Saturday, February 23, 2013

Afaka Manampy, Part II

A few months ago, I wrote about a missed opportunity. (see blog Afaka Manampy.)

As soon as I passed the man struggling to get a heavy wheelbarrow up a steep embankment, I was disappointed that I had failed to help with a quick push. Although disappointed by my lack of response in that situation, I was eager to go out from there on, and act with an attitude of help. I adopted the phrase "Afaka manampy Aho." Can I help? Since then, this singular statement has provided some of he most meaningful, and interesting interactions I have had in Madagascar.

Laying bricks for a new house.
Bathing my Host Nephew.
Harvesting Cassava.
Setting up a Christmas tree.

The list goes on, and in most cases the interaction has been small, yet it has been the mutual working together that has opened the door for further conversation, relationship, and of course help. How eternally grateful I continue to be for any chance to make more connections and feel at home.

Then I got Afaka manampied!

Last week I was not feeling super hot. To put it simply, I had trouble leaving the porcelain. This unfortunate turn of events made it difficult to leave the house and so by Friday afternoon, after not leaving my room for two days I was itching for some extra stimuli besides a book. I decided to get up, and head out into the world. Intending to go to a cyber cafe, but really relying on previous experience that a little human interaction and physical movement can work wonders for an ailing body or mind, I put on my shoes, hoped for the best and headed out.

The fresh air, movement, and familiar faces were a great reprieve from the monotony of the previous days. About halfway down the road, I spotted a little girl named Neige who I have grown fond of. We first met in church, during a Christmas concert in December when she stuck to me like glue after I started making faces at her before the show. I found out she lives close to me and since then we always stop to chat and goof around when we see each other. One day on the way home, I stopped to say hi to her and she took the opportunity to help me learn Malagasy paddy-cake for the next fifteen minutes!

 This time she was up above the road with a few other people, spreading a large pile of cut grass around a field for cows to eat in the coming days. She stopped working as I got closer and I too stopped to say hello. After a brief conversation about health, church that week, and where I was going, we said goodbye, and I headed off. As I was walking away though, no less than ten meters or so, I could hear her yelling something to me. I stopped turned around and listened. Still unable to understand I walked close until i realized she was saying "Can you help us!"

Absolutely! I was thrilled to be asked to help, in English none the less! I headed back, was shown the goal, and began separating the large pile of grass into smaller, manageable piles to Carry over to a boy spreading them across the field. We chatted a lot over the next hour of work. I practiced my Malagasy, they practiced English. A lot of people walking along the road stopped to take in the foreigner working in the field. I was complimented as "Mazoto" or diligent. A few times we stopped so I could throw her into the large pile of grass. At one point this even attracted a number of other kids all desiring to be tossed. So I tossed kids and grass and joy. True to form after the activity, working, talking and laughing, I was feeling leaps and bounds better than when I had left my house a short time before.

As we finished up just before the rain, they thanked me for the help, and I returned the thanks, for asking me to stop. Then the two older people who we were working with, about my age, expressed their desire to help me with anything in the future should the opportunity arise. It was cool. Really really cool. I have reached a point in my life here and in forming friendships, that people feel comfortable asking me for help! Wow! Because honestly, that's it. Through ups and downs, moments of confidence, and bouts of doubt, I am finding out at very core level that to help, is the name of the game. And it is two way street. Whether helping someone to laugh, or being helped in  language. Giving directions, or receiving love, I am learning to count life by the relationships and interactions that provide opportunity to mutually benefit each others lives. The manifestation of this has been incredibly visible to me here. A friend back home said to me the other day that he wouldn't be surprised if I was learning and being helped as much as I'm teaching. I stopped and thought for a moment before saying no. I am learning way more that I am teaching, and as for being helped? At least twofold. Otherwise I would still be a very lonely, and quite confused in this foreign country, instead of being at a place where I can be called upon to help, and proceed with a lively comfortable conversation.
For starters!

I have talked bout this idea in various ways, throughout my Mada life, and even predating the journey here. It is a course of action that I  think best defines a purpose driven life. To be in positive relationship is to help. To help is to love. And what else is there? I plan on continuing to talk about it. Exploring it. Seeing how the thoughts change and evolve. And to believe in the profound effect a person acting in loving constructive relationship can have.

 “It's not enough to have lived.
We should be determined to live for something.
May I suggest that it be creating joy for others,
sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind,
bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.”
Leo Buscaglia

Monday, February 11, 2013

Were talking Wednesday!

