The Big House

The Big House

Building the Trano-be, Madagascar About a year ago, on a Thursday morning, Jurgen was telling the bible stories to the king of Tsiombivohitra. There was another man in the house, an older man. Jurgen did not know him and asked his name: Iaban’i Roly. The coming weeks iaban’i Roly joined the meetings in Tsiombivohitra. After getting to know each other a bit better it turned out that the man officially lived in our village. The reason Jurgen did not see him there yet? Iaban’i Roly was building a new big house (trano-be) and until it was finished he lived somewhere else.

One day the man asked Jurgen why he did not tell the stories in Maroamboka since we live there? Jurgen explained that we promised the other villages to come there as soon as possible and that we must keep our promises. Iaban’i Roly and Jurgen decided start the stories in his house when it is finished. That would take a few more months.

The house is finished! Jurgen visited and found Iaban’i Roly’s wife who said she would send her husband to talk with him. He came yesterday the plan is that Jurgen will start the stories after Christmas. Iaban’i Roly said that Thursday morning is the best time to have more listeners since it is taboo to work on this day.

Building a trano-be, MadagascarOkay, why telling this? Well, the appointment is very interesting. Iaban’i Roly is not only one of the king of Maroamboka, he is also considered to be a important and powerful witch doctor. Together with his ‘colleague’ witch doctor he has costumers from all around the area. He even receives people from the capital, Antananarivo. They come especially to get a ‘blessing’ or something else only he can provide. The Malagasy fear him. We are not worried. Although the stories are very clear on the practices of the witch doctors, Jurgen is there because he has been invited. He just couldn’t let go of this invitation.

Seven Weeks Maroamboka

Seven Weeks Maroamboka

At the time of writing we have arrived back in our new house a week ago from a trip to the capital. So we have started our ‘second term’ here. How did it go since the move in February? We share our ups and downs with you.

Circus Hofmann

Some of our new neighbours had never seen white people before we came, so there are children who are very afraid of us. But most found our every move most interesting. For the first three weeks there seemed to be a youth gathering right outside our house. When we went for a walk we were followed. Words uttered were repeated with many giggles. Mothers bragged to other mothers that their child was not afraid of the ‘vazaha’ (white foreigners), proving their statement by bringing their – sometimes screaming – child up close. By now most villagers are somewhat used to our appearance and we feel less like circus artists.

New Friends

Friends and good neighbours help make a house a home, and that certainly goes for us here. We already knew Sylvestre, our first contact here who allowed AIM to build us a house on a plot of his land. We regularly share a meal. We have also become acquainted with the president of the fokontany, a high local government official, and his wife.

A great blessing is the friendship with maman’i Prisca, who welcomed us from the beginning. She even gave us a life chicken, a traditional but costly welcome present. We see each other most every day.

 Then there is Menja, the local teacher, who has agreed to help Jurgen translate Bible stories into Tanala. They have already visited a remote village together.

New Foes

Or challenges at least. We had fervently hoped for running water in the house. The pump is there, the pipes are there, and the taps – but the water… As we understand the main pipe leading from the upper village to the lower villages had breaks or leaks, and nobody knows exactly where. Then the pumps that do work leak badly so there is no pressure left to make our pump work. We are working on a solution, but things go slowly on Madagascar. So we rejoice in rain and fill up as many jerry-cans as we can to avoid having to walk to the faraway pump all too often.

Water can be a friend, but a foe as well. In March a cyclone hit our area, causing flooding and land washes. We discovered our ark-like mansion is not so waterproof… Jurgen has already spent many hours fixing leaks. So long as the rain comes straight down we stay dry, but at an angle… The road was already bad, but has got worse since the cyclone. Travelling by night is no longer an option in our area, and we had to buy mud tires for the car. They have already helped us out of a ditch twice on our last trip!

Then the rats. When we asked our friend maman’i Prisca whether she had rats in her house she said “Yes, in the roof.” Did that not bother her and keep her from sleep? “Oh well, we Malagasy sleep together with animals.” is what she replied. We honestly have a little trouble there. So far the rats have put their teeth in our food, soap, bedding, pillow covers, clothing, schoolbooks, toys, and wood. We are not amused. We gave Vanya a kitten, but she is still somewhat young to be on the job. In the meantime Jurgen is making us a ratproof cupboard for storing our fresh foods. No more rats on our tomatoes!

