It is rare that I play the tourist during my travelling weekends but today I did with two colleagues. We visited two sites that sell Malgache handicrafts: semi-precious stones worked in a variety of ways, including jewelry and the ubiquitous solitaire sets, raffia turned into bags, sacks, animals, place-mats and whatnots, raw silk scarves, embroidered children’s clothes, table cloths, vanilla, spices, natural soaps and a variety of objects made out of woods or tin cans (coca cola, Heineken, etc). These include tiny 2Chevaux, R4-Ls and R4-camionettes, my first car. I got myself a scarf as it is still winter here, some soaps, wild pepper and a few dresses for babygirls.

The 10 day period to celebrate independence started earlier this week and roads have been blocked off which has made the already terrible traffic jams even more insufferable. We met up at Chocolatier Robert, the famous Malgache chocolate maker, from where we went on foot and joined ever growing crowds. Tiny ferris wheels and merry go rounds were set up for the small ones and there was singing and dancing and eating.  I was told that later in the day and night there will be more drinking and consumption of forbidden substances and that it is better to stay far away. I had now intent to join that crowd.

It is funny that we are constantly warned about being in crowds (because of the pickpockets) and here we were with our local colleague in a big crowd that stretched as far as the eye could see. So we clutched our bags tightly under our arms and walked on. Taxis refused to take us because we’d be standing still most of the time.

We left the crowd to enter the quiet haven of the beautiful old train station – a weird experience because in my book train stations are where the crowds are. But not here, as there are no more passenger trains (I was told, though Tripadvisor told me differently). The small boutiques that have moved into the beautifully restored building sell for prices no ordinary Malgache can afford, luxury items made from the same raw materials as in the handicraft markets, but a few steps up (and no haggling).

We talked about the challenges we face in our work of leadership development, here and elsewhere, over coffee in a lovely adjacent restaurant that had the air of being the old station waiting room; the toilets were an attraction all by themselves, as one has to enter a very old train car parked on the platform in the back; a train car that dates from the 1800s.

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June 2016
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