Saturday, May 17, 2014

What's Coming Home with Me?

I can hardly believe that in a month and a half I will be stateside again. This has been an incredible journey that has really only just begun. I’ve learned more about myself and about God than I ever could have expected. I’ve learned and lived in another culture that is so rich and there are so many parts I want to take home and adapt. In big and small ways I’ve already taken on parts of Madagascar that you will for sure notice. Here is a brief look at what some of those might be.

-      English might not always come out of my mouth. I apologize in advance for speaking Malagasy to you. I worked really hard to learn the language and in some situations English escapes me and all that comes to mind is Malagasy. Ask me to teach a few phrases! I’d love to teach you!

-      When I shake your hand or give you something, I may grab my right forearm with my left hand. It is a sign of respect here and so I’ve grown accustom to it.

-      Eka. Three little letters that mean ‘yes’. It sounds cooler than just ‘yes’ so I may continue to use various of ‘eka’ to say ‘yes’.

-      If I have to pass in front of you, I may drop one arm real low and awkwardly duck down while saying “Azafady”, which in this case means excuse me.

-      Along with weird yes…I’ll make different noises for yes and no then you are used to hearing. The sound American’s make for ‘no’ actually means ‘yes’ here. The sound for ‘no’ is just silly and I love it. Wait until you hear it! 

-      I forever more with it rice with a spoon. I’m not sure how I ever ate rice with a fork before!
-      I may be a rice snob. Uncle Ben’s rice has nothing on Madagascar rice.

-      You may think I’ve developed some sort of weird twitch in my lips. Malagasy use their lips to point to things and people. The last week I’ve caught myself doing it too.

These are all pretty silly. I’ve picked up more than these quirks in my time here but some things are just worth waiting to see and experience for yourself. See you soon, friends.

Going in the Same Direction

My first ride on the city bus was not my favorite experience in Madagascar. Thankfully, the Mada-Gar 7 ups were still all together in Ansirabe along with our coordinators and our Malagasy teachers. The bus was packed full and there was hardly any space to move. It was overwhelming to say the least. I remember getting off the bus and saying, “Well, if I never have to do that again that’d be fine by me”! However, ask me today and I’ll tell you that riding the city bus is one of my favorite things to do!

Fianarantsoa is a really big city so riding the bus, although not a must, is preferable for some destinations. Although, I must give myself plenty of time to get to where I’m going. There is a bus stop about a ten-minute walk from my house. Sometimes a bus is there and sometimes I have to wait a little while. That particular bus stop is part of four different routes. Back in September, I was only brave enough to take on one of the routes. Today, I can hop on any of them and confidently navigate where I am going!

When a bus comes, I greet the man collecting the money and get on. Most buses have about five or six rows of two-seater benches on both sides with a tiny aisle between. There is also the best seat on the bus, right next to the driver. Typically, that seat holds two people. When all the seats are filled up, people must stand in the aisle and in the back of the bus. The stop by my house is one of the first, so I almost always have a seat going into to town but going back home, I’m more likely to stand.

There is a cool culture on the bus. If there is a woman who is pregnant or carrying a small child when there are no seats left, men, children, and other women will give up their seat for her. Same thing goes for an elderly person that comes on the bus.  On several occasions, men have even given up their seat for me. I love seeing people respecting and serving other people.

I always seem to make a friend or two on the bus. I sit down and usually greet a few people to make their stares less awkward. Eventually, someone wants to test how far my Malagasy goes and will strike up a conversation. I continue as far as my language skills allow which always gives the people around me great joy. Now I have group of bus friends between the drivers, workers, and other frequent riders!

Monday, March 31, 2014

I'm Blessed

I’m blessed to have bills.

I’m blessed to have student loans because that means I was able to attend a four-year private liberal arts college and pay for it later.

I’m blessed to have medical bills because it means I was able to seek medical attention when I needed it and not when I could afford it.

I’m blessed to have rent to pay because it means I have a place to live.

I’m blessed to have a water bill because I have running water 24 hours a day.

I’m blessed to have an electricity bill because I have lights when it is dark.

I’m blessed to have a gas bill because it means my house can be warm when it is cold and food can be easily prepared daily on a gas stove.

I’m blessed to pay for garbage removal because it means I don’t have to find a place for it and it is no longer in my living space.