Once again I wake up at 5AM. Thrilled I am not. I mean seriously it’s five AM. I beat the sun.  Although, I can never be disappointed when I catch a sunrise. Every Alarobia (Wednesday) I head out for farm day, and today I motivate early to jump into a now nearly daily, and much needed  morning, (or pre-leaving) routine: Misotro kafe (Drink coffee) and a Nalgene of rano (water), mivavaka (pray), give thanks, mihira (sing) or listen to a song, plan, let go of control, believe in myself, and stretch. Almost forgot to brush nify (teeth.) Somewhere during the morning process, while still a bit disgruntled by the early wake up, it is precisely that feeling which makes me smile. When I first started working at the farm, it was easy to wake up pre-sun, and I excitedly awaited heading out to mitery omby (milk cows), maka ville (cut grass), and do other odds and ends. Now, although I do still enjoy the work, I AM waking up early, to go to work. It’s not new, or fresh, it’s… Normal, and just one more grateful indicator of comfortability and progress while living abroad.

Mama Be
I say veloma (goodbye) to my family and it's out the door and on my way to the farm. I pass now familiar faces heading to school and work, say hello, and shortly before reaching the farm I run into Mama be, the mother who owns the farm and the house I work out of. She tells me to follow her and asks if I like coffee. I give an enthusiastic yes and am soon sitting with her, behind a small wooden shack eating Mofogasy, and drinking coffee.  We share a small conversation about mahandro sakafo (cooking food)  and the orana (rain). I am struck that this is the first time we have ever said more than hello to each other, and am faly be (very happy) to be making another connection that can be built upon. After finishing the meal she sends me to the farm to begin milking the cows. I show up, say Salama (hi) to the rest of the crew, and set to work. Pull water from the well, mix with boiled water, wash cow.  Hand scrub udders, hindquarters, rinse, repeat, dry. Now using the bucket and cup used for washing, Milk. A very specific method of finger rolling produces the best stream of milk. Finally I have all but mastered this technique. Yet not growing up performing tasks with these specific muscles, fatigues me a bit quicker than the locals. My liter to their three. They give me grief about efa mahay (already know) fa (but) camo (lazy) for my lower milk production. Soon after finishing milking the cow it's into the house to eat a hearty breakfast of rice, and some type of Loaka. (Loaka is anything that you eat with rice) We trade English and Malagasy vocabulary during the meal and soon head out to get to the days work. The rest of the day goes on in a very on/off fashion, much like a lot of life here has. We cut grass, bring it back on our heads, go out cut more grass load up the bags bring it back. Then they tell me to mipetraka (sit). While everyone disappears. I sit watching akoho (chickens), bating at lalitra (flies), singing songs… and its back to cutting grass. Then the current grass cutting session gets cut short, (no pun intended) when I am fetched to come back to the house.  It is time to kill another chicken. Having already done this during orientation back in September, and only recently killing a kisoa (pig) larger than myself, the news came as somewhat less of a surprise as when I was handed a rain poncho and a sword, (ok it was a BIG knife, ) and led to the pig pen. My proficiency had improved since the first one and thankfully the antsy (knife) was sharper. So whilst saying a prayer I beheaded the Loake for the next day. Then it was right back to the field! Cut a different type of grass, to the house, sit, wait, go cut down a banana tree, go back, sit, sit, sit, UP! Now we headed to cut weeds from a corn field we planted about a month ago. Although we usually stop for lunch around noon, our job of clearing the field, and the others turning another part of the field was not done at that time. However one of the daughters living at the trano (house), came out to the field and called me to go mihinana (eat.) Immediately I felt awkward, having the opportunity to walk back and eat before the job was finished. One of the best parts of working at the farm has been the connection I feel to people. The surprised looks, when I tell people I milk cows, people calling me Rakotolee, (Rakoto is a common Malagasy name,) and the fantastic days of interacting, working and talking to so many people has been yet another step in making Madagascar home. Now I was being given the privilege to leave before the work was done. At first I protested, but once they insisted I walked away with everyone watching. Grateful though I was, and am for the meal, I enjoy it just that much more eating it with everyone and completing the work with everyone. In many ways, I am learning, I will always have my status as the Vazah (foreigner)

Upon finishing a supersized portion of rice and cow hoof soup, my morning at the farm was over. The day however was still far from being vita (finished.) The previous Monday, The other YAGM volunteer Sarah and I had completed our monthly climb near the town of Ambohimanga, or Blue Mountain. This beautiful place is covered with dense jungle forest, and beautiful views of Antananarivo. As it would happen, the beauty distracted me and I left my headlamp there! I thought if there would be any chance of recovering it, it was worth a shot. Never mind sentimental value, the practicality of it, pulse the joy my younger host-nephew gets plying with it were motivation enough.... And of course any excuse to go to a quiet mountain ala (forest) for this Colorado boy, I’m going to jump on! Well, getting there was a process...

