Grateful Goodbyes

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.

 

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10 Things I’m Going to Miss About Mada

As of today, I have exactly one month left at my placement in Tulear and one and a half months left until I will be home in America.  Thinking about this both scares me and excites me; makes me sad and makes me happy; brings back memories of the past months and brings visions of the months to come once I return.  Some of the things I’m looking forward to are seeing my family and friends again, eating American food (not rice!), worshiping at Grace Lutheran Church, running in the mountains, and not being called a “vazaha” (foreigner) every day.  Mostly I have been thinking about the many things that I’m going to miss.  Here are the top 10:

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Mama Jeannette’s grandkids dancing outside the center where I work and live

10.  Malagasy music and dancing- The culture here is a unique mixture of African, Indian, and Melanesian so the music and dancing is also unique.  I especially enjoy listening to the choir at my church and watching the little kids dance to popular music.  I’m always surprised at how well they’ve picked up the moves that I certainly can’t do!

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Getting ready to sleep under a mosquito for the first time after arriving in Madagascar

9.  Mosquito net princess bed- While the novelty of sleeping under a mosquito net has worn off, I still like pulling it around me every night.

8.  Going everywhere on my bike- I am blessed to be in a city where most things are close enough to get to within a 15 minute bike ride.  Even though the roads here are a bit scary with cars, bikes, pusse-pusses (rickshas), cow carts, 4-wheelers, motorcycles, animals, and pedestrians going in every direction, I still think its fun to peddle around town.

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My bike parked outside my house

7.  English church- I enjoy going to the English church every Saturday evening not only because it is conducted in a language I can easily understand and is one hour long (as opposed to the 3+ hour Malagasy church service on Sunday), but I always feel blessed just because I came.  The opening song we sing at the beginning of every service sums it up:

As we gather let the Spirit work within us

            As we gather let us glorify your name

            Knowing well that as our hearts begin to worship

            We’ll be blessed because we came

            We’ll be blessed because we came

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Preaching at English church

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Enjoying tea and cassava with Pastor Austin on a site visit

6.  The food- I am going to miss (but hope to recreate) a lot of the food I’ve eaten here.  I especially like the chicken with sauce that accompanies rice and the carrot salad made with vinegar.  I never drank tea or coffee before, but now I enjoy hot citronella tea with bread every morning.  I’m also going to miss all the fresh fruit- bananas and mangos are my favorite- and “bonbon kapiky” (candy peanuts).

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Lemur kisses!

5.  Beautiful diversity- Madagascar has such a wide range of landscapes from the beaches of Tulear to the mountains of Andringitra National Park.  Most of the plants and animals are unique to the island so it’s been a wonderful place to see the creativity of God’s creation.  And yes, I will miss the lemurs, especially Gaston, a friendly brown lemur in Tulear.

4.  SALFA clinic- Volunteering at the Lutheran clinic every Wednesday and Friday has been one of my favorite things about living here.  Just yesterday, I finally got to help with the delivery of a baby, which is one of the most joyful moments I’ve experienced.  I’m going to miss all the nurses and doctors, especially Dr. Emile.  It’s always a treat to eat lunch with him and his family on Wednesdays.  Also, if I ever have any problems with my health he gives me free medicine and advice.

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Eating lunch with Dr. Emile and his family

3.  Hospitality- The welcome I received when I arrived in Madagascar and the generosity that I continue to receive has made me realize how much more I have received than I have given.  I am so thankful for the every invitation for lunch, offer to help, and act of kindness that has made this place a home.

Enjoying lunch at a student's house (and wearing the necklace and earrings that she gave me when I arrived!)

Enjoying lunch at a student’s house (and wearing the necklace and earrings that she gave me when I arrived!)

2.  Friends- I have made so many new friends here through my relationship with English students, members of my church, nurses at SALFA, fellow YAGM volunteers, and other missionaries.  My best friend, Johnson, has been there from the beginning and has helped me learn and teach Malagasy.  We attend English church together, watch English movies, and hang out with some of the other Baptist missionaries in town.  One of the Baptist missionaries, Tessa, has also been a huge blessing to me by inviting me to stay with her during the cyclone and being a good listening ear.

