DAY 1 - September 16, 2010
Our trip began without any trouble. We all met at Miami, checked our bags and after a slight delay we were in the air for our first over night flight. The flight was comfortable, although crowded. We touched down in Paris at 9:00AM and managed to collect all (26) pieces of our luggage. We found the check-in counter for Air Madagascar and we were told we would have about a 1 hour wait until it opened. Well.... after waiting a little over an hour we were told we were waiting in the wrong place. We went to the next check-in counter and found a HUGE line of people waiting to get on the same flight as ours. The line moved along quickly and the baggage person took all our over-sized and overweight pieces with just a little pleading and whining. We passed through security and we were at the gate for the next leg of our journey. We had about 1 hour until boarding for our second overnight flight. We took of exactly on-time and Mad Air was in the air and heading south. Rick used the compass on his iPhone to watch the route. We were treated very nicely on-board to free drinks, snacks, dinner, a movie and by then everyone was asleep. It's difficult getting comfortable enough to fall into a deep sleep but we tried our best. The flight was smooth and it wasn't long until the lights came on waking everyone for our 4:00AM touch-down in the capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo (Tana). In the terminal it was pure chaos as we tried to get our visa clearance. Just like Patsy described in her book, there was no line. They just take passports, put them into a big pile and pull them randomly for processing at the single emigration counter. After a lot of worrying, and pushing everyone in our group got their passports back, we collected our luggage, walked the gauntlet of back hallways, avoided people insisting they wanted to help us with our bags and we all arrived at the check-in counter for our last flight. We managed to convert some money to local currency (Airyary 2,000=$1 U.S.), tipped the baggage handlers, too much I'm sure to their delight, and we only had a short wait until we walked out onto the tarmac to board the last leg of our trip. It was a 60 seater twin turbo-prop. As the sun came up the scenery our first glimpse fo Madagascar fro the air was interesting. We past mountain ranges in the center of the island and approached the coast over what appeared to be dried river beds. Before we could get comfortable we were in Toliara.
DAY 3 – Saturday, September 18, Toliara
We arrived in Toliara at 9:00AM and we could see Bishop Todd and Rev. Patsy waving from inside the tiny terminal. We gathered around the baggage carousel with anticipation, but soon discovered 10 pieces of our luggage were left behind in Antananarivo. The porter assured us they would arrive later tonight on the 9:00PM flight. It was just as well, I doubt we could have fit anything more in the car, pick-up truck, and taxi which were already overloaded with people and luggage. Bishop Todd said a prayer giving thanks for our safe arrival, welcomed each of us to Madagascar and we were off to the Victory Hotel.
We only had about a 5 minute drive to the hotel where we would be staying. It was absolutely beautiful. As far as mission trips go, this was five stars. We had the next few hours to get checked into our rooms, organize our things (for those who had their luggage) and take a short rest. Some went straight for the swimming pool to refresh, while others plugged in to test the wi-fi Internet and started taking photos. I enjoyed a cold drink with Fr. Hess, Church of the Ascension, Knoxville, Tennessee, who was in Madagascar for sabbatical with his wife, Peggy. Todd and Patsy assured us they would be back by 2:30PM to give us an orientation before we headed off to the English church service at 6:00PM.
DAY 2 (AM) - September 18, 2010
We discovered Todd and Patsy are very punctual as they arrived right on-time at 2:30. Our group gathered for orientation and to discuss our itinerary for the next 10-days and then we were off for St. Luke Ankilifaly, the church next to Todd and Patsy's house.
St. Luke has one large meeting hall. It seats about 200 people on simple wooden pews. The English service was about 1 hour combining prayers, a homily by Rev. Patsy and communion. We were the long awaited honored guests. There were about 45 people of all ages in attendance that night. The women in the church were very excited to meet Debra because, currently, there are no women clergy in Madagascar. Debra gave a sermon on brotherhood and explained that she also lives on an island, called Marathon. Blair stood with three other women to give Prayers of the People, which was very moving. There were several songs in English and a ritual of directing the power of the Holy Spirit towards a person by rubbing our hands, clapping and giving a loud greeting to the person.
Our group received 10 claps and a welcome. The songs were very up-beat and the beautiful voices of the congregation filled the room.
