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Stephan Laboy

Coming out of Nebraska, cities like Chicago or New York were always so fascinating to me. I had never considered that buildings could be so high and close together so as to shade entire blocks. The massive populations and diversity of life allow these cities to truly never sleep. Even the traffic in these cities is a spectacle.

I believe there is an attitude of sorts in America that these mega cities are confined strictly to America, China, India, and MAYBE Europe. Certainly not South America and, not even in the realm of discussion, Africa. Here in Madagascar it is fair to say that a majority of life is in rural communities where the entire local economy is driven by the rice harvest and many modern accommodations like electricity or running water are sparsely found.

There is another side to Madagascar however. Every journey to the capital city of Antananarivo reminds me of this dichotomy of life here in Madagascar. Antananarivo (commonly referred to as Tana) has the rough population of Chicago but is a little smaller due to the higher population density. The stunning Presidential Palace is perched atop a massive hill that the rest of city stems from. From this hill, tight clusters of mostly low and medium-rise building make up the scenery as far as the eye can see. Walking the streets, food from Spain, Italy, America, and India are easy to find. On the streets it’s not uncommon to hear Malagasy, French and English being spoken, sometimes all in the same sentence. In more specific communities, Chinese, Italian, and German can even be heard. A hotel I frequent is exquisite. They have excellent food, a great view, and every accommodation expected in any given American hotel. The only notable difference is that the room is quite literally a tenth the cost of a comparable American hotel.

These cities are often excluded from discussion on the topic of Africa as if they are so rare, they’re not worth discussion. My experience in Tana has shown this to be far from the truth. And this is only one big city in Madagascar (one of the poorest countries in Africa), how many more cities are there like this scattered across the continent?

Stephan Laboy is an agricultural extension volunteer serving with the Peace Corps in Madagascar. His story can be followed at stephanlaboy.wordpress.com.

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