Living Vicariously As A Peripatetic Shutterbug

{ More musings from the Cantankerous Old Mule }

Buttercup is dead. Long live The Lemon.

One of the toxic tunnels, which leads into the city.

One of the toxic tunnels, which leads into the city.

A funny thing happened to me while riding Buttercup the other day. (Need to catch up on the sagas of Buttercup, a.k.a. The Lemon? Click here.) I had been downtown for a meeting, and decided to take a bit of an adventurous detour to grab some photos before heading home at the end of the day. I know my way around reasonably well but as I was pulling off my friend Kim issued a friendly warning: “Watch out for the one-ways. they can be tricky.”

“Whatever,” I smiled and waved.

Now, understand this, town planners are seriously allergic to Tana. There was one once but he was last seen in the local loony bin muttering something about being a half-baked crème brûlée. The city was designed by the French more than a century ago, and in their wildest dreams they didn’t believe it would house more than 400 000 people. The roads were designed accordingly. That figure stands closer to 2.1-million now, and it shows on the polluted, clogged arteries that weave through the urban sprawl.

But I digress. I was trying to get up to a colonial-era theatre and knew the general direction I needed to go. I was making good time when I heard a shrill shriek of a whistle and saw a steely-faced woman dressed in white blocking my way, her hand outstretched in my direction. It was one of the dreaded police people.

“Papers,” she demanded in French, once I pulled over in front of her. “You were going the wrong way down a one-way.” I think she may have actually licked her lips.

“I was?” I asked innocently. I hadn’t seen any signs.

“Papers!” was her only response.

Next she asked for my Drivers’ Licence. “But I don’t need a licence for a 50cc,” I answered. That was a mistake. In the rest of the civilised world what I ride is referred to as 50cc, but here it’s a 49cc. For a 50 you need a licence, but not for a 49. Doh!

“Licence!” she insisted a bit more ferociously. So I gave her my South African licence, which counts for nothing because it’s valid only for cars.

“This won’t do,” she explained to me in French. (I was still speaking English.)

“I know,” I answered, “because I don’t need a licence to ride my scooter!”

So, she gave it back to me, along with my other papers and told me I could go. (This was the shortened version of what happened.)

“Thank you very much,” I smiled back at her (although, I guess she couldn’t tell I was smiling behind my anti-pollution mask) and put my papers back under Buttercup’s seat. I hopped back on, fired her up, and looked up ready to go, straight back into the scowling face of the self-same policewoman.


I was convinced I’d stepped into an alternate universe. It was time to pull out the big guns: I rolled up my short sleeves, removed my mask and replied in French this time.

“But you’ve seen my papers and you said I could go. I don’t understand.”

Suddenly she couldn’t speak French anymore (in this alternate world). “Papers. Licence!” was all I got. So I gave them back to her and gave her my Canadian Licence this time (this was, after all a different situation to five minutes earlier.)

She also had problems with the fact that the scooter’s papers were not in the same name as on my Licence.

“Is your name Tojo Zakatianarimalala,” she asked, glancing back and forth between the name on my Canadian Licence and Buttercup’s papers. I had become mute, and simply stared back.

“It will cost you 10 000 Ariary (about $3.50) to get your papers back here and now,” she told me, while clutching tightly to them.

“That seems awfully steep,” I replied. Because in this part of the world, even in an alternate universe, it is.

“Well, then, I’m writing you a fine and you can pay it at the central police station in 48 hours,” she explained in Malagasy. (I think that’s what she was saying – my Malagasy is awfully rusty.) “How much will that be,” I asked, half wishing I could just pay the bribe and be done with it. She just shrugged.

Finally I got to ride off sans papers on my grand photographic adventure. I didn’t get the shot I was hoping for, but did get many more, including this one of a white-washed church and one across the city from in front of the Rova (the Queen’s Palace).

Panorama of Antananarivo

Panorama of Antananarivo

You’d think that would have been enough of an adventure for one day, but as I was approaching home (up the long hill after the US Embassy) The Lemon died.

Splutter. Dead. Not even a cough.

If there had been any rice paddies between there and home I would have just flung her into one, but there weren’t, so I pushed her home. For days I’ve been trying to work up enough energy to push her back up my hill to a repair place. Finally today, as I was wheeling her out (with the help of my alternate personality Tojo) he noticed something amiss under the carcass. It turns out she wasn’t dead – the spark plug had just fallen out.

Buttercup is dead. Long live The Lemon!


One comment on “Buttercup is dead. Long live The Lemon.

  1. Geraldine
    March 19, 2015

    Haha … only in Africa!

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on March 19, 2015 by in Humour and tagged , , , .
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