With Johnson and fellow YAGM volunteers Jane and Luke

With Johnson and fellow YAGM volunteers Jane and Luke

1.  Family- I can’t imagine my time here without my Malagasy Mama Jeannette and her family.  Mama Jeannette has given me encouragement in teaching English, shared almost every meal with me, and made sure I have everything I need.  She has been an example to me of selfless love and trust in God.  I will miss all her grandkids, especially my new Godson, Joshuanao.  I will miss seeing him grow up, but he and the rest of my Malagasy family are the main reason I hope to return to Madagascar one day.  For now, I just want to treasure this last moth with them and the rest of my community.

Sitting next to Mama Jeannette outside her house and hanging out with other members of the family

Sitting next to Mama Jeannette outside her house and hanging out with other members of the family

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Reny amin ‘ny Batisa- “Mother of the Baptism”

“I’m going to be a mother!” I happily informed my mom on the telephone after wishing her a happy Mother’s Day.

“A godmother?” my mom inquired, not thrown off by my proclamation that could have been taken to mean a number of other things.

“Yes!  Haha.  How did you guess?!  I thought you’d at least think I was adopting a Malagasy baby when I told you the news.”

I was so excited to share this news with my mom, especially since it was Mother’s Day.  The day before, Miko, the fiancé of Mama Jeannette’s son Dera, came up to me while I was washing my clothes and asked me to be her son’s godmother.  “Tsy maninona!  Faly be aho,” (“Of course!  I am very happy!”) I told her.  I felt honored and surprised that she asked me to be Joshuano’s godmother, especially since I’m going home in two months and won’t be around as he grows up.  Even though I won’t be physically in Madagascar, this gives me another good reason to stay in contact with Jeannette and my Malagasy family and come back to visit.  I also want to continue to pray for Joshuano and his parents as they raise him up to know God’s word.  He is only four months old right now so he won’t remember me or know much about me when he’s older, but I pray that he knows the Lord and His love for him.

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My godson, Joshuano, and I after his baptism

Joshuano was baptized on Pentecost Sunday along with about 40 other babies.  As the godmother I got to take him up to the front of the church and hold him as the pastor poured the water three times over his head and gave him a blessing.  I honestly don’t cry much, but I had to hold back tears as I took part in this joyful day.  I was sad knowing that I wouldn’t get to see him grow up, but also happy that he was officially becoming a part of God’s family.

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Everyone waned a picture with the newest member of the family!

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With the proud parents, Miko & Dera

After taking lots of pictures, it was time to celebrate.  Mama Jeannette hosted almost 50 people at her house for a delicious lunch of chicken, goose, carrot and cucumber salads, and lots of rice.  There was also a grand four-story cake that Jeannette had made.  Miko helped me cut the first slice and then it was my job as the godmother to pass it out to the guests.  The room was full of conversation, laughter, and dancing, which soon spilled outside where all the kids had gathered.  The kids really know how to dance!

It made me happy to see everyone having such a good time and reminded me of how thankful I am for my family here in Madagascar as well as my family back home and all those in the world who are my family in Christ through baptism.  I am thankful for the Holy Spirit that connects me to this great big family, whether they are 9,000 miles away in America or right here in Tulear, Madagascar.  I have been amazed at the way the Holy Spirit has worked in my life over the past 9 months and pray that I continue to stay aware of God’s presence in my life during these last two months as my Malagasy family and I continue to accompany each other in this journey.

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Miko and I cutting the cake

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All the kids dancing outside after our big lunch

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Ten Questions for a Malagasy Lutheran Pastor

I just returned from a weeklong meeting of the FLM (Malagasy Lutheran Church) for the Tulear Synod.  I was a guest of the Synod President, who is a pastor at the same church I attend.  While we were at the conference, I sat down with him to ask him some questions so I could learn a little more about what it’s like to be a pastor in Madagascar.

