Missoula and Madagascar

by Pete Talbot

Unless it’s, say, a weekend in Spokane, travel tends to broaden ones horizons. I find that people are basically the same everywhere. We’re mostly good and we mostly want the same things out of life. Travel also reinforces my progressive instincts. We’re lucky here in Missoula, Montana. We have more of just about everything. Here are some thoughts on Missoula and Madagascar.

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I had to chuckle when I came home and urban chickens were still an issue. ABOVE are LIVE chickens tethered to the top of local transportation. Eighty percent of the Malagasy population practices subsistence farming. Most families have chickens, goats, zebus (a sort of ox-cow breed) and other assorted livestock roaming the village. Not that I advocate this for Missoula but really, a few chickens in the yard?

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It was the people that so impressed me. There are 15 million people living on the fourth largest island in the world (it’s about the size of Texas). Madagascar is also one of the world’s poorest nations. The kids ABOVE are typical of the hordes of children you see in the villages and cities of Madagascar. You don’t see a lot of old people.

The Malagasy people like Americans. They don’t see a lot of us (it took me 30 hours to get there). It’s mostly French tourists and expatriates that they’re familiar with because up until 1960, it was a French colony. The Americans that the Malagasy meet are Peace Corps volunteers, scientists and researchers, and folks on an adventure. These sort of visitors put America in pretty good light, which is a nice change of pace, and Americans show a real interest in the Malagasy culture. The French want to speak French but the Americans usually go for the Malagasy language (it’s just as easy as French, anyway).

truck

Ninety-five percent of the people walk everywhere — unless they’re lucky enough to ride on an oxcart, a bike, a bush taxi, bus or a truck like the one pictured ABOVE. Maybe five percent of the population owns their own vehicle — usually an ancient Peugeot, Renault or Citroen. Infrastructure is nonexistent. The places that have water, electricity and sewer are few and far between, and the service in those places can be sketchy. There are holes in the roads that could swallow a bus.

The currency is called the ariary. The largest denomination bill is 10,000 ariary. It’s worth about six dollars.

There are also lemurs and other critters that aren’t found anywhere else in the world; all sorts of exotic flora, too. It’s what most people come to Madagascar to see.

(Some come for the sex trade which features boys and girls, some younger than teenagers. This takes place mostly around the tourist destination of Nosy Be and the capitol city Antananarivo. I know this isn’t the only impoverished country that has kid prostitutes, and the Malagasy government is beginning to crack down on perpetrators. It’s still very sad.)

So I’ll part on a more upbeat note: a couple touristy shots of a ring-tailed lemur with baby, and a day gecko, BELOW.

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As I mentioned up top, travel is good for the soul. And you’d have to be a real jerk not to realize how lucky we are as Americans and what a tremendous responsibility we have toward the rest of the world. That being said, it’s great to be home.

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  1. I don’t care if your shots are “touristy”. Ring-tailed lemur porn is always welcome!




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