Saturday, June 15, 2013

96th day Toliara - How I met the President of Madagascar

That is indeed a long story. At the end of which I got to shake the hand of the President of the Republic.

In Toliara, I have been living in a bungalow that belongs to a hotel. When I first arrived, I had neighbours: A Malagasy family was renting the bungalow next to mine, because their house was still inundated after the cyclone that hit the region in February.

As they were incredibly friendly and warm-hearted, we quickly became friends and continued to be after they returned to their home. When I visited them at their house for the first time, I learned that the Malagasy president used to stay in this house whenever he was visiting Toliara, and that the mother of the family, Claudine (name changed), is a cousin of Mr. Rajoelina, the president.
Today, the 15th of June, Toliara saw 2 major events at once: My leaving and a visit of the Head of State in the course of the upcoming elections. Busy with packing and last meetings with friends, I didn’t have time to go and listen to his speech.

My lovely friends accompanied me to the airport to wave me off – everyone was there, the kids, brother, sister. Mr. President happened to be leaving the city in his private jet at the same time as my flight to Tana was scheduled. Consequently, there was quite a bit of fuzz and police presence when we arrived at the airport. Claudine headed off to the restricted section to say goodbye to her cousin, and beckoned me to follow her. I thus ligned up next to her along the red carpet leading to the jet, along with government officials and military, feeling slightly out of place in my baggy travelling pants and hiking boots that I wore in order to reduce the weight of my luggage. Before I could fully grasp the situation, a handsome, fair-skinned, astonishingly young man in shirt and tie stood in front of me and offered me his hand, as he had to the people who were in line before me, and I recognized the guy I had seen on the portrait painting at some government office in Toliara. A quick flash of surprise must have crossed his mind at the sight of this all-too-casual vazaha with multi-coloured rubberbands in her hair.

His handshake was not too hard and not too soft, but just right, close to perfect, and I realized that he must be a professional at handshaking. Certainly a presidential quality. If he has no others, as many Malagasy seem to think.

Surely, one of us was much more melancholic about leaving Toliara than the other one.

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