1.    What is your full name?

TRABONJY Alson, Pastora  (note: in Malagasy the “last name” comes first)

2.    How many years have you been a pastor?

60 years

3.    Where did you go to seminary?

Betela Morondava and Ivory Fianarantsoa

4.    Did you grow up in a Lutheran family?

Yes, my grandfather was a pastor and my father was a teacher at the Lutheran College.

5.    How did you know you were called to be a pastor?

I was not forced to be a pastor but I felt Jesus calling me through the Holy Spirit.

6.    What is the best part about being the Synod President?  Hardest part?

The best part is getting to lead and teach others.  The hardest part is leading the other pastors in the synod.

7.    Have you been to America? 

Yes!  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I have also been to Norway; Nairobi, Kenya; Cameroon; and South Africa.  

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The Synod President with his wife and I posing by a blanket he got while visiting Pittsburgh

What did you do there [in Pittsburgh]?

I visited the Pennsylvania synod.

What is your favorite American food?

Pizza

How do the FLM and the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) work together?

The churches have a good relationship.  We have worked together on many projects such as building a dispensary in Ankasoabo, buying a car for the synod, and sharing a typewriter.  (for more on the ELCA’s relationship with Malagasy Lutherans check out this News Release:  http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx?a=5283 )

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The Madagascar volunteers got to meet the bishop of the ELCA, Rev. Mark Hanson (back right), and the director of global mission, Rev. Rafael Padilla (front left), when they were in the capital of Madagascar signing a partnership agreement between the FLM and the ELCA.

8.    In your opening to the synod meeting you said that Jesus finished the work of his Father and it is our job to do the work of the Lord (John 17:1-5).  What is the biggest thing the FLM needs to do as a church?

It will be a long time until we finish the work of the Lord.  We don’t finish this work now.  We can’t be completely satisfied until Jesus comes.  For now, we have several development projects in health and farming.

9.    What do you do when you have free time?

I rest at home and help my wife.

10. What is your favorite verse in the Bible?

John 3:16- “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

 

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My Malagasy Mama and I at the conference.

Thanks to my Malagasy Mama, Jeannette, for translating for us!

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Cake au Beurre

This week I learned how to make cake Malagasy style.  It’s called “Cake au Beurre” (Cake with Butter) and is sold at many of the kiosks or shops throughout Madagascar.  The woman who taught me how to make this cake gave me the recipe in French and metric measurements so I put the English and approximate US measurements in italics.  The baking time may also need adaption since we baked over charcoal rather than in an oven.

 

Ingredients:

Farine Flour                       1 kg (4 cups)

Beurre Butter                    125 g (1/2 cup)

Oeufs Eggs                       5

Sucre Sugar                      ½ kg (2 cups)

Levure chimique Brewers’ yeast            1 package (4 tsp)

Lait au yaourt Milk            ½ L (2 cups)

Vanille Vanilla                    1 lid

 Procedure:

  1. Mix flower and yeast in a bowl so that yeast is evenly distributed
  2. Add remaining ingredients of sugar, eggs, butter, milk (cold), and vanilla and mix (with hands) until you can’t feel any sugar granules
  3. Spoon batter into oiled/greased metal pans until about half full or cupcake tins until 2/3 full
  4. Cook on charcoal (200OC/392OF for electric) for 20-30 minutes; the cake is finished when golden brown and “manitra” (smells good)

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I enjoyed making the cake not only because it was delicious and I learned something new, but I got to spend time with this woman and her family.  I got to see how she spends a normal day since she sells the cakes for a living.  We talked some but mostly I just watched.  It was a good thing I paid attention because when it came time to make the second batch, she wanted me to do it by myself so I could practice.  While we waited for the cakes to bake I got dance lessons from her daughter and one of her friends.  They turned on rock music and we practiced barefoot on the living room floor.  They also invited me to stay for lunch and I gladly accepted.

This was a good day for me because I felt truly present with the woman and her family at a time when I’ve started to think about going home more.  I’ll be home in less than 4 months so I can’t help but start to think about what that will be like for me.  My mind has been wandering to home more often lately and I want to make sure I stay present in my community here.  During that morning making cake, I felt like I was soaking up all that was being poured into me by my friends and the communion we shared.  It reminded me to slow down and just enjoy “being” without worrying about tomorrow or going home in August or what lies in my future.  I left the woman’s house that day with cake and rice in my stomach, dust on my feet, and joy in my heart from living in the moment and being thankful for all that surrounded me.