After service we walked about 2 blocks down the street to Le Jardin restaurant. It's one of Todd and Patsy's favorite places and very near where they live. It is run by an Italian man who was the chef on the TV show, The Love Boat. The dining area is full of original works of art hanging from the walls and ceiling. Platters of delicious food just kept coming faster than we could eat. After we all had our fill, Todd led us through a reflection of the day which he calls, Christlike Moments. Everyone shared an experience from the day where they felt the presence of Christ.
We topped off dinner with a silly game where we drank ginger, cinnamon or guava juice from a baby bottle. As it turns out, they taste best when they are all mixed in one glass. We wrapped up around 9:30PM but it felt more like midnight after such a long day. We said good night and returned to our hotel for a good night's sleep in a fully reclined position for the first time in 3 days. We were told very clearly that we were all to be ready by 7:30AM the next day. We didn't waste any time getting to our rooms to sleep off the jet lag.
DAY 5 (AM)– Sunday, September 19th
Rick was the first out from his room at 6:45AM and he was very happy to discover our luggage arrived late last night. As everyone emerged from their rooms we all had a chance to change our clothes and unpack all our supplies. We had breakfast in the hotel and then our group split up to attend Sunday service in 3 different locations. Cordella, Rick, Emily and Blair went to Andranomena which is the church near the Gathering Place. The church was a simple bamboo and grass hut that sat about 40 people on wooden pews. It seemed like everyone turned out to greet us. The service was very nice. It was such a simple setting it seemed to put more emphasis on the people and the service than on the building. Everyone sang loudly and their voices carried across the field so everyone in the surrounding area could hear us. Rick gave testimony with translation from Victor, Emily gave the homily and Blair Prayed. The service was about 1 hour and then we explored the grounds and the Gathering Place which is under construction.
DAY 5 (PM) - Sunday, September 19th
We returned to the Victory by noon for lunch. We had time for a brief rest and then we were off to visit Antsokay Arboretum by 3PM. The arboretum was founded in 1980 by Hermann Petignat, a Swiss amateur botanist. The arboretum is located 12 km southeast of Toliara, 2 km north of the Tropic of Capricorn, and 3 km east of the Mozambique Channel (source: Botanic Gardens Conservation International, www.bgci.org). Before Petignat's death, he collected specimens of all the native plants and assembled the arboretum to educate the Madagascar people about the value of nature. Today, Hermann Petignat's son is in charge and he has made a great effort to bring in revenue to keep the arboretum open. On site, there is a lovely restaurant, a playground for kids, and bungalows which can be reserved for an overnight stay or even a week-long vacation. It is so important to educate people in the value of conservation of both flora and fauna. But, back to our tour...our group was in danger of being a bit annoying to our tour guide as we all pointed out that we had several of the same plant varieties growing in our yards back in Florida. We now know they are native to Madagascar.
These first 2-days seemed too easy and we felt a little guilty, like we were being spoiled, but Todd assured us the next day the work would begin in earnest and we would start to earn our keep.
We returned to the Victory for dinner and some much needed sleep as we fought of the last bit of jet lag.
DAY 6 (AM) – Monday, September 20th
We were on a very tight schedule as the day began early with everyone ready to go at 5:30am. Our whole group left the hotel by 5:45. First stop was the church in Ankilifaly, next to Todd and Pasty's house. We unloaded all the medical supplies and then we had a morning devotion. Afterwards, some of the group walked the neighborhood with Bishop Todd while others went to the bakery to pick-up fresh chocolate croissants and coffee. Rick managed to stop in to visit a school and snap pictures of the children getting ready for class. He watched the students do morning exercises and took lots of pictures. When everyone returned to the church, we ate breakfast, re-loaded the medical supplies into 3 vehicles and took a 25 minute ride to Anketraka. The word “anketraka” means “despair”. We met Dr. Zoe and Sister Jaqueline who would be joining our medical team for the week. It was a village named after a flood in which many people drowned. We setup our medical clinic and eyeglass clinic quickly because several people were already lined-up waiting before we arrived. It all went smoothly. Everyone helped log patients, conduct exams, hand out glasses and dispense medicine. Outside Rick worked to entertain the children while they waited for their parents who were receiving treatment. The women have a very interesting custom, they wear a yellow make-up made from tree bark to protect them from the sun. The pictures of them are very dramatic. At 2:00PM we took a one hour break and drove to the beach which was about 2 miles away. Patsy surprised us by bringing pizza! We ate pizza and watched the waves break over the 3rd largest coral reef in the world, in the Mozambique channel, west side of Madagascar.
