, a popular tourist destination near Ambanja. Gus responds that he is and the Malagasy man explains to me how to get from Ambanja to the town where you take the boat to Nosy Be and how much it will all cost. I begin to relay this to Gus who waves me away saying it doesn’t matter how much it costs. He doesn’t seem to realize the Malagasy man is merely trying to help as it is clear to all of us that Gus doesn’t really know what’s going on.

At this point Gus seems to realize that it’s a little odd for a white American to be hanging out in Befotaka and asks what I’m doing here.

“I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer. I’m currently visiting the site I’ll live at for the next two years”

“I’m going to my volunteer site too” (I never found out what he meant by this, but he was not Peace Corps)

At this point Gus walks off. You will notice that nowhere in this exchange has Gus said hello, his named, asked my name, or said thank you to anyone who has helped him. He wanders over to a hotely across the street and buys a beer. (Reminder, it’s now 8:30 in the morning) He attempts to make conversation in with a girl who knows enough to say hello/goodbye, but not much else. Instead of asking how to say hello/goodbye or anything else he just chatters away in English and she begins to look bored. Gus then attempts to play with one of the local dogs. The dogs here aren’t treated as poorly as some places in the south, but they are generally ignored and I’ve never seen someone touch one. Gus finishes his beer, lights another cigarette and wanders off. I assume he eventually got back on his brousse and made it to Nosy Be.

After his visit my Mamma and I talked about how he wasn’t like the Peace Corps Volunteers. While she may not have understood what he said, the tone of his voice was clearly angry and annoyed.

The moral of the story is, don’t be like Gus. The Malagasy are a very welcoming people and just learning how to say hello will go a long way with them.

 

IMG_3028
Hanging out at my Mama’s hotely
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