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  -Psalm 118:24

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Redefining Vocation

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Hiking in Paradise with YAGM volunteers Sarah, Lee, Hannah, Luke, and Jane and country coordinators Austin & Tanya

This month I went on a weeklong retreat with the five other Madagascar volunteers and our two country coordinators (plus their dog Puba) to the mountains of Andringitra National Park.  It was absolutely beautiful.  We slept in “tents” and enjoyed a lot of time in God’s creation.  We went on several hikes, saw ring-tailed lemurs, swam under a waterfall, played sardines, had a campfire, shared devotions, worshiped by the river, ate all our meals at a restaurant there, and talked a lot about vocation.

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The “tents” we stayed in on our retreat to Andringitra National Park

Ever since I found out that I was not accepted to medical school this year I have felt anxious about my vocation and future, but the retreat really opened my eyes to what vocation really means in my life.  I had a revelation.  I have always thought my vocation is very obvious and that I am meant to be a doctor.  I saw vocation as a calling that God reveals in our life through people, experiences, His word, or the gifts that He’s given us.  It is more than a job and is something you are passionate about.  Since I was a little girl I’ve thought that being a doctor is my vocation because I find joy in anything relating to caring for people’s bodies, minds, or spirits.  I light up when I’m around medicine or serving someone in that way.  For example, I have found so much joy in going to SALFA clinic every Wednesday.  I love it so much that I rearranged my teaching schedule so that I can go on Friday’s now too.  I love the people and the feeling that I’m making at least a small difference in people’s lives.

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Me and the nurse at SALFA clinic who give vaccinations to the babies every Wednesday and Friday morning.

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Chameleon Mountain- Do you see it?

I still believe these things about vocation but during one of our discussions I realized that vocation may have a broader, slightly different meaning.  I realized that it is not always directly connected to a job or occupation.  It is any gift that God has given us that gives us joy, such as singing or being a mother.  I thought about this when one of the other volunteers shared that he wants a “vocational occupation.”  I asked him the difference between a “vocational occupation” and just a vocation.  He explained that a “vocational occupation” is a job that includes your gifts and passion in life but also pays a salary, while a vocation is just the gifts that God’s given you.  I had always thought of them as one and the same thing.  Now I see that my vocation of wanting to care for people, especially their health, could be pointing me toward many different careers.  The realization that God may be calling me to another area of medicine or something different all together scares me.  Maybe the vocation that God has placed so strongly in my heart is leading me toward something different than becoming a doctor.  I don’t like this very much especially when I see signs in my life that may be showing me this, like getting rejected from medical school.  It’s frustrating and I get upset with God sometimes but I also still believe that He has a plan for me and it is the best plan for my life.

I have come away from the retreat with a less limited view of vocation.  I am thankful for the gifts God has given me for serving others.  And what better way to use my vocation than right here and now in Madagascar?  I get so much joy here and it is preparing me for a future filled with serving others and being served in return.  I still have lots of questions and pray for peace and patience as God continues to reveal his plan for me.  I believe this year is an important part of that journey and that people in my life will help me discover my path.

Worshiping in God's creation

Worshiping in God’s creation

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Power of a Storm

If you’ve ever been in a thunderstorm so strong it shakes your house or stepped outside in a blizzard that has turned everything white or even experienced a hurricane, then you know the power of a storm.  After surviving the cyclone that struck Tulear last weekend, I can now say I understand this power.

The wind and rain arrived on Friday, knocking out the power and filling the streets with water.  I was invited by my American friend, Tessa, and the other Baptist missionaries living in Tulear to stay with them for the night.  I gladly accepted as I looked out the window at the trees bending to the ground.  I quickly packed an overnight bag with a change of clothes and my toothbrush and threw my duffle bag with my books, pictures, computer, chargers, electronics, and money on my bed.  I didn’t think this was totally necessary, but I remembered my mom’s advice about moving things off the floor if the cyclone hit.  At Tessa’s house I was safe and it felt like a big sleepover as we watched movies, played cards, cooked American food, and occasionally got on the internet when the neighbors switched on their generator, but this feeling quickly went away the next morning when I got a report from some of the Baptist missionaries that had gone out to check on everyone’s houses.

