Beware the Children

Ok mom. Don't read this one. I have always been and will always be perfectly safe.

If you are not my mother then you are allowed to keep reading.

In Madagascar I made a trip out to the Kirindy Reserve. Without private transportation it's somewhat difficult to get there and back. For me, it took 10 hours of mostly waiting around for the taxi-brousse to fill up in order to go the 60 km from Morondava to Kirindy. Going the other way around is much more difficult. You need to wait on the side of the road next to the entrance to the reserve for a passing car/bus to pick you up. This is really in the middle of nowhere and cars don't come by very often. I was fairly lucky. Someone else took a taxi from Morondava and the taxi driver was lucky enough to find me to pay the fair back into town. He needed to go back anyways, so I got a pretty good discount. It was actually more expensive for the ride to the park on the cramped shitty taxi brousse than this taxi.

On my way back something strange happened. I was in the passenger seat of this 4 door taxi and we came to Kirindy village, which is the village just south of the Kirindy Reserve. It is a very poor village with very dirty children to go along with it. We were on our way through when one person waved us down to get a ride. This is very normal. I did it myself occasionally. However, at the same time some children came up to the car from both sides and were all saying something in Malagasy. It's not uncommon for children to yell something at passing cars or come up to try and ask for something, but this seemed a bit more hostile than usual. Then a teenage boy came up to my window, leaned his entire torso into the car right in front of me, and said something to the driver with what sounded like a bit of anger in his voice. At this point I was a little scared because he was holding a machete behind his back. He certainly wasn't trying to hide it and he never looked like he intended to use it, but I braced myself in case he tried something. I had a book in my hand and was planning to somehow use it as a shield if necessary. The first man (the one that waved us down) got into the back of the car. I don't think he was with the other boy because he didn't say anything to the driver other than where he wanted to go, but he very well could have been. At this point the driver slowly started moving the car and the teenager pulled himself out of the car and was following us yelling something at the driver. The driver pulled out some money (maybe 500 Ariary, which is about 25 cents) and gave it to the children and sped up some more. The teenager was not appeased, but we sped up some more and drove off. Nobody followed us but some older villages further down the road saw all this happen and smiled at us as we passed. The whole event happened in less than 20 seconds. I asked the driver and our new passenger what happened, but my French and their English were both very bad. All I could get out of them was that the teenager was from that village. I'm guessing that the driver paid some kind of "toll" for passing through, but some things still don't make sense. I'm still confused, but very glad it didn't become violent. I had never been in such a situation.

A few days later I went by this same town in a private 4x4 as part of a group of 2 other tourists and 2 local drivers. We even stopped in town and got out of the car to see the "sacred baobab". Nobody tried to charge us a "toll". I still don't know what really went on, if I was really in any kind of danger or if I just was looking at things from a strange perspective. I will never know.

Near the end of my trip I spent several days in Antananarivo, the main city in Madagascar. Walking through town I was often approached by people trying to sell me something or begging for money. And one time (that I'm aware of) I was almost robbed. It was a bit of an eye opening experience for me. Nothing was stolen, but I still felt violated. I was walking through town and a group of 3 young boys (maybe 10 years old) came up to me with their hats tipped upside down begging for money with sad looks on their faces. Basically, they pressed their hats into my leg so I wouldn't feel their other hand try and search my pockets. I thought something strange was going on and I walked across the street through traffic to get away. That's when I noticed that one of my Velcro pockets was open. The contents were all accounted for, but I never leave my pockets open and they have never opened by themselves. I kept walking and they ran in front of me and positioned themselves on either side of my path. I stopped walking before I got to them. At this point I wasn't totally sure what was going on. I wasn't convinced that they were trying to rob me. I'm too naive sometimes and try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I stupidly continued to walk forward, but this time I help my pockets shut. They did the same thing again, but this time one kid definitely tried to take my camera. I had it in a satchel over my shoulder. I saw him lift the cover of the pouch and try to reach a hand in. I stopped, shook the kid by the shoulders and yelled at him. I'm sure they didn't understand what I said but they knew I was angry. What I really wanted to do was kick them all in the head, but that wouldn't go over too well. I also didn't want to look like the bad guy in public for fear that I would be the one to get in trouble. So what more could I do? I left it at that and kept walking. They didn't follow. However, lesson learned. Don't keep anything in your pockets even if they have zippers, Velcro or whatever keeping them closed. And keep your camera out of plain sight unless you're using it all the time.

More to come...

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