Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Faces of Madagascar: Meet Ravo


When I first arrived in Toliara, I knew no one. Yet, one morning as the sun started to peak above the horizon a man greeted me while I was running at the local track. We exchanged pleasantries, and he learned that I know English. He immediately told me that his daughter studies English; he would love if we could practice speaking together. Still a bit overwhelmed by my recent move to Toliara, I never arranged to meet with the man’s daughter. Yet, each morning he saw me at the track, he would remind me that I should speak with his daughter. Eventually he brought his daughter to the track with him and introduced us himself. We chatted for a short time on the bleachers, and I thought our relationship might end there. Thankfully, her father had other intentions. He asked if I could give his daughter my phone number. That way we could continue to practice English together. Ravo has used that number throughout the year. I have been invited to Sunday worship and lunch with her family, New Year’s parties, walks through town, and hip-hop dance competitions. She has shown me friendship and introduced me to many people and sites of Toliara. Her father introduced her to me, and now I introduce her to you.


Name: ANDRIAMIANDRISOA Ravo Nomenjanahary

Birthday: March 21, 1999

Family: We are from the highlands but I grew up in Toliara. I have 2 brothers and one sister. We [my siblings and parents] live with our uncle and grandmother. My father is Rene, and my mother is Hery... They are kind [and] gentle. My father is outgoing; He likes speaking with everyone. My mother is contrary. She is not used to meeting people. She is a person who is used to staying at home… At home, we speak the French language [in order] to be adapted to the international language.

Education: Ravo studies both philosophy and management at universities in Toliara.

Why did you learn English?: Though Ravo likes English now, she did not always enjoy English. Time by time, I have realized that [the English] language can help me in my life. It is an international language. Everything you search on the internet [is] in English. I started learning English after my bac degree [equivalent to a high school diploma] in November 2014. Two weeks later I was in [tour]guide training. It was very helpful to know the [English] language.

Hobbies: My hobbies are reading books and then singing. I like romantic books especially from the Harlequin collection. I love singing every English song - English and French. Ravo particularly likes Westlife songs.

Favorite Place in Madagascar:  Maybe Diego. I like the landscape. I like the beach [and] the sea. I asked Ravo where she would like to live since her family is from the highlands and she enjoyed her trip to Diego. I think it’s better for me to stay here [in Toliara]. It is a calm city - not really in a rush [all the] time like in the capital.

Three wishes: I would like to learn another language - Spanish maybe or Portuguese and Italian. One wish is also to make a visit abroad - even just one time in my life. I would like to go in an American country. I wish that my family would know English more than I know it.

How would you describe Madagascar?: Madagascar has very good landscapes. There are some places that should be visited by foreigners - even [by] the people here. The problem - the most important problem here is the poverty. We don’t have enough [money] to spend on a visit. Because even… what we earn is not enough [money] to eat. So then for making travel - it’s a little bit impossible for us. Madagascar has outgoing people. They know how to receive guests. Even if they [Malagasy] are a little afraid of them [foreigners]. They can be opened to them when the foreigners ask for something.

What else should people know about you?: I am a little talkative. If you have a good conversation, a good subject, [or] a good debate, I would be happy to share my point of view with you.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Comfort

I stroll along the road into the center of town and carry my large blue sunhat in my hands. As evening sets in and the cool breeze rushes, I have no need to hide from the sun. I hear a street vendor call out, “Mahay mifoiky.” You know how to whistle. I realize I am whistling while I walk; I realize how comfortable am I in Toliara. I know the roads. I know the back ways and front ways, the ways that get muddy when it rains, the ways to avoid at dusk, and the ways that smell less like waste. I know which coffee vendor pours most generously and which mokary tend to be hot and fresh. I shake hands and make small talk without stressing about my language skills. It flows naturally. I can walk to the outhouse in the dark without a flashlight because I know where to step. I know the order of a Sunday service by heart and can even sing the offering song without looking in my hymnal. My stomach knows how to digest large quantities of rice, and my legs have learned to walk more slowly - in line with the relaxed pace of Malagasy life.

While strolling and whistling, I thank the Lord for the ability to adapt and feel at home. When I first arrived, everyday activities took incredible effort, energy, and focus. Everything was so new and thought-provoking. Now, I feel comfortable. I whistle while I walk.

Then, after thanking God, I pray for discomfort. I pray God would rattle my heart again.

