It’s hard to believe that almost four weeks ago I was saying goodbye to my Malagasy family and everyone in Tulear, Madagascar. I left on a Monday morning but had my farewell party on the Friday before. True to my experience of Malagasy life, my goodbye party was overwhelmingly generous and full of heart.
The preparations for the party began well before Friday. There were invitations to send out, announcements to make at church, a space to prepare at the center where I lived, songs and dances to learn, speeches to write, gifts to make or buy, and food to prepare. Even on Friday morning we were still getting ready. I helped make kaka pizon (small fried bread sticks) and roll out dough for pizza crusts. I also helped two of my English students learn the words to my farewell speech when Mama Jeannette made a last minute decision that they should translate my speech instead of her to show what they’d learned this year.
When 2:30 finally rolled around, the scheduled start time, there was no sign that things were about to begin as we continued to bake the pizzas and make adjustments to the speakers. Typical of most events in Madagascar, we started around 3:30, almost an hour late. First, the students in the children’s class that I help with sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” which I taught them last year, and the chorus to “Jesus Loves Me” along with hand motions. Jeannette’s grandkids did a dance that they had rehearsed, and other kids came up to dance to popular music as we waited for the president of our church’s synod to arrive. When he got there I took my seat and listened to his opening remarks and thank-yous. Then one of my English students nervously got up and gave a speech he had written and memorized in English. The next speaker was a representative from the government that I didn’t even know but who wanted to extend his thanks, especially for the fact that I was so far away from my hometown and family in America. After another short speech from the director of the blind school where I volunteered, Mama Jeannette spoke to the group and then directly to me as she read a poem she wrote in English. It was about living with her and becoming part of her family as I shared meals with her and learned the way of life.
As if that wasn’t enough to show their appreciation they also presented me with gifts- everyone from students to pastors to other members of the community that I didn’t even know. Jeannette’s family even brought out gifts for me to take home to my mom, dad, brother, and boyfriend. One of my students who couldn’t afford to buy a gift sang and played his guitar to a song that he had written himself. I felt overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from the people I had spent a year with.
Thankfully I got to share my apperception as well when I talked about all the things I will miss about Madagascar. I felt a flood of emotions as spoke about Jeannette and all she has done for me and her trust in God. At the end of my speech I said a few words in Malagasy to thank all those who have meant so much to me. I am thankful for each of the people who have been a part of my journey. I have been blessed in ways that I can’t even fully realize now. In that moment at the party and every time I think back on this past year, I pray that I never forget those people and the feeling of community that we share. Their hospitality, encouragement, patience, kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness, faithfulness, and love have inspired me to share their stories and my experience with them. God blessed me up until the last day there and I pray that he continues to bless Jeannette and all those I leave behind in Madagascar.