27 September 2017

go outside.

canyonlands national park, utah

go outside

even if
you work crazy hours
you have kids
your mobility is limited
it's hot/cold/raining/snowing
you are not an "outside" person

no excuse can compete with the force of nature

look around you
find something that wasn't created by humans
study it
soak in the details

you will be surprised at how quickly your childhood senses return to you
loss of the sense of time

you will start to ask questions

what causes leaves to change color?
do insects drink water?
how did that plant grow out of a rock?
where do inchworms go in winter?

your shoulders will relax
you might smile more readily

close your eyes

you thought it was quiet
but now you hear

blades of grass
an owl
your own breath

reach out your hand to touch something
a leaf
a stone
the soles of your feet

this is holy ground

no matter where you are

a city park
a country garden
the forest
your own backyard

a little longer

breathe in deeply
breathe out slowly

that air
its mixture of molecules
has kept you alive

continue on
with your lists

but remember
that you are part of something
greater than obstacles
greater than monotony
greater than yourself

the outside
is within you

return to it

25 May 2015

100 Sunsets: Part Three.

don't try so hard, to move past the moment
these days go by, and they're gone before you know it
so come on open your window, let the light shine in
this is life, don't miss it
-Francesca Battistelli "Don't Miss It"
Day 70: English class was a win-win today- I practiced flexibility and going with the flow by holding class on a flight of stairs; my students practiced pronunciation by giving speeches on social issues!

Day 69: Fun sunset observation- the sun sets almost exactly west on the fall and spring equinoxes, from March-September it sets farther north along the horizon, and the rest of the year, farther south.

Day 68: Had dinner with some of my extended host family tonight! Sending love to my own aunts, uncles, and cousins!

Day 67: No sunset picture today, but the sun has been the most incredible shade of blue the past few days.
Day 66: It was a beautiful morning for a run with my host uncle!

Day 65: Celebrating the birthdays of both of my first Malagasy friends today-- Toky and Hasina!

Day 64: My favorite part of church is being able to sing along with the Malagasy hymns.

Day 63: Before starting this project, I never imagined how each sunset would be so unique!
Day 62: Smoke from cooking or burning trash is a common occurrence.

Day 61: The sky never ceases to amaze me.

Day 60: Happy Ascension Day! Church with my host parents this morning was a nice way to start the day, and this relaxed sunset was a nice way to end it!

Day 59: It's very common here to have security grates on every window. The metalwork is all done by hand!

Day 58: Enjoyed a picnic with some students and fellow teachers this afternoon!

Day 57: The Malagasy word for sun is masoandro. Maso=eye and andro=day.

Day 56: Met up with Molly, one of the other YAGMs today, so thankful for her friendship!

Day 55: Went to the market for some gift shopping today, it's fun to bargain with the vendors!
Day 54: Ombre.

Day 53: This is overlooking one of the paths I take to church. The red flowers are called Madagasikara because when folded in half, the leaves look like the shape of the island.

Day 52: Tsara mandry, sunshine! (good night!)

Day 51: Because winter is arriving, the sun is setting so early- around 5:30! Very different from the long pre-summer evenings in the northern hemisphere.

18 May 2015


Fitsangatsangana: picnic, outing

Over the past three weeks, I've had the opportunity to go to two Malagasy picnics! The first was with my church to celebrate Labor Day and the second was a picnic with some of my English students to celebrate their promotion.

At the church celebration, we gathered for worship before lunch, led by both of our pastors. Then we sat together as families on lambas or pieces of fabric spread throughout a wooded area outside of town. There was rice and a side of pork with vegetables for everyone who had purchased a ticket, as well as a banana or orange. Lots of families brought baskets with additional food; we added chicken to our plates. There was also juice and other snacks for sale. Then the afternoon was spent in fellowship. I walked around taking pictures with my host sister and some of her friends for a while before karaoke time with Malagasy hymns. There was a whole sound system with speakers and microphones and a laptop, transported all the way to the middle of the woods!

My host sister, a few of her friends, and I in the middle of the picnic area.

More picnickers enjoying the afternoon.

For the student picnic, the English, French, and technology students and teachers from the extracurricular programs at my church all took a bus to a recreational area about an hour south of town. Lunch was potluck style with everyone bringing their own rice and then sharing sides of meat, fish, vegetables, pasta salad, and more! We spent the afternoon walking around and playing frisbee and other group games. There were even some vendors running entertainment like rides in a giant hammock and ring toss to win bottles of soda!

The recreation area was filled with trees along the side of a small lake. Entrance to the park is about 25 cents for Malagasy citizens.

These students just finished level 1 English classes. They will be the last set of students in my level two classes before I leave!

