Posts Tagged 'Antananarivo'

Second shift

On Monday I shifted from attention from my colleague and her team whose work targets the highest levels of government to my colleagues in the bilateral project that focuses its attention at the base of the health pyramid. I received a briefing about how things are done and what needed to be improved.

In the afternoon I had to excuse myself for a courtesy visit to the highest health chief (below the minister), who turned out not to be there. The team I had coached the previous week was now meeting without me and busy preparing their coaching visits and the next workshop in the leadership development program. They invited me to wait for the next official in line who was happy to receive us. While waiting to be called in his office I observed my team in action and noticed good energy – something promising had been set in motion during the previous week.

Done with our various meetings we all went out to a fish restaurant, with me and my colleague K who is in charge of managing relationships, money and deliverables of our Madagascar work. We were treated as the guests of honor.  I had just learned about the size of the servings at this place. They are so large that with the 8 of us we only needed to order for two dishes: enormous plates with all sorts of fish and roasted vegetables. We drank Malagasy wine produced by a Chinese company and toasted on leadership in the health sector. And then we talked about what was going on in the world with Trump and Orlando on the forefront. When we landed on the topic of homosexuality we cut the conversation short as we could tell our colleagues were baffled by same sex marriages. I told them most Americans were too, not all that long ago, and clearly some still are. After that we returned to safer topics.

A new appointment had been made for my courtesy visit for the end of the workday on Tuesday – this meant another trip into town (not so bad), and worse, back out of town which was very, very bad because of roads blocked off for the 10 day long independence day celebrations which strangles all movement by car. Leaving at 4PM, I returned back to my side of town at 8PM to meet up with the woman who used to oversee a project I worked on decades ago, out of her USAID Washington office, but now an independent contractor. We tripped down memory lane over lychee martinis and Chinese food.

Chocolate massage

I finally had my long awaited chocolate massage. First there was a ‘gommage du corps,’ a body scrub. I was scrubbed with a mixture of large sugar crystals, honey and lemon. Honey because, according to my masseuse, it is good for the skin, especially la peau mûr (literally: ripe skin), the sugar crystals for the scrubbing and the lemon for ‘dé-tâcher,’ or taking the spots out (what spots?). If I had curled up in a teacup and you added hot water I would have been a nice healthy drink. I was all sticky and smelling like lemon meringue pie. If there had been ants or bees in the room I would have been a lost cause. This was phase one – ending with a shower after which my skin was soft like a baby’s.

Phase two was the chocolate massage itself. I had had some expectation that I would be massaged with cocoa butter but it was so much better than that. At the end, when I looked in the mirror, I had the skin color of a Malgache. The massage oil was mixed with ‘pralines,’ the kind of chocolate that one buys for a loved one on Valentine’s Day. It was a delicious multi-sensory experience. I was sorry to have to wash the chocolate oil of my body. If I had gone out on the street looking as I did people would have thought I had a terrible disease and was drugging myself with chocolate. The final part was a facial cleaning, a face cream – no chocolate on the head – and a head massage. All this for 45 dollars!

And then reality kicked in – paying the bill and finding out that the little snacks I had been eating, the water I had been drinking, were not complementary like they are in most hotels nowadays; they were outrageously priced which dampened my very positive experience of the hotel a bit. I probably should have checked Tripadvisor as I am sure someone else may have posted a warning, and if not, I will.

The taxi that took me to my new hotel was old, very old. I asked the driver who barely spoke French how old his Renault 4 was. He mumbled a very high number. It may have rolled out of the factory around the same time as our R4 in Senegal, nearly 40 years ago, which was already second or third hand by then.

Because the suitcase took the backseat, there is not much of a trunk in a R4, I had to sit in the front with barely a barrier between me and any obstacles we might hit. No safety belts of course and not much of anything, which is why these cars last so long. They are so simple that anything can be repaired with a screwdriver, wire, tape or crazy glue. The liquids to keep the car running, other than gas (which will be bought with the fare I pay), are stacked next to the driver in plastic containers. He had to move them to let me in. There were no adjustments to the seat (anymore). I squeezed in and held my handbag tightly in front of me by way of another useless buffer with the world outside.

And now I am in my tiny room of the Ibis hotel near our office. I can walk to work tomorrow, to start my last assignment of this trip. Here, away from the crowded and narrow up-and-down streets of Tana ville it is calm. Everyone is in church or sleeping off their hangover from the partying last night.


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.


The weekend has now started, after we concluded the first part of my assignment. It is the first evening that I don’t have to do anything. Of course I could start writing my report but decided it could wait. I booked a table in Tripadvisor’s number 3 restaurant of Tana (KuDeTa), recommended by my ICRC friends. I had my second order of ‘foie gras’ (duck liver pate) of today and the fifth since I arrived in Madagascar. I know it is very unhealthy, but it is so very delicious. I rationalize my choices by telling myself I only eat it once in a blue moon.

I also indulge in chocolate, the very dark stuff; my only lapse in my no sugar diet. Madagascar chocolate is possibly the best in the world.

One other treat is a visit to the spa that is part of the hotel. Within hours of checking into I received a call from the spa manager to suggest that I needed a massage. How did she know? I decided I needed a massage every other day. Given the prices of such services, I could even have a massage every day.

