Almost every day this year, my host mom and I have risen with (or before) the sun and set off on a walk. Those hour-long excursions quickly became one of my absolute favorite activities, and I am going to miss our walks very much. Check out the slideshow below to see some of the beautiful scenery we get to enjoy every morning!
Months ago, I accidentally bought a huge coil of bright orange rope. I only needed a few meters to make a clothesline, but, because of my poor language skills, I ended up with a thick wheel the size of my head. I remember thinking, “Great. I just spent way too much money on something I shouldn’t even have bought in the first place. What in the world am I supposed to do with all this rope?” I made my clothesline—which didn’t even make a dent in the amount of rope I had purchased. In the process, I managed to transform the perfect coil into a gigantic tangle of catastrophic proportions. For a couple of dedicated hours, I attempted to untangle the knots and rewrap the rope into a neat ball. Then frustration set in and I shoved the disappointingly small ball and the still-massive mess into a cabinet, slammed the door, and forgot about it.
Last week, my host siblings came over after Sunday lunch, like they do every week. We were playing cards as usual when my two host sisters started talking about how they wished they had two long jump ropes to learn Double Dutch. Suddenly, I remembered the rope! We abandoned our card game, fished the tangle out of the cabinet, and got to work. We unknotted, stretched, measured, and cut the rope. Not satisfied with the thin jump ropes, we cut more rope, until only a ball the size of my fist remained of the once-enormous knot. We started braiding, like how the little girls in Tangled braided Rapunzel’s hair. It turned out that plaiting feet upon feet of rope was a very lengthy process, so we gave up on the second jump rope and ran outside with our completed creation.
Every day, kids from all over the SALT campus gather in the packed-down dirt parking lot in front of my house and play for hours. Last Sunday was no different. Except that the jump rope brought together all the separate groups of kids and united them into one big group. The jump rope brought out the parents, who watched us play with laughter in their voices and smiles on their faces. I learned Malagasy jump rope games and taught some that I remembered from elementary school recess. We played until the stars came out and everyone got called home for dinner. I went inside feeling elated, sore, and determined not to banish the second jump rope to the cabinet.
The first jump rope disappeared during the week, handed around between the neighbor kids and loved to the point that it looks months old now. I finished braiding the second one and waited eagerly for Sunday to arrive. Today’s church service ended early, and one of my host sisters and I rushed to my house to retrieve the new rope. Joined by my host brother and other sister, the four of us jumped and jumped and jumped until lunch was ready. After lunch there was no question about what our afternoon would be dedicated to: we were going to jump rope.
We did figure out how to twirl the two ropes for Double Dutch but soon gave up in favor of our favorite games from last week. The jump rope worked its magic again. My host mom came and joined in, followed by my neighbor, whose kids I had played with last week. One of the pastors even made an appearance. Passerby stopped on the road to watch and laugh and smile and cheer alongside us. And when my host sisters went inside for a drink of water, we “grown-ups” stayed out to play. More kids joined us as the afternoon wore on, and even though our original Double Dutch plan was forgotten, two jump ropes turned out to be better than one. A posse of kids too little to jump grabbed the second rope and it found a new purpose as a limbo stick, high jump bar, and more. Nothing could stop us—until we collapsed from exhaustion, that is. Not shoes falling off midjump, change flying out of pockets, community members stopping to chat, feet growing dirtier by the second, nor little kids charging unexpectedly through the rope.
I’m not sure where the jump ropes will travel this week, but I am convinced they will bring more joy and fellowship with them. And I already can’t wait for next Sunday. The bright orange rope isn’t so bright anymore. But it’s not sitting in my cupboard either. It’s funny how something so inconvenient can turn into something you wonder how you’ve gone so long without. It’s amazing how something as simple as a jump rope can bring a whole community together.
I am so grateful for the day when I bought too much rope.
I have 30 full days left in Fianar.
That’s five bucket baths.
Four church services.
Two rounds of laundry.
That doesn’t seem like enough time.
I’ll be honest: there have been times this year when I thought I’d never make it to the 30-day mark. There have been times when I’ve counted the days and counted again because I couldn’t believe there were so many left. There have been times when I’ve prayed time would speed up. And now I’m begging time to slow down.
