I was blessed to be able to spend the month of May in Tanizania, Africa in 2010. I’d say it was the best experience of my life but I’ve had some here equally amazing. I was a picky eater back then. Okay, I’m still pretty picky but I have broadened my horizons! In Tanzania we would travel to small villages in the bush, worship with them and share a meal together. The meal almost always consisted of goat. Before the meal we would have “tea” made from warm goat milk, and bread. I wasn’t too fond of this cuisine. Luckily, I had wonderful friends who would drink my goat milk and eat my goat and bread so I didn’t have to. Thank you Jess, Nicole, Jen, and Britney! However, one meal I sat next to our professor who wasn’t going to let me get away with passing my food off. He sat next to me and told me to find my sanctuary. I looked at him puzzled. My sanctuary is on a different continent! It will take me a couple plane rides to find my sanctuary at Wartburg or back in Papillion! He explained he wasn’t referring to a physical place but more of a state of mind. The first Webster definition of sanctuary is, “a place of refuge or safety”. Sure, this could be a physical place but it can also be a state of mind. He continued to encourage me to find my sanctuary within my mind. Somewhere I felt safe. With each bite he reminded me of my sanctuary. It happened all too slowly but eventually, I finished my whole piece of mysterious goat meat. To this day, I vividly remember this exchange and use to conquer other uncomfortable situations or just in my daily life.
Typically, my sanctuary, my safe places are gazebos. I have no idea why I am drawn to gazebos but I am. One day I hope to have a gazebo of my own. LOVASOA, the Norwegian compound we had our three-week orientation at had a gazebo. Every morning that is where I could be found. I went to the gazebo to take refuge, not that I was in any physical danger, but moving to a new country is a challenge and my gazebo felt safe. As our three-weeks came to a close I was sad. Not only was I leaving the comfort of my friends but also the safety of my gazebo. Moving to Amboaloboka along with many other transitions meant finding a new sanctuary. Anna & Ian, two YAGM volunteers, stayed with me the first night before heading out to their own placements. As the three of us walked around the compound Anna spotted this little gazebo type area and said it could be my gazebo. It is filled with numerous plants that are just now starting to bloom. It is beautiful but after I tried it out, it just wasn’t fit to be my gazebo, my sanctuary.
I am pleased to tell you that I have found my sanctuary and it was in the most unlikely place. There is a small covered porch off of the kitchen. It actually, for all extensive purposes, is the kitchen. There are three charcoal stoves on this porch where all of our meals are prepared. At first, this porch intimated me. There were a lot more young women living in the house, six to be exact, compared to the two now (not including me or Salina). All six young women gathered on the porch to help cook. I’d try to come and help but with my limited Malagasy it was a challenge so I’d leave. Eventually, I started to stay and we would play a little game of charades to teach each other new words. As the weeks went on our numbers dwindled. Irena & Janelle, my host cousins, went back to their home in the south of Madagascar. Eliane, another host cousin, went back to work at the blind school several hours away. And Rova, moved into the school building to be with her classmates. Now, our porch has three attendees, Hanta, Paulette, and myself. Every night I bring the ukulele out to the porch and Hanta and I take turns playing. Hanta, who is learning English and ukulele, has successfully memorized the music and words to, Father I Adore You, I Exalt Thee, and ironically, Sanctuary. We take turns playing and who ever isn’t playing watches the meal cooking on the stove. This porch, this time together, has become my sanctuary. All of my previous sanctuaries have been different because they have been just for me. This one is special because I have let two other people in but it still feels just as safe.
My porch sanctuary has served another purpose; it is a time and place of worship. One of the things I miss most is standing next to my best friend, Jenn, every Sunday singing our hearts out with praise and adoration for Our God. I knew this would be something I’d miss because the last few times we worshiped together I couldn’t get through a single song without tears streaming down my face. I’ve struggled not having this time together with Jenn and I will continue to miss it but now I have something different. I sit on the porch and sing my favorite songs while Hanta and Paulette cook and listen. I get so into it that sometimes I don’t realize students have come around the front of the house to listen. What I really love is some of the songs I have sang so much the women add harmonies. I look forward to this time every night. It is a beautiful time of worship, and someplace safe, my porch sanctuary in Madagascar.