I get to the bus station only to realize I have no vola (money). I walk home, get the bus fare, and come back to the station in Thirty minutes. While sitting at the bus station, a man comes and sits down beside me. We moved quickly through the regular opening talk, and soon I loose what he was saying. After a bit of struggling, I come to realize he is asking for my Passport! “Ummm Yeah, I don’t have that, I err live here, and um don’t carry that around!.. Ummm Uhhh.” He persists. Eventually another man I don’t recognize comes over. They exchange a few words, and the passport man gets up and leaves while the other man gives me knuckles and walks away. Good looking out!! Shortly thereafter I hop on a bus, (after missing the first two) with around 35 other people! It was a smooth ride until with about five kilometers till arriving, the bus breaks down. Not having any idea how long it would take to fix, or how long till another bus with enough room passed, I decide the hour walk sounds lovely. Surprisingly another bus comes by only about one kilometer into my walk, and in the interest of time I flag it down and jump onto the back. Literally. I stand on the back step and hang on to the door the rest of the way. Once there, I get off and push into the forest. My world is transformed from smells of gas, and food, car horns, and olona (people,) to vibrant greens, fresh dew on leaves, birds, and solitude.  I take my time, enjoying the contrast. The adjustment for me from living in the tendremboritra (mountains) to a Tanàna (city) has posed its own unique challenges. I am really becoming connected to, and starting to truly enjoy the city I now live in, but my heart will forever be on a mountain. A few steep scrambles later plus some bush whacking and I arrived at the place I remember my headlamp being. Lo and behold there it is! But why leave now?

 I find myself sitting alone, in the quiet of a forest for maybe the third or fourth time since arriving. I let my mind wonder. It is difficult to believe that were at the halfway point. The changes that have occurred are noticeable in great amounts. I know a plethora of people now. It is fun and easy to joke or have conversation with my host family. I am more comfortable teaching a class full of kids a language they don’t know, while I hardly know theirs. I have become content living in a city environment. Heck I can even milk a cow! I can remember walking down a street the first week I was here, grinding my teeth, feeling unnaturally uncomfortable, wondering when that feeling would go away. I don’t know when, but it did. Still there are many things that a half of year living here has not provided that I hope another half year might. A Malagasy wedding for instance, or getting a few kids somewhat conversational. I would love to understand a sermon in the Malagasy Fiangonana (church.) There are a few places I still desire to see, and finding a good, really good namana (friend) to keep in contact with upon return would be amazing. Maybe that person is already known to me. I am once again reassured, and reenergized to continue to plug in, work hard, and let the spirit move, when I am startled by a man coming out of the woods and promptly sitting down next to me.

Chillin in the trees
I say hello. He says hello back. We go through the basic intros and rhetoric. And than we sit. I feel slightly uncomfortable, wondering what is exactly going on, but decide to roll with it and enjoy nature, and the company. Not ten minutes pass before he stands up and heads off into the woods and I am once again alone. Although a strange interaction, it was really cool, and for some reason got me in the mood to take pictures of myself in hozo (trees.) After the quick photo shoot, and a goodbye to the forest I head out back towards the bus. Barring a few distractions including watching a trail of ants climb a tree, and helping a man carry some wood out of the forest, I hit the road with about a half mile from the bus, just in time for... Rain. Only now is it revealed to me that when I returned home for my bus money, I forgot my rain jacket! So for the third time this week I resign to being drenched. I however do still get a kick out of walking through roads turned to rivers, and returning home soaked.