After lunch we returned to Anketraka where the medical team continued working until 5:30PM. The rest of our group returned to the hotel to prepare for VBS tomorrow. Some of our group took advantage of the free time and made a brief visit to the craft market and found incredible bargains on works of art and hand made items. I don't know how Rick and Cordella will fit everything into their suitcases. It was a full day of work, joy and giving thanks for the gifts we have been given and are fortunate to be able to share with the people of Madagascar. Tomorrow we will hold another clinic, vacation bible school and the water project team will head out to examine the local situation and consider options to bring relief to a location that has been suffering without water. (see the updated Google Earth KML)
I can't begin to mention enough about everything we have done over the past 48 hours. The medical team saw over 200 people with illnesses ranging from hook worm to leprosy. Some people have no opportunity to see a doctor other than when offered by a visiting mission team. The team gave treatment to those they could help, counseled those who were in need of information, and directed the more serious cases to get to the clinic in Ankilifaly as soon as possible. With a diagnosis, at least the people now know if they have a serious condition and can protect their families. The medical team worked tirelessly for the next 3 days setting up the clinic in different locations.
David and the eyeglass team saw over 200 people and unfortunately ran out of the 1.0 reading glasses very quickly. Eyeglasses can make such a huge difference to people who work with their hands doing weaving, needlework or woodcarving. It can be the difference between being able to work or becoming totally dependent on others for care when you cannot see. We saw a woman take out her reading glasses and read from the bible for the first time in a very long time. She and so many others were happy to be able to see clearly.
DAY 7 (AM) – Tuesday, September 21st
We are settling into our routine. It was another morning with a 5:45am departure for Ankilifaly, morning devotion, a walk, and breakfast. After breakfast, the team all went to Andranomena where we set up the the medical clinic, eyeglass clinic, and banner-making. We also demonstrated the solar ovens. People had arrived from all over the region for the medical clinic and eyeglass clinic. Todd had to council our group who were very stressed over not being able to attend to every person who turned out. The crowd seemed to grow throughout the day and by days end there were more waiting. We did all we could and informed the remaining people where we would be setting up tomorrow.
Cordella, Patsy, and her dad, Gary, made church banners with several local women. The banners came out great! Rick had a good time entertaining the kids everywhere he goes flying kites, making pipe cleaner eyeglasses and learning Malagasy. Kirk and Jacky were finally feeling better and made up for lost time. They had a bit of a stomach virus earlier but they didn't let that stop them from rolling out the solar ovens. Jacky's solar ovens were a hit. They made several loaves of banana bread. It was a very busy day and everyone put their faith into action as we had been planning for months.
By the end of the day we were all exhausted. Dr. Emmy, TerryLynn, Blair, and the medical team finally managed to take a break and did a little shopping. After resting back at the hotel for a bit, we returned to Ankilifaly for an evening service where Kirk preached, Cordella gave testimony and Blair led the prayer. After service, we walked down the street to the ice cream shop for dinner. Some opted to skip dinner and just have dessert. It was such a contrast to sit and enjoy ice cram after working with so many people who never get to enjoy the things we take for granted. It was a welcome reward for working so hard and we all gave thanks. Todd led us through our Christlike Moments and then we took various modes of transportation back to the hotel.
DAY 8 (AM) – Wednesday, September 22nd
Another early rise and everyone was out by 5:45AM. Devotion at Ankilifaly, a third walk and breakfast. Rose, Blair, Debra, and Emily prepared to start VBS today, the medical team departed for a village where a woman offered use of her house for the medical clinic to setup for the day, the women in Andranomena returned to complete the banners, and Anne, Rick and Cordella went 2 hours out into the bush with Todd where they assessed the water situation in 5 villages around Betaola.
Everyone had great things to say about their experiences and what they accomplished during the day. I can only give details on the water project.
