Thursday, July 11, 2013

Love Affair

A place that I didn’t know much about a year and a half ago. 

A place that I honestly don’t know if I’ll see again.

A place that will always have an imprint on my heart.


My relationship with Madagascar has definitely been a love affair. As I got to know her, I was nervous and insecure of what I was doing. I wanted her to reveal herself to me, but just like any relationship, it took time and patience and struggles to understand what she was all about. But through time, we’ve learned to love each other.

When it came to me and Madagascar, we experienced all sorts of different emotions and feelings together. Good, bad, ugly, hilarious… you name it!

There were times when I would have a difficult time getting out of bed in the morning because I had been bruised or hurt and I didn’t want to face her that day.

There were other times I didn’t want the sun to set because that meant I needed to return home and couldn’t explore her streets anymore.

There were times when I felt so alone – almost invisible- like I was only noticed for the color of my skin and nothing else.

But then there were the glorious days when I felt that everyone was my friend and would get stopped on the street to have conversations.

There were times (quite often actually) when I really didn’t want to teach. I didn’t feel that I was a capable teacher, or that my students would learn anything.

But there were the times (Thank the good Lord) when I didn’t want to leave the classroom because my students and I were laughing so hard and having such a good time together!

Throughout time I came to learn some of her secrets. She’s a tricky one, this Mada. Always keeps you on your toes. And it’s all about how YOU look at it. You could find a certain situation frustrating, or amusing – completely up to you. 
There were days I got so angry with her, that I cried… a lot. And other situations where I was laughing and saying to myself “oooooh madalife!”

And although I yearn so much to unveil more of her secrets which only are disclosed over time, it’s time for me to leave.

Time for me to say goodbye to a place I’ve fallen in love with. A place that’s stolen my heart. A place where I see God every day. A place I call home.

I would be lying if I said it was all easy. Sometimes it makes me want to throw things and yell at the walls. Everything from annoying and unnecessary Tana traffic, to the injustice I see every day, to my dear Marzette leaving to work in Kuwait.

But it is in those difficult times when I most needed to cling to the promise of God’s grace and to ask the Holy Spirit to fill my heart with peace and wisdom.

In my last few days  in Ambohibao, Antananarivo (Tana), I’ve struggled with how to soak up every moment and not take it for granted… as well as how to say goodbye and accurately express my extreme gratitude to everyone around me.

I’ve also struggled with how to say hello to loved ones back home – how to accurately express emotions and stories and… well… madalife.

For now, all I can do is live in the present and be here now.
But I would like to publicly express my eternal gratitude to everyone in Madagascar for making this home. And to everyone else reading this – thank you for your continual support.

This year has challenged me and pushed me like I’ve never experienced before. I’ve learned a lot and loved a lot and been loved a lot. And although it breaks my heart to leave, I am excited for a new batch of YAGM volunteers to fall in love with her.

So once again, thank you to everyone who has made this year what it is – without you I probably wouldn’t have gotten out of my bed. And then Mada and I never would have become friends.  

May God bless you all on your journey, wherever you may be.

Love from Mada!

Thursday, July 4, 2013


In June, Mama’s son, Fetra got married. It was much like the wedding in my other blog, but this time, I made the cake. That’s right. I am an official wedding cake maker. And people actually liked it!

The reception was at ILOFAV again (the compound where I live) and there was a live band! After a while, it turned into led to open mic. Throughout the previous week, people had asked me if I was going to sing at the reception and my answer was always “of course!” They especially wanted me to sing a song called “Jeso Sakaizanay” which I have stuck in my head most days and will start belting at any given moment around ILOFAV. I was more than willing to sing it – it’s a really catchy song.  But when the time came, I was just fine listening to the other people sing their hearts out.

The awkwardness started when I was rushing between being a guest and eating with my date, fellow volunteer Lee Kirberg (my go-to wedding date Tana Buddy), and serving the food. I also was supposed to be taking care of a boy while his aunt helped out in the kitchen preparing food. A tri-fecta of craziness.

Between the rice and dessert portion of the meal, I decided to take a little breather from the wedding so Lee and I left to go visit Flaviette and her baby. I told Flaviette that she needed to get out and get some fresh air. We step outside which is a good 15 degrees warmer than her concrete room in the basement. There I am holding Wennancia and I hear my name being called through the speakers. It was pastora (mama’s husband) - He was calling Lee and me to sing a song!

By the time I got over there, I realized I was still holding the baby! I started by explaining in my best Malagasy that this baby wasn’t mine, but she was Flaviette’s. Meanwhile, pastora is trying to laugh off the awkwardness of this situation. I tried to be funny to decrease the number of confused looks I was receiving, but my Malagasy wasn’t quick enough. So there I was, in my bare feet, with a baby in my arms, totally lost for words. I had so many funny things to say in English but I’m sure only about 10% of the people there knew English… not helpful.