It’s difficult to imagine not going on morning walks with my host mom. Not playing Phase 10 every Sunday afternoon with my host siblings. Not haggling over prices at the market. Not listening to the Sunday sermon translated into French. Not enjoying fresh menakely for breakfast. Not walking everywhere. Not cracking up at my host dad’s jokes. Not eating rice on a regular basis. Not hearing pigs snorting and chickens squawking outside my door. Not hearing anyone call me “vazaha.”
It’s difficult to imagine shopping in an air-conditioned, fluorescent-lit grocery store. Wearing pants instead of a skirt to church and to school. Seeing an actual toilet in a public bathroom. Understanding snatches of conversations when I pass by people. Going to church for only an hour every week. Brushing my teeth with tap water. Being able to be out after dark. Driving a car. Washing my clothes in a machine.
It’s strange to think about going home—because I am home. It’s strange to think about things like freeways and Target and microwaves and parking lots and hot showers. So many things that I took for granted in the U.S. feel foreign now. It’s hard to believe that that “foreign” life is going to be my reality again in a little over a month.
I don’t usually make countdowns. I don’t like to think about endings. But I think it’s important to be aware of how many minutes I have left in this amazing place with these incredible people so that I can make every last one count.
“Tafika masina” translates to “holy war,” although it doesn’t mean marching into battle and forcibly converting people to a conquering faith. “Tafika masina” refers to any event during which people spread the good news.
On the night before Easter, I gathered with members of my congregation outside our church. Armed with flashlights and hymnals, we set off into the night. Our mission? To spread the good news of Jesus’ resurrection at the homes of congregation members through song. In short, we were going Easter caroling. For three and a half hours, we trekked around Fianar, winding through neighborhoods, traipsing across rice fields, walking single-file down narrow paths, balancing on rickety bridges, and climbing steep staircases—all in the pitch-black night. As we walked, we sang. I definitely didn’t know most of the hymns we sang, but I belted out the words alongside my companions whenever I caught on to a familiar refrain.
When we reached a congregation member’s home, we all gathered around the door, clicked on our flashlights, and flipped open our hymnals to number 133. (Well, at least I did. Everyone else already had the song memorized—and so did I by the end of the night!) Usually, we only sang the first two verses. But if the residents didn’t open a door or a window, we kept singing until they did. Once we had their attention and finished our song, we all shouted, “Velona Jesosy tompoko! Fiadanana ho an’ny tokatrano!” Jesus is risen! Peace be with you and your household! Most families offered a small gift for the church, such as a monetary donation or rice. And then off we went in search of the next house, singing all the way.
There wasn’t any snow and it certainly wasn’t a silent night, but it was undeniably holy. Joy to the world because Jesus is risen!
“The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.” –Malachi 4:2
My favorite church holiday is Good Friday, strange (and morbid) as that may seem. Why would Good Friday be anyone’s favorite church celebration? Why would anyone choose the day Jesus died over the day he rose or the day he was born? For me, the answer is simple: without Good Friday, there would be no Easter.
I’m an optimist. I’m quick to point out the bright side of any situation, and I’m definitely not one to wallow in negative emotions. In fact, I usually do everything I can to avoid feeling anything close to sadness, anxiety, and fear. In the U.S., avoiding those feelings was easy because American culture thrives on distraction. There are endless stimulants available. All of the technology, sporting events, amusement parks, outdoor recreation areas, and malls make it possible for people to ignore and escape reality. Bored? Turn on the TV. Lonely? Talk to someone online. Stressed? Work out at the gym. Whenever I started to feel on edge, I would read, write, watch Netflix, hang out with friends, go for a bike ride, take a hike, surf social media, go to the movie theater, swim, play piano, go out to eat, wander around Target, drive, and more. Here in Madagascar, that inexhaustible range of distractions isn’t available. Of course, I can still read, write, watch movies, and walk around my city, but that’s about it. I live alone, so there’s not a roommate on hand to hang out with. I don’t have a consistent internet connection, so social media, Netflix, and the internet aren’t constantly available at my fingertips. There aren’t gyms, theaters, or department stores. I don’t have a car. Here, it is much more difficult to run away from reality. And for that, I am grateful.