After driving for 2 hours we left the pavement and drove for another 12 KM to the first village of Betaola. There were signs of the last cotton harvest still blowing around on the ground. The landscape was very dry resembling a desert. We parked the truck, took our bags and began walking to the upper elevation of the watershed and we were followed by several young children form the village who were curious to see what we were doing. We hiked for about 2 KM studying the geography and hydrography of the region. We saw the last 3 remaining pools of water along what was a dried up creek bed. One pool was infested with mosquito larvae, one had evidence of animal manure and one was clear. Despite the unsanitary conditions, we saw people washing clothes, bathing, and drinking from all three pools. Rick, Cordella and Anne passed along observations and advice to the locals on how to maintain and manage the water resources in the area. They suggested the cattle be controlled and prevented from drinking directly from the stream. They gave advice on how to preserve the vegetation to help stabilize the stream bank. Ultimately, they would like to work through one of the local agencies to try and bring relief, if not a solution, to the water problem in the area. Lack of rain seems to be pushing the region on the verge of a famine. About 50% of the population have already fled the area. We tried to document the geology, soil, plants and anything that could help us understand how to understand the problem. It was so disturbing to see some of the worst drought-stricken areas in need of a water solution. We walked the entire watershed (2KM) to the headwaters. Along the way we saw mosquito infested waters, dry, cracked ground, and children drinking directly from the stream. In some areas it resembled a moon scape. One family we met had just sent their 2 children out into the country side to find water or plants that can provide moisture. It was heartbreaking to see such abject poverty , but the people were still so welcoming and happy to see us. We gave them what water we had and plan to advise them on how to manage the water when the rainy season returns this winter. On the way back to Toliara we stopped in other villages to see wells, a non-functioning water pump & water tower.
DAY 8 (PM) - Wednesday, September 22nd
Back at the Victory Hotel later that evening most us had to move to new rooms for one night. It seems a tour group had priority over us and were in need of our rooms for one night. It was a slight disruption to our exhausted team but we managed without too many complaints. We gathered in the at 6:00PM for dinner around the pool because our usual table was also taken by the tour group. The food was great. We shared our Christlike Moments and gave thanks for the amazing work we accomplished today. We have made friends with people whose name we can't pronounce but, what we lack in language, we make up in faith and common understanding of how blessed we are to have met each other.
We all turned in for the night knowing Todd would be returning at the usual 5:45AM.
DAY 9 (AM) – Thursday, September 23rd
Todd was on time. We loaded up and took off for Ankilifaly where we held morning devotions, shared Eucharist and then had a continental breakfast. Today was the first day of our Vacation Bible School. The medical team, eyeglass team, and Jacky with solar ovens were heading off to Motombe for the day (pron. moo-toom-BAY).
Rose and Sharon prepared lessons in geography, global cultures, and bible stories. Rick, Cordella, Anne, Blair, and Emily participated in acting out the stories or animating the geography lessons. There were over 130 children who anxiously attended. Everything went smoothly and time seemed to fly by. Sharon took a tumble off the steps to the altar. Although she hurt her entire right side from head to ankle and was resting in a chair off to the side, she managed to play the perfect person needing to be healed as the children acted out a scene from the 12 apostles. At lunchtime, we cleaned up and organized for the next day. Some of the team left to help change money at the bank. It seems the U.S. State Dept limits the amount of U.S. dollars that can be exchanged per person to $900 per day. This makes it difficult for Emily, who is our treasurer. She needs to exchange enough money to pay our hotel bill in cash and to pay for dinners and our visit to the National Park. It took several team members to exchange the money to meet these needs. Afterwards, we had time to enjoy another brief visit to the craft market, watch the sunset and head back to the Victory for dinner. Rick practiced speaking Malagasy in the market where he was surrounded by young girls trying to sell him items such as wooden lemurs and radiated tortoises, hand carved baobab containers, picture frames, and shells. They all found it very amusing to listen to him try to speak the local language.
DAY 9 (PM) – Thursday, September 23rd
After dinner, we settled into our rooms and prepared for the second day of VBS and our projects for the next day. Rick connected to Skype using his laptop and hotel wi-fi so several people could call home, including Todd and Patsy who called their daughters who are attending college in Pennsylvania. Everyone turned in knowing tomorrow would come early and we had one more day to compete all the work we planned to accomplish.
