Another crazy day in Madagascar!!! I bribed my first government official today. Let me rephrase that in a way that sounds less illegal…I gave a gift to a hardworking employee who was doing a great job and deserved rewarding.
I did not mention previously, because I didn’t want to give my mother a coronary, that I was worried we might have a hard time getting out of the country. I was right to worry.
Let’s start with Gosy. Gosy’s Malagasy passport is not expired. However, apparently the passports were updated and everyone was expected to get a new passport to conform to the new regulations. We had no idea the passports had changed, but when we entered the country Gosy was told he needed to get a new passport. He figured he could just do it when we got home to the U.S. through the Malagasy embassy (they facilitated his last passport renewal). Unfortunately, they wanted him to update his passport before leaving the country. In the end, we had to purchase a visa to go in his American passport. That’s right!! Gosy, the Malagasy guy, needed a visa to LEAVE Madagascar. Someone please explain that one!!!
The kids had expired visas in their passports. Their long-term visas were never completed when they got their Malagasy citizenship certificates. Once again, why would a Malagasy person need a visa to be in Madagascar?!?!?! The customs official told us we needed to get them Malagasy passports. In fairness, we were also told that in Ft. Dauphin. But, why would an American kid need a Malagasy passport to go to the United States??? For some reason we were not required to buy them visas as we did for Gosy. Instead, we were told they could leave and we were welcome to give the official a “thank you gift” (i.e., bribe). So, we did and away we went.
Corruption is rampant in Madagascar and “thank you gifts” are very common. This is also how things were the last time I was here, although I never had occasion to give any “gifts.” After I left Madagascar, the new president cracked down on corruption and apparently things improved greatly. Since the coup d’états, things have gone back to the “old days.” The more money you have, the faster government works for you. If you have no money, good luck.
We were not the only people having problems in customs. The guy in front of us was arrested. He was apparently wanted for some crime and he was caught fleeing the country. So, the lessons learned today…when in doubt buy a visa, and it could always be worse (at least we weren’t arrested!!!).
We are now on Reunion Island. Reunion is a small island east of Madagascar and it is a French territory. So, I’m now trying out my rusty French. It’s less rusty than my Malagasy, so things are going pretty well so far.
Gosy has two sisters and a brother in Reunion. The kids were so excited to come and see their cousins Damion and Alex. They have met three more cousins – Thomas, Cosme and Tsimafaitsy. By the end of the night, Maya had learned a new word in French. She’s quite the little language sponge lately.
There is a chance that Gosy’s oldest sister, Perle, is annoyed with us (she might be joking??). Apparently only staying 10 days is a slap in the face. She’s clearly never heard the American philosophy that family is like fish – both stink after three days. We should be plenty stinky after 10 days.