How Would I Sum Up My Time In Madagascar?

…with Disney Songs of course!!! (What could possibly be more appropriate?)

Yesterday at our neighbor’s house, they were playing a bootleg DVD that had a bunch of Disney movies on it.  That inspired me to sum up my time here in Madagascar with songs.  I was here nine months so I have picked a theme and a song for each one.

August: Being Overwhelmed By The Extremely Kind, Welcoming, And Hospitable Malagasy People

September: Getting Used To A Different Way Of Life

October: Trying My Best To Understand People From Another World And Culture

November: Feeling Sad About All The Things That Need Fixing Here In Madagascar

December: Being Somewhat, Maybe, A Little Bit Homesick (I realize this isn’t Disney, but it works.)

January: Getting Over It

February: Wanting To Finish Strong

March: Finally Feeling In Sync With Life In Madagascar

April: Leaving

I might have some other summary thoughts later.  For now though this is it.  I’m currently on my way back to America.

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The Things I Will Miss

I have not had much time this week to post anything on the blog.  My season here in Madagascar is quickly drawing to a close.  I’ll be here in Toliara Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and then I’ll begin the long journey home.  Madagascar has truly blessed my life, and I can hardly even believe it is time to be saying goodbyes (which I am actually doing tonight at a little goodbye ceremony we are having).

As I think about leaving, I decided to make two lists to put on the blog.  First:


Things I Will Not Miss

  • Taxibuses: if you have read some of my older posts, you probably know that these were a bit of a challenging experience.  It only costs $15 to drive to the other side of the country, but you must sacrifice your sanity to do it.
  • Being Stared At: Being a foreigner means I get stared and laughed at a lot.  Hopefully that will happen less in America.
  • Dim Lights: I think the government here decided to make sure it was illegal to sell light bulbs that made it possible to see at night.  If you try to see inside at night, you will start to go blind.
  • Flooded Streets: Once the rainy season started, the street outside my apartment has been almost constantly under water.  Stagnant water.  Stagnant filthy water. That the kids can play in!
  • Slow internet: For technical people, my internet has a download speed of 0.05 Mbps. I have gotten used to twelve hour downloads.
  • “Sokeeee” ladies: This is one you can really only understand if you have been here, but there are ladies on the street who sell sea urchin, which is called “soke”.  They walk down the street and shout “SOKEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” as loud as they can every 12 seconds.  It is a pet peeve.
  • Flies: No lie, when I open my window, I get about ten flies on my desk within five minutes.
  • Cold Showers: I didn’t realize how great hot showers were until there was a hot shower at the hotel my parents and I stayed at.  I averaged four showers every 24 hours.
  • Bad Coffee: The coffee they sell on the street is very sad.
  • Water bottles: I have been buying water from water bottles for 9 months so I don’t get violently ill.
  • Air Madagascar: This is the frustrating airline, and the only one that operates within Madagascar.  I called yesterday and found out they had changed my flight six hours earlier without telling me.  They have a tendency to do whatever they like.
  • Power Outages: There are lots of them.
  • Dust: It only takes one afternoon for my things to be covered in dust.  My computer and camera are angry at me for how dirty they have gotten.

I like the second list much better.  Honestly, as hard as I tried to think of serious things to put on the first list, none of them are all that bad.  Cold showers really aren’t a huge deal.  

Things I Will Miss

  • Taxibuses: This is the one thing that made both lists.  Strangely, some of my best memories are from taxibus rides.  It goes to show that some of the best things in life do not come without some sort of challenge.
  • Sunrises and Sunsets: We get up every day here at 6am. That, combined with the fact that people tend to stay outside much more here than in the United States means that I have seen more sunsets and sunrises here than I ever did in all my time in the United States.  Next year, I’ll be working a lot with college students, and that means my schedule will have to go back to going to bed at 2am and waking up at 9.
  • Rice and Laoka: I honestly love the food.  There is nothing quite as satisfying as huge bowls of rice.  Malagasy rice and laoka is simple and wonderful.  Though I’ll miss it, perhaps I’ll get a rice cooker and try my hand at it when I get back to the States.
  • The Missionaries: I will miss my Malagasy friends, but I think there is a special place in my heart for my fellow missionaries.  All of the ones I know here love the Lord and have been a wonderful and fun encouragement to me while I have been here.
  • Nap time: Everything here shuts down from noon to 3pm.  Even when I didn’t nap, it was always a wonderful break. I don’t think my life will have that luxury back in America.
  • Lemurs: They are the best!
  • Geckos: I remember the first time I realized there was a gecko in my room.  I was flabbergasted that there was a lizard in my apartment.  Now I realize that there are probably hundreds of geckos where we live, and it is not surprising at all to see four of them in my room at once.  They are a welcome, fun presence.  Plus, they eat mosquitos!
  • My friends: My Malagasy friends have been so kind to me.  They have been patient when my language skills have not been very good and when I have done weird American things that they did not understand.  They have taught me a ton of lessons about life, and I am so grateful for all the friends I have here.
  • Walking: I have no car and no bike.  I walk everywhere, and I love it.  I don’t think that walking everywhere will be possible back in Arkansas, but I certainly hope to walk more.
  • Stars: You can see them here.
  • Fano: If I am ever feeling down, I just go downstairs and Fano is there!  I was discussing this with another missionary the other night who agrees with me: Fano can make anyone joyful! (except maybe his parents at times.)

