Wednesday, December 8, 2010

We're all stocked up here

There are a lot of crazy people who call Diego home. Everytime you hit the streets, you never know what could happen. Sure, there were crazy people in Ambanja too, but they were altogether subdued compared to who roams the streets here. It's as if someone goes around Ambanja distributing mental health drugs to all of the crazies. I don't mean to make fun of crazy people. I understand that it's a social/health care issue here. There aren't services for mental health. A lot of these people are quite sick and their conditions could be easily controlled with simple medications. But they aren't. So sometimes walking around town can be interesting.
Here is what to look out for if you find yourself wandering around Diego-Suarez / Antsiranana, Madagascar:
There's this dude who stands or sits on the sidewalk on the main street with his arms slightly open at his sides. He stares up into space with his eyes half open. I see him in different locations around the main street, but I've never seen him in motion. It's curious. But he is harmless, so no worries. I'm told that he over uses a drug called "cot"... Cot is a leaf that people chew. It supposedly has effects that are similar to cocaine. (I tried it once. I started chewing a few leaves... they taste like leaves... and then I spit them out. You have to chew A LOT of them and for a long time. It's gross. A lot of guys walk around with their mouths full of it... but I digress).
There's a guy who walks around wearing very dirty and tattered clothes. He sometimes yells absuses, but not necessarily at you or any specific person, but it can be startling.
But there's one who takes the proverbial cake. Previous volunteers referred to her as "Bottle Lady" but I haven't really ever seen her with bottles, but I will continue to use the name for continuity's sake. She's quite frightening. Her regular haunt is the food market, which makes a venture to the "grocery store" potentially perilous. According to my students, she doesn't like white people, and she can small fear. When I was talking about how I'm afraid of her with my class, some of them were laughing so hard that they were crying; not funny. If you are white and you are scared, she will target you. And if you're white, you SHOULD be scared because she punches white people. She's punched me, wiped stuff on me, pinched me, all to varying degrees of severity. But sometimes when she punches you (usually in the arm) it really hurts! She's also often seen running through the streets. Other Malagasy people know she's crazy and yell at her or chase her away. I've seen her running fullspeed down the street being chased by someone with a stick. I assume that she commited some sin against him. She looks like she should live under a bridge and control the passage of billygoats. The last time I went to the market, though, she was apparently in a good mood, and she merely patted my arm as I went by. All the Malagasy people who live here know that she's crazy, and they laugh when she "acts out". She changes her clothes and is quite fat; someone must be clothing and feeding her. Does she go home to a family at night who feeds and cares for her after she terrorizes the streets all day? I'm very curious about all things Bottle Lady, but I am very afraid of her.

There she is. I didn't take this picture. I am far too fearful of her to purposefully get close enough for photographs. I found this picture on the volunteer computer at the Diego transit house. She's gained a lot of weight since this picture was taken.

There are a lot of other crazy people too. If you're looking out for crazy people, keep these guidelines in mind:
Crazy people don't wear shoes. Not everyone who isn't wearing shoes is crazy, but no one who IS wearing shoes is crazy. Note: plastic bags tied around your feet aren't shoes.
Crazy people don't walk in straight lines. Drunk people don't walk in straight lines. Sometimes a suspected crazy person is just drunk. But some crazy people are also drunk. It's best to avoid anyone isn't walking in a striaght line.
Crazy people yell. Drunk people yell. Sometimes a crazy person is drunk and then they yell a lot. It's best to avoid anyone who yells.
Crazy people are sometimes nice. Bottle Lady is not nice.

*Disclaimer* I don't find mental illness funny. I understand that it's a serious issue. I'm not trying to make fun of people who have mental illnesses. I just wanted to share some of what makes Diego an unpredictable place to live.

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