This past week has truly been one of many firsts for me. Apart from just being in Madagascar, I have experienced, and I suspect will continue to experience, things that are entirely new and exciting.
A week ago, we left the capital city for a three day journey to our first home stay location in Mahajanga, a city on the west coast, north of Tana. Along the way, my classmates and I experienced many new things, but some of the highlights include a day-long guided tour of the old royal palace and sacred pilgrimage site with a local professor, driving over an extensive waterfall along the Betsiboka River while “Impossible” played in the background, seeing lemurs at a casual bathroom stop, and slowing down/swerving on the road for the following creatures: cows/zebu, goats, chickens, and once, a large, red chameleon slowly making its way to greener pastures. I thought I would be able to get some homework done on this 13+ hour trip, but alas, the scenery and village life around us required our full attention. We gazed wide-eyed for the duration of the trip, speeding along winding roads and over rolling hills across beautiful rural Madagascar.
When we finally arrived at our destination, we united with our respective host families. I feel like I won the lottery. Not only can I see the water from my host family's house and am 30 seconds away from the popular boardwalk, but my host family is wonderful–incredibly hospitable, affirming of my language practice, and fun-loving. Coincidence of the week: my host father is Lutheran, like me, and his father is a pastor, like mine! Many other members of his family are also pastors, which is also true for my family. He gave me a tour of the city and made sure to point out all things Lutheran. My host mother and sister, however, are Catholic, which brings me to my first "new" experience in Mahajanga. After two and a half years of attending a Catholic university, I finally went to mass–in Madagascar! Normally, my host mother and sister attend the mass in Malagasy on Sundays, but as we had plans to go to the beach on Sunday, we went to the service in French on Saturday night instead. This also meant I could understand more of what was going on. A take-away for my home congregation to consider adopting is sending around the offering plate twice during the service– once before communion, and once after.
View of Water
Along with attending mass, practically every experience with my host family is new. At the beach, I swam with my host mother and aunt in the Mozambique Channel, which was also my first time swimming in the southern hemisphere! To get to the swimming beach, we took a taxi be (bus), which is the one moment I think I can honestly say I have enjoyed listening to Miley Cyrus: on a crowded bus where I am the only one who understands the words. On the return journey from the beach, my host mother and I took a pousse pousse. A pousse pousse is a cart pulled by a person either walking or running, generally barefoot, and all men as far as I can tell. It was definitely a new experience.
Meals are also new for me. Although they use a lot of familiar ingredients, I have tried several foods that are not common in the United States, like manioc. I have also come to realize the truth of a statement from our pre-departure materials.”In Malagasy, there are two words to describe food: vary (rice) and loaka (anything that is served [on] rice).” The first meal I had with my host family was rice with laoka on top, the loaka being what could best be described as a hamburger and pasta hot-dish. Other times, I have seen french fries on rice. Talk about starch on starch. No surprise, it is all delicious.
Although practically everything is new, I am almost amazed at how easily I am transitioning into life here. After pushing through the initial frustration of not being able to fully express myself in French\Malagasy, I am cherishing the small victories: the time I was able to say “Hello! My name is Kirsti and I am American” in Malagasy to a middle school class; dinners together with my host family where I understand bits and pieces about their life, passions, childhood, and travels abroad; my first conversation with my host father when we looked at the stars from the boardwalk and I successfully indicated that the stars were both beautiful and different from the ones I see at home; the conversations about American pop culture with my host sister in which I may have disappointed her by saying that not all American high schools have a queen bee, and no, I was not a cheerleader; and all the moments already with my host mother shared in laughter at new jokes I know we both understand.