Laughs and Lemurs

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

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Where I stayed
Chez Roger
What I did
Aye Aye Island
Vanilla Plantation
Indian Ocean

Flag of Madagascar  , MG.04,
Wednesday, November 28, 2012

This is FAR overdue, but I just wanted to catch y’all up on
the retreat all the YAGM volunteers here in Madagascar went on in November.  We met up from November 21 to 28, beginning in Antananarivo and then heading for the coastal town of Mananara.  It was a great week filled with conversations, laughter, puzzles, sickness, animals, swimming, and stories.

Let’s begin with Tana. Possibly the highlight of the week was our first day together.  It was American Thanksgiving (a shout out toJane the Canadian), and we had a blow out of gluttony and comfy pants, as it should be.  Turkey, stuffing, gravy,
mashed potatoes, wine, and veggies.  It was food coma paradise.  The parts of the day that weren’t spent cooking or eating were filled with music, puzzles, conversations, and just relaxing.  It was one of my favorite thanksgivings so far.

The next day, we began our journey to Mananara.  In order to get there, we had to take a small
plane chartered through MAF, Mission Aviation Fellowship, a group that offers reduced rate flights for missionaries all over the world.  It was a sweet little 10 seat plane that flew over some of the most beautiful parts of the country.  It was a great journey.

After landing at the tiny Mananara airport to an audience of gawkers, we hopped in the back of a pick up that took us on a very bumpy trek to our hotel, Chez Roger.  My spine has
yet to recover, I’m pretty sure.  It turns out that Mananara is a pretty swanky beach town isolated from the most of the rest of the country.  However, there is quite a bit of money because much of the vanilla and cloves exported from the country are grown in the area.  As a result, the whole town smelled like Christmas.

 One cool thing we got to do was tour a vanilla plantation.  A couple old guys walked us
through the trees and showed us how they manually pollinate the plants.  We of course got distracted and ended up climbing some trees and fording rivers though.  All the while, eating a literal ton of litchis.  Also, several of our group decided they needed to touch a zebu (the kind of cow here) because they have these crazy humps between their shoulders.  The mission was successful.

 We also got to go on a boat tour through a river around Mananara.  The boat was practically just two canoes with some plywood across them.  We saw lots of beautiful scenery, and we even able to go on a trek through a farm that was filled with exotic birds and lizards.  It felt like paradise.  While at the farm, we all got to crack open some coconuts and enjoy sipping on the refreshing juice.

Probably my favorite experience in Mananara was our trip to Aye Aye Island.  Our whole group with an additional four guides rode in one big canoe across the river in search of lemurs.  The Aye Aye is one of the rarest and most endangered animals in Madagascar, and we were able to see one after the sun set.  It was a breathtaking experience for me.  I posted a video of it on Facebook for those of you who have access.

 A part of almost everyday was spent on or in the Indian Ocean.  Mostly we just splashed around, but there were two particularly memorable times involving the water.  First, a group of us swam out to an island that was far out in the bay.  It looked lush and green, and we wanted to explore.  It was a far swim and when we arrived, we discovered that the whole island was covered in plants with serrated leaves and spines.  To top it off, the rocks around it were steep, sharp, and covered in clams with sharp edges on their shells.  That, of course, did not stop us. We all bled a bit, but it was worth it.  Second, we had a worship service on the beach on Sunday morning.  We had guitar, ukulele, singing, and communion, all with the sound of waves washing over us.  It was a truly spiritual experience.

Music and conversation were important part of our interactions in Mananara, in fact.  One day, we had to think of and present a spiritual practice of ours and share it with the group.  For both Lee and me, music is a very important part of our spiritual reflection, so we decided to play a song for the group.  We sang IZ’s cover of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” complete with guitar, ukulele, and harmonica.  It was a good time.  As far as conversation, we all had a lot to process on the trip.  We were all struggling with teaching, language, culture, and homesickness.  We were also able to share some of the beautiful things we have experienced at our different sites.  It was important for all of us.

The plane ride back to Tana was uneventful… except for one part, that is.  Our pilot wanted to freak us out, so he went into a sudden deep dive.  I could feel all my organs start floating upwards, shortly followed by the rest of me.  It was like an extreme rollercoaster.  We leveled off and did it again several times.  It was one of those experiences when you laugh just so you don’t scream.  I loved every second of it.

The retreat was a wonderful time for all of us.  We go to relax, reflect, and explore.  Our next retreat begins in March, and I cannot wait to do the same again.



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Janet Barnes on

Hi Luke - I'm glad you are having such a wide range of experiences. Did you know that MAF is headquartered in Nampa, ID? I have a friend who works for them. Blessings on you and your work.

Gloria Koehler on

What a fabulous experience you had Kate. The airplane dive must have been heart stopping.

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