The road turned to a river
After the bus drops me back off in the town, I decide to head to the cyber café to dry off, check the vaovoa (news), and avoid the still continuing downpour. I plan on sending out a few E-Mails, but decide to see if a friend I have yet to chat with is available for a quick Skype session. I try twice and he picks up the second go around. We share a fantastic conversation for about two hours! In it we exchange information on our lives apart. Highs, lows, difficulties, joys, things that make us laugh, faith, and the local news. I loose track of time, and look outside to see it is getting dark. I must head home and he has to go to work, so we say goodbye, and head our own ways. I am fulfilled by this chat. The exchange was incredibly sustaining. Not only to hear about some parts of life at home, but t talk to someone genuinely interested in my time, and life in Madagascar. Plus chatting with a good friend is always priceless. I walk the rest of the way home in the rain smiling, and humming through the river road, and enter the house mando be! (Very wet)

I’m quite cold now, and wet, and well still very smelly. Despite all the rain outside, the water at the house is not running. I set to work hauling water from the well, starting a fire in the kitchen, (we have a gas burner, but the wood chip shaving system heats much faster!) mixing boiling water with cold water to achieve perfect temp, and hauling it upstairs. I take a wonderful bucket shower, in a very methodical fashion. Wet everything, soap everything, and rinse everything. I have just enough time to dry off, get dressed, and make it downstairs before our Alarobia (Wednesday) night Bible study at the house starts. Every other Wednesday, and sometimes two Wednesdays in a row, a group of ten comes to our house to have a Bible study. The first time, I was asked unexpectedly if I had anything prepared... Leading further to my philosophy of always having something prepared. Game, song, Bible study, English lesson, always be prepared. (and still be ready for surprise).

 This time however I was just there as a participant. We start with a Hira, (song) and then after praying head into the lesson. Jacoba (James) 3: 1-12 Taming the Lela. (Tongue) As we get into it, I do my best to pay attention and try to catch on to what is being said. But being a two hour lesson, I inevitably stop paying attention at some point. Usually one of my host sisters who can speak English, catches me up, and asks what I think about it, but most of the time, I am left to ponder the lesson and its meanings for me. This time, I’m particularly interested with the first verse. "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, for they will be judged more strictly." That’s a heavy statement, especially being a Mpampinitra (teacher) in many ways this year. The lives a teacher affects and the responsibility imparted should not be taken lightly. It goes on to talk about the tongue being wildfire, and being like a bit in the mouth of the horse, I am again reminded about the old saying “think before you speak.” How truly important that is. Not only so we don’t harm others with our words, which despite another saying can harm much deeper than sticks, but to be proud in what we say. This of course goes in hand with actions, but in a place where language is one of the more challenging aspects of life, I am struck by the necessity to think than speak. And why not continually use that gift to uplift other people? Whether by compliment or relationship, we interact through speech. Sometimes it’s not saying anything at all, other times it’s questioning, and many times it’s joking, laughing, and singing. I think of all the people I talked to that day. Friends, family, people I have never met, people who made me nervous, and many many more. The gift of speech can do good as well as harm, but for the day I am pleased by the words I spoke, and the ones I received. I hope to be more conscious of what I say, and to try even harder to speak from a place of love. Especially here. I want to practice speaking with more and more people. To use the gift of language to connect, help, and learn. Above all I find myself grateful to have people in my life to share the life experience with. Who I can learn from and teach. Who I can laugh with, and deeply connect with, say hi to, or simply smile. Just as long as we use the gift of tongue with the right intentions and with fore-thought to the effect, life goes much smoother. But thank god that when we do slip, there is always another chance to speak love.

 Finally Bible study ends, we sing another song, say our goodbyes, and my family and I sit down for a 10PM dinner. Were all reraka (tired) so when they ask about my day, I give them a quick rundown, but leave out details. I tell them it will be good conversation for later. We finish, bid each other a Sauva Mangy (good night) and head off to our respective rooms. Lying down that night I am tired, but content.  Another day living in Madagascar has provided me with stories and lessons, challenges, and joys. Not unlike the rest. I look foreword to sharing more stories, thoughts, and days as the year goes on.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sharing Is Caring!

