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 TanĂ na (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.