There was a lot of damage and flooding to the area.  The roads were very bad and many people’s houses were destroyed.  There was no power or running water anywhere in Tulear.  When they went by my house they couldn’t even get the car all the way back to the house because the water was so high, but Nathan waded back there in the waist high water.  He broke into my window since the door wouldn’t open and went inside to look for the bag that I had mentioned was on top of my bed.  He told me that there was about a meter of water inside that just came up to the top of the bed, so thankfully my things were dry even if a lot of my other clothes and possessions were completely submerged.  Nathan also grabbed my running shoes, which were floating around the room.  Later he went back for my passport that I had hidden in a bottom drawer as well as my malaria meds, bible, pictures, and a headlamp that my dad gave me.  I wanted to go see the house for myself, but they didn’t think it was safe.  I ended up sleeping at their house for three nights.

The power of the storm was obvious when I looked around at the destruction that it had caused and heard a report that over 150 people had died, but I was also reminded of God’s power.  I realized that He could have easily calmed the cyclone with His words like He did when He and the disciples were out in a boat during a storm.  He told the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” and the wind immediately died down.  The disciples are amazed and asked each other, “Who is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey him!”  His power is greater than any natural disaster and greater than any fear or worry that I had about the storm.

After the storm, I also realized the power of service.  It felt natural to go to the other missionaries’ houses to help clean out the mud, but I wasn’t fully prepared to receive this same service from them.  On the first visit to my house, they let the water out and helped me hang up all the muddy clothes.  On the next visit they scraped three centimeters of mud off my floor, put the mattress on the roof to dry, and bagged up my clothes so that I could wash them at their house.  Witnessing a group of friends spend hours getting my house back in order and looking back at all they had done for me during the storm was overwhelming and humbling.  I have learned what it’s like to be on the receiving end of service and the power this had when I felt helpless about all that I faced after the storm.  I learned to receive as well as give.

I was especially thankful for the safety and support that my friends showed me because my site supervisor, Jeannette, was away at a conference in Antananarivo.  Now that she has returned there is a lot of cleaning to do at her house and throughout Tulear.  When the waves of adversity wash over me it’s tempting to give in to self-pity or just give up.  Fortunately, God is always with me, holding my hand, and working through the people around me.  I am trying not to worry too much about tomorrow and the challenges it will bring and instead live in thanksgiving for the strength He gives me in the present.  I have the feeling that this cyclone will shape the rest of my time here and continue to remind me of God’s power and love.

I will be posting some pictures of the aftermath of the cyclone so check back soon!

 

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Light in the Darkness

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My dad and grandpa cooking ribs together when he came up for my graduation last year

Back in November I wrote about the celebration of Fety ‘ny Maty (Party of the Dead), so I hope it won’t seem morbid that I’m writing about death again.  I just found out on Wednesday that my Grandpa Griewisch passed away.  He suffered a stroke last year and had been declining in health ever since, so his death wasn’t completely unexpected to my family and I.  It was still hard to hear that he is gone because this is the first grandparent that I have lost and I am so far away from my dad at a time when I just want to give him a big hug.  It’s also hard because, like many of you, he was so supportive of what I’m doing here in Madagascar, and even continued to ask about me when my dad made trips down to Florida during his most difficult times.

 

When I found out about my Grandfather’s death, I immediately shared it with Jeannette, my Malagasy mama.  Ever since, she has prayed for him at every meal and said a special prayer for him one night before I went to bed, asking God to be with my family and me since I’m so far away from them right now.  It means a lot to me to have her prayers and I know she understands because her sister just died in January from cancer. 

