Games are good for teaching a lesson or learning a skill. Isn’t play just play? Kids are kids everywhere, but the way kids play is not the same around the world. Pernille and I have the privilege of spending time on Wednesday’s and Saturday’s at “Samaritana” where 40 kids live and are cared for by Miss Aina. It is quite fitting that her name means “life” in Malagasy. We are responsible for “creative activities”.
I have had an opportunity to challenge my creativity – with varying degrees of success. Don’t have music to accompany dancing? No problem, a water-jug drum works. Need a ball to pass? No problem, sticks, stuffed animals, or tied up bags work. In more ways than one I got to challenge my creativity, such as when at least 20 sets of eyes watch me as I explain a game I just made up few seconds ago – using whatever body-language and Malagasy I can.
Back in November I had some thoughts on play as we started going to “Samaritana”. Play is play, but I can’t help but think: Are we introducing something different to their play? Are the vazahas really so interesting that all the kids want to do is mirror their movements instead of making their own movements or finding their own space to dance in? Are we bringing with us a cultural perspective on games and leadership? Are we bringing with us a more rigid way of playing that doesn’t work as well here?
Some of the games we have introduced include “going out”, but for the most part we skip this. Some of the kids are quite young, and besides, maybe “going out” games are more common for highly individualistic societies such as Norway and the United States?
The times I have tried to start dance circles it has often ended up with follow-the-vazaha (rather than follow-the-leader-in-the-moment) or one person at a time showing off their skills in the middle. I had envisioned something different, but I am learning to just have fun with the process and with what happens naturally. Several times I have tried to encourage each kid to make their own movements/dance freely. More often than not, they have ended up mirroring me. I wonder, the kids may gravitate toward mirroring because they are young, but it also seems to be how they are taught at school and the culture they are socialized into? I find myself wanting to see them think for themselves in movement (you know, become more individualistic/creative), but today for example I decided to stick with a strength they have – mirroring – and then see what happens.
We have also tried several team competitions. My perfectionist mind says: They are cutting the line, they are doing it wrong, they are stepping out of line which makes it messy. My Hald mind says: Maybe Norwegians have a rigid way of looking at things? For example, there is a right and wrong way to play a certain game. My teaching mind says: If I had the language, I could use the game and the things that happened during it as teachable moments.
Kids are kids, and play is play, but it is also a learned skill - especially if it involves many people or rules or vazahas who teach games that are different. Oh, and it can be therapeutic – have you played recently? I look forward to playing again on Saturday.
A few weeks ago we got this message: “Tomorrow church starts at 8, not 9, and there will be many people! It is Christmas for the women…so you should come around 7”, our contact person told us in Norwegian. “Hææ? And in the middle of January?” Okay, I asked in a nicer way, trying to understand. “Christmas for the women? What does that mean?” In Norway, we sing a song including: “…og julen varer helt til påske” (…and Christmas last until Easter). This is more literal here in Madagascar than in Norway where all of December the streets and radio give people the “Christmas spirit”, but after new year’s there is only the occasional “julebord”.
The women celebrated Christmas, the next week the youth department in the Lutheran church, FKTLM, celebrated Christmas, this past week it was Christmas for the men, and the coming week is Christmas for the scouts.
For the occasion, the church in Fandriana was completely filled up – filled to the point of people standing in the back, sitting on the stairs up to the gallery, and standing outside the church. People from about thirteen churches all gathered in Fandriana (the “big” city) during the women’s Christmas. The group of women who were the first to perform the songs and dances they had prepared for their Christmas, were from about three hours away – walking. During Christmas for the youth department, the choirs sang at various times during the service – such as during the offering which lasted for about 1.5 hour. During women’s Christmas, the women of the churches were thanked, especially the pastor’s wives, without whom the work in the church would suffer and the children would not be taught as much in the homes.
Besides the continuation of Christmas celebrations, the last couple of weeks has been one of parties and visits. First, we had our friend’s family over for Norwegian/Swedish dinner because of Pernille’s birthday. We ended formally in typical Malagasy style (from what I have experienced) with a hymn. With those who stayed for a little, we danced (more stereotypical main-land African style than Malagasy). Thanks to our friend, who had a birthday on Thursday, we experienced something new: I learned something new, and a chicken became our dinner. A few days later we were invited to the home of our friend’s parents for yet another birthday party, and I am grateful for their hospitality and tasty Malagasy food – better than when Pernille and I try. And, here is a video from the New Years’ party with the teachers at SFM (your welcome aunt Jen).