Elaborate Greetings

The Tanala take pride in their elaborate greetings. When meeting, one should inquire about how the other person has fared before, ask for news and express joy over seeing each other again. The longer the time lapse between meeting, the longer the greeting. We have not quite worked out all the greetings, but we can follow the general patterns. When walking through our village, the villagers love to test us and see if we give the correct responses.

Far Away But In the Right Place

Of course, we already knew we were far away from Holland. However, being at the end of a mud road, living off-grid, having no internet to speak of and missing the postman on his rounds (where is that man?) makes us even more aware of the distance. At times, we have felt isolated and down, but over all we recognise Gods hand in our being here. He planned it and prepared it. He wants us here. He loves the Tanala. We are learning to love them too – and so far that is not so hard.

Trip to Maroamboka

Trip to Maroamboka

A week ago Jurgen and Issa travelled to Maroamboka to pay a visit to the building site of our house. Maroamboka is situated just 5km from Sandrohy.


We wanted to visit the side earlier but putting all the car papers in our name took much longer than anticipated. Finally, we received all the papers… that is to say, the temporary papers. Hopefully he official papers will be ready at the end of December 2016. Jurgen’s Malagasy drivers licence is a whole different story. To get the official licence we need a visa that has to be still six months valid. This is not so straightforward as it might sound. When we apply for a visa (for the new year) we receive a paper that says that we have applied. With this paper we can travel but it is not the same as the official visa. Still, the validity of the visa starts as soon as we apply. In other words, if we receive the official visa after 4 months it will only be valid for eight more months. Our hope is that we will get our visa in time to transform the temporary licence to a permanent one.


Slowly but surely the car is equipped with the necessities to deal with the hard conditions in which we are going to use it. One of the changes is a big roofrack (2,30 bij 1,20). Local metalworkers worked hard to make us a strong one. We are very happy with the rack as this gives us the possibility to move our belongings in and out of the area.

Jurgen used the visit to move many of our furniture. On the roof we transported a heavy cupboard together with two small tables. In the car we stacked our chairs and kitchen appliance. Jurgen and Issa left on the 11th of December at about 5 in the morning. After only 45 minutes a police officer stopped them. The load on the roof was no problem but apparently Jurgen needed a permit for the load in the car. Luckily Jurgen managed to persuade the officer to write him a permit on the spot. So, with all the right papers they could continue their trip.

Bad Roads

The national roads on Madagascar look very much like Dutch cheese with holes. This makes travelling very tiresome. At noon Issa and Jurgen arrived in a place called Abohimahasoa. There they stopped to spend the night in a hotel. The next day they travelled the second part. Near Ifanadiana one of the tires went flat, a piece of wood stuck right through. Fortunately help was not far. Jurgen stopped the car near one of the many police checkpoints and asked one of the officers for help. The officer first had to put his AK47 aside and then he stopped a lorry. He told the driver that the foreigners needed help. The lorry driver, together with a local, changed the wheel and said that there was no need for Jurgen to get his hands dirty. A few miles further the tire was repaired in Ifanadiana for about € 1,70.


It is not hard to hear the car coming. The people of Sandrohy al ready waited at the side of the road. The children sheered and clapped their hands and the adults came to shake hands. After some brief chats the trip continued to Maroamboka, about five kilometres from Sandrohy. This road was a good test for the car. Deep gullies, big rocks and steep climbs (sometimes 35% and more).

Passing through the last curve the house became visible. Quickly the local people ran towards the car to greet Jurgen and Issa. The car could be parked next to the house of our contact person. After the inspection of the car by all the ‘experts they started to unload the car, which didn’t took long with all the extra hands.