In the midst of growing comfortable, the shock stopped. I no longer look twice when I see beggars on the street, clothes worn to pieces, or distended and malnourished stomachs. I am not surprised by insufficient food at dinner - when host sister gets only a small plate of rice. I am fed well and fed first; others in my family are not. I am not startled by a lack of money for soap, school fees, or even a snack. I have come to expect glaring differences in power between men and women, and I know what to expect when people see my white skin. I am not shocked by blatant expressions of tribalism. I no longer view the SALFA hospital facilities as inferior to hospitals in the U.S. but instead see them as some of the cleanest and nicest I’ve seen in Madagascar. I know how to act at a Malagasy funeral, and I know what it looks like to die and suffer due to preventable and treatable disease. I care little about the skeletal dogs which roam our yard. Their visible spines used to haunt me, but I give them little attention now.

Mama Jeannette says I have become Malagasy. She means to say that I have learned the Malagasy way of life. I agree, but her statement reveals more. I have learned to live with Malagasy expectations. I have accepted a new norm.

I cannot lie, this has saved my heart from pain. Walking past the same children covered in smut and longing for food each day wears on one’s soul. Accepting these children and their circumstances as a part of life diminishes the sting. I do not go to bed in tears every night. I do not weep on the road for those children.

But maybe I should.

I will continue to thank God for adaptability and comfort. God knows I cannot handle all the pain in this world, but God instead reveals that pain bit-by-bit. God shatters me in manageable pieces. Yet, I refuse to allow my heart complete comfort. We live in a broken world - not just me, and not just the Malagasy people. We all live in a broken world. Look around, my family and friends. See the pain. See the oppression. See how we hurt one another - in small ways and in devastatingly large ways. See how we can do better.

I pray your heart will be broken today. I pray the pain of this world will strike you and bring you to your knees. Maybe your heartbreak will lead to a solution. Maybe your heartbreak will simply sit with you. Let it. Let God awaken your heart and open your eyes. Let tears fall for the sadness and brokenness. Then turn to God and ask for strength to continue on amidst the pain and amidst the hurt. May God not relieve the weight placed on our hearts but instead use it to lead us on.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Faces of Madagascar: Meet Precious


The evening sun was peaking through my window when I heard the voice of my friend, Precious.
“Good evening, Morghen.”
I stuck my head out the door and told him I would be ready soon. I gathered my things and joined him in the front yard. Precious and I like to chat after my classes or on Sunday evenings. Our topics range from American politics to favorite foods to theology. However, tonight would be a bit different. Tonight, we would conduct an interview.

Precious led me just across the fence to his home and introduced me to his parents. He invited me into his room, and I immediately noticed two objects - his desk and his poster. The desk occupied the center of his room; I later learned that desk is where he taught himself English. The black-and-white poster hung on the far wall. It displayed the faces of General De Gaulle, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Margaret Thatcher. I smiled. His knowledge of world politics, current events, and history continually amazes me. Precious invited me to have a seat at his desk, and we began our work. We started with the basics.

Name: Rajaofera Precieux Guenole

(When I first met Precious, he asked me to use the English pronunciation of his name).

Birthday: June 10, 1994

Birthplace: Toliara, Madagascar

Education:
During our evening conversations, Precious and I have discussed our studies and career aspirations. Precious studies law at The University of Maninday - the university in Toliara. He has often expressed his deep passion for the law. I asked him about his choice to study law and what he plans to do after graduation.

I study the law because since … I finished high school, I have been interested in the issue of justice and all that it concerns. Everybody [in the high school] was asking themselves ‘What should I do at the university?’ When they asked this question to me, I placed my choice on … justice. Now I realize that I made a good choice. I love the law, and it’s a subject that I’m good at.

After graduation, Precious can become a judge, a lawyer, or take an exam to work for the state. For now, he intends to become a lawyer.

Family:
I asked Precious to describe his family - his mother, father, and younger sister. He said they can be summarized in three words: Christianity, solidarity, and discipline.

Christianity: First, we are a very Christian family. We, the kids of my parents’ house, are used to living in a religious environment. All of us are Lutheran, and we are attached to Lutheran convictions.

Solidarity: We love one another.

Discipline: This word is very hard for some people - especially young people… Yes, we [my sister and I] are young. We make faults sometimes, but they [our parents] always remind us of the right path.