Otherwise, Pernille and I have finally gotten to know a few other people – students, the contact person of an American peace corps volunteer, and a French couple who regularly come to teach for a period at SFM.
When I last wrote some things were different, and I had fewer experiences than I have now.
One of these experiences is that I got the opportunity to spend Christmas with the host family of two other Hald-students in Sab Nam in Antananarivo, near where I spent my first week in Madagascar. On the 23rd, we waited and waited for a concert with Tana Gospel Choir to start in the food court of a shopping mall. That is, we had come too late to buy a ticket, so we waited until everyone eventually had gone in, and asked if we could please pay even to just stand at the back. It was worth the wait. Even though I didn't understand many of the songs, they were catchy and the guest artists (well known in Madagascar) were also great.
Christmas eve dinner started just about the time Norwegians go to bed, between 11 and 12 pm. And if we Norwegians had forgotten who Christmas is about: When the food stood ready on the table, the first priority was to read portions from Luke, sing a couple songs about Jesus birth, and listen to the father in the house share a devotional. He highlighted for us the shepherds. Although they has a plain and not very valued role in society, they were some of the first people to witness the miracle of God becoming human. The next day continued with a church service in the city, extended family, goose for lunch, and charades.
And standing on the beach of a beautiful place in Madagascar, 2016 became 2017. The year started with infield in Mahajanga, where two teachers from Norway came to teach, council, and hear about our experiences midway in our stay.
Back in Fandriana, Pernille and I have taught our first English lessons at SFM, the teacher school. The students are interested in learning (but I feel inadequate in the teaching role). But instead of dwelling on this, here is what several people have said about the importance of learning English: English is an international language. This brings opportunities. Only about 60 % of the students at SFM will go on to teach. The remaining will hopefully get other jobs. Because they have attended higher education where they have improved their Malagasy, French, and English skills, more doors are open to them.
In church, two weeks in a row, it was said that God has given us a new year. January 12th, I woke up very early in the morning of my first ever earthquake. It was minor, and Madagascar saw few damages. And I think: Several weeks after New Years Eve, people are still reminded that the new year is a gift. The experiences and events and thoughts and learning of last year are a blessing – even if in disguise. The new year will hold new mercies, new blessings, new lessons, new choices – and none of it is to be taken for granted. Hopefully soon, God will send rain for the people and rice crops.
Last week, the connect-group was reunited in Antsirabe for a missionary meeting. Some of the oldest members of the group remember a time when there were 150 Norwegian missionaries in Madagascar, and next October there will be a celebration here in Antsirabe marking 150 years of missionary engagement through NMS. The Lutheran church today runs schools and hospitals. One of the teaching sessions was about the impact of the work on individuals and communities.
One woman, who used to live on the streets with her children, learned how to set goals for herself and manage money through SDL (a project in Antsirabe which targets two marginalized groups: Girls and boys between 18 and 30, and the unmarried). Now she is the proud owner of a small and thriving business, and the staff she has been able to hire have also gotten a slight lift out of difficult situations. Arild Bakke, previously a missionary for NMS in Madagascar shared this testimony. And he said,
Hjelper du èn har du ofte hjulpet 5-10 personer…det er det som er så fantastisk med dette landet .
Magne Smørdal, also previously a missionary in Madagascar, shared some more about the impact of the work of the church – and ultimately the work of God. He was over in Betafo, where the first Norwegian missionaries came in 1866. He asked: “What created faith?” The answer he received was “care for others” and the song. With “care for others” the respondent meant the care in the toby, the church-driven (FLM and reformed church) care centers for people with mental illnesses (“marary saina” – sick in the mind), addictions to alcohol or drugs, and who have “evil spirits”.
James 2:17 says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
It is not works, what we do, that saves us. We are saved by grace, but John 13:35 also says that people will “know that you are my [Jesus Christ’s] disciples, if you love one another.” In other words, according to this person, people started believing and Christianity spread (in more recent times) because of the care that believers demonstrated to those who had few other care options.
