Hello from . . . Antsirabe? I’ll admit, this is not the post I thought I would be writing today. Originally, today was scheduled to be both departure and arrival. I had thought I would have waved goodbye to Lovasoa and Antsirabe. I had thought I would be settling into my new home in Fianarantsoa, perhaps meeting my host family and other people who will be important parts of my year. I had thought all goodbyes would have been said to my fellow Madagasgals. I had thought my first taxi-brousse ride would be in the books. But, surprise! Plans change. All of our departures were delayed at least a day due to problems with a bridge that’s on the road to Fianarantsoa. The five of us heading south by brousse are waiting for the road to reopen and traffic jams to ease up. That could be tomorrow, or it could be next week. Right now, it’s looking like we’re heading out on Monday!
Tomorrow morning, three YAGMs are leaving for Tana, one directly to her site and the other two to await flights at the end of this week. The other two YAGMs are hanging out at Lovasoa until early next week, when they’ll be able to go to their sites. (And the five of us waiting for the bridge will join them in more Malagasy lessons and English tutoring until our departures.) It’s going to be strange splitting up, but I am grateful for the extra day I got to spend with my whole Mada family today.
Am I disappointed? Frustrated? Worried? Nope! Not at all. I know my site will be waiting for me when I get there, and I bet I’ll just grow even more excited the longer I wait. Living in Madagascar is all about embracing a “mora, mora” (slowly, slowly) lifestyle. Nothing is certain. Things change all the time. I just have to be flexible and go with the flow. Everything will work out; it might just not happen on my timeline or in the way I expect. This adaptable lifestyle definitely fits my personality, but, in spite of that fit, this change in travel plans serves as a good reminder that even the things I think are set in stone are not certain. They’re just as subject to change as anything else. Initially, arrival in Fianar seemed like it was the trip guaranteed to work out on time. But it didn’t, and travel plans that originally seemed less certain are the ones working out first. And that’s okay. We’re all going to get to our sites; the journeys might just look different than expected.
In five days, our three+ weeks of orientation come to an end.
In five days, I get to squish my life back into a suitcase (or two).
In five days, we leave Antsirabe.
In five days, the Madagasgals split up for the first time since arriving in Chicago.
In five days, five of us will board a taxi-brousse (a bus that runs between cities) bound for Fianarantsoa, one of us will board another brousse headed to her site in Antananarivo, and the other four will drive back to the capital together to await their departures.
In five days, I get to try out the phrase “olombelo tsy akoho” (humans aren’t chickens) in order to signal the driver to pull over for a bathroom break.
In five days, I’ll arrive in Fianarantsoa, meet my host family, say goodbye to my fellow YAGMs, and move into my apartment on the campus of SALT, the seminary where I’ll be teaching English.
And what will happen after five days? I don’t really know. But you can bet I’m super excited to find out. 😊
“I’m going to Madagascar!”
“Wow! What are you doing there?”
I’m assuming the answer most people want to this question is the one I’ve been providing: I’ll be teaching English at a seminary, at a young women’s vocational school, and at a farming program. However, teaching’s not all I’m doing—and it isn’t the focus of this year, either. The fact that teaching isn’t the focus seems strange and, honestly, is a little hard for me to accept. Shouldn’t the work I do at my job be the forefront of this year? It’s not like my teaching isn’t important. The thing is, though, this year isn’t about work. It’s about accompaniment.
That statement brings on another question: what is accompaniment? According to ELCA Global Mission, accompaniment means “walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality.” Let’s break that down. Solidarity is “unity or fellowship arising from a community of feelings, purposes, responsibilities, and interests.” Interdependence is “the quality of being mutually reliant on each other,” and mutuality is similar to “reciprocity,” or “a mutual exchange.” To me, the part of the definition that sticks out is “walking together.” My year in Madagascar isn’t about my job because this year isn’t about what I do for other people. This year is all about what we do for, with, and alongside each other. It’s not about the product; it’s about the process.
I’ve been looking at this year as some sort of extended version of my two mission trips to Guatemala. For those trips, I had even less of a concrete answer to the question “what are you doing?”. I struggled to explain exactly what it was we were doing in Nueva, Guatemala, because we didn’t do anything tangible. We didn’t build a latrine, fix the roof on the church, or repaint the school. We didn’t “do” anything, at least not in the typical sense of the word. So, what did we do? We played games with kids. We went to congregation meetings. We made tortillas. We prayed with a family for their sick child. We toured farm fields. We painted the women’s fingernails. We laughed and cried and praised and lived together. And that was so much more rewarding and lasting than any latrine would have been.
This thing called accompaniment is all about the journey. It’s about being present. It’s about meeting people where they are and having them meet me where I am. It’s about learning and growing together. It’s not about swooping in to “fix” anything; it’s about breaking open my heart and trying to experience a different reality. It’s not about “walking in someone else’s shoes”; it’s about walking in my own shoes alongside that someone else as they walk in theirs.
Check out my first newsletter for more information about my first week in Madagascar!
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
And admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around
Through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
Lord, your summons echoes true when I but call your name!
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.
“The Summons” John L. Bell, © 1987, Iona Community, GIA Publications, Inc.
Well, here goes! Orientation is quickly wrapping up in Chicago, and soon I’ll be officially on my way to Madagascar. The journey still doesn’t feel real, but I could not be more excited! It has been such a blessing to spend the last week with the 90+ other YAGMs, learning more about the context in which we’ll be serving and about each other. In addition to meeting young adults who have accepted calls in Southern Africa, the U.K., Mexico, and other countries all over the world, I’ve had the opportunity to meet my cohort, the Madagasgals. These nine amazing women will be my travel buddies on the trip, as well as my companions and support system throughout the year. Once in country, we’ll have another, more extensive orientation, complete with language instruction in Malagasy.
As I’m preparing to leave, the lyrics of the hymn “The Summons” have been echoing in my mind. We sang this hymn on our very first night in Chicago during opening worship, and the words have stuck with me ever since. Although it won’t be easy to “quell the fear inside and never be the same,” that idea is also one of the most exciting parts of this adventure. I can’t wait to see how this year will change me and to witness firsthand how God is at work in Madagascar.