Madagascar & The World Of My Parents And Grandparents

The day started like many others on the Magical Madagascar cycling tour. Make a right turn from camp, enjoy a nice downhill for a few minutes and then transition into a climb with a rather steep gradient. My body was rested, the temperature cool enough and I was making my way up the hill when about 25 m ahead of me I saw a man with a couple of zebu pulling a loaded carriage onto the road. As soon as the carriage was on the road one of the zebu slipped and fell. In the process the falling zebu somehow managed to free itself from the harness and the other zebu, the cart started rolling and the man struggled to stop the carriage from running away due to the steep road and gravity. The spectacle was mesmerizing until I realized that the cart with the stunned zebu was heading my way and getting uncomfortably close. Fortunately, somehow or other, the carriage driver and the remaining zebu managed to stop the potential runaway wagon.

Their world was not so different from those in the small towns I cycled past here in Madagascar.

The experience of almost being hit by the wagon brought up a story that is part of my life. You see, over a hundred years ago my grandfather was killed by a couple of runaway horses that were pulling him in a carriage to market. According to my father, who was only ten years old at the time, someone scared the horses, who took off. My grandfather fell and his leg caught in the axle. His head hit the ground repeatedly.

One of the most unique aspects of Madagascar is the reverence the people have for their ancestors and the power they carry. “The razana (best defined as “ancestors”) are the sources from which the life force flows and the creators of Malagasy customs and ways of life. The living are merely temporary extensions of the dead. Great hardship or trouble can result if the dead are offended or neglected.” – Wildmadagascar.org. The zebu cart incident started my own ‘razana‘ while cycling. I started thinking about my father, his life and his world. My father was born in a village in eastern Slovakia in 1910 and grew up in a world not very different from the world I was now cycling through. His family was poor and struggled to have enough food. At the same time my father would tell me they were not as poor as many others because they had a small shop, one I imagine not so different from the hundreds of shops I have seen here cycling through one village after another.


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As I grew older and the world around us changed, my father would tell me about the cold nights he spent sitting huddled on the oxen-pulled carriage heading to the big town for market day. He would tell me how he dreamed about a little heated hut on wheels so he would not be so cold, maybe already hearing about, or even having seen an automobile. Interestingly, my other grandparents lived in another town and also had a small shop from which they tried to support their eight kids, one of whom was my mother. Their world was not so different from those in the small towns I cycled past here in Madagascar. It was a world of daily struggle, of trying to put enough food on the table and experiencing life’s simple joys, especially on religious holidays.

I spent a large chunk of my life trying to bring a better life to thousands of poor farmers and villagers in Africa. In fact, TDA Global Cycling is a result of trying to bring ecological tourism to the area and thus contribute to the economy of Africa. Nowadays, when I think of these poor, struggling masses, with the challenges they are facing, I often get a hopeless feeling. Yet today, thinking of my grandparent’s world and how much things have changed in just a hundred years in that part of the world, I think that perhaps, just perhaps, in another hundred years there may not be thousands and thousands of hungry, barefoot children. Hopefully their world will be full of potential and possibilities.

I never met my grandparents nor for that matter my uncles and aunts. Tragically, they were killed in that horrendous cataclysm of the 1940s, which changed the world forever. I just hope that in order for a better world to come to the villages I am cycling through, the change will be gradual and no major catastrophe will come their way.



1 Comment for "Madagascar & The World Of My Parents And Grandparents"

Henry, I have no story comparable to yours linking the life of your grandparents to the life of the people of your road through Madagascar. But like you, I spent a lot of time thinking while pedaling through Africa with you that first time.

I was touched by the ingenuity, hard work, and goodwill of the people we passed and wondered what lesson I could learn from them and what do to honour them. Thinking grandly, I decided that all human needs could be boiled down to three things: security, love, and respect. Of those three, only the last — respect — was something I could offer as I passed or briefly stopped. My methods: smiles, songs, greetings in the local language, pausing for a look. Touch.

Like you, I am optimistic about the long future.

Tim Padmore

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