To add to the awkwardness, I hadn’t prepared anything to sing! So I just do what I usually do around here – start singing the Malagasy hymn “Jeso sakaizanay!” But that’s about the only text I know… the rest was full of blah blah blahs and la la las! Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. Lee also knew the tune but not all the words. Fortunately, I found a friend in the crowd who was exaggerating the words so I could try to read her lips. Lee tried his best to chime in, but I must say – it was a complete flop!

A week later when I was telling a friend this story in English and when I told him about “Jeso Sakaizanay” he burst into laughter! “Why is that funny?” I asked. He replied with “that’s a song they play at funerals!”… oops!
We didn’t want to leave the crowd hangin on that awkward note, so we asked the accompanist if he knew “What a wonderful world” (which is the song Lee and I sang at our last wedding together). He tried to fake it, but it didn’t work. Then the guy who plays piano at church got up from his seat, and offers to play. Aaaahh much better. But oh wait, Lee doesn’t know all the words. Here we go again… This time I am the one trying to exaggerate the words.
From what I remember only about 2 people clapped.  And one of them was Pastora, who was probably like “thank the good Lord that THAT’S over!”
Other than that, the wedding was great!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Welcome to the World!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so pleased to announce that Flaviette (Marzette’s sister) had a baby girl on June 1st at 7:18pm. Her name is Wennancia (Pronounced Way-Nan-seeya) and I was honored to be there holding Flaviette’s hand while she gave birth… and to see Wennancia take her first breath of fresh air. It was incredible and I feel so blessed and honored to have been a part of it. 

It started Saturday morning. Flaviette had just come back from the Dr.’s office and I asked her when the baby was going to come (technically her due date was May 20th) She told me she was going to have the baby that night at 8pm and they were leaving at 7pm. I asked if it would be a C-section. (I pantomimed by sawing my arm). She said no. I was really confused, but at the same time I was like, “hey, whatever. Bring on Da Baby!” 

Around 5pm I went to check on her. She was already having pretty close contractions and told me we were waiting for her friend to bring a taxi. The next thing you know, we’re in a taxi and I’m the only one making exciting noises (like “Woooohoo!!!!” and “IT’S BABY TIME!”). But nobody else was really feelin my jive. Oops. 

We arrived at the midwife’s house and pounded on the outside gate. It felt like we were waiting there for an eternity. Flaviette kept having contractions and I was hollering my loudest saying “Hodio” which basically means “Is anyone there?/Can I come in?/knock knock!” But in this case it was “WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU, LADY! SHE’S GOING TO HAVE A BABY ON YOUR DOORSTEP IF YOU DON'T HURRY UP!!!!!!!”

We were finally let in and Flaviette was instructed to walk around awhile. I kept making funny jokes but nobody was laughing cuz… well… my jokes were in English and nobody understood them. But let me tell you, I was quite the funny one that night! 

There were four of us women there with Flaviette. Me, Tsiri, Safidy, and Flaviette’s distant relative (I don’t remember her name). It was so beautiful how in unison us women were. We each had our own job with assisting: holding the IV bag, holding Flaviette’s head up, pushing on the stomach, and then there was my job – holding her hand! J After a few minutes of our duties, our hearts started pumping faster and we all took off our winter layers at the same time. 

And after a few pushes…before you know it… there she was. A beautiful baby girl. And as she took her first cry, the four of us joined as well, as if on cue. It was astonishing and breathtaking and absolutely beautiful. It was impossible not to cry. 

After the little one got cleaned and clothed, I got to hold her. I showed her to her mommy who was still too weak to hold her. Flaviette said “fotsy be!” (very white) “look a-like Sarah!” 

“Hey that’s fun!” I said. “You have a vazaha (foreigner) baby!”

I don’t know why, but they said Flaviette couldn’t talk for a while – that she needed to rest. She was very weak and tired and wasn’t even able to hold or nurse the baby yet. To fill the time, little Wennancia just nibbled on her hands…which seemed to satisfy her pretty well. I was nervous about Flaviette and I knew there wasn’t anything I could do at the time, so I just prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to give her strength.

By the time everything was cleaned up it was 8:30pm and the four of us looked at each other… “noana ve ianareo?” (Y’all hungry?) We all glanced at each other, nervous to be the first one to admit… but each of us gave head nods. Yeah, you bet we were hungry. We fed Flaviette and ourselves and waited for our ride to come get us and bring us home. 

