11-04 -- poison & dangerous

I slept a little late this morning, and got up at 6:40.  It's a
mystery to me why I've been waking at 5, and thus it is a mystery when
I don't.  I am supposed to meet Rivo to walk in at 7:30, so I have to
get a move on.

When I go to Honorine's for breakfast, I am greeted with the message
(laboriously translated by Honorine from Malagasy, the only language
she speaks well) that Momy will be here at 9:30, to take me to the
airport, to clear up the customs problem which I caused myself by not
declaring when I came in.  I thought, at the time, "I'm not leaving
anything here, or selling anything, do I need to declare anything?"
and I asked as much at the "nothing-to-declare" desk.  He just waved
me through after thinking for a second.  I was stupid, of course.  You
need to declare what you have, so they know if you've acquired anything
in your stay, sold anything, or somehow made money.  I haven't had to
do that anywhere else I've gone, but I've never had $2000 worth of
stuff on me before.

Headset microphone
$630 in cash

I've spent a whole $100 here, so far, and the bill will be $200 or so
for my stay, which means I'll have a few hundred on leaving, which
might look fishy.

I know it's possible to buy equipment here, and at good prices, even
though some (or most) of it is Chinese counterfeit.  So they have a
right to be suspicious.

But since I'll be here an extra two hours, I have a chance to use
Rene's super mosquito death spray-on carpetbomb.  I pick out some long
clothes I don't wear much, and put them on hangers.  Then I trundle
over to the English Malagasy dictionary.

I write "fanafody mahafaty ary mety mampidi-doza" on a sheet of paper,
and take it over to Honorine.  It's probably ghastly Malagasy, but I
think it gets the message across, as I show her the clothes, the can
and the message.  I'm hoping she won't touch them for the two
hours it takes for them to dry.

I only inhale a little, and only a little gets on my arm.  I wash the
arm and assume that nothing is as dangerous as it claims, with regard
to my nose.  Hey, my nasal passages are protected by black dust
boogers, anyhow.

I don't like the whole concept of this stuff, indoors, though.  I like
to know that there are no mosquitoes.  I don't have a mosquito net, so
I need to make sure no mosquitoes come in.  That means getting the door
open and shut quickly, and not breathing a lot while working the key.
It means keeping the windows (which are darn near airtight) closed at
night, and keeping the front room closed off as an airlock from the
front door (my major mosquito point of entry).

But mostly it means, if you hear a mosquito, you find it and you KILL
it.  One to one ratio of found and killed.  If they go off in a corner
and quietly die, how do I know the one I heard is dead?  Maybe it
didn't get to the spray on super death toxic evil and is only
digesting the stomach-full of my blood that it got -- that takes twenty
minutes or an hour or so of rest for my little friend, and once she's
done, she'll need her other four bites.

Mosquitoes, as I'm sure you already know, but just in case, live on
fruit.  They don't bite humans for food.  But when the female gets
ready to lay her eggs, she needs iron.  And a great source for that is
blood, so she impales some poor sucker (usually me) and gets a
tummy-full of it.  She does this about five times, then lays her eggs
and dies.  She only has five sucks in her whole life.  (A life which
hopefully ends in a red, squashed shape on my wall.)  And for these
five sucks, she gives her whole species a bad name.  Shame on you,
Mrs. Mosquito.  Shame on you!

At around 9:32, Momy arrives in his car with Linah, who handles
logistics for SALFA.  She is responsible, among many other duties, for
clearing logjams at customs.  Today, she has a box of expired
drug-like material to recover -- the customs folk impound any expired
drugs.  These "expired drugs" are some amalgam for filling dental
cavities and some perfectly good antibiotics where the customs folk
mistook the manufacture date for the expiration date.  It's a hassle,
but I gain, because I can go with them to deal with customs.

Linah's very good at her job.  Everyone here knows her.  She is the
face for transportation at SALFA.  She drives seven hours to the coast
to recover containers that have come in on ships (though not often),
she works the airport to massage things through, and she works the
phones at the SALFA office.  In the case of the expired drugs, she had
to get a letter from someone in the office of the president of
Madagascar.  And she got it.

She talks to the customs folk on my behalf.  It turns out it's not a
problem.  One of ANYTHING isn't a problem.  I have one laptop, one
camera, etc.  If I had two or four, they'd get all interested.  As is,
I have nothing to declare.

We wait a half hour to meet someone about the package.  When that
person becomes available she disappears for a few minutes to negotiate
the release.  She returns empty handed.  They want a letter from the
health department, too.  

She'll get it.

The airport is in some ways an unimpressive structure, but not too ugly,
ust uninspired.  However, everywhere you look is wood.  There are two
reasons for this.  The first is esthetics and the desire to show off
one of Madagascar's great resources -- the palasandra tree, which is a
very hard wood, ideal for beautiful furniture.  It is now regulated,
and cannot be cut legally without a permit.