Secondly, the respondent said that singing helped people, by God’s grace, to come to faith. I have definitely noticed the importance singing seems to have in Madagascar. Every day I hear hymns of worship being sung from a church, played on the radio in the bus, or played from a dorm room in SFM (the teacher prep. school across the road from where I live). And every Sunday in church I am mostly at a loss when people start singing by heart (in harmony and with a loud voice), and the page number is not listed on the board on the wall.
To everyone who made the meeting good and thought-provoking, thank you! And now to Christmas vacation, and celebrating the gift of Jesus with another team from Hald in their Malagasy host family in Antananarivo.
The connect group are reunited again, and are in Antsirabe for a missionary meeting. Maybe I will write more about this weekend later, but for now I want to share yet another list – this time about when and why I think people honk so much in this country. Because, when you are a foreigner you start to notice things that are different than in your home country.
We have had some long minibus rides these past two months – the latest of which was a cultural experience in itself. During a stop, a group of boys was not a bit shy about leaning in the window of the taxibrousse to talk with us and practice their English. We also spent an hour waiting for someone who had bought tickets but not showed up. Well, actually we waited, then started driving, turned back when someone called the driver, waited again, and then drove on with the new passengers once they arrived. And when we were dropped off the driver waved over a pousse pousse driver and insisted on a lower price than he was given, and insisted that one pousse pousse was enough for both of us and each of our heavy backpacks (luckily it was a bike, not pulled).
So here goes. Honk to:
To you who are from Madagascar, have you noticed that there is a lot of honking in Madagascar? To you in Norway or the US or other places, what is normal to you that is not normal to the foreigner? Don’t assume it makes sense without an explanation!
It couldn’t help but bring in an American holiday – something to add some spice to the daily routine.
Hmmm, should we ask for help to prepare chicken from scratch? No, lets postpone that and go vegetarian on Thursday. Have we seen pumpkin or pecans at the market for pie? Maybe a pumpkin, but we have seen many plums…so plum cobbler for dessert it is.
For the occasion of thanksgiving weekend Pernille and I got a visit from Silje and Jenny, who are Connect-students living in Fianarantsoa – only a 7.5 hour bus ride. Thank you for coming. We enjoyed your company!
And while I’m on the topic of thankfulness, here is the start of a list:
Pernille (teammate) and I have arrived in Fandriana, and been here for more than a week already. Time flies when you have nothing to do…mora mora (slow) lifestyle is taking its hold on me, and so I havn’t gotten around to posting yet.
We are living in what used to be a missionary residence, and so there are plenty of interesting things to read and look at that have been left here. There is even the traditional Valiha, a string instrument made of bamboo and originating from Indonesia. We have a tree with purple flowers and a bush with pink flowers in our garden, we have a family of chickens wondering around between the properties that all belong to the teacher preparation school SFM (Sekoly Famananana Mpampianatra), and we have many beautifully green rice fields a few minutes’ walk away. We also have the occasional visit by a cockroach or two (at the time) - yikes, but we are learning to deal (slowly).
The first few days, we were taught some of the essentials, such as how to buy electricity and internet when we run out. For those especially interested (krempt: pappa) we buy internet by paying in cash for a certain amount of MG or GB that we put into a sim card that we move from the router to our phone and back again when we get home. One day, after meeting our local contact person, Richard, he helped us register at the regional office (fylkeskontor) and the police station. On the way to the police station (at 3pm) we met the police man, in exercise gear, on his way to play sports. Upon meeting us, he followed us back to the office to receive our documents. This is just one example where I am confused as to how the systems work here in Madagascar – but we have been taught there is always a reason and intention behind every action (whether conscious or unconscious).
And yet, at hearing “we can be friends if you want”, I found myself surprised at the question. I thought to myself: I usually think of friendships as being built over a long period and requiring some shared values, interests, and experiences. In my view, you don’t just “decide” to be friends. But maybe this is just as good, and maybe that is common here in Madagascar? You make a friendship request (in person not just on Facebook), you commit, and voilà you are friends. Is it that easy?
Anyway, tongasoa eto Fandriana (Similar to “welcome”) – the town where I am getting more acquainted with some of the cultural differences between the Norway I knew growing up and the Madagascar I have gotten to know ever so slightly. More to come (including pictures from church, school, and town)…when a week of work is over.