There have definitely been times in my seven months as a YAGM when I’ve felt anxious, stressed, lonely, bored, and upset. Instead of shirking away from those feelings, I’ve been trying to live into them. Leaning in, not leaning away. Being willing to experience the not-so-great emotions continues to challenge me, but I’ve noticed that being open to the reality of my feelings has made me appreciate life’s joys even more. I’ve been able to be more authentically present in my community because I’m starting to be authentically present with myself. I’ve learned that I can feel negative things and still remain optimistic—because I have faith that the darkness won’t last.
We have to live into the hard times if we want to fully experience the beauty of the good times. And I think that’s what Good Friday is all about. We can’t just skip over the crucifixion and fast forward to Easter. If Jesus hadn’t died, he couldn’t have risen. And it’s because of the pain, the sorrow, the fear, and the despair that Easter Sunday is so miraculously wonderful. Good Friday serves as a reminder that life isn’t always full of sunshine. Sometimes, life can get pretty dark. Yet through the dark night, God promises that “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.” The dark won’t last because the sun always rises again. Wherever you are, whatever “Good Friday” you’re going through, I pray that the healing sun rises for you this Easter. I pray that God resurrects you in the light of His hope. I pray that God gives you the strength to be present through the hard times and to keep your face turned to the rising sun.
See this post and other reflections from me, a fellow Minnesota YAGM, and the St. Paul Area Synod on their blog.
Fridays are my busiest workday. I usually teach for seven and a half hours, but some weeks I have an extra class, which extends the workday to nine and a half hours! (Thank goodness for two-hour lunchbreaks.) I spend the entire day at SALT. After chapel, I join my students across the hall in our classroom. I teach the same grade level three times on Fridays, twice before lunch and once in the afternoon; the class is divided into three groups based on the students’ language levels. During the first full week of each month, I also teach my Wednesday Master’s class in the afternoon. (SALT hosts a special afternoon church service on the first Wednesday of every month, so classes are cancelled and rescheduled for other times during the week.)
After my last class, I go home and either make dinner or relax. After dinner, it’s time for English Club! I head back into the chapel building and up to the same classroom in which I spent the rest of the day. SALT students, staff, university students, and other assorted community members come to attend English Club, which is a laidback, conversational event designed to give English learners of all levels a chance to practice their listening and speaking skills. Different people show up every week, which keeps our conversations interesting! Each week, a different English Club member prepares a topic or question for discussion. Usually, we talk about social conflicts, such as gender equality, controversies in Christianity, poverty, and more. The leader opens our time with prayer, then poses their question. We spend the next hour and a half sharing opinions and responding to the ideas of others. Sometimes we shake it up and learn English songs—we even had a Christmas party during which we sang Christmas hymns, participated in a gift exchange, and enjoyed delicious snacks!
When I go home, if I didn’t already eat, I cook a late dinner (although eating at eight or nine o’clock is average for Malagasy families) and, depending on how worn out I am, I go straight to bed or stay up to read, write, or watch a movie. My Friday nights typically end pretty early, though—there is still more to do on Saturday!
Thursdays are my day off, but they often end up just as full as the rest of the week. I always get up early enough to go on a walk with my host mom and then we join the SALT community for chapel afterwards. On some Thursdays, I head to the market right after chapel ends. Other times I go home and wash my laundry (by hand!) so that it has the whole day to dry on the clothesline outside. I might run errands, meet with students, help the SALT staff translate reports from French to English, or read in my hammock on my back porch. I often treat myself and go out for lunch, either with Krista, the other YAGM in Fianar, or on my own. Sometimes I wander around Fianar and explore the city. Back home, I catch up on my blog, work on my next newsletter, and post new pictures on Facebook (when the wi-fi in my apartment cooperates). I finish my lesson plans for Friday, and sometimes I have a meeting with my SALT co-teacher or Saturday English Course co-teachers. I might clean my apartment, visit with my host family and/or my neighbors, practice clarinet (which I’m teaching myself how to play), or check other various tasks off of my to-do list. Most Thursdays I also make time to Skype with family and friends back home. A day off it may be, but there is always plenty to keep me busy!