I’m blessed to have car troubles because it means I have a car that can break down.

I’m blessed to “barely make ends meet” each month because in the end, the ends still meet and I am blessed more than I recognize.

I am blessed to have bills.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Amboaloboka- Eat Fresh!

One of the many things I love about Amboaloboka, the school I live and work at, is the fresh food. A good portion of what we eat comes straight from our own backyard. The students are encouraged to practice their gardening skills by having a small garden of their own. We have three plots of land, one for each class, in or around our property. The teachers from Fa Fa Fi, the agriculture department, teach the girls how to start and maintain a garden. The school provides the land, the seeds, the water, and the time for the girls to practice their gardening skills.

Most of the students at Amboaloboka tend a garden because it is a way to earn money. Yes, that’s right, the school buys their produce! The girls pay a monthly fee for their education and the food cost is wrapped up into that fee. When a crop is ready to be harvested, the student lets a teacher know and the school or my household will buy the produce and eat it for dinner! Between the three plots of land there are carrots, green peppers, another type of pepper called sakay be, green onion, ginger, greens, lettuce, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, green beans, red and white (we’d call them green) grapes, and pumpkins! All of which are delicious! We also have a couple banana, orange, papaya, and avocado trees right outside my house. Those however are first come first serve and go pretty darn quick!

I think this is such a great idea! The students get hands on practice and guidance from their teachers. I’m confident that when girls go back to their community they will be able to start a garden and provide for their families. The students also benefit by being able to make a little money. Some students put the money towards tuition, others save the money to be able to travel home at breaks, or treat themselves to a coke or new clothes. And of course, it is always rewarding to enjoy the fruits of your labor. The girls take great pride in their produce, as they should, because it is delicious.

I am hoping I will have learned enough this year to start a little garden of my own someday. Eating fresh food and with the seasons is something I have really come to appreciate and will miss greatly! I mean, taking fruit right from the tree, what’s better? 

Monday, March 10, 2014

My Shades

I brought two pairs of sunglasses to Madagascar. I brought two because days before leaving Omaha I lost my favorite pair and like the American consumer I was, immediately bought a new pair. As it would be I found the new pair before I left and decided on bringing both.

Hardly anyone wears sunglasses in Fianar. I don’t know how they do it. When I lift my sunglasses to have a conversation with someone I get the absolutely worse case of squinty eyes followed by a fit of sneezing. Yet, somehow most everyone here gets by without them.

A few weeks ago I put my sunglasses on top of my head so I could successfully flag down a bus to pick me up at an “unofficial” stop fully knowing that the bus wasn’t really going to make a complete stop for me. I jumped up and held on, waiting for people to scoot forward so I could actually stand in the bus. (Don’t worry, mom! I do this all the time now and my bus worker friends would never let me fall off! And let’s be real, I’ve already made friends with all the bus people. J ) In the midst of our shuffling my sunglasses fell off my head, out of the bus, and on to the street. I was ready to say my goodbyes to them, there was no way I would hop off the bus to get them but to my surprise, two men on the bus and one man on the street rushed to rescue them. I continuously thanked them and secretly was really happy I didn’t have to part with those quality Wal-Mart sunglasses.

The next day, they broke.

Although my family here mourned my loss, I knew it would be okay because I had brought another pair! Last week, I was on retreat with the other MADA-GAR 7 UPS. We enjoyed God’s marvelous creation and each other at Andringitra National Park. One day we were hiking and out of no where I hear a “pop” and a lens falls from my sunglasses. Now, I was a little bummed but knew ultimately I’d be okay and I could survive without.

So the last few days I’ve gone without sunglasses. My eyes are in a continuous state of squint and between the sun and the changing of the seasons I am constantly sneezing but I realized the barrier those two dark lenses creates. I’m conscience about taking my sunglasses off when I talk to someone but while I’m walking around they were always on, always hiding my eyes. And I never realize how much they hid until I went without. These past days more people than ever have greeted me and I believe it is because they can see my eyes. I assume it makes me more approachable.

However, I decided I needed to replace my shades and so I bought another pair. I went to these two ladies who have quite the selection whom I pass almost everyday. They were happy to help me pick out the perfect pair. Actually, the women selling fruit nearby and the man-selling cell phone chargers wanted to help me too. Although we all had some different taste in style we all settled on a pair. It was a community affair. As I put on my new sunglasses I couldn’t help but think about the lenses, figuratively and literally, I see Fianar through and the lenses I am seen through in return. And though I can’t go everyday without my sunglasses, I try to let them be the only tinted lenses I see and experience Madagascar through.

Written March 6, 2014 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Salama Marie!

I pack my bag for the day at Sema Fi, raincoat, crafts, dictionaries, some paper and pens, puzzles, bingo cards, and water. I slather sunscreen on my face and feet the only places that still burn while I am in my beautiful and much cooler than the coast, highlands. Calling out to my mom I say, “Handeha hiasa aho”, I’m going to work! I leave the house and make sure to pass the guard’s children playing under the tree to see get the latest news from them which is always tsy misy, not much. Reaching up I undo the latch on the door swinging it open only as far as I need. On the other side I stand on my tiptoes to place the latch back into its locked position. As soon as I am out of their sight I hear the children yell “Bye bye-oooo”. I echo back to them. My first stop is the welder’s house. As I round the corner I listen to see if they have begun working or not. We bid each other good morning as I pass. I make my way through the little tunnel wondering which child I will see first when I am visible again hoping it is one who I have taught my name. Regardless of whom, I am always greeted by many little ones. We exchange a greeting and I continue on. I’ve arrived at the big house. The children jump up and down as they chant “Salama Marie! Salama Marie!” I’m puzzled, as I’ve never told these children my name. I ask the news of the parents who are usually preparing breakfast, washing clothes, or taking care of one of the children. After sometime we end our conversation and I continue down the hill. I’ve almost reached my favorite part of the walk and I can’t help but get excited. However, I don’t want to miss the beauty of the rice fields I pass through so I make sure to slow my pace. As I reach of the top of the hill I see the stand. The fruit stand where I see my Malagasy grandma. When our eyes meet she stands and with a huge smile and slight chuckle she says, “Salama Marie!”. Thus begins the conversation I look forward to every morning.

I met my Malagasy nenibe, grandma in late November. When I came back from retreat in the end of November it was mid-letchi season. I was addicted to this delicious fruit. One day I noticed this new fruit stand along my walk because of the plethora of letchi. I stopped there on my way home and bought a kilo. My nenibe was so impressed with my Malagasy and couldn’t stop telling me! The next day, I walked by and she called out to me. Each afternoon on my way home I would buy more letchi and we would talk even more. Finally, we asked for each other’s names. As usual, Molly is a difficult name for the Malagasy and my name became Marie. Sadly letchi season came to an end and I feared this friendship would end too but it hasn’t. Nenibe has continued her stand and everyday I continue to stop and say hello. But nenibe, wasn’t always my nenibe.

I spent a week in Manakara (along the west coast of Madagascar) after the first of the year with my friends Karis and Maia. One of our priorities was to bring fruit back as voandalana fruit from the road. I bought coconuts, passion fruit, and tiny bananas to bring for my loved ones back in Fianar. The morning after I returned I packed my bag again but this time with fruit. I set out on the walk that I described above and when I reached the stand I greeted nenibe with the tradition handshake and three kisses on the cheek. Then I opened my bag and pulled out a bag of fruit for her. She clapped, smiled, and laughed saying something along the lines of “Malagasy ianao! Efa mahay voandalana” You are Malagasy! You already know about fruit from the road. She then told me that I am her white Malagasy granddaughter and she is my Malagasy grandma. Now every morning, before I head to work I greet my Malagasy nenibe. My nenibe loves me as she has told most of her friends and family in the area about me. Now, even people I have never met greet me with, “Salama Marie!”.

At YAGM orientation back in U.S. we were given a copy of the poem Passover Remembered… by Alla Bozarth-Campbell, the poem is near and dear to many of our hearts. Different lines support different stories of my journey here and I know other YAGMs feel the same way. The line that is close to my heart today is,

“Continue to call each other by the names I’ve given you to help remember who you are.”

At Amboaloboka I am Tantine Molly. At Sema Fi, I am the letter “W” tapped of the heart two times. To my sisters in Madagascar I am letchi. To my actual sister I am Mo. To my best friend and small group at church I am Mo-Mo. To my nenibe and the area surrounding my home I am Marie. These names not only remind me who I am but that I belong and that I am loved enough to be called by name. 

My Sisters, My Best Friends

There are two very important people in my life here in Madagascar that I want to introduce to all of you. I’ve talked about them in passing but they mean so much to me that they deserve a whole blog. As the title suggest, they are my sisters but have also become my best friends. Their names are Hanta and Paulette. “Technically” speaking they aren’t my host sisters, as my host mom, Salina, does not have any biological children of her own. However, Salina has many spiritual children and Paulette and Hanta are two of them.

Paulette is a former student of Amboaloboka and now serves as a practicum teacher and helps keep Salina’s house up to tip top shape complete with delicious meals three times a day seven days a week. Paulette is primarily responsible for our 200 hundred chickens and their eggs. She and Hanta work together selling our eggs all over Fianar. The students, who are learning to take care of the chicken, pigs, and rabbits, learn under the supervision of Paulette. She even helped deliver 24 baby pigs after the first of the year! Paulette’s willingness to serve is incredible. She always has a smile on her face.

Now, a little bit more about our friendship! We began our friendship with my first time washing my clothes. There have been many times Paulette will get tasked with showing me where something is in town and we will spend a good couple of hours walking around together. Although my Malagasy is limited, as is her English, we always find a way to communicate. I love learning new words from Paulette. She will slowly sound the new word out and then continue to use it throughout the week or until I can remember it on my own. We have also found a new way to communicate, laughter. Paulette and I laugh constantly! It has become our unspoken goal to find new ways to make each other laugh everyday. It began with dancing anytime there was music on. Next, it turned into tickling each other. Every meal we eat our Fanafody or medicine of sakay (a perfect combination of spicy chilies, garlic, onion, ginger, vinegar, and salt). At some point we even made our own secret handshake that we do at the end of each meal. Recently, we have started making up our own songs in Malagasy to sing to each other. There are nights where our faces hurt because we have been laughing and smiling so much! Salina calls us Molly Mikilika and Paulette Mikiliki, that comes from the word to tickle, “Mikilikiliky” (me-key-Lee-key-lee-key). Although we have created our own pet names, I call her cookie and she calls me letchi after our respective favorite desserts. The end of each night we call out to each other, “Goodnight, cookie”, “Goodnight, letchi”.

Then there is my wonderful Hanta. Hanta just finished her studies at Amboaloboka last year and now is learning more from Paulette. Every morning Hanata goes to the market to get the food for the day. When she returns she prepares breakfast for us and then for the pigs! Hanta is also very good at sewing and enjoys making new things in her “free” time.

Hanta and I immediately bonded over music. When I finally got the courage to bring the ukulele out she desperately wanted to learn. For a while every night we would sit on the porch while we cooked and I would teach her. Now, she may be better than I am! We love taking turns playing and singing together. About a week ago, I came home from the cyber cafĂ© singing “It is Well With My Soul” after being serenaded by Jon. Hanta heard me singing and started singing in Malagasy! We spent at least an hour if not more teaching each other the song in our respective languages. We’d sing the whole thing in English, in Malagasy, and then what I found the most beautiful was singing in our respective languages at the same time. This past Sunday we sang, “Blessed Assurance” (in Malagasy) at church. However, I can’t resist singing in English sometimes and neither can Hanta. So together in the midst of over a hundred voices singing in Malagasy our two voices were raised in English. One of the many things I love about Hanta is her eagerness to learn all things English and American. When it is just the two of us we always use this mix of English and Malagasy that I think only we could understand because when we are together we aren’t afraid of making mistakes. We support each other, teach each other, we ask questions and grow in more than just a language.

If you could only see the three of us together! There are times we laugh so hard we literally cry. When mom isn’t looking we take extra dessert. When mom isn’t home we have letchi eating contest! I could probably write a whole book on the silly adventures we have together. We always have a great time. I am so thankful for them and our friendship and the unique ways we have bonded. I love my actual little sister, Emily, very much and most days I love being her older sister but I’ve always wanted an older sister. I am so blessed to have two older sisters here in Madagascar.

 This is what a typical night looks like. Hanta is in the white and Paulette is in the purple.