The House

We were already informed about the fact that the builders didn’t fully followed the drawings. Our drawings where way to modest. The house will be bigger because, according to the builder, we need enough space for all our children. On the ground floor we will have a bedroom and a combination of a living room with a kitchen. Going up the stairs we find ourselves on the first floor with a corridor and two more bedrooms for the children. Outside is a separate place to wash ourselves and about 15 metres further the builders dug a toilet. The house is situated next to a water-well with clean water. Most of the time there is enough pressure to install some plumbing. This is something the builder will look at. However, during Jurgen’s and Issa’s visit the well didn’t give much water due to a lack of rain. We will have to see whether we can solve this with a water reservoir that can collect and store rainwater. The house is mainly built of wood from the nearby rainforest. We will have, however, a tin roof and the ground floor is made of cement. The traditional houses have a leaf roof and a wooden or mud floor. This is a set up for trouble during the rainy season. Coming month we will look for a solar panel system. Solar panels are more common as many have a little system to recharge phones and the like.


During the two days, Jurgen and Issa visited three villages. The mpanjakas (kings) of two villages where absent. Jurgen brought the promised photos from our last visit and left it together with his greetings for the mpanjaka. The mpanjaka of the last village was present and he welcomed Jurgen and Issa into his house. It was a good meeting in which the mpanjaka did his utmost to understand Jurgen’s official Malagasy. The conversation was relaxed and amusing—especially when Jurgen started to pronounce the differences in several Malagasy dialects. The mpanjaka said that he was very happy to hear Jurgen’s progress in the language.

Meanwhile, Jurgen and Issa are back in Antananarivo. The came back with a lot of fruit given by the locals. We are planning another trip to Maroamboka soon. We will have to bring more furniture and other things like our bed and school material for the children. The builder estimated that we can move as a family somewhere in January 2017.

We are excited! Finally, after months of preparation, we are going to live among the Tanala.

Steady As She Goes!

Steady As She Goes!

It has been few months since our family visit to Sandrohy and the surrouding area. Many things have happened since: we bought a four-wheel-drive, received approval from AIM Madagascar’s leadership to move to Maroamboka, a village about a mile from Sandrohy. The construction is under way and the car is ready to make the trip. Jurgen hopes to travel down there this month with Issa, our eldest son, to take a look, maybe help some and meet with people we met previously.

The car

This is it: our Nissan Patrol, built 1999. We had to search a long time for this mechanical vehicle, but now we have succeeded. It is important that the car is not only a four-wheel-drive, but also that it is mechanical rather than electrical. Mechanical cars are easier to repair; if necessary even by non-mechanics. Some simple tools and a phone in hand will come a long way. For the car-lovers among you: the engine is a 4.2 litre diesel, 6 cylinders. Click on the photo to see more pictures.

We are tremendously happy about the car since it allows us to travel safely to and from Sandrohy in every season. We were able to purchase the car from the money in our car-fund. So far there even seems to be enough for the repairs and adjustments that are needed. We are impressed with the Lord’s provision. It underlines that we are not here on our own. Thank you so very much!

Although we can drive the car now, there are still some things that have to be done: we need a new dashboard (some meters don’t work); a strong grille at the front and extra steel welded underneath to support our extra high jack; a roof rack; a new steeringpump and some repairs to the front axle. On Madagascar it can take a while to find the needed parts, so in the meantime we are glad to put the car to use.

Home Sweet Home

The builders al ready started to build our house. A couple of weeks ago we heard that the house was al ready finished for 50%. Initially we thought that they meant to say that the builder collected 50% of all the material, but no! He send us some pictures, which amazed us. We have good hopes that the house will be finished at the end of this month. However, the builder told us that the rain does make things harder. Still, we expect that we can move, as a family, at the beginning of the new year.

We have provided the drawings for the house ourselves. The builder adjusted a few things… and, as you can see, during the construction things have been changed a bit more. The ground surface will be around the 40m2. On each side of the house we will have a second floor with two bedrooms: One for the girls and one for the boys. The master bedroom will be on the ground floor with at the other side a living room with kitchen. Outside the house we will get a toilet and a washroom. Attached to the house we will get a porch where we can sit and dry our clothes. The builders use local material: the house will be made of wood with a concrete floor and a tin roof.

Jurgen is planning a trip to Maroamboka to take a look at the building side. He will also take some big furniture along. We will keep you informed!