Free Time:
When asked about his free time, Precious listed three leisures. First, Precious loves to read. As he described his love for literature, he pointed to the various books adorning his room. Through reading, he finds sanctuary from the problems, insecurities, and doubts of everyday life. Second, Precious likes to play basketball. He played for a team in high school, but his studies keep him busy now. Third, Precious enjoys movies and television - particularly movies and shows regarding justice, international affairs, or everyday struggles and conflict. He particularly likes the American series, Scandal and Lincoln, a movie which portrays the life of Abraham Lincoln. Precious also loves to laugh and enjoys a good comedy show. Precious finds one show particularly funny.

[T]here is an American show that I really like… It has distracted me a little bit when I am really busy or tired of my studies. I love the Jimmy Fallon Show. I have to say, that man was born to make people laugh. Everything that he does is funny. I thank him. From this country [Madagascar], I thank him. Your show is wonderful, Jimmy Fallon. Remember that here in Madagascar there is a man that is very interested in your show.

Role Models:
I asked Precious about his role models and wondered if he would list famous American presidents or philanthropists. He has often communicated his admiration for the Kennedys, Abraham Lincoln, and the Obamas. After I asked the question, Precious pondered for a moment.

Who are my role models? I have to say that my role model is my father. I say this not because he is my father but because when I look at him and look at all the struggles he has been through, I realize that his life teaches me a lot of things including hard work and resilience. To be honest, my father is someone who has seen a lot of problems in his life - a lot of crisis. Through all these problems he has stood up. This attitude deserves my respect. I have to follow his path - to be like him. I have to be realistic about life; life is not a dream. It is a place where we have to confront problems and struggles - a place where we have to be strong and resilient.

Favorite Bible Verse or Story:
It is a story we all know - the story of Jesus. I am not a pastor, but according to the story, we are all sinful. With all of these sins, God has said, ‘Get them away.’ … He sent us his precious child, and his precious child arrived here on the earth to save us. This has to get our attention - we who are sinful. We have been saved by God. He has sacrificed his one and unique son. We have to be aware of it. We have to embrace this love that God shows us.

One Wish:
After I asked Precious what he would do with one wish, he paused. Then he giggled. I wondered if he would provide a humorous answer, but his response evoked a very different emotion.

I would wish better for everyone - for this country [Madagascar]. I wish this country, someday, would [take] a step forward. By better for this country, I mean [many things]. First of all, we have to say that this is a country that is really poor. That is a reality. That is a fact. It is not a subject for debate. A lot of people say, ‘Madagascar you are condemned by this poverty. You do not have a chance.’ I do not think [the future] is written... I am not a dreamer. I am not saying that someday Madagascar will be France or the United States… But I think that this country can do better… We can alleviate the poverty a little bit.

By better, I mean this country stays true to its values. Here in Madagascar we have values - for example solidarity, love, and a word without translation which falls between solidarity and love. I wish that this country will stick to these values.

Precious continued on to explain that great struggles have worn on the people of Madagascar. They are tired, and as a result, they have fallen away from their values.

We have to stick to our values. We have to embrace solidarity. We have to embrace love.

An Important Moment:
During one of our evening chats, Precious and I discussed how God makes beauty out of ashes. Precious and I exchanged stories of tragedy and struggle while also sharing how God created good in those moments. I treasure that conversation, and I asked Precious if he would be willing to share his stories with others.

A few years ago, Precious battled Malaria. Before his illness, he had fallen into bad habits which he describes as some of the “whims of youth.” His long and painful illness and hospitalization pushed him to reconsider his life and choices. Precious thanks God for the changes and deeper faith inspired by his illness, and he advises others to closely examine their lives, too.

Everyone should look at his [or her] life, examine it a little bit, and ask, ‘Do I need to change? What are the bad habits I need to give up right now?’ … Ask this question and you will see that there are some flaws in your character. You have to fight against these flaws. Yes, as a human being, we will never be perfect, but that does not mean we cannot make efforts to perfect ourselves. I really believe that we have a moral obligation to ourselves, so I encourage you to fight against flaws in your character. You can be a better person.

Be aware of this life that has been given to you - a life where you should build a better story, build smiles, build something good. [You should] not share or cause pains for people - not cause tears for people. I think that if you want to measure your progress in life, [you should] not measure your progress compared to another person… To measure your progress, look at time. How was I many years ago, and how am I now? If you respond, I am the same, you should do a little better.

What else should people know about Precious?
I am going to use three words to [help] people know me. First, Precious is relaxation. I love to relax... I love to laugh. The second word that can describe me is maturity. Even though I love laughing, I have to say that I am also mature… The third word is love. Precious is a person who loves everyone. He doesn’t have a problem with anyone.

After this final question, Precious requested that I ask for his final words.

First of all, I want to thank you. Thank you for this wonderful interview. This has helped me to improve my English and to share some aspects of my life - some ideas of mine. Second. I want to address a message to American volunteers. Madagascar is a wonderful place. Don’t hold back. Come here. Your friend, the person interviewing me now, will tell you that when she [goes] back [to the United States]. Madagascar is a country of love… The beauty of Madagascar is not in structures, in roads, [or] in its appearance. The beauty of Madagascar is in its people, in its culture, [and] in its environment, so come here. Third and finally, thank you to all the persons who follow the blog. Thank you for reading this. I wish the best for all of you. I wish good days for you in the future.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Few of My Favorite Things

I firmly believe in the beauty and importance of the little joys and moments in life. Here are some of my “favorite things” in Madagascar.

  • The children who live across the fence from me strike a pose or dance each time they see me. (Imagine Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”). When I, too, strike a pose, they squeal in excitement.
  • Keyssi, Mama Jeannette’s two-year-old granddaughter, likes to dance naked in the yard. She may only be two, but that little girl can shake.
  • One of the neighborhood girls chases me down the street and yells good morning whether it is the morning, afternoon, or evening.
  • When we eat white beans (and rice, of course) at lunch
  • When Keyssi pretends to be a cow and crawls over my lap mooing and pretending to eat my hands
  • Josey, Mama Jeannette’s four-year-old grandson, spent an entire morning running around, swinging his hips from side to side and singing, “Bella soa Morgheny!” (Translation: Morghen is beautiful).
  • Each time I clearly hear and understand which hymn we will sing in church and turn to the correct page before the native Malagasy speaker sitting next to me. (Madagascar has certainly changed me, but my competitive nature remains).
  • When my friend, Ravo, invites me to go to church with her family and then eat lunch at their home on Sunday afternoons
  • When Mama Jeannette’s fourteen-year-old grandson, Rayan, challenged me to an arm-wrestling contest
  • The morning devotional which welcomes each new day at SALFA - the Lutheran clinic where I work. Doctors, patients, and families sit in the waiting room, sing, pray, and listen to a short sermon before beginning their work or treatment. It is such an incredibly beautiful way to start a day.
  • When I see a particularly cute baby while administering vaccines at the clinic
  • The overwhelming love and joy of the students and teachers at the Toliara Lutheran School for the Blind.
  • When Mama Jeannette complimented my laundry skills. I had no idea how to wash my laundry by hand when I first arrived. My amateur abilities used to inspire giggles, so Mama Jeannette’s compliment meant a great deal.
  • When I understand parts of the sermon.
  • When my students ask me about an English phrase they have heard, like what it means to be ‘a big cheese’ or ‘to bite someone’s head off.’
  • Moonlight dance parties in the yard with Mama Jeannette’s grandchildren

I pray your day is filled with small and beautiful moments.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Rejoice

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

I finished writing on the blackboard and turned toward my students - a group of teachers at the Toliara Lutheran School for the Blind. Normally full of energy and smiles, they sat quietly today. They lacked their usual spark, and I knew I could not continue with my lesson. Learning how to discuss daily routines would not keep them awake or engaged. We needed some spunk. I turned back to the blackboard and began to write the lyrics to “Jesus Loves Me.” The mood immediately changed. As soon as I wrote the title of the song on the board, one of the teachers asked me to translate a Bible verse for him. I told him I could bring my English Bible to the next class, and the teachers nearly burst with excitement. We continued to translate and sing “Jesus Loves Me.” The room filled with joy.
I have witnessed that same joy at the Lutheran School for the Blind several times. The school overflows with genuine joy. Students singing hymns have left me with goosebumps. The laughter and abundant love of the teachers warms my heart each time I teach a lesson. I end each class period in prayer, and the teachers eagerly bow their heads. Those teachers and students have shown me time and again what it means to rejoice in the Lord.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

I slipped on my sandals and wandered into the moonlit yard to look for water. Though our water spicket stops running during the day, the water normally flows in the evening. As I left my room, I noticed two of Mama Jeannette’s granddaughters at a nearby table, and I walked over. Kaissey, who is only two, lay uncomfortably on top of the table. Her head burned with a strong fever. Esperance, Kaissey’s twelve-year-old half-sister, stood over Kaissey. Esperance stroked Kaissey’s arms and whispered sweet rhythms. She knew just what to do. With love and care that reminded me of my own mother, she cooled Kaissey with a wet cloth and soothed her to sleep. Though Esperance is not yet a teenager, I watch her care for Mama Jeannette’s younger grandchildren with incredible gentleness and wisdom. She wakes before six each morning to go to the market, prepare breakfast, and ready the children for preschool. After cleaning and cooking all day, she bathes the children and takes them to bed. The same kindness she shows the children has often brightened my day. Her sweet smile and demeanor constantly remind me of God’s love and presence.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

I perched on the edge of a white lawn chair beside the hospital bed. I fanned a large hat near Rico’s face in an effort to cool him down. Suffering from Typhoid and parasites and under the influence of strong medicines, he lay only half-conscious. Every now and then he would mutter short phrases in either English or Malagasy. I tried to calm my worries. Unfamiliar with the illnesses plaguing my friend, I did not know what to expect. I had been visiting Rico every day, but I had seen little progress. In the midst of this concern, I witnessed incredible faith and reliance on God. Each day I visited Rico, I watched him and his family turn to the Lord. When Rico tossed about uncomfortably, his mother would remind him that Jesus was with him. Jesus would give him strength and rest. At other times, Rico’s mother and other family members would stand over Rico’s bed and pray. They nearly whispered, but I could hear power in their words. Though Rico remained in the hospital for nearly a week, a sense of peace never left his family. Every time I visited,  they would tell me how Rico was doing. Sometimes he had improved during the night. Sometimes he hadn’t. Yet, they told each piece of news with voices calmed by the assurance of Christ.
(Rico has since returned home and continued to recover. He will still take some time off from work, but he is excited to return to teaching ).

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Mama Jeannette’s words were simple yet beautiful. “Jesus will not leave me.” We sat on the pews of an outdoor church awaiting the start of the service. She had just told me some of her life story - a story which has included a great deal of struggle and strife. Yet, she continues to walk through each day trusting in the Lord. She said that even in her darkest moments, she knew God’s promise. He will not leave her. He will walk with her. I sat quietly, listening to the details of her story and admiring the beauty of her faith.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Our connected, beautiful, and fragile world

I opened the Facebook message from my country coordinator, Pastor Kirsten. Her message was short.
Climate change and Vezo.
A link to a CNN news story followed. I decided to wait to open the link. I claimed I should use my limited time with wifi to catch up on other business. Perhaps I knew the story would hit too close to home.


I live with Madame Jeannette, a Malagasy woman of the Vezo tribe. Vezo identify themselves as fisherpeople. They know the sea, and they know fish. Mama Jeannette proudly claims her Vezo roots. She speaks Vezo dialect, and she happily exclaims each time a pop artist on the television sings in Vezo dialect, too. She instructs me in the way of Vezo. We will wear white to the funeral; that is what Vezo do. We will wear our lamba hoany like this. That is the Vezo way. Even at dinner Mama Jeannette’s Vezo pride shines through. Oh, I will eat that fish. It has many dangerous small bones, but the Vezo, they know how to eat it. The volunteer before me returned to the U.S. with the title of a Vezo-American. I have been reassured. You are learning the Vezo way. You will be Vezo-American, too. I would be honored.


Some weeks after Pastor Kirsten sent the link, I watched the video and read the accompanying news article. My heart broke. The report tells the story of a Vezo family - a family who makes their living from the sea. However, climate change challenges their livelihood. The beautiful and sustaining coral which borders the southern tip of Madagascar is suffocating under rising temperatures. The featured Vezo family is struggling to survive. Dead coral means no fish. No fish means no money and no food.
As I watched the video, I felt a connection to the Vezo family. I could understand the dialect they spoke behind the subtitles. Their manner of living - even the pots and bowls they use - are familiar. The fish caught by the family could sit in the market near my house. I may eat it for dinner.


Yet, as I watched the clip, I could not deny the other half of my identity. I am American, too. I am a citizen of the United States, a nation which produced over ¼ of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions over the last 150 years. I own a car and rarely carpool. I drive because it will “just be easier.” I struggle to decide which electronic device to charge first. My laptop is dead, but so is my phone. I overconsume. The Vezo woman featured in the story, Lydia, has only ridden in a car once.  In the article, Lydia says she feels as if the dying coral is a curse sent from abroad - from places like America. American - the other half of my identity.


The Vezo are not the only people facing poverty and starvation as a result of climate change. Madagascar and many southern African countries currently face an extreme drought attributed to climate change. Food shortages abound. In the United States, we often talk about the consequences of climate change. It is one thing to talk about melting polar ice caps. It is another thing to recognize that our poor environmental choices contribute to starvation.

