Things to know before your trip to Honko, by Kristoffer

Congratulations, you have been accepted to Honko. Before too long you will be traveling out to join us amongst the mangroves. However, there are a few things you should know before you begin your journey.

  • The journey is a long one

This has probably already occurred to you, but it is worth revisiting. Especially if you have not travelled to Madagascar before, your arrival maybe quite confusing and overwhelming. So plan your sleep and caffeine consumption so you are bright eyed and bushy tailed upon your arrival, prepared to handle the trials ahead.

  • The porters at the airports (in Madagascar) are aggressive.

These men may be wearing vests, they maybe plainclothes, but they stock the airport, looking for tourists to pounce on. They will take your bags and passport, walk with you to security, or the taxi. This maybe a few minutes, it maybe a few seconds, but the end result is that they will be standing there with all your important possessions demanding payment. You have a few ways of dealing with this. You can keep a firm grip on your bags, the fewer bags you have the easier this is, and just adamantly refuse any assistance. This can be tricky, when showing your passport or travel visa to an official you might let go of your bag for a moment, and then they swoop in. Your other course of action would be to accept their assistance, in which case you have to do a little prep work. To put this plan into action its best to have the local currency ahead of time, if they see you withdrawing cash they will demand more. You must then separate the amount you are willing to pay, this is up to your discretion, but 2000 thousand ariary a piece is more than fair, although they will strongly disagree. You could also try euro coins, or 5 dollar USD, although local exchange rates for small bills can make this an extra point of contention with the porters.

  • Air Madagascar has weight limits on bags

While Air Madagascar allows you to bring as many bags as you like, the total weight of your check in luggage cannot exceed 20 kilo, and your carry on must weigh less than 10 kilo. If your check in luggage is overweight that you must pay an extra fee. But Air Madagascar’s rampant inefficiencies means that the process of paying this fee and obtaining your boarding pass can cost in excess of $40, and take almost an hour of your time. The carry on regulation is far less stringent, if your bag is overweight, you can just make a show of taking things out and carrying them by hand, and they will likely wave your through.

  • Travel costs in Tulear

While traveling in Tulear, it is important to have small bills in the local currency. While you can sometimes get change, often times once you have handed them the bill they will insist that that is the cost of the trip. This can be difficult, as the atm typically only gives out 10,000Ar and 5,000Ar notes. So try and make some small purchases before traveling. When making these purchases, it is also important to be clear on the price ahead of time, and make sure you get proper change. You don’t have to speak the local language to insist on the price they quoted and the change you should receive. The public taxi, which takes you to and from Tulear, is 2000Ar each way (pronounced Taxibruce). The tricycles with seating, which take you to and from the Taxibruce station to the center of Tulear are 2000Ar each way (pronounced poospoos).The poospoos, which take you to any specific location in the center of Tulear are 1000Ar. Many of the poospoos drivers do not know specific business around town, so it is important to learn the neighborhoods and just yell to the drivers when you are ready to stop. Your fellow volunteers at Honko (pronounced hoonkoo), as well as the staff, will help you get your bearings so do not fret too much.

  • A few simple social rules

While French maybe the dominant language in Madagascar, where you will be in Ambondrolava, the dominant language is Malagasy. Being fluent in the language of course would be very helpful, but a few simple gestures and phrases can get you a long way

  • Salama: This is the general greeting, your basic hello, and can vary in pronunciation from salami to salam
  • Mondrewsue: This phrase is used when you are eating or drinking, but others around you are not. It is an invitation to join you, and it is considered polite to ask. Whether you have enough to share is irrelevant, and people will almost always decline, that you are seen to make the gesture is what is important.
  • Removing your shoes: When entering a residence, it is polite to remove your shoes and leave them outside. At Honko it is important however to bring your shoes in at night, or they might get stolen.
  • Touching your elbow when shaking: Shaking hands is not an uncommon greeting, especially with individuals you have not met or rarely see. To touch the elbow of your shaking hand with your free hand while shaking is considered a sign of respect.
  • Valooma: This is your general fairwell, you basic goodbye goodbye
  • In-e-vovo: This phrase generally means what’s up, or how are you doing.
  • There is no running water at Honko

You must obtain all water by bucket from a nearby well. Unless you heat up the water on the stove, or set up a solar shower, you will be taking cold showers with a cup and bucket.

  • Solar Power

While Honko does possess a large solar panel, electricity is limited. Charging electronics, like laptops and cellphones, drains the battery, meaning that some nights are spent by candlelight. Cloudy days, or days spent away from honko, can mean further reduced power. It is a good idea to get a solar charger of your own. Something with its own battery is good, so you can further charge your own personal electronics, even at night.

  • Clothes

If you have read through Honko’s informational guides, then you may already be aware that someone comes once a week to wash clothes. However, they can handle only so many clothes at a time, and they will not wash underwear. So during your stay at honko, you will need to wash your own undergarment, soapis proided. And you either need to wash some of your other clothes, or wear them more than once, to prevent overloading the washer.

  • Entertainment

Once a week or more, you will have the opportunity to travel into town, where you will have access to wi-fi. You can also purchase internet credit through your cellphone provider, for use at Honko. Other than that you are cut off, so it a very good idea to load up on music, tv shows, games, movies, and books before you depart. Honko has limited amounts of each of these, so it is a good idea to have some of your own.

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