On Sunday morning, before I move out, I am going to combine two of my favorite things here (not the foie gras) and have a very long (90 minutes) ‘massage au chocolat.’ I can’t quite imagine what that would be like. I doubt I will be dipped in chocolate like a strawberry but I am sure I will smell nice afterwards.


We have nearly come to the end of our intense week of getting the team ready to conduct the second phase of this somewhat rushed leadership development program; rushed because we have just started the series of workshops and the project ends in a few months.

After our Monday meeting at the MSH office we met the next few days at the Institut National de la Sante Publique et Communautaire (INSPC), an model of elegant French colonial architecture that housed the faculty of medicine during colonial times. It is still used to teach the next generation of public health professionals.

I had selected a hotel in the center of Antananarivo (Tana) to be closer to where our counterparts live and work. But it turned out to be a bad decision. As the crow flies, my hotel and INSPC are very close but every night it would take me a full hour to make the trip back to my hotel, probably less than a couple of kilometers, if that. Walking would have taken 20 minutes (there are shortcuts, steep stone stairs straight up the hills), but my colleagues wouldn’t hear of it – too risky, too many pickpockets. They wouldn’t even let me take a taxi, to save our drivers the slow ride into the city. Everyone is very protective of me.

Antananarivo is built on hills, with narrow streets snaking up and down these hills, most one way. Traffic jams are a fact of life and everyone complains about it (for decades already) but nothing seemed to have changed for the better since I was first here more than 20 years ago. Since then more people and more cars have arrived on the scene, some two-way streets have been made one way and the standstills continue.

Rush hour is continuous with peaks at the start and end of the workday. Today was market day and the traffic gets worse, which I didn’t think was possible. In 10 days it will be the national holiday and whole streets have already been blocked off and podiums installed for various ‘manifestations.’ Things are impossible, but here people shrug it off. They are used to this. I suppose one has no choice.

Motivational Perdiemitis

I oriented my colleague V. in November when she was brand new on her job. She is running on her own MSH’s Madagascar Leadership Development Program. We threw her in the deep end of the pool and she swam. Now I spend a week with her and the team of consultants and counterparts (focal points from the ministry of health) she has collected around her. We met at the MSH office and I learned what happened since I left 7 months ago. It is really quite remarkable, despite people complaining that not much has happened, what she has been able to pull off under very challenging conditions, including a change in top leadership at the ministry.

I am coaching the team to continue the good work and gain confidence. I am also teaching them things that they only partially understood or not at all about our leadership development program. Since I am teaching about coaching I have to be very aware of my own coaching behavior, and try to be a model, which is hard work. Compared to my own coaching training instructors back in the US I have a long way to go, but here I am the expert. It is mentally tiring, to always be so alert.

One of the usual bumps we run into is the idea that people get motivated by money. ‘La chasse au per diem,’ is maddening. And what is maybe even more maddening is that we, the donor community, are the worst offenders. We have created a dependency on these hand-outs that make it hard to gauge whether people come to sessions because they want to or to supplement their salaries.

I found out that the team members, who come to our sessions each day to prepare them for the next leadership development workshop that they will have to run on their own, are being paid a honorarium. “What for?” I said, incredulously. And the answer is always, ‘because otherwise they won’t come.’  I am at my most Dutch and most direct then, stating that these people can take it or leave it, as they please. Frankly, I am not interested in working with people who come only for the extra pay as they do get a salary which, I am told, it is a livable salary – they are, after all, at the top of the pyramid.

These extra payments are, despite what people think, not a motivator (in much of Francophone Africa the word ‘motivation’ is a euphemism for money). Frederick Herzberg’s influential work on motivation continues to shine light on this misconception. He proposed the motivator-hygiene theory, also known as the two-factor theory of job satisfaction. Those two sets of factors influence people’s behavior at work. One set is called hygiene factors. These do not motivate, but if absent, they demotivate. They include work conditions, pay, and job security. Motivational factors such as job recognition, increased responsibility, potential for promotion, (self)development opportunities and even the work in itself (which explains volunteerism), are what we ought to focus on. But we collude with the practice of incentive payments and shell out considerable sums when all is added up. And then we are surprised that people want more money. We are surprised that they wouldn’t come if we don’t pay. And then we sigh.

Good intentions

Saturday was another workday, our last, but it kept us busy in meetings until it was time to go to the airport to catch my flight to Johannesburg. I kept telling myself that once I landed I would have time to finish my notes, turning my scribbles in the training handbooks into notes usable for the session authors. But once there I realized that transcribing scribbles into notes is tedious and detail work I didn’t have the energy for. I postponed the task once more with the intention of finishing the job in Madagascar before my next assignment would start on Monday.

The flight from Johannesburg to Antananarivo is only a short 3 hours but between getting up at 7:30AM and arriving at 6PM at my hotel in Tana (5PM South African time), I took me an entire day.

The quiet Sunday afternoon I had imagined myself sitting on a terrace with a cup of tea, finishing my work, didn’t materialize because a glitch in Kenya Airways baggage handling left me waiting for a colleague for two hours. I took the taxi I could have taken 2 hours earlier and arrived in the dark.

To my great surprise I arrived at the same time as two ICRC staff members with whom I have shared many weeks of training in Addis, Lomé, Bangkok and Dar es Salaam. Quelle coincidence! We had a nice dinner together, longer than if I would have eaten alone, and thus the final slug to complete my assignments from Capetown made for yet another late night, hopefully my last.

April 2019
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