These girls walked past us selling flowers as we were playing frisbee. I really admire the ability to carry things on your head! It's a really common way to carry things here and it's much harder than it looks!

At both picnics, everyone brought their own dishes and silverware. It's a bit more work to transport everything and wash dishes after returning home, but it was also nice to not have a trash bag overflowing with single-use paper pates and plastic silverware. I'm so thankful to have been included in these two fun weekend events!

06 May 2015

100 Sunsets: Part Two.

 The next installment of sunset photos with short reflections...
Day 90: A little church on a hill.

Day 89: After the amazing people, the number two thing I am going to miss about Madagascar is the fruit! Favorites: pineapple, mango, and pocanelle!

Day 88: Thinking of all of the 2015-2016 YAGM and Country Coordinators who are discerning God's call at DIP this weekend. Exciting stuff!
Day 87: Forgot to take a sunset photo today, so please enjoy this flashback Friday from orientation in Antsirabe!
Day 86: Highlight of the day was introducing my dad and host dad to each other via Skype!

Day 85: FINALLY got to see my sweet and hilarious friend Hasina today for the first time in a year and a half! My heart is so happy.

Day 84: Psalm 65:8 Those who live at earth's farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

Day 83: In three months I will wake up in Ohio... still trying to figure out how that is possible?? Enjoying every sunset between now and then!

Day 82: Giving thanks for the earth today and the beauty of nature, while at the same time reflecting on how my daily decisions can affect creation.

Day 81: I don't think there's a better feeling than being greeted by name by the kids in the lunch program I help with every week. I love their smiles!
Day 79: Missed last night's sunset so here are two shots from tonight. Today I am thankful for being welcomed into friends' homes and long winding scenic bus rides home along the outskirts of town.
Day 78: Beautiful, fun day with my host family. Church hymns, a sweet baby, laughter, and guacamole.
Day 77: My favorite part of the day is walking home as school is getting out and the streets are full of kids wearing colorful school smocks and carrying backpacks. And the best part is that no one is ever alone, there is always a parent or sibling or group of friends to walk with, from maternelle to terminale.
Day 76: My favorite Malagasy words? Fitiavana (love), mandrapihoana (see you later), and kadradraka (cockroach).

Day 75: I'm not sure I realized it was possible for time to move this fast.

Day 74: I don't know what's next. And at the moment I'm at peace about that.
Day 73: Happy Labor Day! Finally got to experience a Malagasy church picnic! So nice to spend time outside, meet new people, and worship together in the woods. Although I would have been okay with trading the electronic keyboard for a couple guitars and some drums.

Day 72: I love watching kids fly homemade kites. What made you smile today?

Day 71: Had rice with cow tongue and peas for lunch and dinner today. I liked it even more than the first time I bad it a few months ago! Thankful for the opportunity to try new things.

29 April 2015


Mihazakazaka: to run

I started running with my host uncle a few weeks ago, one or two mornings per week. Minus the fact that I'm a little out of practice, we make a pretty good team. We walk through town before running 3km on the Bypass just east of Tana, then we chat as we walk back home. We run past family-owned rice paddies and brick yards, car wash stands, and lots of morning commuters riding the bus, walking, biking, and driving.

Today as we ran, I was enjoying the view and some time for reflection. I started thinking about the idea of the Bypass, and how it is a faster, less crowded, and better quality route than RN7 (the national road which runs parallel but to the west of our house, and is the road I travel everyday whenever I'm not running). However, traveling via the Bypass means missing out on life in the communities I have grown to know and love.

My thoughts were interrupted when I realized I could see my breath every once in a while, and it wasn't quite cold enough for that. After a few seconds of confusion, I realized the cloudy vapor exiting my lungs was extra-potent car exhaust that my body simply wasn't capable of using. This lead to some reflection on air pollution and I found myself remembering the question one of my students had asked last week as we studied regions of the U.S., "Which region has the most chemical factories and textile mills?" And I had fumbled a bit as I explained about being from the Rust Belt and how that has been the traditional home to U.S. manufacturing, but in recent years, a lot of production has moved internationally.

Meanwhile back on the Bypass, I was sweating through my Nike Dri-Fit tee with a 'Made in Malaysia' tag.

And my heart was strained, not from physical exertion, but because I wondered how many people are breathing polluted air in their own communities right now, so that I can buy brand new clothes more cheaply half a world away? Not to mention why am I buying special clothes to exercise in for fun when any old t-shirt is just as suitable, and I am running past people walking long commutes to simply make a living? More and more thoughts swirled through my head as I slowed to a walk.

I don't have any answers. I may not even be asking the right questions, but I do know that I'm listening.

For me, this year has been an opportunity to experience life on the national road-- sitting in traffic, bouncing over potholes, dodging ox carts, buying snacks off the street. And I am so incredibly thankful for this time to slow down, listen to the stories around me, gain new perspectives, and dig deeper. Because for most of my life, I have had access to the metaphorical Bypass. I could choose to not really think about how my actions or decisions affected others. I could be oblivious to the heartaches and injustices the people around me experienced on a daily basis. I was able to conveniently pass by, efficiently transported to my own destination, dreams, and goals, via a smooth paved road of privilege. After almost a year of traveling on the national road, it's certainly convenient to take the Bypass, but that's not what I've been called to do. So in the months and years ahead, I want to continue listening and learning, traveling through the hard questions, instead of passing by.

19 April 2015

Full spiral.

I've never really understood the saying 'coming full circle'. Yes, I understand the idea that it's a feeling of closure or returning to the place where you started, physically or metaphorically. But I tend to see life as more of a spiral than a circle. We never come back to the exact same place because we are always changing and growing and moving forward. And yet I have definitely had experiences where the end and beginning are strikingly and comfortingly similar.

Today I finally got to see my friend Hasina for the first time since we parted ways at the end of summer 2013 when we both worked at Sky Ranch Lutheran Camp in Colorado. It was Hasina's first time outside of the U.S. and my first summer away from home. We talked a lot about homesickness, family, and the things that we love about home. That summer we shared a room, went on weekend hikes, played jokes on each other, co-counseled a cabin together, bonded over our similarities, and appreciated our differences. While we had differing first languages, we used French a lot to communicate. After three months, we said good-bye, promising that we would see each other again someday and joking that if we ever got married, we would invite each other to our weddings.

Little did we know that at the end of the following summer, I would find myself on a flight to Madagascar. Hasina is the only person on this whole island who even knew I existed before a little over a year ago. It has been such a blessing to have a friend who has spent time as a newcomer in my country and welcomed me in hers. We don't live far from each other here in Madagascar, but it took us a long time to get organized and meet up. We stood outside my church this morning laughing and reminiscing. After spending significant time in each other's countries, we are connected in a way that transcends the time we have spent apart. Just two years ago, I spoke English and French and Madagascar was a faraway country on a map. Hasina spoke Malagasy and French and had passed an English test to work as an international camp counselor in the U.S. Today we didn't need to speak a word of French to communicate. Today we both have 'homes' in Madagascar and the United States. We have learned each other's languages, eaten each other's food, and worshipped in each other's churches. It was a moment so full of peace and joy and recognition of God at work in this journey. I am so thankful for Hasina's friendship and look forward to the next time our lives spiral around close to this same spot.

Hasina and I during our last week in Colorado, summer 2013.

12 April 2015

Introducing the 100 Sunsets Project.

As I move closer to the end of my YAGM service than the beginning, I had been searching for a way to keep myself focused and present during my last 100 days living in my host community. This coincided nicely with a move to a westward facing room on the third floor of our house-- my first sunset-view bedroom since I was ten! I didn't want a traditional countdown, I wanted a challenge to myself to live deeply into the little moments throughout each day. So with each day I have a pre-written challenge to myself for that day, from going for a walk to learning a new word in Malagasy. And each night I take a sunset photo and attach an (often) unrelated reflection of the day, as a visual and anecdotal testament to the fragment of life lived that day. I'll be posting the photos and captions on my Facebook page daily and here on my blog in groups of ten. Here's to 100 days of living in the moment and 100 nights of sunset skies!

Day 100: Today I am thankful for a window with a westward view!

Day 99: Christ is Risen! It is such a blessing to be free to worship without fear of persecution. Today I am praying that one day everyone will have this freedom, regardless of their beliefs.
Day 98: Sometimes the best days are 'unphotogenic' and that's okay! So happy to catch up with one of my best friends, eating zucchini bread and watching movies. I had forgotten how good To Kill A Mockingbird is-- Atticus Finch is my hero!

Day 97: A beautiful between-seasons day... blue skies and sunshine!
Day 95: Recently read Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor, which reminded me of the beauty and healing found in darkness. It's like the sunset is the introduction to peaceful renewal, hinging together day and night. What have you been reading lately?

Day 94: God is an artist.

Day 93: While it may not make for exciting sunset photos, there's nothing more calming than an evening thunderstorm that sings you to sleep!

Day 92: Started a list today of all the people I have met in Madagascar, from the students I work with to helpful strangers such as The Man Who Saved Me From Falling Out of a Bus. The list of just first names is well over two pages, but each name could be the centerpiece in its own story of friendship, hospitality, or shared laughter. So blessed!

Day 91: Really proud of my English students today-- their listening comprehension has really improved!