Salama Tompko!

Trip Start Aug 15, 2012
Trip End Aug 01, 2013

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Where I stayed
Lovasoa (Norwegian Missionary Center)

Flag of Madagascar  ,
Sunday, August 26, 2012

Because it's been awhile, I made this a long one. You are warned…

Salama Tompko!

After a week of orientation in Chicago and 36 hours of travel, I am finally in Madagascar!  I am definitely still recovering from the journey and the 9-hour time difference, but it is so exciting to be here after months of anticipation.  While I am disappointed that I was not greeted off the plane by herds of lemurs as the nature documentaries so readily assured me I would, I was welcomed by another common experience in Antananarivo, Madagascar: lost baggage.  To be fair it was not completely the airline’s fault.  Our Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt, Germany, was 20 minutes late, making a very short layover even shorter.  While coming off the plane, we were called over and taken out a special door, and we then proceeded to sprint across the airport with our overloaded carry-ons.  We just barely made it, but our bags didn’t.   Our bags did make it in the next day after we made them go in the back and look again 3 times.  Success… except for my mandolin.  Fingers crossed that it makes it somehow.

Before I talk about that journey and destination, I want to mention the orientation in Chicago.  I was lucky enough to spend a week with the whole YAGM crew as well as some alumni of the program.  The week was filled with classes and great conversation about how to live out the accompaniment model of mission.  While I enjoyed most of the classes, they can basically be boiled down to this message, "Everybody is completely equal, and you are not always right.  Get over it!"  There was talk of mutuality, cultural sensitivity, power structure, building relationships, and taking care of ourselves in foreign countries, but that statement pretty much wraps it up nicely.  Our week in Chicago at LTSC (Lutheran Theological Seminary in Chicago) was also just an awesome time of community and fun.  We were all going through some seriously confusing emotions and thoughts, and it was sweet to have a group of others to empathize with and on whom to rely.   The conversations I had this week revitalized my soul and made me even more stoked for the coming year.  In fact, I spent two nights in a row up till 4 AM talking about everything from social justice to our role in the future of the church, if any.  We almost solved all the world’s problems, but not quite.  There was also lots of Frisbee, music, African singing, exploring, stand-up comedy, sun-soaked naps, soccer, and just general amazing-happy-fun-times.  I even got to see an improv show at Second City, a place where many Saturday Night Live cast members and other famous comedians performed before they “made it”.  The best parts of the week, however, were the relationships I formed through this experience.  We are all over the world, but we are together in spirit.

Our journey began in the Chicago O’Hare Airport.  We left at 10:30 PM on Wednesday August 22, alongside the folks heading to South Africa.  By the way, if you have never flown Lufthansa, do it!  Comfortable seats, T.V. and movies on demand, good food and beverages, and great service.  But I digress...  The first leg to Frankfurt was uneventful, but fun nonetheless.  The 14 of us were all seated together, and we only stopped laughing and goofing off when we were sleeping.  I’m sure the other passengers appreciated those brief breaks!  Seven hours later, Frankfurt had its own fun in store.  We left the airport and spent a few hours wandering around downtown.  I haven’t been to Germany since I was 16, and this trip brought back some great memories if not very much of my German-speaking skills.  I struggled to even order food, but it still felt great to be surrounded by it again.  We had amazing sausage, pretzels, beer, and strudel: the stereotypical German fare.  Our walk took us by cobbled streets, old churches, old fountains, and across the Mein River.  It was such a great “last time together” for us before separating for at least a year.  The flight from Frankfurt was uneventful, except for I FLEW OVER THE AFRICAN CONTINENT FROM END TO END.  I’m still trying to comprehend just how far geographically I have come.  As the flight reached its end, we knew we were going to be late, but we weren’t sure if we would have to find a place to stay in Johannesburg, South Africa since there is only one flight a day to Antananarivo.  Luckily, the scenario I mentioned before unfolded, so we got there in time.  Our country coordinators Austin and Tanya Propst were there to welcome us along with Hassanan, a man who was pivotal in helping get our placements in order. 

We stayed that first night at the Norwegian Mission Society’s center in Tana.  It was a beautiful compound of buildings just outside of downtown Tana filled beautiful exotic plants with birds and lizards to boot.  The best part of that first day was being greeted with OVERWHELMING enthusiasm by Honorine, a woman whose 4-foot-nothing frame was filled with joy and smiles.  She made us ginger chicken and rice, a traditional Malagasy dish.  Everything I have eaten here has been different and amazing.  After getting our new phones and a short devotional, we all passed out hard.  Airplane sleep is never as good as a bed, even if that bed is surrounded by a mosquito net.  Walking through downtown Tana the next morning, the first thing you notice is the trash.  There hasn’t been a good organized sanitation effort since the French left in the 1970s, so trash is just thrown pretty much anywhere.  The next thing you notice is the lake right in the middle of town, and then you notice people urinating into it every 50 feet.  It is completely culturally acceptable for people to urinate in public.  A little shocking, but you get used to it quickly.  I know these things may seem gross or weird from our cultural standpoint, but there are so many things about Tana that are beautiful and special.  Everything from the crazy-yet-safe narrow roads filled huge vans and tiny scooters, the smiles and shouts of, “Salama.”, the different music and smells, the “football” and rugby being played all over, the dilapidated haircut shacks, the random mix of clothing styles and level of cleanliness, the cow-pulled carts, and the miles of rice paddies, to the barefooted pull-cart runners.  The crazy trees and noises also make Madagascar so cool.  One of the craziest things I’ve seen.  On our drive to Antsirabe last night, a woman was trying to sell us a rabbit by holding it out over the road by its ears as we tore by at 60 mph.  The road was filled with Taxi-buses driven by folks who and never heard of drivers education, and there were definitely no lines or signs of any kind.  You get used to the feeling of almost dying every time a car passes, trust me.

I will be spending the next 3 weeks in Antsirabe for Malagasy language and culture studies at the Norwegian Missionary school here.  I am excited to learn and explore more about this amazing place.  We have already explored the market, all the while being called , “Vasa”, the Malagasy word for foreigner or white person.  It probably doesn’t help that we brought our coordinators’ dog along, which is weird in a culture where no on has pets.  

In summary, I am thrilled to be here even though it is still difficult to comprehend that I am actually in Madagascar, in spite of the new smells, sights, and sounds.  I am literally on the other side of the world from Fairbanks, Alaska.  Looking at the globe is the only way I can get that through my head.  I miss everyone back in the states, but I am excited to see where this journey takes me.  More to come!

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