The Slovak who fell in love with Madagascar
Updated: Oct 9, 2019
Vlado is a passionate, eccentric Slovak adventurer that I serendipitously met in Slovakia. I was impressed by his passion for Madagascar and Malagasy people. So I decided to ask him several questions, and he was happy to reply to them. I am hoping that this interview will a) help foreigners understand how Madagascar is from another foreigner's point of view,
b) remind my fellow Malagasy that Madagascar is extremely unique (I am planning to translate it to the Malagasy language for anyone who would like to read but does not speak English). Have a nice reading!
Tsiky: What brought you to Madagascar the first time and when was that?
Vlado: I visited Madagascar for the first time in April 2010. It was my first “film and research” expedition to Madagascar. We tried to find traces and records of Maurice Benyovszky in Madagascar and Mauritius and to make a documentary about it. We brought all the film making equipment with us – cameras, a big tripod, sound recording devices, chargers and other gadgets. After finishing this trip, I was sure that I would return to Madagascar again.
The result of this expedition was my first documentary film from Madagascar “In the footsteps of Maurice Benyovszky”.
Tsiky: How many times have you been to Madagascar?
Vlado: Over the last 9 years I have visited Madagascar 14 times.
Tsiky: Why do you love Madagascar so much?
Vlado: There is something special about Madagascar. Before Madagascar I visited many other interesting and beautiful countries in Asia, South America, and Europe, but Madagascar the only country where I have returned many times. I like Malagasy people, their character, language, culture, life style. I feel good, when I am in your country.
Tsiky: Your favourite place/places in Madagascar?
Vlado: It is a very hard question, Madagascar is large and I visited many nice locations everywhere there. But maybe my favourite place is Cap Est with the village Ambodirafia. This is the location where Maurice Benyovszky was killed in 1786 by a French commando. I visited this small village 11 times. It is at this end of the world, with no road to go there. We always visit the primary school in Ambodirafia and we try to bring something there for 250 children. We tried to find Benyovszky’s tomb there as well. Cap Est is an amazing place.
Tsiky: What do you know about Malagasy people/culture?
Vlado: Malagasy people are the most interesting feature of Madagascar. From my first visit, I have been trying to speak to the people “gasiteny” (Malagasy language). I didn’t have a teacher, I didn’t have any classes, but I wanted to learn by myself with the help of the Malagasy people everywhere. My “advantage” was, that I don’t speak French, and Malagasy people speak English very rarely. I also read some articles about Malagasy history, tribes, the political situation, economy, education, healthcare, nature, and the living environment. I try to understand different words between political situation, economy, education, healthcare, nature, and the living environment. I try to understand differences between gasy tribes, I try to understand different words between “teny avaratra” and “teny atsimo” (language of the north and language of the south) and I like it. I think we “vazaha” – the white people from Europe or from the USA, we have a lot to learn from the Malagasy people.
Tsiky: From your perspective, what are the strengths and the problems of Madagascar?
Vlado: Despite the fact that Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, I consider Madagascar’s position to be much better compared to other “richer” countries in Africa. Madagascar has no borders, no external enemies, and no problems of religious intolerance. Compared to the African mainland Madagascar is a very friendly, peaceful, and welcoming country. However, from my point of view the main problem in Madagascar is education. The number and quality of public schools, especially in rural areas is very low. There is insufficient support from the government, and very few good teachers. The children goto primary school with no professional teachers and after 3-4 years they don’t continue
education. Children are working or helping the family with work from a young age. There are
still many people not able to read and write. The low level of education and language skills is associated with poor environmental protection, a high degree of corruption in the country,
and many other negative aspects. If Madagascar invested more money in education, building schools, training high-quality teachers, and supporting schools in rural areas, this would be the way for a better future in Madagascar. I know that Madagascar has universities in Tana, Fianarantsoa, Diego, Tulear, Mahajanga, … that can produce experts and professionals. But in general the education system from primary school to university level is hugely deficient and needs to be constantly improved. The other big problem of Madagascar is the poor level of healthcare and transport infrastructure.
Tsiky: If you were given the opportunity to talk to Malagasy people (like now), what would be your message to them?
Vlado: I sometimes have the opportunity to speak to children in schools. First, I try to explain that education is very important. It is important as well to emphasize that the Malagasy people should be proud of their country and their culture. Madagascar has great natural wealth and resources that should be protected. Unfortunately, at present, we are seeing how the Malagasy people themselves destroy the country by burning the land, and cutting and burning forests, causing great damage to their own environment, including many endemic plants and animals in Madagascar. I see this situation as a big problem for the future as well.
Tsiky: What would be your advice to any tourist that visited/is visiting/will visit Madagascar?
Vlado: Today many tourists want to visit Madagascar, because they only want to say to their friends at home – “I was in Madagascar”. They are not very interested in the people or the country. Many tourists only want to spend a few days in some nice hotel near the beach and maybe to see some baobab trees or lemurs. I think Madagascar is not a country for every “vazaha” (not for all white tourists). I would advise tourists to first try to understand Madagascar, to know something about its people, history, culture and geography. To have respect for Malagasy people. We cannot just see the poverty but it must be seen how the Malagasy people are resistant and clever. How they can live in their environment, how they smile, and how they are happy with what they have. I am a tourist guide for Slovak and Czech tourists in Madagascar. I am proud to accompany the tourists, and I am very pleased if they leave Madagascar with beautiful experiences, with some knowledge, and with the feeling that they have visited an exceptional landscape that they would like to return to again.