 

Her sister’s name was Jeanne Kaoline.  She was only 44 years old with three kids when she died at a hospital in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar.  Jeannette left Tulear three times to make the 12 hour trip to Antananarivo to be with her sister during her treatments.  After her sister died, the body was brought to Tulear for the funeral and burial, which I attended.  Before the funeral though, there were many preparations that are part of the traditions here.  Jeannette spent two nights in the room where here sister’s body was being kept and received visitors during the day.  The visitors brought flowers or money to make a contribution to the family.  Many of the people who came also prayed, sang, or just sat for a while in the room where Jeannette’s sister had been laid on a bed with a net covering it and flowers placed at the end.  This was a hard time for Jeannette and she got very sick afterward.  At the burial, the casket was lowered into the tomb and each person tossed a handful of sand on top of the casket.  Jeannette explained to me that this is done so that the friends and family can make a contribution to her burial and that it means “veloma” (goodbye).

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Traditional flowers and net covering the bed where the dead is placed until the burial

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Jeannette and I greeting other visitors in the room where the body is kept

 

During the past couple days I’ve thought about what I will miss about my Grandpa.  I asked Jeannette what she misses most about her sister and she told me her sister was generous, quiet, a problem solver, and a friend.  She will be missed by Jeannette, the students that she taught biology to, and those she helped as a treasurer for a group at the high school for teachers in Tulear.  Even though it can be very sad to lose someone you love and there is a solemn feeling during this time of Lent as we anticipate Jesus’ death, I know we can look forward to the resurrection that comes on Easter.  I know that those we’ve lost are also raised as it says in Romans 6:5, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  They don’t celebrate Lent in Madagascar, but I still find myself encouraged by this season of hope and the promises that it holds.

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Luke, a fellow YAGM volunteer, and I in traditional funeral “lambas” or cloths

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A Day in the Life of Kate

I’ve come to realize that I’ve never talked about how I spend an average day here in Tulear, Madagascar.  Since I’m almost halfway through my year, I think it’s time for me to share what I do on a typical day.  So, here is a day in the life of Kate:

6:30 AM- Get up and go for a run, usually around the dirt track near my house

7:30 AM- Shower/bucket bath and get ready for the day

8 AM- Eat breakfast with Jeannette* (rice, egg or vegetable, white bread, & tea)

8:15-10- Help with the children’s class at AFILOFITO (the training center where I live), which includes singing, praying, learning letters/numbers, and lots of playing

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Playing games with the children’s class

10-11:30 AM- Teach at the Lutheran College (a high school) on Mondays and Fridays or meet with my Malagasy friend/tutor Johnson

My friend Johnson

My friend Johnson

1 PM- Lunch with Jeannette (rice with meat/vegetables/beans & sometimes fruit for desert)

2:30-4:30 PM- Teach English at AFILOFITO

BREAK!- skype with family/friends, read, play with Jeannette’s grandkids, “help” in the bakery (I usually just go to taste the food), prepare my lessons, clean my house, meet with friends, or sleep

6-7 PM- Teach English (3 nights a week with the advanced class & and 2 nights with beginners)

7:30-8:30- Eat dinner (rice-of course- and fish)

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My mosquito net “princess” bed

11 PM- Tuck in my mosquito net and go to bed

*Jeannette (aka my Malagasy mother) is my site supervisor.  I don’t actually live in the same house as her, but in a separate building next to her house.  I use her bathroom, eat all my meals with her, and spend time in her living room with her grandkids.

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My Malagasy Mother and I on her birthday

This is a “typical” day, but on a typical day there are almost always surprises or unplanned adventures.  Also, I teach at the blind school on Tuesdays and I am at the clinic all day Wednesday (my favorite day!).  The weekends change, but I usually at least wash my clothes on Saturday and go to church on Sunday.  People here are on “Malagasy time” meaning that they are usually never on time for events and instead they trail in anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or so late.  As a Type A person, this was hard at first, but now I’m starting to learn to just “be” and embrace the unexpected.  These times often end up being fun, teaching me something about the way of life here, or allowing me to meet someone new.

