I am not the sort of traveller who likes to buy souvenirs. On the other hand, I love bringing back little pieces that really represent the country I have visited: newspaper cuttings, labels off locally produced products, leaves from local trees, the logo of the train company, some children's drawings, or a quick sketch that I have made, nothing glamorous and really nothing at all valuable.
On my way to Madagascar I realised that this country had a hold on the imagination of my family and friends, even those among them who never travel. I wanted to be able to bring back some small but typical things that would really show them something about this unique island.
Here is my list of presents, and perhaps it may inspire those of you who have only thought about bringing back vanilla pods, local rum cocktails or shells from Toliara market...
These little grey seeds will teach you how to be patient. You have to leave them soaking in water for a whole week and then find a long pot to help them develop their powerful roots. Patience? Even at three years old the little baobab will look frail and thin, and when its stalk loses its leaves you're going to be convinced that your plant is not happy in its new environment. Then, just when you have given up waiting, the baobab has a sudden growth spurt and takes its proper shape...
The little, purply red jujube fruit look like West Indian cherries, a sort of bitter wild cherry that Malagsy children snack on after school. You can buy them from markets or roadside stalls but...be careful they are properly dried. The ones that I bought were not fully dry and unfortunately rotted in my suitcase.
The Institute Saint Joseph's jams are made by handicapped Manakaran children and are sold all over the island. Lychee, pineapple and coriander or guava and passion fruit are all easily slipped into a corner of your suitcase, if you can wait til you get home to open them.
An internationally famous artist, you can visit his studio at Fianarantsoa and become lost in his photographs. He is nicknamed the "Madagascan Doisneau" (after a famous French photographer) and loves photographing the people of his island. He has a truly humanist view of his models and through them shows us the myriad Madagascan ways of life.