DAY 10 (AM) – Friday, September 24th
Todd was on-time. We loaded up and took off for Ankilifaly where we held morning devotions, and had a continental breakfast. The medical team left for Motombe while the VBS team were greeted by 100 smiling faces for day 2. Todays lesson included the musical instruments. We assembled a band of 100 drums and kazoos and them marched into the street in front of St. Luke. Time flew by and the day ended in a room full of song, smiles and happy faces. We returned to the Victory for lunch. David, Kirk and Rick put together the Adirondack chairs today and dropped them off at St. Luke. Todd and Patsy loved them. The large rocking chair is now the official Bishop chair at the front of the church. At 6:00PM we were back to Ankilifaly where Todd held a Renewal service. Renewal included laying on of hands and prayers for special needs. The Malagasy sing so loud and have such beautiful voices the hymns could be heard out into the street and filled the neighborhood to everyones enjoyment.
DAY 10 (PM) – Friday, September 24th
After service we walked to Le Jardin for dinner. This time, the Rev. Jocelin and his wife, Domoina (pron. doe-moe-EE-nah), Fr. Hess, and his wife, Peg, Dr. Zoe, and Victor joined us. We enjoyed another delicious meal and being surrounded by artwork on the walls and ceiling. Bishop Todd was returning at 5:45am the next day so we didn't stay nearly as long as we would have liked. Tomorrow, we would be heading out to Soalara (pron. soo-ah-LAH-ruh), the future site of the Miaraka Resort and Spa (pron. mee-YA-rah-kuh). We returned to the Victory and inventoried the leftover supplies we planned to donate to Todd and Patsy as our work schedule came to a close.
DAY 11 (AM) – Saturday, September 25th
Standard routine. Todd picked us up at exactly 5:45AM, we went to Ankilifaly for morning devotion, and breakfast. After a 45-minute drive we arrived at St. Augustine which is on the coast. Cordella stayed back at the landing site while the rest of the group took outrigger canoes for a 30-minute ride to Soalara (pron. soo-ah-LAH-ruh, the beach site where Todd and Patsy plan to build the Miaraka Resort and Spa (pron. mee-YA-rah-kuh). The land is undeveloped and nothing can be seen in either direction for 2 KM along the coast. Rick and Todd walked the property line while the rest of the group admired the blue water, collected shells, and relaxed on the beach. As the tide went out, some locals emerged from the bush and searched for sea creatures in the tidal pools. Rick helped a woman pull a tube worm from the ground which would soon become her family's lunch. As the group departed, Rick waded into deeper water where he watched a local fisherman spear fish and octopus. The outrigger stopped to pick him up as we all left. Then, Rick surprised everyone one last time as he got the nod from the boat driver to dive into the water. It seems he spotted “Red Sea Stars”. He dove down and brought up 2 bright red starfish for everyone to see. With Rick safely back on board, the group continued back to the launch site where Cordella was waiting. We enjoyed some cold soda and relaxed before our return drive to the Hotel Victory.
DAY 11 (PM) – Saturday, September 25th
Back at the Victory everyone ate lunch, relaxed, packed, and took in the last few hours of our visit to Toliara. Tomorrow we would be leaving the Victory with our overnight bags and visiting Isalo National Park (pron. ee-SHAH-loo).
DAY 12 (AM) – Sunday, September 26th
It was a very busy morning. We all packed and checked out of our rooms by 7:00AM. We stored our luggage and took overnight bags with us for a 2-night stay in Isalo. Our group split-up into 5 groups as everyone headed in directions to attend Sunday service at different churches. We covered every area we visited during the week. After service most of us met back at Victory, packed into 2 vehicles and headed east on our 2.5 hour journey. The group that attended Betaola was already an hour east so they planned to meet us at the hotel in Isalo. It was a long drive across a landscape dotted with baobob trees and mud hut villages. There was plenty to look at while we made our way east. The pavement seemed to stretch onto infinity with no sign of a town but we would still saw people walking along the road.