Long time no talk! Wow.... Didn't expect that... It was just November, and now it's um, a WEEK into January?!? Goodness gracious. I came to Madagascar eagerly expecting to pass on the experience through E-Mail, Skype, Facebook, and especially through Blogging. And now it is January and I have not sent out a blog post since November.
 I have been thinking about this quite a lot recently, along with the stoppage of journal writing that I was doing nightly.. I have not come to an ultimate reason and perhaps there need not be one, but I have come to a few conclusions, and likewise a few responses to this conundrum.
I think the most obvious reason for the shortage of communication is the genuine settling in that has occurred. I go to work and come home. I talk to my friends, and make plans. I am a regular at shops and when the owners see me coming they already have a Coca Cola, Eggs, Rice, or Mofogasy prepared along with a conversation, usually picking back up where we left off at last time I visited. It feels good to have this level of normalcy in my time here now, and many of the things that at the start of the journey were new, fresh, and exciting... Still are! However, it is life. I live here,and the things I see are now seen with less fresh eyes. For example, a sheep strapped to the back of a bike with three people riding it, is not as foreign to me as it was week one! I have been making an attempt recently, to reopen my eyes to the new and bold, and small idiosyncrasies that make this country so unique.
Second, I have been really busy. Between the last post and now, I have been on a retreat, visited the north of the island, visited the south of the island, and been working a solid work week. I teach two classes, have a nightly English club, Church choir, farming, Church, another school, and a family I enjoy interacting with. That's really just the start! (So share it!!!) I have found it difficult to find time to sit down and gather my thoughts, and most Internet time I have chose to spend in E-Mail communication, and periodic ESPN checks, (By the way, WHATS THE DEAL BRONCOS! NOT COOL!) And as for the journal, by the time the end of the day comes, I many times would rather read, listen to music, or sleep, than continue the mental work.
And third, I have admittedly been lazy. I have had many, many ideas of things I would enjoy blogging about, and have come close many times. However I sometimes think it would be better written later on in the year, with more experience, or I just don't take the time to sit down and organize my thoughts into writing. Other times I don't want to. And still others times the available opportunity for me to write, and the available, albeit random hours of Cyber Cafes and electricity, don't match up.
Well now that I know those reasons, I have decided for New Years, that I will get AT LEAST two blogs out a month! Here's why!
Although things are more common place for me now here, lets be honest; they are still very very new, and exciting in so many was! I'm in no way used to many of the everyday activities and sights I see. (such as eating the mouth of a cow, or teaching 55 kids English!) . The blogging, and the communication of the experience is a great way for me to process my thoughts and emotions while navigating through the everyday, and the amazing. I find putting many of these experiences into words helps me to break down a bunch of the complex and often confusing situations encountered. Heck its also really cool to share joys and revelations and growth experienced! If for nothing else than that, I shall keep up the blog. But there is more.
I want to share with everyone at home who chooses to read my blog. What a fantastic way to give a glimpse into a life on the opposite end of the world, and keep those interested connected, although other forms of contact may be difficult. For me it makes the distance much shorter, and hopefully for readers it will provide at least some connection to the life I'm living here and a good starting point for conversation upon return! I want to have that communication. I want people to know what I'm doing and thinking here. I want at least a little bit of that connection to my home. So lazy shamazy. I'm going to blog.
Journaling? I think part of the problem with that was feeling I had to make it a detailed account of the everyday going ons here. That's simply to much work. So I have decided to always keep it open, and around. Jot down a thought here, a poem there. A special event or a difficult exchange. It can be just as helpful for the processing, if not more than the blog, as well as potentially giving ideas for blogging!
So there it is. Communicate, relate, go around, and share the sound!
Till next time (Not too long!)
Sharing Communion and stories of the beach with the other YAGMs!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Afaka Manampy Aho!

One of the things many people asked me before I came to Madagascar was, "What are you most looking foreword to?" Common answers I would give included: Excitement to hang out with the kids I will be working with, the chance to see the country, and a feeling that my faith could simultaneously be challenged and strengthened. My expectations for these aspects have not fallen short. The kids I work with are some of the brightest points in my week. I have already seen some beautiful, unique, and overwhelming parts of the country. And my faith is being tested. In more ways than I expected. Yet while in certain areas I am facing deep struggle, others have been flourishing in a way only god could construct. It is still fairly early on too, and I can only expect that these outlooks will morph and grow as time goes on.
 But I think perhaps the biggest thing I came in looking foreword to was the opportunity and desire to become a part of the community. I'm not sure. No, I know that at the time I didn't really know what that would look like. In turn this has become one of the biggest areas of  challenge. I had visions of everything from being invited out every night to hang with the locals, to hi-fiving everyone on the road, to just blending right on in from the get go. Not so. I clearly stick out and rather than becoming assimilated into the community, have been finding it difficult to find my place, and my acceptance. Now this became clear to me early on so I started looking for ways to make those connections. One of the best ways, and one I have already written about is simply introducing myself to the people I see everyday. This has been such a wonderful way to get to know people, and to get people to know me. To create familiarity, and get hi-fives. With this in mind I started to look for more ways to be in the place I call home.