Shortly summarized this last week at Lovasoa in Antsirabe has gone very quickly. Over the weekend we had a visit from Maria and Maria who are other Connect students living and working in Antananarivo (Tana). While they were here we attended a concert where two choirs sang gosple songs. Quite often the audience joined in - we were even encouraged to. I loved the experience because of how interactional the performance was, and it was fun to try to understand a few words.
Take a look at Maria's blog to see more of Antsirabe and the concert: novamadagaskar.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/frihelg-i-antsirabe/
Then, a couple days ago we experienced, what for me at least (and likely all the other Norwegians), is the most powerful hail downpour I have ever seen. The hail was often the size of sweet peas (!!), and a river of water passed across the basket ball field and down the path. Yes, we ran through it to get to class - and got soaked. When our teacher arrived, we changed our minds and decided to have class in our apartment where we could change to dry clothes.
Take a look at Silje and Jenny's blog for a cool film showing the hail (in Norwegian): falyaho.weebly.com/
Just thought I'd write some quick stuff before I pack up and prepare to leave for Fandriana today. I am excited for the adventure ahead, but I don't know exactly what to expect (for example regarding internet - because it is limited and expensive so we will choose an amount once we get there). Now to packing and buying a months worth of toilet paper.
Norwegians tend to go to the top of the mountain and back down again, they might go alone or in a group, they will write their names in a book that proves that they have been there, might take a picture of the view or their sweaty faces and post it on social media, may bring a “matpakke” (food pack), and may do the same hike repeatedly to beat their own time record or see the view at different times of the day or in different seasons.
This past Saturday, 12 Norwegians from Lovasoa (including four from Connect: Silje, Pernille, Monica, and I) had signed up for a trip to the top of Mount Ibity, at 2292m. Then plans changed…When we arrived at the entrance to the National park there was confusion as to who was supposed to receive the tourist fee, and the officials wanted to require us to hire a local guide in addition. Instead, Hery (our guide from Lovasoa) suggested a different trip. We agreed. It sounded “nicer” and “more interesting”. What we didn't know what that it would end up being more than 6 hours walking!
Below you can read more and see pictures:
If you want to see more pictures, check out www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1375535955820565&id=253767497997422
There were so many things we saw along the way, and so many different areas: Dry and wet areas, kids that were afraid/skeptical of us and kids that came running toward us, Merina and Betsileo people and a combination of the two, a village where the work of 50 % of the men is making spades for the rice field, gigantic (!) non-poisonous spiders, and more.
My favorite part of the trip was when Hery said that we were free to choose the quickest way to the village on the other side of the many many rice fields. What a privilege to be able to just enjoy balancing across the beautiful area! It was much greener than any of the pictures above, but unfortunately I was too absorbed balancing and enjoying myself to remember to document it.
Siri, the missionary here, told Hery about the Norwegian way of hiking that I shared at the top. I second her reflection on the experience we had: We benefit from trips like this, so unlike the ones that are common in Norway. Besides returning to the car, our trip had no specific goal or destination. To continue the comparison it was process-oriented instead of goal-oriented. We walked, we enjoyed scenery, Hery talked to people he met along the way, and we experienced things. It was a journey - as life is a journey! If you climb a mountain you have to come down again, and if you reach a goal you have no further to go. You have to start from scratch with a new goal. However, if you are on a journey you can continue indefinitely to experience and learn new things, and to go new places!
Until next time!
(Hopefully relatively soon)
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).
Below is just a short overview of some of the experiences I have had at Hald. The experiences: Dancing at the FK Youth Camp, making and eating Malagasy food, learning some sign language, celebrating Norwegian Christmas, and in general living and learning in a cross-cultural environment...only begin to scratch the surface. I have learned so much, and as I get to Madagascar and return to Norway in April, I will attempt to share some of this with you.
More than one month ago I prepared to drive down to the South of Norway to start at Hald Internationale Center for preparatory classes prior to a 6-month cross cultural exchange. Prior to starting and since starting I have reflected and asked a lot. Rather than writing what I have and am arriving at - which is not an easy task - I will write down some of the things I have been pondering: