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.