A unique opportunity presented itself a few weeks back. At the time I did not see how it would create a new way I approach life here. I suppose that is often how things work. I was walking into town a few weeks ago along the usual path. Up ahead I spotted a man pushing a wheelbarrow filled with many jugs of water. He turned off the road and began to push the barrow up a small embankment, until the tire became stuck on a rock. As I came closer he still could not move past the rock and the wheelbarrow was in danger of tipping. I was thinking to myself that I could, and should, jump in front and help him pull the load up to the top. I walked closer and closer and closer..... and passed him by as he still tried to overcome the obstacle. 
Wow. A missed service opportunity. I was not in a hurry. I had nothing urgent to do. I even thought about returning after passing, yet i restrained. Why? Because I didn't want to stick out even more? Because I was afraid he wouldn't accept the help? I couldn't figure out why I decided not to stop. All the reasons I tried to come up with were poor excuses. This event plagued my mind for the rest of the day. Being brought up in my life, and especially recently, believing that to help is perhaps one of the best ways to show acceptance and be received. To form relationships, groups, and become a part of a community. Was this not exactly what I was looking for? It was! it is! Maybe I missed out on that opportunity, on the other hand  maybe it took that missed chance to show me yet another way I can not only be of service but bridge the gap of culture. With that in mind and determined not to loose out on more service opportunities, I have adopted a new phrase.

"Afaka manampy Aho."- "Can I help?"

Armed with these words and the plan, I headed out. Here is a sampling what happened:

I learned to milk a cow.
Need a baby burped? Im your guy!
My host brother in law showed me the secret to making a delicious egg, mushroom, pepper, ham pie.  I helped lay bricks for the neighbors building a house.
A boy gave me one of the few hugs I have received here after carrying his bike up a hill.
I have become well read in the art of yogurt making
I had an fantastic conversation in Malagasy/Sign/English/ while moping a room.
A stranger asked if he could help carry some of the bibles that fell to the ground after the bag I was carrying them in ripped. 

I Thank God for presenting me with these simple words that have become so important. I am so grateful to all of the people who were pleased to accept help from me despite being a novice at many of the applications. For their willingness to be in relationship with me, and for the profound welcoming effect it has had. This is but another step of the continued grace I have come into here. I feel so lucky because what I have gained in return for a few words and a willing heart has been more beautiful than I can express.  So I will continue to help. Where there is need. Where their might not be an apparent need. When it is easy, and especially when it may be difficult or inconvenient. The payoff I have found, is far greater than a pat on the back.

St. Francis said it for a reason. A reason I come to know more clearly every day. "For it is in giving, that we truly receive." May it be so.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

DO a deer an omby vave (with antlers)

Fear the Deer!

It all went down like this:

 I showed up for English Club and quickly realized that it would be me who was leading. None of the regular bilingual leaders would be able to make it. The group speaks about as much English as I speak Malagasy and I was completely unprepared to lead. Once we got to the room, I looked out the window, took in one of the previously aforementioned sunsets, and said a quick prayer of "help!"After struggling and stumbling through awkward introductions I was out of ideas. An awkward silence ensued while I tried to formulate a plan. Graciously one of guys asked a question. 
"Whats America like?" Yeah, OK I can answer that, just how to do it in an English form that is recognizable? "well it's uh, fast! very fast, and uh...." he interrupted. "what animals?" Oh good I can answer that to! "well we have deer, elk, horses, lots of birds, cows, raco....." "Whats a deer?" A deer? whats a deer? hmm good question, I should slow down. I forgot there are no deer here not to mention elk, or raccoons, and the Malagasy words for them. So how to describe a deer? "Yes a deer! well a deer is sort of like a cow. or omby. A little smaller, less smelly, not as colorful... (I pantomimed most of these descriptors), Yeah! Except they have antlers not horns." So I drew a cow on the board. ( It was an ugly cow). Then I drew two curved horns, pointed to them said, "horns." I then made two solid looking horns out of my arms on the top of my head said "horns". They seemed to understand. Next I erased the horns, drew antlers, pointed and said "antlers"! So I made split fingered antlers on my head said "antlers"!  A few more nods. I said "horns stay on, antlers fall off." To illustrate my point I set my water bottle on the table- "Horns." Then I knocked it off- "Antlers." "Horns" (bottle on the table) "Antlers" (knocked it to the ground.) And repeated about 5 times. Once again I think the message got through. "whats its noise?" uh oh. what does a deer sound like? Do I really want to make the noise I remember deer making? Yes, yes I do. "well its kinda like, um sort of uh well....." 
 I went for it. I put my hands up to my head, pranced around with big exaggerated knee high steps, gave the "deer in a headlights look" sniffed the air and made an obnoxious groan/whine/moan/shout deer call for over one minute. when I was done, and standing there out of breath and smiling, everybody just stared. Except one guy cracking up in the corner. Wow that was ridiculous! Might as well drive the point home know. "does anybody know the film, sound of music? no? OK well you know Do, Re, Me, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do! (I sang), (nods) Good! So - Doe a deer a female deer! On the board I wrote Vave-female-doe. Then Lahy-male-buck. and pointed respectively from "doe" to the deer I drew to "vave" back to the deer!  "Doe a deer a vave deer. Yes! That's what a deer is!" Mahay?" (understand) A few nods of the head, the guy in the corner was still laughing his butt off then someone said "so a deer is vave cow, has many horns that fall off, er antlers?" 
What did I learn? 
  • Boy scouts first rule, one that I have usually always tried to follow..... ALWAYS BE PREPARED!  Weather I think I will be leading or not, always have something I can lead with. Song, dance, bible study, or English lesson, have something ready;
  • Pray;
  • Things will sill happen unexpectedly even if I have something prepared, so be flexible;
  • Use what I know. A lifetime of experiences has given me a bag of resources to use such as the sound of music!

(Next week to explain RAY!)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mans best friend.

Forever my best friend, Princeton
"If you have a dog, you will most likely outlive it; to get a dog is to open yourself to profound joy and, prospectively, to equally profound sadness."
Marjorie Garber

My Dog Died on Monday. I Feel the strain of distance now more than ever. I found out yesterday over e-mail. I cried harder than I expected, in the middle of an internet café trying to hide my tears, not wanting to stick out more than I already do. I did not get to say goodbye to my best friend, my confidant, the soul who knew everything and all about me, and not only never stopped loving me, but showed no change in friendship despite my burdens, baggage, and faults. I will go home in August looking for him, but will never see him again. I expected the cat to pass while I was away, but never my dog. I knew loss was a risk when I left, but I feel every single mile between Colorado and me. 

I woke up feeling tired, lonely and upset. I thought about what else I will miss while away. Weddings, births and birthdays, graduations, all of those little moments that make up the beautiful picture of memories. Deaths? who else will pass while I'm away? who have I not said that final goodbye to? OK I told myself, those are natural risks to the rewards of an experience, a life, like this. And if I want to continue doing service like this in my life, which I do, these will have to be things I endure. So I got out of bed. Yet all of this self talk crumbled easily upon entering the world I now inhabit. The everyday difficulties of living in such a foreign place, the difficulties that I have been weathering and, getting used to, and moving past, hit especially hard from the moment I left my room. 

The stares of people, the calling of Vaza, Vaza, the reality of distance. Language barriers, no water, power outages, sunburn, cramped bus rides, heat, worry, confusion, doubt, loss, all compiling and pounding till I felt I could not take it anymore..... AHHHH I had to stop, take a step back and reevaluate. Yes this is sad, my dog has died. Yes he was one of the closest souls to me on this earth. Yes I am upset and have every right to be. And yes living here is difficult at times and poses many unique challenges. No I have not and thank god I  haven't lost a person close to me. No I cannot afford to be dragged down into a pit of despair, letting this event augment and become about other difficulties I face here. And yes, yes I do need to find the time and space to grieve this loss and neither let it control me or suppress it. But where can I find the place to do that, and with who? In a country that dislikes dogs? A country where dog is not mans best friend and is not a household pet? Where dog keeps you up at night, and is dirty, and may steal food? I just didn't know. I told my host mother about the loss and she tried her best to console me, giving a warm hug, but the understanding was not there. So feeling down and disheartened I headed to one of my placements at a deaf and disabled school.

