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Mad Air!

Standing at baggage claim recently at a hectic airport here in the States I was reminded of a day when I landed in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar on a flight that originated in the capital city of Antananarivo.

I had been in country for a week already exploring the northern sections of the country tracking various species of lemurs. That day, I was headed to the southern part of the island nation to Berenty; one of the few places where ring-tailed lemurs remain in the wild.

I boarded a Madagascar Air - formally known as Mad Air - regional airplane filled to max capacity of about fifty people.

We flew over the mountains and along the coast before descending to our destination. As we got closer to the runway, I saw a small building I assumed was the airport. From my window seat I saw people running towards the airport from all points of the compass. The airport seemed to only consist of a lone runway and a single building.

After the plane came to a stop, a staircase was wheeled to the plane. Once down the stairs and across the hot tarmac us passengers were directed to an open room inside a bland beige cinder block structure to await our luggage.

There was a raggedly dressed man doing construction work on the inside of the dirt floored room. He stopped what he was doing when we entered the room and walked to our plane. There was a second man in the room who was sound asleep lying on scaffolding on the far side of the room snoring loudly.

The first man returned from the plane with one piece of luggage. He dragged it lazily into the room across the sand floor to where we were all standing and called out the tag number. Once that piece of luggage was claimed he went back out to the plane to get another. The process of shuffling back out to the plane to get one piece of luggage at a time, bring it into that room and call out the tag number, was repeated numerous times almost in slow motion. All the while his co-worker slept on the scaffolding snoring which caused the room full of tourist to break out in laughter as we awaited our luggage.

Finally, it was my turn. I claimed my backpack and proceeded on my journey.

Ten days later I was transported back to this airport; a term I use for this place; only called that because airplanes do take off and land there.

I was a bit early for my flight back to Antananarivo. Rather than go into the hot building, me and the only two other people there - also tourist –stood outside chatting, astonished there was no one else, not a worker in site; no ticket agent, no gate agent, no air traffic controller, not even the man napping on the scaffolding was to be found.

After about thirty minutes of conversing with the other tourists, a loud siren sounded with an undulating scream.

The three of us weren't sure what the sound was for - incoming scud missile perhaps. Ducking was considered. Running for cover was discussed. Within thirty seconds of the alarm sounding, people appeared running towards the building from all directions. The dismay on our faces in retrospect was comical. Were we being invaded; perhaps mobbed and robbed?

Then, low and behold we saw a plane come into view and land. The local people had come from the surrounding village to work the flight, so to speak, and were advised of the plane’s pending arrival via the siren.

After the people on that flight were off loaded, their luggage gathered one at a time and handed over to the next batch of awaiting tourist, we were checked in and loaded then off to our next destination. The villagers then returned to their daily life.

I’m thinking the initial naming of that airline was the better descriptive; Mad Air!! And perhaps they should call that airport Mad Airport!

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