A Post From My Dad

Thoughts From Madagascar

By Rick Brazile

THE COUNTRY

It takes your breath away. The contrasts happen so quickly. From rainforest to plains to mountains to rocks to shorelines. Boundaries are blurred.

It reminds me of Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” The scenery was beautiful and, at times, you just had to pause to take it in. Ryan posted just a few of the pictures we took. We have many more. I will try to find a way to share more of them.

THE VILLAGES

This is probably the hardest thing for me to describe. Our stay started in the capital city, Antananarivo (Tana). From there we began driving. With few exceptions, Tana primarily, the only paved road we saw was the main two-lane highway that we travelled on. We passed through village after village, as well as several towns.

 Even the larger towns or cities, such as Toliara, appeared to be a collection of villages that had just eventually grown together. It really gives them a very strong sense of community. Since I’m having trouble with the words, I’ll let the pictures speak for me.

THE PEOPLE

Clearly, this is the best part. The people here work extremely hard for what they have. We would see them in the middle of nowhere either walking or riding a bicycle (and we’re talking over rough terrain and dodging vehicles) trying to get either to work,  home, the market, etc. Everything seemed purposeful. We met one man in a village that would ride his bicycle 40 miles one way to attend English class.

Ryan said it before in one of his blogs: children are everywhere. The really interesting part of this is that everyone seems to care for every child. That’s easy to want to do because the children are so happy and cute. When we would approach, the small ones were shy of strangers at first. But they warmed up pretty quickly. The older ones were very friendly and rushed to meet us and shake our hands. My favorite thing was the smiles they all wore.

THE LESSONS

There were a lot of these, but I’m going to just list three. If you want the rest, we need to get together to visit in person – which I’d be glad to do.

About happiness – This visit made it very clear to me that happiness is defined in a very large sense by our current culture or world.

For instance, I think our society tells us to accumulate wealth and things to make us happy. The Malagasy people I met didn’t have a lot of things and certainly not, at least by our standards, wealth. But I would venture to say that they are as happy or happier than we are. I think that’s because the things that are important to them are each other. It is a much more social, talkative, interactive and touching culture than ours. People are the most important thing. That’s what makes them happy and that’s where I more often need to find my happiness.

About patience – There seemed to be very little in Madagascar that could be controlled. There was no getting around or away from the heat, the dirt, the mosquitos, the ants, and I could go on and on. Airlines flew when they wanted to and not necessarily when their schedule said they would. I was the only person in a hurry or with any sort of sense of urgency. To survive and stay sane, I think you would just need to let go and learn to roll with things at whatever pace they decided they would move. You would just need to smile and laugh at your situations and recognize the memory that’s being made.

About my son – He’s grown up in so many ways. He’s become independent. He’s a really good teacher of God’s Word. He’s an adventurer. He cares deeply for the people he’s working with. He still looks like me (sorry, Ryan) and, in some ways, acts like me.  He’s very much my son.

A Post From My Mom

Mom and Dad actually did leave Toliara yesterday evening.  I know that all three of us had a wonderful time that we will never forget.

I asked my Mom and Dad if they would like to write something on the blog about their travels here.  Here is what my Mom had to say after her time here: 

Nothing could really prepare you for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of coming to Madagascar, a country of extremes.

Extremely beautiful, with a wide range of landscapes:
Imagine seeing the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountains, Kansas plains, New Mexico mesas and Florida coastline within the span of a few days.