I encourage you to watch the video on Vezo and climate change. I have included the link below. I also encourage you to reflect on your daily choices. What can you do to reduce your consumption of fossil fuels? How can you limit your impact on the dying coral? Yes, the Vezo hold a special place in my heart. However, they are your brothers and sisters, too; we are all connected. We occupy this connected, beautiful, fragile, and aching world together.

Link:
When the coral disappears, so will they
Story by John D Sutter, CNN

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Mandroso

Mandroso (Mahn-drew-sue) - used as an invitation - come in, take part, join us
Avia - (Ah-vee-ah) - used as a command - come here

I attempted to stay in the shadows cast by the small stores. The sun burned brightly in Toliara as I walked through the streets. I had only arrived a week earlier, and I wanted to explore my new home. I listened to the conversations and sounds around me while my eyes danced between the road, the sites, and the people around me. A middle-aged woman appeared from a small side street and turned just in front of me. She strolled at nearly my pace, and I decided to say hello. Upon my greeting, she turned around and smiled. We continued down the street and chatted in Malagasy. She showed incredible patience with my language blunders. Soon, she invited me to her home. Mandroso. I followed her down a small path which wound through small homes, huts, and fences. Upon reaching her house, she introduced me to her husband before inviting me inside. She offered me a seat, and she ran off to fetch her daughter. They both returned, and we discussed our families, my work, and the daughter’s studies. Still a new student of the Malagasy language, I could not hold a long conversation. Once we reached a silence, the woman thanked me for coming to her home. She asked her daughter to accompany me back to the main road, and I soon continued my walk home.


Mama Jeannette and I stepped into a sliver of shade to wait with the other women. The church service had just ended, but the director was not yet ready to lead us to our next location. Already past noon, some of the women had bought a small snack from a nearby  vendor. They peeled the skin from beles - a popular food similar to a sweet potato. As I stepped into the shade, one woman invited me to join in the small meal. Mandroso. I agreed, and she returned to the bele vendor. She bought a small potato and handed it to me. I split the potato and handed half to Mama Jeanette. Between bites, all of the women continued to chat.


I jumped into a pair of shorts and threw my sunscreen into my backpack before rushing out of my bedroom door. I apologized to the man and woman standing in Mama Jeannette’s yard; I did not expect them to come so early. They reassured me there was no need to apologize and told me to get on the back of the man’s motorbike. He was the soccer team’s manager, and he would take me to the correct soccer field. I had never met the man, and I had only met the young woman once. I couldn’t even remember her name. Yet, I climbed on the back of the bike and accepted the invitation. My friend had arranged the whole situation. With very few questions answered, we took off down the road. As we zoomed along and dodged potholes, I giggled to myself. I was riding on the back of a motorbike of a man I had just met and heading to some sort of soccer gathering. In honesty, I did not know if I would sit and watch a game, find myself in the starting line up, or simply practice with the team. I did not know if I would understand any of the language spoken. I did not know if my shorts would make me feel extremely out of place. Yet, why would I turn down the chance to engage with a women’s soccer league? Mandroso. Come into this.


The sun had just set as I stepped into Mama Jeannette’s yard. I had barely closed the gate when I heard a cry.
“Moooor-ghen-y!”
I looked up to find Josey (one of Mama Jeannette’s grandsons) yelling my name. Three other grandchildren soon echoed his call.
Avia!
It was a loving command, but a command nonetheless. I rolled my bike towards them, and we continued to chase each other for some time. When I wandered too far from the game of tag, I would hear the command.
Avia! Morgheny! Avia!
I had no choice but to follow the call. I would run to Josey or the other grandchildren and induce a fit of giggles.


A few weeks ago, my oldest brother sent me an email. At the end of the email he asked me a question: Am I doing and learning all I came to do and learn in Madagascar? In truth, I found myself a bit a shocked by the question. I had no true answer. When I boarded a plane to Madagascar almost four months ago, I had very little idea what was ahead of me. I could not entirely anticipate what I would do or what I would learn. I continue to wake each morning unsure of what the day will bring. There is a beauty in the mystery of each day and this year as a whole. God called me to Madagascar with a warm and loving, yet stern voice. Mandroso, Morghen! Come into this! I did not know what the year would bring, but I could not decline the invitation. Some days the abundant questions make me hesitant to follow the call, but God persists. Avia, Morghen! Come, Morghen! I want you here. I step forward, sometimes with hesitation, but God always walks beside me. He invites me into the mystery - into questions, into challenges, into joys, into love, and into a beautiful mystery.