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* 50 years of memories of Fort Dauphin (now Tolagnaro), Madagascar…

August 2, 2015

[several yrs ago (2008?) while I was visiting Tolagnaro, I was asked for some reflections on my time living in that town. This is a somewhat edited and expanded version of that]

As the age of 60 is no longer so far down the road, here I am with almost 50 years of memories FortDauphinof this dear little town that used to be called Fort Dauphin and now is known as Faradofay (Malagasy for “Fort Dauphin”) or Tolanaro or Tolagnaro (my favorite) or even Taolagnaro.

How do I have this many years of memories of that town?  By moving there when I was only 8, living there from 1966 to 1976 (while my parents taught at the American School which used to be there), visiting there pretty much yearly (with a few exceptions) from 1982 to 1995 and now having visited there 4 more times in the last 10 years or so.

During the time I lived in Fort Dauphin there was an American School and MCH dormitory for (mostly) Lutheran missionary kids located at what is now the Mahavoky Hotel campus, with about 50 to a high of 80 kids there in the school (1st through 12th grades) at any one time.

While my wife and I lived and worked in Madagascar it was watching the school and dorm eventually be moved to first Antsirabe, then, the school closed, the dorm was moved to Tana for several years, the few remaining kids going to the American School of Antananarivo.

So what are some of my memories of those years?

It’s having watched the Malagasy government from the days of the first President Tsiranana in the 1960s, who loved to come down and stay by Libanona beach, through many political changes in the early to mid-1970s, back when Ratsiraka was a young man…

It’s having driven on the road to Amboasary when it was newly paved and when the road from there to Ambovombe was a slash of red sand and clay through the Androy countryside.

It’s having watched a movie of the Apollo moon landing while lying on a <<tsihy>> (woven mat) in the moonlight in the front yard of what was then the MCH.

It’s remembering a time when what was then called Lebanon (now Libanona) was full of American Lutheran missionaries and their families every January, of remembering when there really wasn’t any tourism in Fort Dauphin and Berenty was mostly a place for the people who lived and worked there and the occasional American graduate student doing research for their doctoral studies.

It goes back to before the Catholic Cathedral was built, to a time when Fort Dauphin had a busy, mostly French Club Nautique (which we called the “Yacht Club”) at the Lanirano lake.  When you walked in the shade of <<filao>> (long-needled pine) trees pretty much from the top of Nakling hill all the way down to the beach (before the cyclone of 1975).  When the now abandoned Libanona motel was being built and the French Foreign Legion used to drive down from Antsirananana(?!) on training exercises, camping on the Lebanon rock beach.

A time when there were probably 50 or more French families living in town involved with sisal, fishing, running French companies, etc.

It was a time before 4x4s were necessary, when the road were such you could pick up a VW bug in Toamasina and easily drive it down to Toliary and then across to Fort Dauphin.

A time when there were only half the people living in the Anosy area and two or three times the forests.

During my last several visits there, it’s now become the reality of meeting the adult men who were the sons of the <<Karana>> shop keepers my parents bought things from, who now, like their fathers, still stand in the doors of their stores, watching the world move by.

It’s the reality of guards and their families still sleeping in lean-tos outside of stores, of cooked <<bageda>> (form of sweet potato) and giant bananas still for sale along the street, and small piles of charcoal and roasted peanuts, which sadly have become both much smaller and more expensive.

It’s still the sound of dogs barking at night, of up to very heated conversations during the day, of moonlight so bright and clear you can read by it…and the list goes on.

And it’s now some big changes, many of them related to the massive ilmenite mining operation whose structures and electric lights now surround Tolagnaro, from the mine and processing facilities north of the Lanirano lake to housing near Bezavona to more housing and a brand new harbor across the bay from the Libanona swimming beach.

It’s so many more people, so many of them so very, very poor.

It’s the now “old” harbor, standing mostly empty, with a brand new one located out at Whale Point.

It’s still some of the same 4TL taxis running around town, rebuilt Lord only knows how many times.

It’s so many fewer trees in almost every direction.

It’s a pretty much destroyed road from Tolagnaro at least as far as Amboasary.

And yet it’s still a raw beauty of hills and ocean and white sand beaches and palm trees and filao, whistling in the wind.

And the people who live here, as stoic to the hardships they face as they are friendly.

And it’s a whole lot of memories, most of them good, for which I am very thankful.

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One Comment
  1. One of the strange aspects of this much memory of this place is that with half the population of Madagascar now less than 20 years old, I have a whole lot of memories of that place that many of those living there don’t have.

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