Today, Target ate my paycheck. Okay, okay, to be completely honest, it wasn’t exactly Target. It was the most insane outdoor street market I have ever experienced. And it wasn’t exactly my paycheck. It was more like our research team’s dwindling funding. My first impression of said outdoor market? The smell. The odor that seemed to permeate every orifice of the market was a mix of sewage, rotten meat, and decomposing matter of every organic nature imaginable. However, looking beyond the smell, the experience was actually quite pleasant! We went there to make a few minuscule purchases, such as 20 kilos of sugar, 25 cans of condensed milk, and 300 kilos of rice! Now, for those of you who don’t speak metric, that’s 660 pounds of delicious, mouth-watering, filling rice to sustain us for 3+ weeks in the field. It’s simple math, really. 22 days in the field, 17 hungry mouths, 660 pounds of rice. And now, allow me to present a fun fact regarding rice: Most of the rice used to sustain the population of Antananarivo, hosting the most concentrated area per square footage of Malagasy people in the entire country, is imported from countries like Pakistan and India. This is perplexing as the majority of the country’s beautiful and bio-diverse forests are clear-cut in a slash and burn fashion, called “tavy”, to make room for rice paddies to feed the ever-increasing population of Malagasy people. Again, it’s simple arithmetic: Increasing population + more rice paddies – forest cover = every lemur species’ impending destruction. So, what are lemur biologists to do, besides lose sleep at night? We throw up our hands in frustration. But, I digress….
Back to the street market. Wondering amongst the enormous maze of stalls, covered with tattered and sun-faded colorful cloths, to block out the brutal ball of gas that warms our Earth, one begins to realize that despite its haphazard appearance, the stalls have a certain organization that brings an unexpected calming sense to my overly anal, borderline OCD personality. Each stall is carefully placed in the appropriate section depending on its wares. For example, the automotive section, where one can buy spark plugs, oil cans, or random broken car parts, all seem to be clustered together. Walking a little further and dodging the men carrying giant sacks of rice on their backs, you come across the “Aisle of Death”, as this vegetarian fondly calls it, boasting a wide assortment of animal parts collecting flies under the hot Malagasy sun. (Note to self: If you’re going to eat meat in Madagascar, you better be darn sure that it’s properly cooked!) Next comes my favorite section: Produce. One can easily get lost wandering in an entranced state, enchanted by the wonderful variety of exotic fruits. I was immediately drawn to one of my new favorite fruits–the lychee. It makes me wonder, who would’ve ever seen this fruit hanging on the tree and thought to themselves, “I wonder if this is edible?” Somebody far more intrepid than myself, that’s for sure!
The produce section also harbors the most impressive tower o’ garlic I have ever laid eyes on, rising 10 feet into the air. Somewhere between the rice and bean stalls, and the flip-flop section, the children’s department is tucked. Here you can find brightly colored soccer balls, Happy Nappy baby wipes, and horrifying pink plastic dolls eerily smiling at you from beneath their cellophane wrapping. Creepy.
We made our final purchases, loaded up the car, and said goodbye to the Malagasy Target, our wallets significantly lighter. Next, a quick lunch stop at a street sandwich shop. (My thoughts: Is there mayo on this sandwich? Should I risk eating the mayo that’s been sitting at ambient temperature for who knows how long? I did. Surprisingly, I’m still here to tell the tale). We hit up the Shoprite, Madagascar’s premier grocery establishment, for a few more items to beat the monotony of rice and beans for the next 3 weeks straight. Apparently adding ketchup and hot sauce creates a whole new flavor experience! I found myself salivating in the peanut butter and cereal aisles and I haven’t even made it to the field yet! Clearly, I’m in trouble. Next up. A story about the road less traveled.
It’s a jungle out there!