At 4:00PM we arrived at La Reine hotel in Isalo. It was absolutely beautiful. Disney could not have created a more perfect African/French colonial setting. The hotel seemed to be set right into the rocks of the mountain. The grounds were manicured and we were greeted with a sweet grenadine drink. Rick, Cordella, Sharon, Kirk and Todd dropped their bags and ran off to view the sunset from a vantage point on the edge of the park.
DAY 12 (PM) – Sunday, September 26th
Back at the hotel, after sunset, the group gathered for dinner, shared stories of how wonderful the accommodations were and we made our plans for our hike tomorrow. We shared some of our Christ Like Moments and then headed off to our rooms for a rest.
DAY 13 (AM) – Monday, September 27th
The group arrived for a 7:00AM breakfast after a wonderful nights rest. It cooled off in the desert enough to sleep with our windows opened while our beds were covered under mosquito nets. We gathered for breakfast and then left for our hike. After a 30 minute drive we arrived at the base of Isalo National Park. About 1KM to the North we could see the canyons. The mountains rose about 2500 feet from the floor of the trail to peak. In between there were 2 canyons where the lemurs live. We hiked through rise paddies and across fields where zebu were grazing. As we approached the mouth of the canyon the dirt trail turned into a rocky trail full of turns and low hanging branches. The group did well as we were lead by our guide in search of the ring tailed lemur. It wasn't long until we spotted the first one high in the trees. They are shy so we were careful not to make too much noise and frighten them away. Our guide scouted ahead and found a family of 6 near the face of the canyon wall. It was a more difficult climb up a steep grade but we were rewarded with a perfect view of a lemur family, parents and baby.
We then followed the trail to a low spot where there was a natural pool and small waterfall. Patsy broke out the food, sharing break and cheese with everyone. It was a simple but much welcomed snack as we took in the natural beauty of the surroundings.
DAY 13 (PM) – Monday, September 27th
After the break part of the group chose to continue on to the next canyon where they saw white lemurs. The rest of the group knew they had to endure the return hike back to the car with what energy they had left. They went back to the hotel, rested and made plans to go to Todd's favorite spot to view the sunset. The group that continued on, spotted the white lemurs right near the entrance to the canyon. These lemurs where quite larger and easier to spot against the green trees. They continued to hike deeper into the canyon to the boulder zone where they took a rest and then turned around for the long hike back.
One unexpected surprise was seeing the coffin of a local royal family member. They were preparing to raise the coffin high into the cliffs the next day where it will be stored for 5 years. Afterwards they remove the coffin, clean the bones and worship the remains as a form of ancestor worship. This was a very rare display of the private rituals not many people get to witness.
The hike back to the truck didn't seem as long but many people had run out of water and were getting tired. Todd drove us back to the hotel where we cleaned up, had a wonderful dinner. After dinner the group gathered in the lounge area of the hotel where we all shared our Christ Like Moments. Then Todd and Patsy spoke about the impact a trip like this has on many people. After being immersed in such a different culture for 2 weeks and seeing the poverty first hand and up close it can be difficult readjusting back to our “normal” lives. This was a very nice thing to discuss. It gave many of the group time to share some of the emotional feelings that they have dealt with and to ask questions about how to process some of the experiences. Feelings of guilt and sadness are natural after being embarrassed by such nice people who appear to be suffering from what amounts to just back luck while the rest of us return to homes, swimming pools and super markets. This is why mission trips are such an important experience. It helps us appreciate the blessings of our lives and it gives us a chance to enjoy the true glory that comes from helping and sharing our faith with those “less fortunate”. The term, less fortunate can only be spoken, coming from a perspective where we take modern conveniences for granted. The people we met a rich in ways we don't recognize without really putting forth an effort to understand their lives beyond what we see. They enjoy a rich oral tradition of stories, talking and singing. We are often separated by use of text messaging and watching reality TV. They would have a difficult time understanding how we would trade face-to-face time with friends for time in-front of a TV. More about this in the summary...
The group spoke a length about their experiences and how to process them as we return to our modern lives, and then we turned in for a nights rest with expectations of waking to aching muscles.
