This time next week, ash clouds willing, Cambridge will be a very long way away and I’ll be settling into a bed in Antananarivo having met up with Brian Donaldson and enjoyed an afternoon of getting bearings and a first taste of Malagasy cuisine. I will have seen a little of a beautiful city, and experienced some of the extreme poverty of the nation’s capital first hand.

Tana as the city is known is described in Wikipedia as being, “situated in the center of the island (of Madagascar) length-wise, and 145 km (90 miles) away from the eastern coast. The city occupies a commanding position, being built on the summit and slopes of a long and narrow rocky ridge, which extends north and south for about 4 km (2 mi) and rising at its highest point to about 200 m (660 ft) above the extensive rice plain to the west, although the town is at about 1,275 m (4,183 ft) above sea level. It is Madagascar’s largest city and is its administrative, communications, and economic center.”

Antananarivo at sunset (2005)

The description in the Lonely Planet guide introduces a colourful, noisy, chaotic city – home over 6 million of the capital’s 20 million population and has a bustle described by one website as putting the frenzy of New York to shame.

However, it seems that the charm of the picture of the sunset over the hill side city hides a very real picture extreme poverty. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and Tana will be a stark reminder of this according to many of the blogs and travellogues I have read.

So – I sit here now having had a blissfully happy night last night with friends in Brixton – wondering how I’ll deal with arriving there jetlagged, excited and apprehensive.

I flew into Kampala a few years ago, the journey from the airport to the city was beautiful and shocking in equal measure – banana trees, bouganvillia flowers, cattle in the road, people everywhere, lots of green and every other shop a coffin shop – people walking along with coffins on their heads. Uganda is a nation of relative wealth by comparison to Madagascar.

In Madagascar a recent ILO, UNICEF and INSTAT study found that about 1.8 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 years have to work, most performing hazardous occupations. A child born in Madagascar has only a 21% chance of living to the age of 40. Some more facts and figures here

So – I’m excited, I’m nervous, I feel daunted and challenged by the journey, and determinted to do all I can do to help people understand that Madagascar isn’t a thriving tourist location, brim full of furry talking cartoon creatures, but is one of the worlds most bio-diverse, beautiful and poorest nations.

I’ve got much more research to do – but if you’re interested I’ve found this link helpful (if you scroll down a little – past the reference to the talking cartoon creatures movie)

Interesting also to read the current Foreign Office advice to people travelling to Madagascar and staying in Antananrivo. is where I’m doing my fundraising for the Kitchen Table Charities Trust – you can help by following the link and clicking on the donate button…