Teacher Adventures: School Trips

Teacher Adventures: School Trips

“Would you like to accompany 30 children to Madagascar on their French language trip?” asked the French teacher at the school I was working at in Kenya.

“Oui, merci,” I replied, rapidly recalling my GCSE francais! The French teacher assigned to the trip was ill, so fortunately for me, I was drafted in as a last minute replacement.

Two weeks later, 30 very excited students gathered at Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi, for the flight to the capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo. The trip was an opportunity for the students to practise their French (both Malagasy and French are both official languages of Madagascar) and to experience a different culture and way of life. Madagascan culture is renowned for its colourful fusion of influences drawn from seafaring Borneans and Bantu Africans, Arabic and Tamil traders, and French colonisation (unlike the British colonisation in Kenya).

Madagascar is an island country in the Indian Ocean, approximately 250 miles off the coast of East Africa. Madagascar is the world’s second-largest island country and the nation comprises the island of Madagascar (the fourth-largest island in the world) and numerous smaller peripheral islands. We were to be based in a hotel on the east coast of the island. Days were planned to include French lessons in the morning, followed by a swim and snorkelling in the Indian Ocean or swimming pool; excursions were organised for the afternoons to allow the students to experience some of the historical, cultural and artistic attractions of the island.

The students loved visiting the capital, Antananarivo, known locally (and considerably simpler) as Tana. They had the opportunity to admire the beautiful colonial architecture in the old Haute-Ville area of the city, visit one of the art galleries and museums and to spend their money in the open air market stalls at Analakely. Other trips were planned to see the truly alien landscapes of the limestone karsts in north western Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park and the Avenue of the Baobabs, where 25 baobab trees over 100 feet tall are strung out along the Tsiribihina dirt road.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the trip was the visit to see the lemurs. As a result of the island’s isolation from neighbouring continents, Madagascar is home to various plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. Approximately 90% of all plant and animal species found in Madagascar are endemic. There are many bizarre and wonderful creatures to be seen on the island, but lemurs are the creature most closely associated with Madagascar. The students, and staff, were thrilled to find and see these charismatic primates in the forest and their saucer shaped eyes were peculiar, but strangely endearing. All agreed they were an amazing, very special sight.


Near the end of our week’s stay, our idyllic routine was severely interrupted. In Madagascar, the combination of south eastern trade winds and north western monsoons produces a hot rainy season with frequently destructive cyclones. Unfortunately, tropical cyclone Kamisy coincided with our visit. Kamisy was considered the worst tropical cyclone to affect northern Madagascar since 1911 and winds reached up to 105 mph. Throughout Madagascar, a total of 68 casualties were reported, and 7000 buildings were destroyed, including 1020 schools and 450 hospitals. Following the storm, emergency food and medical supplies were supplied to the nation from French rescue missions.

For our Nairobi students, a cyclone was a novel, and frightening experience. Confined to the hotel they could watch from the windows of their rooms as the trunks of trees were blown to 45 degrees, as the sea was whipped up to a frenzy, as the sand billowed uncontrollably along the beach and as the swimming pool water was thrown against the dining room windows. Lights flashed on and off as the electricity supply was interrupted and hotel staff were unable to arrive at or leave the hotel as roads were covered with fallen trees.

We were confined to the hotel for the final 2 days of our trip. We could not travel across the island as roads were blocked. The pool was out of bounds due to damage caused by the cyclone and the landscape in the gardens of the hotel had changed completely: debris from trees was scattered everywhere and some trees swayed perilously after the storm.

A change of programme was necessary. French lessons continued in the morning and in the afternoons it was my responsibility to provide entertainment…..Fortunately I had packed some dance tapes and spent the afternoons teaching an assortment of dance routines to very eager, enthusiastic and excitable students, who soon forgot they should have been enjoying the delights of Madagascar! The high spot was, remember this, FLASHDANCE…the routine was repeated innumerable times, in pairs, in trios, in fours, as a mass dance….all that was missing were the leotards and leg warmers!

After 2 days we were allowed to leave the hotel to travel to the airport. We could see the destruction caused by the cyclone as we travelled through the countryside: buildings destroyed, houses without roofs, vegetation uprooted. It was a gloomy, depressing sight. We had some wonderful memories of Madagascar, but also realised that the people who lived on this beautiful island sometimes had to endure, at times, some very unforgiving, harsh conditions.