DAY 14 (AM) – Tuesday, September 28th
Everyone arrived for breakfast on-time and with very little complaint of aching muscles. We ordered our lunches at the same time as our breakfast so they would be ready when we returned from our morning adventures and so we could get on the road by 1:00PM. Some of the group chose to return to the canyons to see the white lemurs while others opted to visit the sapphire mines.
We drove 20 minutes to the mining town which was just down the main road. We parked and then walked through the town which let out to a village of mud huts which quickly ran out and we found ourselves in a desert. The sapphires are found about 90 feet below the surface which was mostly clay and gravel. Small exploratory holes are dug while they try to find the right sediment. Then they follow the sediment to a depth where they find water. Then in the water layer among the dirt and gravel they sift the dirt for sapphires. National Geographic and the BBC had just visit this site a month earlier. We saw active digging and sites where they excavated huge pits. A Sri Lankan company hires local workers to dig and the government charges a leasing fee. It was grueling hard work but the alternative would be to use modern equipment putting 600 people out of work. It was a hard lesson in economics as we watched the operation inaction. Rick picked up a shovel to join the diggers who must have thought he was crazy. We then walked back to the mining store where they sold finished stones and fossils found in the mine. It was another up-close look at a way of life so different from our own. Several of us bought stones and then returned to our hotel. It was a very interesting tour.
DAY 14 (PM) – Tuesday, September 28th
Back at the hotel we cleaned up, checked out of our rooms, ate lunch and then settled into the vehicles for the 3 hour drive back to Toliara. Our flight was scheduled to take-off at 6:00PM later that evening. The drive back was somber as we took in the last views of a country we were just getting to know. The baobob trees slipped by and the mud hut villages along the main road passed by like scenes in a movie. So many people smiled and waved as we passed not knowing who we were or where we were from, but their custom of greeting everyone they see was so warm and friendly. The road cut through the dry landscape as we twisted and turned through the villages.
As Toliara appeared on the horizon we were confused by the haze in the air. The air quality had not been bad our entire trip. We though it might be a fire or maybe even clouds. Then we realized it was a dust storm. With so little rain, as the wind picked up the read clay dust was whipped into the air and hung there like smog. We arrived at the Victory to find the pool covered in a red dusting of clay. Everything was dusty as the picked up the clay and tossed it in every direction.
We recovered our luggage, made some small adjustments, changed our clothes in the pool cabana, and we toasted Todd and Patsy for doing such a fine job. Three women from Andranomena just barely made it to the hotel on-time to give us gifts of straw hats and wood carvings that appeared to have just been made that morning. They were sent as representatives of all the people we helped and were so grateful for our visit. It was such an honor to be thanked in such a generous and unexpected way. This is an example of how you really do take so much more from a mission trip than you can ever bring. The feelings of gratitude and sincere thankfulness we seem to loose in our modern world as life moves so fast and we barely have time to give thanks and appreciate.
DAY 14 (departure) – Tuesday, September 28th
Despite Todd's pleas to wait, our group was anxious to get to the airport and check-in. We are so used to long security lines and hassles we arrived at the Toliara airport to find our check-in took about 5 minutes and there was no more security than one officer who looked everyone up and down and passed them out to the tarmac to board the plane. Our bags where checked all the way through to Miami – what a treat after having to claim them twice on the inbound trip. We took a group picture, did some last minute shopping in the souvenir shop and took turns hugging Todd and Patsy.
