Where was I? Oh yes. I was preparing to go on the journey of a lifetime with the French circus troupe ‘Les Pailles en Feu,’ to the wild and mysterious country of
So we packed up all our belongings (which didn’t amount to very much...) and set off to Saint Denis airport to board our flight to the land of the baobab tree and, of course, the lemur. Our luggage was not the most conventional the baggage handling crew had ever seen (the most prominent item was a suitcase filled with ridiculous costumes and fire equipment) and neither was our dress. Clad in 60's rose-tinted sunglasses and silly, clownish hats we started as we meant to go on….
|My luggage for 6 weeks...|
…And so we were off! We managed to get all our questionable items through customs and into the air. I hoped everything would be ok on the other side.
As we flew closer to the island, the landscape came into focus. The undulating mountains carpeted with emerald verdure grew taller and clearer, and the sheer wilderness of the island struck me, dazzled my senses and changed my perception of our world.
As we stepped off the plane we were confronted by boarder control and by porters, who carried our luggage atop their heads. After we had negotiated our visa restrictions (and subsequently received the most exquisitely intricate stamp I’ve ever seen in my passport) we met our welcome party, l’Allier des Possibles, a Madagascan circus troupe- who were awaiting our arrival in a minibus...
We headed to a restaurant where we dined on zebu (the local cow) and rice served with bred (a vegetable most comparable to spinach). The restaurant was unlike one you would see in a busy high street, or anywhere else for that matter. The floor was earthen and the tables and chairs were crafted from rustic, unfinished wood. We conversed genially with our Madagascan circus counterparts. One of the crew, ‘Mail, was a full-time circus performer, who was about to travel to
Africa with his acrobatic act. Another had served as a soldier in the
political unrest, which had happened a few months before we arrived. We heard
his gripping and distressing account of what had happened, which deeply moved me and
drew me closer to this country and its people.
Our first stop was a lemur conservation park in Tamatave, where we would be first performing and holding workshops for children of NGOs in the surrounding town. The first night we were there, the electricity turned off before nightfall and I was first introduced to Madagascan toilets and the concept of a ‘bucket shower’ (with freezing water!). We slept in bunk-beds draped in mosquito nets (which we were told were a luxury we shouldn’t get used to) and as the lights went out, candles were lit and the music began. We were treated to a selection of Madagascan songs sung in accapella by haunting voices accompanied by a djembe (the local drum). It certainly took my breath away...
We spent a week at the lemur park, teaching workshops and working towards several performances in different outdoor locations. It was great fun, but hard work. Once I was faced with a throng of 80 children, all who were awaiting juggling tuition from me. And only me! That was one of the scariest moments I’ve encountered. Other highlights from our time in the lemur park include parading through the town on stilts dressed in ridiculous outfits and playing an assortment of musical instruments to promote our show and Eleanor and I (the only other English person on the trip) riding around on broken bicycles, from which emanated a terrible clattering noise. If our blonde hair wasn’t bright enough, this racket certainly caught the attention of the locals!
We did a show with the Madagascan circus at several venues, including in the trees of the Alliance Française centre and in the rain and mud at the Lemur conservation park. We battled on through the quagmire and even managed to make it look magical, by hanging the aerialist’s silks in one of the trees. Eleanor and I were dressed up as the ‘quintessential’ English couple, in gloves, tailcoats and pyjama trousers (we had to work with what we had!) and tea cups in a bizarre cabaret acrobatic act with two members of the circus dressed as ‘tangs’ (Reunionais hedgehog-like creatures)…
|Our quizzical 'English' act|
We had spent a week teaching and performing in Tamatave and now it was time to move onto the capital,
And so we taught and created shows with and for the children. And they were happy, but it was sad to see that the clothes they were in were dirty and that many of them were residents of the street for hours on end. And there were also many children on the street who were begging. We would stop and, instead of giving them money, Romuald, the resident magician, would show them a magic trick. Their smile at this ruse was definitely worth much more than anything they could have bought with a small coin...
Well folks, that concludes the end of part 2! Join me as the journey intensifies, bringing with it both tears and laughter in part three of my Madagascan adventures, where we travel onward into the southern part of the island....Coming soon!
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