When I think about the unpredictability of my days here, I am reminded of one of the devotions that I read this month in Jesus Calling by Sarah Young:

“Try to view each day as an adventure, carefully planned out by your Guide.  Instead of staring into the day that is ahead of you, attempting to program it according to your will, be attentive to Me and to all I have prepared for you.  Thank Me for this day of life, recognizing that it is a precious, unrepeatable gift.  Trust that I am with you each moment, whether you sense My Presence or not.  A thankful, trusting attitude helps you to see events in your life from My perspective.”

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Christmas In Tulear

Singing at the children's Christmas program at the church

Singing at the children’s Christmas program at the church

In Madagascar the celebration of Christmas begins well before Christmas day.  Of course the first Sunday of Advent, which fell on the Sunday after I returned from the retreat, marked the official start to the time of preparation for Christmas, but the children at the church began preparing Christmas songs long before that. They practiced every Saturday and Sunday with their Sunday school classes by repeating their songs over and over and learned dance moves.  I got to teach the oldest class “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Silent Night” in English, and they taught me “Alina Masina” (Silent Night) and another Christmas hymn in Malagasy.  On Christmas Eve, I attended the children’s Christmas program where I finally got to hear all the songs they had been working on and perform with my group.  Except for one moment when the leader of our group decided to put the microphone right up to my mouth during Alina Masina (essentially making it a solo!), it went well.  Silent Night is my absolute favorite Christmas song so I was thrilled to get to sing it in two languages.

My English students at our Christmas party

My English students at our Christmas party

I had also taught Christmas songs to all of my English classes and the children’s class I help with every morning.  On the Friday before Christmas when Jeannette and I hosted a Christmas party for my students, they spontaneously broke out into song, singing one of the songs I’d taught in class.  Luke, the YAGM volunteer from Ambovombe, Madagascar, was also there, so he joined me in singing “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and other English Christmas songs.  We made bracelets for the children that would come for their party the next day, ate cake, drank home-made juice, and talked with each other in a mixture of English and Malagasy.  I gave a short speech thanking them for coming to AFILOFITO to learn English and being good students.  I love the personalities that each of them brings to the class so I hope they return in January.

Singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" with the children

Singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” with the children

The next day Luke and I helped with the children’s Christmas party.  I gave another speech and then just played and sang with the kids.  I was so proud when they successfully sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” for all their parents and family members at the party.  Luke took a great video of it so I could share it with my parents as a Christmas gift.  Luke also helped make little bags of candy for the students using an old-fashioned iron that you had to put charcoal in to heat.  He used it to seal almost 70 bags of candy!  We gave these out along with the bracelets, stickers, and cake.  I hope that each of the children went home excited about Christmas and feeling the love that we were trying to share with them.

Luke making bags of candy for the kids using an iron to melt and seal the plastic

Luke making bags of candy for the kids using an iron to melt and seal the plastic

By the Christmas tree at my church on Christmas morning with Jeannette and Luke

By the Christmas tree at my church on Christmas morning with Jeannette and Luke

In many ways Christmas day didn’t feel like Christmas because it was so hot outside, there were none of the familiar American traditions, and I was far away from my family, but it was still a special day.  Giving lots of gifts is not a part of a Malagasy Christmas, so instead I spent time with Jeannette’s family and went to church.  I couldn’t help at least giving each of Jeannette’s grandkids some candy, since that is a typical gift that children get at Christmas here.  Jeannette surprised me with a gift as well.  She had sewed and tie-dyed a beautiful shirt and pair of shots.  We had a delicious lunch of pork, green beans, leaves of sweet potatoes, carrot salad, and mangos.  I also made a traditional “Christmas tree” cake with Jeannette.  It ended up looking more like a brown log, but it tasted delicious.  I enjoyed learning something new from my Malagasy Mama and spending time with her.  It was my first Christmas away from my real mother and family, but this Christmas I received comfort and joy from being included in the family traditions here.

With YAGM volunteers, Jane and Luke, wearing the tie-dye shirts Jeannette gave us

With YAGM volunteers, Jane and Luke, wearing the tie-dye shirts Jeannette gave us

Jeannette and I with our "Christmas tree" cake

Jeannette and I with our “Christmas tree” cake

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