 I couldn’t help but think about Marzette and Solange throughout all of this. I miss them so intensely and wish so much that they could’ve been here for this. But all I can do is give thanks for the opportunity to see their sweet little niece come into this world. And I look forward to the day when they return and can give kisses to the same little cheeks I got to, and will continue to smother with kisses. 

This morning, Flaviette came back to ILOFAV. She is still tired but doing much better. She said Wennancia is very naughty and kept crying unless Flaviette was holding her. She’s like Marzette… she loves a good snuggle :)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Journal Entry - January 10th, 2013

I was flipping through my journal the other night and I found this entry. I thought I’d share it with you to give you another glimpse of how much I adore Marzette. 

Thursday, January 10th 2013 9:33pm

Marzette paged me at 9:20pm. I “huhed” up over my ledge and tossed water down (next to her room to get her attention). Finally she spoke to me though the window. “What’s up” I said. “Nothing. I wanted to send you a message but I didn’t have credit {#madalife}. I wanted to say have a good night”. Adorable. I laid on my ledge occasionally looking up at the stars – they’re glorious tonight. I love my friend, Marzette. Tomorrow we’re going to manasa lamba (wash clothes) and then in the afternoon, we’re going to the cyber cafĂ© to get her a facebook. And then she wants to practice typing on my computer. 

“What does love ya mean it mean?” She asks. “Tiako be ianoa?”
“No. It means tiako marina be ianao!”
And then she asked about “love you long time” – she doesn’t know it’s improper grammar. I laugh.
“Why you laughing me”?
I correct her grammar “laughing at me” and tell her how much I love her. She responds with the same enthusiasm.

What would I do without her? Thank you God for this beautiful gift or Marzette in my life. I can’t imagine what life would be like here without her. 

Friday, April 26, 2013


Marzette and Solange have been gone for almost three months now. Flaviette has had 2 calls from Solange, and none from Marzette. They aren’t living together so they have to use their employer’s phones to make calls. From what I had heard from Flaviette is that Solange and Marzette are “Salama tsara” (healthy) and that they have nice employers (which is a HUGE deal!).

But then, on Tuesday, April 23rd 2013 at approximately 3:07pm, I heard Flaviette calling my name. She took her 8 month pregnant belly to my door and when I opened it, she showed me the phone in her hand as she said “IT’S MARZETTE!” My beloved feisty little friend was ON THE PHONE!!! We only talked briefly because it’s expensive to call Madagascar from Kuwait. But she kept saying she was very good and that her employer was nice. Of course she also said “Saraha love you mean it and love you long time!” After the quick conversation, Flaviette and I burst into laughter and clapping as if we had just seen a hilarious Broadway show! We were ecstatic! Flaviette said something like “the prayer is good!” which I think means that she’s been praying for this and finally her prayers were answered.

I was able to save the number of Marzette’s employer and she said I can call whenever. It’ll be expensive, but I’m hoping to call every once in a while to check in. And especially on her birthday, June 15th.

And THEN on Thursday, April 25th, Flaviette told me that Solange had called her earlier that day. Solange said that her and Marzette had talked on Wednesday. (Awesome news!) Then Flaviette asked if I could go to the bank with her. "Handefa vola amin'ahy i Solange" (Solange is going to send me money). I couldn't hold back my tears! It was such a relief to be able to hear Marzette and Solange were able to talk, that Solange got in contact with Flaviette, and that she was able to send money back home! Trust me when I say, that's a HUGE DEAL!

I ask that you continue (or start) lifting up Marzette and Solange in your thoughts and prayers. I can’t imagine what it must be like for them – especially not being able to be in contact regularly with one another. But I know that there are people all over the world praying for them and especially for their safety. And I thank you, reader, for doing the same.

Love you long time!
~A very happy Saraha

Mada Wedding


I feel so grateful that I’ve been able to experience two Malagasy weddings since being here. Both very different in so many ways, but this most recent one will forever have an imprint in my heart.

The bride, Hoby (pronounced Hoo-bee), is a seamstress/sewing teacher here at ILOFAV (the women’s center where I live) as well as a former student. She was the instructor when I made my skirt here in the first few weeks of my arrival. She is such a loving person with a generous and thoughtful heart. And I was so flattered when she invited me to her wedding and she even said I could bring a plus date (aka – my Tana Buddy, Lee Kirberg)!

