Brutes and tender(er)s

I was given the luxury family suite in the not very attractive looking hotel right in the center of the town of Moramanga, some 100 kilometers from Tana. It was very Chinesy looking and I am sure all the hotel decorations had been trucked in on one of those tractor trailers years ago. The Chinese and the Malgache have intermingled for a long time – they may have been the Chinese from Malaysia or further northeast. Some go back to the 1800s.

Some Malgache look decidedly Chinese. Unlike the Indiens and Pakistanis who some fear are now in a more stealth way taking over the country, the Chinese were and are rather quite open about their infiltration. There are major construction projects all over the place. They would do poor families a favor if they could fix route national 42!

I noticed how development here (and probably elsewhere) is both brute and tender at the same time. The brutish part is the Cartesian, mechanical, engineering-dependent exploitation of primary resources with a focus on gain and short term profit. And then there are the people who we met who sacrifice much (so much more than we would ever agree to sacrifice, we wimps); the young idealists from here and abroad who study trees and plants, the ecology, to ‘unexploit’ it, to reforest, replant, make healthy again all life, human and other; those are the people with the long horizon, who focus on the other bottom line, who are driven by care.

But, people will say, we cannot abandon the trucks and the containers because the goods provide livelihoods for so many people who come to Tana, and initiate the detail commerce from there on, fanning out to the next level capitals where commercants of an even more petite entreprise continue further down, all the way to the tiny wooden shacks in the villages that sell the fake plastic Barbie dolls (pink with yellow hair), the soccer shirts, the leggings and the cheap tools that came in from (probably) China.

And while all this driving to and fro is done, the trucks gouge what remains of the secondary roads so that the people who have the bad luck of living far from a health center choose dying at home over dying a horrible death on the road (there are no painkillers!)

The trucks also do terrible things to the lungs of the more vulnerable members of the population who live and toddle along the road, breathing in the fumes all the time, if they don’t get run over. Brutes and tender(er)s.

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