The second reason is that in another airport, materials of so many
kinds would be used to construct crappy, temporary walls.  That would
be expensive because they wouldn't last long, and would, for
Madagascar, require imports.  Shipping to Madagascar is expensive, and
there's not much local wealth, so sending even a little wealth out of
country is a big loss, just for a modern look.  The tables are wood,
the displays are wood, the offices, which inexplicably remind me of a
little world-war two era Japanese shack I saw reconstructed in Seoul,
have beautiful curves and several different colors of wood.  They'll
last forever, but look as though they already have.

On the way back, we pass through a street dedicated to handicraft
stalls.  They have a lot of stuff, and I'm intrigued, even though I've
resolved to bring back nothing but a couple of vanilla beans for
coworkers.  There are, I'm not kidding, it's official, an entire
kilometer of stalls.  Lots of the same stuff, over and over, but quite
a variety nonetheless.

There are for instance, hundreds of these polished fossilized sea
creatures.  Every size, every degree of polish or roughness.  It's

When we arrive at SALFA, Lanto nabs me right at the door.  "What have
you planned for lunch?"  I respond that I think I'll have a large
dinner, as I've missed the lunch which is served at SALFA.  "No," he
says, "come home with me."

Before I get there, let me tell you that there are some women at SALFA
who cook enough food for a large percentage of the workers there.
Many go home for lunch, because the 35 cents the women charge is
pricey for them, or because their wives are better cooks, or just to
get a break from work.  Many live very close to the SALFA office.  The
lunch isn't bad, though and well worth 35 cents.  It's classic
Malagasy food: a mound of rice with a little meat and vegetable
concoction on top -- filling and warm.

But Lanto's wife is a much better cook than they are, I have to say.
His boys are in and out of the kitchen waiting for us to get to
dessert, but they move like lightning and I barely get a chance to
reintroduce myself and shake hands before they're outside and yelling.
His daughter, though, is closer at hand and utterly adorable.  I scare
her.  She deals with this by hugging close to the parent holding her
(her mother and father alternate), and by facing away from me or simply
covering her eyes to keep from seeing me.  

She covers one eye and peeps.  When I look up, she quickly covers
both, a terrified look on her face.  When I cover my eyes, she
relaxes, and I get glimpses of her eyes when I suddenly uncover
mine... right before she responds by covering her face.  This is a
weird game of peekaboo, where the object is challenging fear rather
than causing giggles.  Lanto points out that she won't look at me
because she is afraid, but she refers to me as Uncle -- a name of

Did I mention she's cute as a button?

Lanto and I talk about his future plans and about his boys.  They'll
be college age in a few years.  Much sooner than his daughter, at
least.  He may send them to the states for school.  One thing Lanto
has is good contacts -- he's a very smart man, and dedicated to his
work, and people see that.  He makes good friends easily.  His
blessing over lunch before we eat asks God for "the strength and
courage to do the work that [God] call[s] us to do."  This is not some
puffed up Baptist reverend railing about sinners, this man is for real,
and it's obvious to the people around him.  He'll have help in the
States when the time comes.

And I deliver a message of life in the United States: they'll need to
work when they're in school, because they'll have expenses and you'll
not be able to provide them the money.  He understands that a burger
flipper in Chicago makes more than what Lanto makes in Madagascar, so
I'm preaching to the choir.  They'll need to work, so they'll need a
real working skill, like accounting or computers.  Further, they'll
need really good English to excel in school from the start and to
quickly build the circle of friends that they'll require to cope with
life abroad.  Imagine the culture shock they will experience.  Imagine
day one of class, and finding that your books for that class will cost
a month's wages in Madagascar, and that you have three other classes,
too.  Imagine experiencing hot summers with humidity or cold winters
with snow.  Imagine coming to a place where 95% of people are so rude
that they while they wave or at least say hello when they meet you,
they almost never shake your hand.  His sons need to be comfortable in
English, so they don't feel isolated.

But given their father, I think they'll do fine.

We discuss the importance of a website, and having good design for it.
I think it may be immensely helpful for SALFA.  We have to find a good
designer, locally, who can do it.  I'll set up the technical stuff,
hopefully by the time I leave.

But Rivo's daughter is sick (she too, as I have previously mentioned,
is a beautiful little girl) and so Anatole and I work alone.  Instead
of the website, we think about the network, which is too slow, too
large, and too archaic.  I come up with a plan which requires little or
no hardware, as the 100 megabit switches we saw last night are too
expensive, and the wires around the building too crappy to support 100
megabit, anyhow.

We go on a survey.  We do it twice, actually.  The first time to cook
up my hare-brained scheme, and the second to plan out all the
particulars.  We now have a map, drawn in OpenOffice draw, and require
only Rivo's and Lanto's agreement.  It will require, at most, one
switch, a couple of little hubs, and some cabling.  More than likely,
it will actually require only some cables.

I walk home all by myself, buying a six-pack of 1.5 liter bottles of
water along the way.  Honorine makes broccoli soup, and as usual, it's

It's been a one entire roll day.