 Although I have only worked there for a few days, I have already grown to love the children there. I am always greeted with welcoming hugs, and laughter. Here unlike any place I have been yet I have been immediately accepted, and quickly began to feel better. Sitting down on the grass I watched the kids play, and caught up with the kids in my limited sign language. A puppy (of course) came over to me, one of many, and I started to pet it as it laid down next to me. I became lost in thought. At some point one of the girls I especially like, probably around six years old, got my attention, and through some more broken sign, asked if I was OK because I looked sad. I was able to respond that my dog had died the other day. She looked at me signed "that's hard, I'm sorry" and gave me a hug. I could hardly take the empathy, and genuine heartfelt care. I started to cry. slowly and silently at first, again trying to hide it, when another child noticed and joined the hug, and another, and another, until I was surrounded by a dozen kids in a massive group hug. I was done for. First trying to hold back the sobs then eventually letting myself be held by a web of children as I grieved the loss of a dog, a friend, a life that I knew.

 I shed the burden of death in that moment and opened myself up to new life. Life full of joy and sorrow, love and loss, newness and routine here in Madagascar. In that embrace I felt a peace that had yet to grace me in my journey. And I let the very kids, who I believe it is my duty and honor to love, love me. I will never forget Princeton, nor the life that I left at home. But I think I am just that much more willing to become a part of Madagascar, sharing my experiences, and memories from home, here, and in turn letting myself release into to mystery of what lies ahead. I believe this will not only honour who I am, and those that have shaped me, but open myself up to be shaped by the people here who, if I'm lucky, I may touch as well. I miss home. I sometimes struggle with the differences here. I miss my dog. Oh god I miss my dog, and always will. Yet those children created the space for me to recognize, feel, and move foreword. So for Princeton, and for children everywhere, Thank you.

"If we wish to create a lasting peace we must begin with the children" Ghandi

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Many Skies...

The two wonderful birds that doth givith their lives!
     Wow! soooo much to think about, so much to talk about! I was hoping to have another post up before I left orientation, and did...... but accidentally deleted it. AHHH! Technology givith and taketh away. In it I was pondering the value of food, its importance, how I have viewed it, and how my views have changed. specifically after cutting the head of a chicken off and then participating in the rest of the preparation process. Food is truly a gift! But I think I will save that subject for later on this year when I'm over being bitter about the last post.

(All pictures taken in Madagascar ex where noted)
     For now what I have been contemplating is the sky. For all of the changes in coming to Madagascar, the new people, places, environments. The anxieties of speaking (in Malagasy) in front of ten thousand people. The joys of successfully navigating a bus route and making a store purchase. The comfort of settling in with my host family, and finding companionship. And the loneliness of being so far away from what I have called home for years.( More stories to come I promise!) I cant help but notice the sky is still the same sky no matter where I have been. Whether on top of a mountain in Colorado, on the great plains, or on the porch here in Madagascar, the sky, however unique, is still the same celestial sphere! And what a truly remarkable sky Madagascar presents! I have always been blown away by the beauty of the heavens, no matter where I have been, and here has been no different. God surely puts a personal touch into the setting sun each night, and I am humbled by its elegance.

     Sounds all very romantic and poetic right? So in true form I wrote a poem about the sky! ( adapted into a song but no recording materials are present.) Yup, here goes....

Looking up at the sky tonight, I gaze in wonder at a million simple lights.
And I feel at home, no I'm not alone when you look up in the night and see the same dancing light.
And I have to stop, Ten Thousand miles away and know that in the moon there is nothing more to say.
So I feel alright in the middle of the night, because I trust that in the beauty of the star were not that far apart.

And when I see the beauty in a sunset,
my heart just will not let me forget the gift of all creation, and how it's shared in every nation.
For you and for me from the mountain to the sea,
 it's for him and for her who they are who they were,

Oh the sky is just the same no matter of your name, where you go let it                                                          show that there's so much room to grow.

Looking out upon the sky today, I stare and ponder and it takes my breath away.
Because the clouds are making shapes that only God could create.
I've seen them in the Rocky Mountains, I've seen them on the coast the waves were shouting!
I saw them when I was young and I think I've just begun to see...

That there's a slender thread we all seek,
it's the peace that passes all we understand.
When I look to the heavens I see that peace made complete, I see it in the sun the moon n' sky as it spreads across the land.

I wonder if we could let our doubt drift away like a rolling cloud in an effortless day
I believe that we will see all our hopes set free and fly when we give them to the spirit in the sky.

Taking in the sky again, my souls at ease, I'm not worried about the whens,
yes ill take it all in stride, jump in and take a ride,
because I know that in the splendor of the sky there is peace that I will rely.

"Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work."

-Abdul Kalam

Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp, Where I really Latched onto this ideia