Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Mery

For no particular reason, here is a pic Meghan took of me. Malagasy kids are generally keen to have their photos taken, so that they can look at the image on your camera. Here I am showing them their pics.

Once again, the following is an entry from my journal a while back.

Aug 31, 2010 Toliara. 7:48am.

I am at some hotel in Toliara and am the first one of my peeps up. Am drinking coffee alone. I love this time of day. Its warm, but not hot and the air smells tropical. I have to go to the University and to do a bunch of shopping today. I hope to leave for Beza tomorrow morning, but am not 100% sure we can get everything done today. I miss Ron and feel a bit sad this morning. Its always hard to go into the field as I know that I will have little contact outside and it just feels scary.

BTW the former president who is currently in exhile, has been sentenced to life in prison by the current government/courts. I were told that the judges are going on strike because they were being pressured by the current president (former DJ turned coup leader turned self-appointed president) to make decisions he favored. But there has yet to be a strike, so I guess the judges must have decided the pressure wasn’t so bad OR the pressure got worse and they caved. Who knows.

Made it through the sapphire towns yesterday. Sketch. Had to pay off one gendarme and got stopped a zillion times by others. There's something about dudes with automatic weapons that makes me uncomfortable.

Ok, so I will now tell you about the Mery...

Noting is official in Madagascar without having been stamped. Preferably a number of times. Preferably by a number of people. Preferably a number of times by a number of people. Preferably a number of times by a number of people in a number of places. Often you need a stamp from one location to get a stamp in another location all so that you can go back to the first location to get a third stamp confirming that you got the first and the second stamp. Seriously.

All official government stamps are in red ink. I asked Roki (the wonderful Malagasy Botanist who is helping me with the immigration process) why I couldn’t get some stamps made (there are venders on every corner waiting to carve rubber stamps) and get my own red ink (which is readily available in the market). His eyes got wide and he replied "NO." He said “sure you could buy red ink, but you must not use it.” He reminded me that red ink was only for government officials. He said we could buy blue ink and use that. Venders use blue ink to mark “paid” on every receipt and you could get your own logo or signature stamp to use with blue ink. I asked “what about black, or green or pink?” He just gave me an odd look and said “you could, but why would you want to?” Good point.

The “Mery’ is the most frequently visited stamping locale. The building is just off of the Avenue of Independence, which is chaotic and frenzied and notoriously dangerous. Inside the building, the Mery room is fairly large and the periphery of the room is lined with makeshift tables and benches with staff. The entire place smells of freshly steamed broccoli and the Backstreet Boys are nearly always are playing. Immediately upon entering someone is telling you to grab a freaking clue and get out of the way, in another language of course. There is pushing and shoving and yelling and comments I don’t understand, but lots of dirty looks, which I understand. Loud and clear.

Every single person in there has stacks of papers to be stamped. I alone have an inch thick bundle ready to go. Any letters that you personally write and sign, must be stamped, in order for party B to know that party A (the Mery) checked you are who you say you are. Any copies of other bureaucratic documents must be stamped, such that party B will know that this is a legitimate copy of some document which was checked by party A (again, the Mery). Also, I had to HAND OVER MY PASSPORT to Door 7 in order to apply for a visa, so I also need to make copies of my passport and have those copies stamped. Any documents that a Malagasy person has signed must be stamped, but in order to have then stamped, you must have the person’s official Malagasy ID card with you. I could hardly believe this one. We actually had to get an ID card from Jonah, who runs the Durrell Fund in Tana and is a University Professor. I thought, no wait, actually, I said “get his ID card?! I may as well just ask for his pants while I am at it!”

Ok, back to the broccoli-smelling-Backstreet-Boy-playing Mery….Half-ish way down the line of staffers (whom can only be identified by their position on the other side of the table) I handed off my stack of papers to one unmarked person. He barely looked at the documents, but stamped each page in a frenzy with a number of different stamps, using only red ink. He then passed my stack on to another person, who was sitting a few seats down, and was also unmarked, for additional stamping. My papers get passed and traded and stamped some more until I am eventually given a small wooden chip with a number on it. I assume this means wait, but there is no order to the numbers being passed out. I got 94, but 218 , 361, and 7 were all ahead of me, I think. Eventually, I do get my stack back, and for the equivalent of $1.50 leave unharmed, but heavily stamped. Some of my documents have 7 fresh stamps on them and are literally illegible due to all the red ink. But, they look pretty freaking official in Madagascar.

In total I returned to the Mery 4 times that week, including the following very complicated side trek. We went to the Mery to, of course, get some things stamped and signed. Then we needed to go to the “District” which is similar in function to the Mery, but is at a higher level of bureaucracy and thus has more authority. With our bundle of Mery papers in hand, we braved the streets of Tana once more and went into an unmarked door and up a very dingy set of spiral staircases (which were clearly designed for house elves) in order to get the required stamps and signatures from the District. District staff glance at our papers and informed us, that in order to get their stamps and signatures, we must go to the “fokontany” , which is one level below the Mery. Oy. So we head to the outskirts of town to go to the fokotany to got our stamps and signatures. After leaving the fokotany, I promptly stepped in what I believe was dog diarrhea and then got back in the car with my incredibly sh*tty flip flops. I really have a knack for stepping in sh*t. Anyhow, we zip-zag back across town, to go to none other than the Mery, to get our fokotany papers signed and stamped before heading back to the District.

This literally takes all day. At 3pm we arrive back at the District, where they are kindly waiting for us. We go into a stale smelly room which doubles as a paper graveyard and a man pulls out a rather large typewriter and tell us that because this will take a while, we should have a seat. Oy number 2. Rocki and the District staff talk a little and Megan, Denise and I talk a little, and then through Rocki we all converse a bit. One of the officials needed to get in a cabinet behind me and politely said “excuse moi Mademoiselle”. To which I responded “No problem, but its Madame”. “Oh?!” he responded, looking shocked. I then casually suggested that I could be Mademoiselle if he could get me a visa. We all laughed but the men kept carrying on about this marriage proposal business and just how willing they were. They even sweetened the deal and suggested they would through in some Omby (Malagasy cows, which are often exchanged in marriage deals), but I said that wasn’t necessary, just the visa would do. What’s wrong with a little green card marriage between “friends” anyhow? After many many strokes of the decrepit typewriter, we headed back to the Mery to get copies, signatures and stamps of the papers the District had just created, signed and stamped. Once I was back at the Mery Roki informed me that the marital status on my paperwork may be a problem at Door 7 or when getting stopped by the gendarme (recall the gem stone town bribery). Why on earth would my marital status be a problem? Because the man at the District to whom I proposed marriage in exchange for a visa had refused to put “married” on my new Malagasy ID card, yet all of my other stamped and signed paperwork listed Ron Mombourquette as my lawfully wedded husband. Oy number 3.

I have yet to actually receive a visa and my temporary Malagasy ID will expire on October 26th. The following is a pic of the required paperwork for the visa application process. This is of page 1 of 5 and in fact, Door 7 added a few requirements, just for kicks.

Maybe I could get a few Omby after all…


  1. Oy!! This is about a thousand times more unpleasant than in the bad old days when I had to get visa extensions (1987 and 1992). I had to visit a few places and pay off someone once, but never like this. Where is the gemstone Gendarme story?

  2. Its brutal and completely ridiculous! There was just a wee blurb earlier in this post saying that we had to pay off gandarme. No biggie.