I have been in Madagascar for almost a week already. We (7 of 9 Connect students) have arrived in Antsirabe where we will stay for the next three weeks studying the Malagasy language. 60 hours of language training later I hope to be able to understand basic instructions and greetings (ex. what our hostess at the previous place we stayed said to us the evening before we left), how to navigate even better at the market, how to communicate with children, bus drivers, waiters, etc.
Now we are living at Lovasoa Cross Cultural Community Center (L4C). The city of Antsirabe itself was founded by Norwegian missionaries in 1872. The facilities and apartment we (5 girls) are living in is similar to something you could find in Norway and many people here speak Norwegian. After a week in Tana, and being immersed in the way of living, this is a change I do not take for granted. Coming into Antsirabe I was surprised to see so many pulled rickshaws here, an influence from India.
A challenging and valuable experience we have had several times already is going to the market to buy food (Rice, potatoes, carrots, beans, onions, garlic, fruits, and spices). Besides food there is a lot of other stuff at the market. For millions of people globally, going to the market is nothing unusual or extra special. It is great that Norway and the US for instance have “Farmer’s Markets” and second hand stores, but they cannot compare because they do not fully sustain the average person. And in case you didn't know, meat with flies on it is safe also for foreigners because (1) the animal was alive not too long ago so the meat is fresh, and because (2) it gets cooked long enough. As I have already alluded to, for me the value of going to the market is that it is sustainable, much cheaper than the supermarket (if you understand the price you are given, get a fair price, or learn how to bargain), mostly fresh, and you have an opportunity to get to know people and develop a relationship with the person you buy from most often. Challenges include knowing how to say what you want, solving or accepting misunderstandings, finding out what things “should” cost when it is not a fixed price, and understanding the different measurements (piece, bunch, can, scoop, kg).
My favorite experience thus far has been attending a church service at AKAMA, the school and Lutheran church for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Their slogan is “Deaf can do everything except hear”. I learned how to greet an older person the polite way using sign language (Salama Tompoko ô - side of hand out from forhead toward person you are talking with and then thumbs up in an upward direction). I also appreciated being able to pay attention to the Malagasy sign and the Malagasy word on the screen simultaneously. For instance, I learned the word “tontolo” (earth) because the sign is so intuitive.
As for what cultural elements I learned about that day: People are used to waiting (ex. waiting for the pastor to arrive). We probably only waited 30 minutes. Then again, I do not know how long it was because I did not bring my phone or wear a watch. During these minutes of waiting we also heard loud singing and some shouting from the Lutheran hearing church nearby. That church is the second largest Lutheran congregation in Tana. The shouting we heard was from the revival movement, where “shepherds” in white garments cast out demons. At some point during our stay in Madagascar we will likely see this for ourselves. The revival movement is common across Madagascar, and it is much more common to talk about the spiritual world here than it is in Norway.
I am excited for all the things I will learn in the next weeks and months of my stay – which I am very privileged to have. Thank you for reading (and feel free to come with tips on blog writing because I'm a newbie & or suggest subjects you want to know more about).