Things have slowed down here in Antananarivo, Madagascar's sprawling and bustling capital. Since my previous time here (2007-2009), the traffic has become worse. And none of Tana's residents would deny that. But with the holiday break, large parts of town are seeing traffic flowing more smoothly and one can get around with more ease. There's space for some breathing, it seems. The downtown area, though, is experiencing its usual gridlock. Although forever crushed with people, the famous Avenue de L'Independence is certainly not without its charms. At the northwest end of the avenue, there is a beautiful train station, called Gare Soarano, which was built by the French, as part of the railway system they built during colonialization.
It's one of the main tourist attractions in town. The train no longer runs, so it stands as something of a fading reminder of colonialism. There are some upscale shops there and a spacious cafe, so it offers a bit of a relief from the crush of the downtown area, which includes neighborhoods like Analakely, Tsaralalana, Isoraka, Ampasamandinika, Behoririka and Antanimena. You have to be mindful of pickpockets as you go, but it is fun to walk around and take everything in, though there are ever present reminders of the extreme poverty of Madagascar; many street children and beggars stay on the famous Avenue de L'Independence. Higher up, the streets turn to cobblestone and they twist and turn around historic churches, tourist hotels, restaurants, stores, and iconic two-story Malagasy homes.
Though it is still crowded and full of spectacle, even Tana's downtown seems to have relaxed a bit for the holiday. It's not just here of course but there, too. And it's a pause for a variety of things. Here's hoping that its a space for many individual reflections, happy accidents, catchings of breath, deep exhales, fitful sleeps, deep dreams, fits of laughter, good meals with friends, and perhaps most importantly, some fresh hopes for new beginnings. May we all experience bumps previously unseen that propel us to somewhere better, to some things new, as we all work on our individual and collective dreams. Happy New Year! Tatry ny taom-baovao!