Monday, September 21, 2015

Madagascar First Impressions: Music Festival of Nosy Be (and a Little about Sex) (September 2015)

Madagascar is a country that makes a big first impression. Just east of Mozambique, it's the fourth largest island in the world, and a convergence of Europe, Africa and the Middle East -- as evidenced by the gourmet French meals and baked goods, the combination of French and local Malagasy language, the melange of rum drinks and vibrant materials for both traditional and modern dress, and the fleet of sailing dhows that are scattered every day up and down the coastline, with their triangular sails set against the rising and setting sun, reminiscent of traditional Arab sailing vessels.

This is the land of lemurs and ylang ylang, distilled rum and vanilla, dancing and late-night revelry (the party starts at midnight, as far as we can tell), lazy mornings and lavish lunches.

We arrived in late August, just as a music festival was starting up in Nosy Be, the administrative check-in center for vessels arriving on the northwest side of Madagascar.

Below are some photos from our first days here in Hell-Ville and the music festival that filled the streets and even our cockpit day and night. We can't photograph the underlying cultural rhythms and tones -- poverty that begets petty crime and sometimes more dramatic instances of violence, or the clash of cultures that inevitably comes from the intersection of a thriving local culture and a strong expat community (which seem to exist, for the most part, in relative peace).

Nor can we capture the pervasive sensuality of Nosy Be, but we have the unavoidable sense that sex is neither a nasty three-letter word in the traditional Victorian Values sense, nor merely a means to procreate. We haven't been here long enough to understand the relationship between sex as pleasure and sex as business -- but they are both a deep part of this culture. Clearly, solicitation is a pervasive issue here and is at least at the official level discouraged (see t-shirt photo, below). Others have written on the topic of prostitution and the meaning of sex/life -- and how it differs from the well documented sex trade in Thailand and the dangerous and frightening child sex industry in places like Mombasa. Clearly, from our peripheral vantage point, we have little way of understanding exactly what's going on here. Even as it makes an impression.

But so do the forests and sailing dhows, the chameleons and lemurs, the embroidery and carvings, and the music and outwardly colorful culture -- and we can photograph that. Once we stay longer in this mysterious and welcoming country, we may be able to say more about complex cultural undercurrents and countercurrents. For now, we'll stick with some first impressions, beginning with the music festival that raged for four days when we first arrived in Hell-Ville.

The Parade / Music Festival of Nosy Be