Extremely dangerous roads for pedestrians:
Averaging about 50 mph, your driver maneuvers between bicyclists, walkers, pusse-pusses, ox carts and oncoming vehicles, leaving only inches on either side of the car.  The side mirror hits a passing car and the driver doesn’t even blink.

Extremely slow travel:
Taking the main highway through the country, you are concerned at how narrow it is, with no center stripe or shoulders.  The hairpin curves come one after another, usually with no barrier between you and the frightening ledge.  It is not unusual to slow to a crawl over the deep potholes in the road, or wait for the zebu (cattle) herds to get out of the middle of the road.

Extremely happy, friendly, hospitable people:
You walk through the tall grass down the narrow dirt path towards the tiny village.  No one is expecting you, and the place looks deserted.  But upon arrival, someone sees you and quickly comes out of his thatch house to greet you.  In only a few moments, every villager, from the toddlers to the elderly, have come out of their homes to smile, shake your hand, and welcome you with a warm “Salama.”

Extremely hard-working, physically strong people:
Walking miles and miles at a time, usually barefoot, is routine, and even the young children do their part to lift and carry.  The variety of large, heavy bundles they balance on their heads never ceases to amaze.  A lone 5-year-old leads a team of oxen down the busy highway.   Pusse-pusse drivers rush up to plead for you and your companion to choose them so they can jog through the dusty streets pulling you (which makes you regret even more the extra pounds you put on recently).

Extreme food surprises:
Speaking of pounds, how do the people stay so lean and eat this much rice?  Not just a spoonful of rice at each meal, but helping after helping of plates full of the yummy carb.  You consider writing a new diet plan, which  includes hard physical labor in intensive heat, followed by all the starches you want.  And speaking of non-dietetic options, you didn’t expect a gelato and pizza place in the center of the bustling city streets.  Meringue-flavored gelato!  Yum!

Extremely frustrating airline:
When it’s the only airline in town, Air Madagascar can do pretty much what it likes — including canceling flights and shutting down the airport for the rest of the day.  There’s nothing quite like the feeling in the pit of your stomach when driving up to a deserted airport.

Extremely fearful children:
It isn’t the normal reaction you get from children, so you are dismayed to find that your pale face makes babies cry and toddlers turn away.  You realize your stay would have to be much longer to gain the trust of these wide-eyed beautiful kids.

Extremely diverse missionaries:
Whatever stereotype you had about foreign workers for the Lord, you learn to throw those out the window.  You have the privilege of meeting a variety of people with many different sending agencies, all with a common thread that binds them:  serving Christ and bringing His gospel of grace to the people of Madagascar.  They can be young or old, here for short stays or a lifetime, from countries all over the world.  They are fun-loving, hard-working, people-nurturing, flexible people.  You stand in awe of the God who enables them to give so selflessly far from home in a harsh environment.

Psalm 67:1-2
“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine upon us, that Your ways may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.”

Pictures From The Downline Team’s Visit

Sorry it has been a while since I posted anything.  We have had a ton going on for the past two weeks.  Downline Ministries sent a team of 10 people here to train leaders in the church.  Also, we had a huge celebration for the dedication of the Bishop’s Gathering place, a new building here in Toliara.  The team left today, so I finally have time to post some pictures to my blog.

Good And Bad Ways To Help Those In Poverty

Madagascar has had me thinking a lot about poverty.  Perhaps you are too.  Below are links to two articles I found interesting, and perhaps you might find them enlightening as well.  If you only have time to read one, I would choose the second.  The first is perhaps more entertaining, but the second has more practical information.

Article One: The Seven Worst International Aid Ideas

This article is from a blog and helps underline the fact that not every idea, however well-meaning, is a good one.  However, I actually find the article itself a bit more disturbing than the 7 bad ideas themselves simply because it offers no positive alternative.  It just sounds cynical to me.  I’m afraid that cynicism is a too common feeling when discussing international aid: everyone thinks of all the bad ideas and that is about it.  My concern is that people are content with criticizing bad ideas, without searching for and coming up with good ideas.  That being said, the blog post is enlightening.

Article Two: Cost-Effective Compassion: The 10 Most Popular Strategies for Helping the Poor

This article from Christianity Today asks economists to rate several different types of aid programs.  Not all the thoughts are positive, but I enjoy the fact that this article seems more optimistic than the former.