Christmas in Tulear

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

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sometimes, beautiful things come out of unfortunate situations. After my group's first retreat, I went through somewhat of a lull in Ambovombe.  The school I teach at was on vacation, I had no work to do with Fenolily, and I ended up not being able to work with World Wildlife Fund.  As a result, I was extremely bored and feeling fairly lost.  That’s when I was offered a great opportunity: to fly the coop to Tulear for a couple weeks and spend time with Kate, the YAGM volunteer.  It was my saving grace.

It was great to see Kate’s town and meet all the people in her YAGM life.  Our two sites are extremely different, and it was cool to see another side of the same program.  We at lots of meals with her site supervisor, Madame Jeanette, spent time with her friend Johnson, played with a tame lemur, and spent hours and hours biking all over town.  The streets in Tulear are wild and crazy, with cars, pedestrians, bikes, and pousse-pousses (rickshaws) jockeying for space.  Many near-death experiences, but hey, it’s an adventure.  I stayed at a guesthouse on Lutheran church property, complete with a crazy woven metal springish bed and a hole-filled mosquito net. 

Kate teaches English at a school, teaches English at a school for the blind, and works once a week at a clinic in town.  I was able to shadow her for a couple days around town.  It was good to see someone with such a normal and full schedule, something that I haven’t had since arriving in Ambovombe.  It gave me hope that I can create the same kind of fulfilling schedule. 

One of the best parts of the trip was getting to spend Christmas with a friend, both of us coming from similar traditions.  Many of the Christmas carols were the same, even if they had different words.  On Christmas Eve, there was a concert with hundreds of kids and young adults singing songs for the rest of us.  Kate sang with her group from the school.  It was fun to be there, especially since most of the kids were wearing adorable paper hats.  Oh for cute.  On Christmas Day, we went to church, had a wonderful lunch with Madame Jeannette, and ended the day with a Christmas party at a house owned by Baptist Missionaries.  It was a very surreal experience.  Everyone in attendance was from the U.S., and they served only traditional American holiday food.  Turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls, salad, and the works.  There was even a gift exchange.  It was fun to share in such a traditional American Christmas, since both Kate and I were definitely feeling a bit home-sick because of the holidays.  It was also, however, extremely strange.  Kate and I both a very passionate about living in our respective communities and being in accompaniment with them.  It was hard to eat so much food and be around so much wealth when both of our communities are fairly low on the economic scale.  We appreciated their hospitality, but it felt good to leave and go back to rice.

We also got to have a Christmas party for Kate’s students.  We handed out candy, blew up balloons, ate cake, and sang songs with a bunch of cute kids.  Fantastic.

During the week, we got to attend a traditional funeral, which including throwing on some lambas (traditional cloth body wraps).   There were hundreds of people sitting all around the yard of the deceased, and a handful of goats and cows thrown in for good measure.  We got to enter the home were the shrouded body lying on the bed, and the bed was covered in transparent white sheets, similar to mosquito nets.  We were able to speak with his widow and dozen or so children, offer our condolences, and pray with them.  It was a very special moment to be apart of. 

One wrench in the experience was a random illness that I managed to pick up.  After the funeral and biking all day, I got back to Kate’s house and felt sick.  I took my temperature, and hey presto, it was 103.1 degrees.  Crazy.  Madame Jeanette was kind enough to let me sleep on her nice bed for the night with the hopes that a good night’s sleep would break the fever.  She, of course, also repeatedly attempted to give me some of her home remedies, which while very kind, did not give me much confidence.  I was healthy enough by the next day to go to lunch with the Synod Bishop and his wife.  It was a wonderful spread a great time to practice some Malagasy.

One of the best part, from a vacation mind-set, was the stuff that comes with "big city" life.  For example.  bacon cheeseburger.  That’s right: bacon cheeseburger.  Kate and I found a great American restaurant, and had some good food that reminded me of home.  It was spectacular.  I also was able to buy a guitar, which is something I’ve been working on for awhile.  My guitar was too big to bring from the states, and it feels good to play again. 

To top off the week, Jane came over from Fianarsoa, and we were able to have a little YAGM reunion.  Good food and lots of laughs.

All in all, it was a wonderful week, and I was able to head back to Ambovombe recharged and ready to hit the ground running with work, family, and all.
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