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.