06 January 2015

Tratry ny Taona!


Happy New Year!
Over New Year’s I was invited to spend a few days in Antsirabe, the home of a Doctor (wife) and Pastor (husband) couple that I have been meeting with since September to practice English. They are Malagasy Lutheran missionaries and they will soon leave to serve for five years in Thailand. My friend Gina and I took the long-distance bus to meet them at the home of the Doctor’s parents, who were our hosts for the three days we were there. Both the Doctor and Pastor have large extended families in the area, so I was excited to spend the holiday with Malagasy families. 
 
My wonderful hosts the Doctor, Pastor, the Doctor's parents Berthe and Olivier, and their son. (photo credit: Gina)
On the 30th, we took pousse-pousse (Side note: Pousse-pousse (French for push, push) are rickshaws that are either pulled by drivers on bikes or by drivers on foot. These guys are incredibly hard workers. It makes me a little bit uncomforable to be physically pulled by someone else when my destination is too far to walk, but it's a very popular mode of transportation in Antsirabe.) into town to walk around and then visited an aunt and uncle of the Doctor’s. I was amazed at the hospitality, as I had assumed we were just stopping by to say hi because we were in the neighborhood. But they quickly invited us into their living room, brought out a tray of crackers and soft drinks, and turned the TV to an English speaking channel (which was broadcasting winter X-games, the only snow I will experience this year!) Everyone chatted for a while and we found out that the aunt and uncle had first met in an English class! After some behind the scenes plotting, a tray of corn on the cob was produced and before I knew it, December in Madagascar was transformed to America in July. It was a heart-warming, radical kind of hospitality where I, as a complete stranger, was treated like family. We left an hour or so later as a thunderstorm started rolling in. 
Me riding in a bike pousse-pousse. (photo credit: Gina)
The next day, we went to a town farther south with a plan to visit more family and stop by the seminary where the Pastor studied and also the first Lutheran church in Madagascar, founded by Norwegian missionaries. We were able to visit inside the church, but on our way to visit the family, we unfortunately found out that their house had been robbed so they weren’t able to host any visitors. We returned home for dinner (cow hoof soup!) before leaving for church. 
Me, the Pastor, and the Doctor at the Lutheran church in Betafo. Photo credit: Gina
After church, we went to the home of another of the Doctor’s family members, where a lot of her extended family was gathered. The four of us played Monopoly while lots of cousins and aunts and uncles looked on. The board itself was the French version, so all of the properties were places in Paris and the prices were in euros, while the directions were MIA. So I did my best to explain the rules in English from memory and we did some unofficial currency converting. It was a lot of fun, and the last thing I did in 2014 was go incredibly bankrupt when I landed at the Pastor’s hotel. 

We finished a few minutes before midnight and joined the family in a large room where there were snacks, juice, and karaoke set up. We did a traditional Malagasy dance in a conga-style circle and as the clock struck midnight, we went around the circle giving bises (the French-style three cheek kiss) and wishing each other happy new year. After passing around some sparkling peach juice that a few uncles had ceremoniously sprayed on the ceiling, we gathered in a circle for prayers, hymns, and Bible readings for about an hour before recommencing karaoke time. We went home around 2am. The next day we had a feast for lunch: rice with cow tongue and peas, fruit, cake with jam, parsley juice, salad, and more! I tried the traditional eating of rice with milk and honey for good luck in the coming year. It was really good! Overall, it was a great holiday and I was so glad to experience new traditions. 

Last year, I was inspired by my friend Hilary (who’s about to start her own adventure following God’s call, check it out here:  http://hilaryhannigan.theworldrace.org/) to choose a theme/challenge word for the whole year. This can be something you want to remember or work on throughout the year in any aspect of your life. As a result of my Malagasy New Year’s celebration, I chose the word ‘dance’ for 2015. At first when everyone was dancing, I just sat down to watch but Gina convinced me to join in, and I ended up having a lot of fun! It was amazing to see so much joy in one room (there were over 40 people!) and I was reminded what a gift it is to be able to celebrate and praise God together. Earlier in this journey, my own grandma had reminded me that if I had the opportunity to sit down or dance, I should dance! The world of dance is a delicate balance of planned steps and spontaneity, self-expression and careful choreography, graceful motions and chaotic rhythms. But most importantly, it is an opportunity to express joy and thanks—for health to move around, for ears to hear the music, and for eyes to see the smiles of the people all around you. I’m not much of a natural dancer, but this year I’m going to embrace the challenge and dance whenever I can! 

What word would you choose for 2015?