25 February 2013
I am sitting in a classroom at one of the seminaries, in Madagascar, close to Antsirabe. (which you would have to look up on a map because I couldn’t tell you where this actually is). The official name of the seminary is Regional Lutheran Theological Seminary in Atismoniavoko. It is cloudy, with rain falling intermittently, creating a land of lush green rice fields, verdant hills and beautiful flowers. Think geraniums, cana lilies, daylilies, roses, iris, African impatients and all sorts of greenery.
Here are my first impressions of Madagascar from Anatanarivo (or Tana), to Antsirabe. And I hesitate to make any general statements or even sound like I know what I am talking about because it often takes several trips to a country to really begin to understand her people and their ways.
The Malagasy people are kind and gentle people of all shades of color, from dark black to very light brown skin. While Madagascar is a part of Africa, the native people do not consider themselves Africans, but Madagasy. They have many influences from Malaysia, Africa and France, and others. The language is Madagasy—a complex language that makes no sense to me—there is no connection to any language I’ve heard before. Yes, there is some French influence, but Malagasy is its own language accented by many, many vowels. Many people speak French as well, but very few speak English, so in the hotel or restaurant, we are in need of a translator.
I arrived in Madagascar very late on Thursday night, and was met by Pastor David Rakotoninna and his wife, Saholy. Now, I must tell you, I had begun to hear stories about the poverty in Madagascar, hotels with rats and bedbugs—all of this while on the flights here. So I was a bit uneasy about what I might encounter when I arrived. I am happy to report that the hotels have been fine. In fact, I am staying in a newer hotel in Antsirabe, which is the nicest hotel I’ve stayed in during any of my trips. It is rather new, clean and has free wifi.
In the past 5+ years, there has been a dramatic increase of poverty here, resulting in increased crime. We do not venture out alone—ever. In fact, when Pastor David took us to the inner city of Anatanarivo to look for a bucket for water, he ended up getting his new cell phone stolen. He had warned us about pickpockets and was so concerned for our safety, that he ended up getting robbed without knowing it until he went to make a phone call. The countryside seems placid, but it is not safe for foreigners to walk around by themselves—so we don’t. Although we can walk with a Madagasy person.
Friday we traveled from Tana to Antsirabe, with a stop at a rural village of the parents of Pastor David. It was dark, raining, but we needed visit and bring a water filter to them for their village. We climbed up rickety, steep stairs to a small house, lit by candles and flashlights. About 15 people gathered around as we assembled and demonstrated the use of the water filter, so that they might have clean water. They were so delighted to have the new luxury of clean water. We left in a hurry because the rain was falling and the roads would get too muddy to pass. We arrived in Antsirabe around 10:00, stopped to eat dinner in a little place with music, (and alcohol and smoking which are both taboo for Christians here).
Saturday was spent meeting people, visiting the first Lutheran Church in Madagascar, and viewing the outside of the Lutheran Hospital, meeting Dr. Harrison and his lovely wife Domina.
I attended a Zion Lutheran Church on Sunday, with the Divine Service beginning at 9:00. The liturgy was knowable, despite the language. The service, up through the offering, was about 2 hours. After the sermon, there were a bunch of announcements….then there was the offering, and collections plates are not passed around. Each person walks up to the altar to place their offerings in the box. And I would guess there were about 400 people present—maybe more. Then the fun began—all sorts of fruits, vegetables, glassware, juices, milk, live chickens and even a pig were brought out for show. This is all auctioned off, with an auctioneer shouting and trying to get more money for things. (It would have been great to have this man at our Kenya benefit).The service is not over because they haven’t celebrated Holy Communion yet…and it is now it is 1:00. I can see that Dr. Just is fading, (he woke up not feeling well). I finally convinced him and our host that we needed to return to the hotel to rest. (And we are not in pulpit fellowship with the Madgasy Lutheran Church so we would not have communed). I did hear from our host that the service, including lunch, ended at 3:30—That is a long, long church service. (I was napping because I succumbed to the same travel bug that Dr. Just had….let’s just say rice, bananas and tea have become my current staples).
(27 February 2013)
Glad to report I am eating regular food again!
Busy street in “Tana”…many pickpockets here. Looking for a bucket for water filter.
Water filter in rural home of President David’s parents…and clean water for their village
Water filter for President David and family–our hosts