The past few days I have had quite the cultural immersion. On Sunday the 15th, Salina (my host mom), Janette (a young woman who works at Amboaloboka), the wife of the guard at Amboaloboka, and another young woman who is friends with the other women set out to go to church to catch a bus to Soatanana. We went to Soatanana for a conference and a ceremony for men and women who completed their two-year sheparding training.
When we arrived at the church there was one bus and tons of people. I quietly began to stress out in my mind because the number of people who needed a ride and the number of seats in that bus did not match up. Thankfully another bus and a truck appeared! We loaded all of our things onto the top of the bus and set out for Soatanana.
From what I can tell, Soatanana is a very small countryside town. The town sits nestled in between mountains, which provides for an excellent view. All the members of my church stayed in one house. We were given two rooms to sleep and eat in. The room I stayed in was of decent size but we had about twenty people staying together. It definitely made for close quarters. We also shared a small concrete room to “do our business” and shower in. I was thankful for a place to sleep and eat but I wasn’t looking forward to staying there for three nights.
The conference was held outside in an open area. There was a stage set up with chairs and a nice covering to provide those shade who sat under it. Everyone else was expected to sit on the ground, a brick, or something they brought to sit on. The mornings were always brisk but by the afternoon it was quite hot. I do not know how the people bared to sit in the sun for hours but they did. I was one of the fortunate who was invited to sit on stage. It doesn’t sit well with me that I was invited on stage because I am a foreigner but I don’t have enough language yet to communicate my feelings. The upside to sitting on the stage was meeting Pastor Dennis from Tana. He whole heartily welcomed Karis (another YAGM who is also in Finaranstoa and joined me in Soatanana for a day) and I to Soatanana and because his English was so good he translated much of the service on Tuesday. He let us ask endless questions, encouraged us to take pictures, and was a nice friendly face to see throughout the conference.
Even with the translations from Pastor Dennis and Salina it was hard to fully comprehend what was going on. From what I did understand, it was hours and hours of church. Most days were filled with five to eight hours of church. I found lots of time to read my Bible, pray, let my mind wander, journal, and write letters to all of you lovely people back home. As frustrating as it is not to know what is going on, it is nice to be able to take for me in the midst of it all.
After another long worship service, packing the bus, and sharing a meal with at least 200 Malagasy people we left Soatanana. I was tired, smelly, and hungry when we arrived back at Amboaloboka. I just wanted to go shower, skip dinner, and go to bed. However as the headlights from the taxi hit the house the door flung open and all the young women came running to greet us. Excitedly they opened the car door and helped me out. Each woman greeted me with, “Tongasoa”, welcome, a hand shake that is almost good as a hug, and kisses on each cheek. (Emily, this is nothing like we do. Haha J) The welcome I received was just what I needed to forget about my awful mood. After four days of feeling out of place it felt so great to be back to somewhere familiar. After a much needed shower we shared a meal together. The young women must have noticed that my favorite laoka (side) is potatoes with eggs because that is what had. We prayed, ate, laughed, talked, and taught each other new words but the best of all is that we were together again. For the first time here I felt at home. Together at home.