Hey all -- I wanted to thank each of you for your birthday greetings, and update you all on some of my birthday goings-on.
What did Madagascar give me for my birthday? A little inter-military clash! [See the BBC story]
Yesterday was actually pretty quiet, but it set the stage for a pretty eventful morning. Kirsten had an early meeting today, and returned to the house around 9:30 AM, carrying newspaper reports of a stage set for a conflict. Essentially, a small group of military forces (FIGN - the 'gendarmerie') loyal to the previous president (Ravalomanana) barricaded a street outside their Fort yesterday and arranged a large demonstration this morning. The military forces (FIS) allied with the current 'transitional' government tried to stop the demonstration and barricade this morning. [For those of you new to the political scene here, the 'transitional' government came to power via a military-backed coup last February]
From our high vantage point in Andohalo, we saw trucks loaded with soldiers heading to the other side of town (where the fort is located). We could see the soldiers move across the hill, but could not see the actual conflict. The noises of automatic weapon fire and tear gas launchers echoed around the hills of Tana from about 10 AM to noon, when everything fell quiet. Reportedly, the soldiers were primarily firing into the air to disperse the protesters. By 1:30 PM it was announced the the FIGN (the opposition's military force) had surrendered, and that 5 people (unclear whether civilian or military) had been admitted to the hospital. We've recently heard that they haven't surrendered, but are now just at a stand off. While editing this post, sporadic gun fire has started again.
The shops down-town closed their doors and everyone is a little shaken, but life goes on here. Maman'angie is making beans for dinner, our neighbor Marie is helping our other neighbor, Jean-Cristophe, to decorate his house with new curtains - and she's more worried about making the design 'too female' for the bachelor than she is about the fighting across town affecting her life directly.
Folks here who lived through the actual coup last February saw much worse fighting. Even then, the combat was mostly just between soldiers and was very localized. The attitude is essentially, "You live your life around them -- everybody knows where they are, and you don't go there." A local editorial that Kirsten found puts it very well: “Il faut rappeler qu'il y a une différence entre la vie de tous les jours, plutôt calme, et la vie politique, plutôt très agitée.” [local editorial, Sobika.com] = “One must remember that there is a difference between everyday life, often calm, and political life, often very agitated.”
So, if you read about the scary events in Madagascar, please know that we're safe and as informed as we can be.
Tom and Kirsten