As the days led up to the wedding, everyone who lived or worked at ILOFAV helped out. On Thursday, we worked on the decorations. The teachers, the women students, and even the guards were involved. Thursday night a bus full of Hoby’s family members came. I was overwhelmed and excited to see the 20+ people file out of the van. The energy that stepped off of that bus was contagious. Despite the riders having been in said vehicle for nearly 12 hours, they couldn’t contain their joy.  I got a little misty eyed thinking about my beautiful family back home and what it would be like to take a 12 hour road trip with them to attend a family member’s wedding! (Just as long as I get to sit next to Mary, I would never be bored!)

Friday afternoon was cooking day! It was incredible to see all the different stations going on. People were making cake, chopping veggies, de-feathering the geese, and so many other things I couldn’t keep track of. I was told that things were starting at 4. When I arrived, they were already cleaning the geese. I look at that sad figure starring at me and thought to myself “AAAAWWW MAAAN!!! IIII wanted to kill a goose!” I told them that in Malagasy and they all thought it was hilarious.
My feather coat... just kidding.
That night one of the YAGMs, Kate, was spending the night on her way back from visiting other YAGM volunteer, Hannah, in Mahajanga. As soon as she arrived, she was peeling pineapple and cutting up green peppers. Kate has such a giving heart so even though she had just gotten off a 11h hour taxibus ride, she was willing to help out.
Seeing everyone in the community chip in their time and effort to help their teacher, family member, and friend was so beautiful to me! I was awe-struck at all the love that was being put into this celebration.
The day of the wedding, the three of us (Kate, Lee, and I) taught my Saturday morning class and came back with just enough time to change and walk to church. However, the family and close friends of the bride were all standing around the courtyard of ILOFAV waiting for her to come out of the main house. The wedding was supposed to start at 10:30am… she walked out of the house at 10:45. “Madalife”. She went into a decked out car and as soon as she got in, there were about 30 of us who piled into a bus. Lee, Kate and I were more than willing to take the 8 minute walk to the church, but everyone insisted that we ride in the bus. So we did.
Lovin the bus
Then the three of us had to dip out of the ceremony early to drop Kate off at the airport to fly back to Toliara (a two day drive or a 1.5 hour flight).  By the time Lee and I came to the reception, it had already started and there wasn’t any more room for us. We went down near the kitchen to the “kids table” where all the children, the students, and helpers were. I was totally stoked for the kids table but then someone came down and told us they made room for us and told us we needed to sit by the grownups. Although the “grown up room” was a lot tamer than the “kid’s room”, I was fortunate enough to have a partner in crime with me as we spoke our “secret language” i.e. – English!
Kid's table/room

Adult room
They had a keyboard player and singer during the meal and after we finished our rice, Pastor Rene (mama’s husband, the pastor at the church, and my joking buddy) told Lee and me that we were going to sing for everyone. My first thought was “Don’t gotta tell ME twice!” Two minutes later we were jamming out to “What a Wonderful World”. Unfortunately, that is undocumented. You’ll just have to imagine how awesome it was!
I was told the day before that there would be a dance and the reception would last until 10pm. I was really excited to get my grove on -Malagasy style! We kept waiting for a dance to happen, but it never did. One of my students and friends at ILOFAV, Lanto, told me that Pastora said they couldn’t have a dance. By 7pm, most people were leaving and they were taking the speakers away. Needless to say I was very disappointed – but I tried not to make a big deal about it. We took some photos and hung out a bit before everyone started dispersing.

Somebody told us to wear these hats... so we did
The bride Hoby and me
At 9:30pm there was a knock on my door. It was one of the guards. He told me that there was a dance but we had to be quiet and we couldn’t tell the pastor! I was thrilled! I come down to the dining room and there were only about 25 people there – just family and close friends remained… and the best part - everyone was in their PAJAMAS! It was like a secret dance party and it was BEAUTIFUL! Everyone was exhausted from all the work they’d done during the past few days, but they still held the adrenaline and excitement that comes with a loved one getting married! Hoby and her husband were there too. Her hair was still fabulous, but she had changed into more comphy clothes. It was a perfect way to end a lovely wedding - Dancing in pajamas late at night with the people who mean the most. So Special. And I got to break it down – Malagasy style!
Unfortunately for you, there aren’t any pictures of the secret dance party because, well, it was a secret dance party. :-)
After the dancing, I was tired but so full of life. I felt like I participated in something so rare and beautiful that weekend.
The food wasn’t catered - it was purchased and prepared by family and friends.
The reception wasn’t in a grand hall - It was located in the room where Hoby spent countless hours learning and teaching the art of sewing.
There wasn’t a DJ - it was a small set of speakers and a list of songs chosen by the closest friends and family members.
This wedding has been one of the highlights of my time here in Madagascar. Everything about it – the before, during, and after - was done with intention and love. It was so inspiring to witness and be a part of something so special.  
When I grow up, I want to be just like her!