On-board we took off, with all our bags this time and we were off to Antananarivo. In Tana it turned out we did have to claim our bags. We knew the drill. We got our carts, collected our bags and, what was that?! We thought we saw 2 lemurs in a box and chickens in a straw bag come off the baggage carousel. We walked the narrow hallway to the next check-in counter to find some in our group had been helped by one of the overly aggressive baggage handlers. No one seemed to have any Airyary to tip him. Rick even tried giving him his lucky Honduran Lempira but thank goodness Emily, our treasurer had some cash left. We were checked in and lined up to board our flight to Paris. On-board we were delayed as there was lots of noise form the baggage compartment on the plane. As it turned out, some other passenger had trouble in security and now we all needed to deplane and identify our bags. All the luggage was taken off the plane and lined up on the tarmac. The entire ordeal took almost 3 hours before we were finally in the air. We knew we were going to miss our American Airlines connection Paris but it was too soon to panic. We slept, ate, watched a movie and TerryLynn kept tabs on what information the flight attendants could share with her. In Paris, they let us exit the plane first – you never would have pegged us as missionaries base on how much we pushed and shoved to get off that plane quickly, but I promise no one was hurt. We ran for the ticket counter only to find our connecting flight had just left. Debra negotiated with the American Airlines people and the Madagascar Air people to find a solution. As it turned out, AA and Mad Air have no relationship. Mad Air claimed they met their obligation by delivering us and our baggage to our final destination. AA claimed it was no fault of theirs we missed the flight. In the end we all had to pay $150 to re-book on the next available flight which was leaving for Chicago with a connection to Miami. After a long debate we all took out our credit cards and paid the $150. Meanwhile, Rick and Cordella were not in favor of having to clear customs, immigration and make a connection with only 1 hour in Chicago so they opted to take an offer from Mad Air to stay overnight in Paris and leave the following morning on the original flight, non-stop to Miami. This seemed like a good idea, as it gave them 5 hours to walk around Paris, enjoy a free hotel stay and they even included a meal in the hotel restaurant. They said goodbye to the rest of the group who continued on without incident. It was chaotic and Debra tried very hard to manage all the stress coming at her from all directions. Her daughter was ill and she and Kirk wanted to get home as quick as possible. Several in the group had obligations to be in NY or Chicago or other cities so staying was not an option. The took AA flight # 41, Paris to Chicago, then connected on AA flight #2378 Chicago to Miami arriving at 8:00PM. We hope our travel insurance will reimburse us for this cost.
Paris – Wednesday, September 29th
Rick and Cordella wound up having a nice walk around Paris, although they were stuck wearing the only clothes they had – and the shoes they had on. They took the shuttle from the airport to the hotel Ibis. The Ibis is right across from the train station which heads into the heart of downtown. They took a 45 minute train ride and emerged at the Eiffel Tower. They walked from Eiffel to Arch DE Triumph, along the Champs Elysees and along the Seine. The evening was cool so they ended their walk early and explored a local grocery store before returning to their hotel. They say they had a chance to see Paris but they didn't DO Paris. The next morning they awoke and returned to the airport to find they only had 2 of their 4 bags being held at the AA counter. They flew back to Miami without any trouble, filed a claim at the AA Missing Baggage counter and were driven back to West Palm Beach by Rick's Dad. Rick called Debra from the airport to confirm with her that everything was fine and the trip was a success. Back in WPB, after 48 hours of worrying Rick and Cordella's bags were delivered to their home and everything was in tact. The trip had come to a close.
Some reflections on the trip to capture some of the feelings and emotions that may not be apparent in a day-to-day journal narrative.
- We shouldn't be quick to judge or evaluate local living conditions based on our own lives and how we live in the USA. What may appear to be dirty or primitive may hold hidden values we have long forgotten and that are still held in high regard by other people. This is so true when it comes to wet/open-air markets vs. supermarkets. Fresh, crawling, clucking, swimming animals can easily be seen and evaluated to be healthy and fresh when found in a “wet market”. We are hard to even identify the species of some products we buy and consume even though it may be on a Styrofoam plate under sterile plastic wrap.
- On the surface it may appear the medical clinic may have only provided a single check-up or provided treatment that couldn't have a big impact on the health of a village. Yet realize, most of these people have never been diagnosed and do not know what diseases they may have. The man with leprosy was treated, counseled and instructed to seek care in the city. He was warned not to infect his family. Otherwise he would likely have gone home, been cared for by his family and died from his illness while also infecting many others. So many other people were treated for more minor problems, which if left untreated could fester into life threatening illnesses. One visit from a doctor to an area like this could have a long lasting effect. Aubin, who translated and assisted the medical team closely observed every diagnosis and treatment. He gained enough experience to where he was diagnosing patients by himself. This ability could be passed along in a similar way that we learn how to self diagnose the typical illnesses we experience. Aubin can now easily recognize leprosy, syphilis and hookworm.
- Everyone should visit a 3rd world country and experience the uncertainty and drama of everyday life. Electricity goes out, goats suddenly block traffic from passing on a road, police roadblocks stop traffic for routine checks and the sights and smells are inescapable as they assault you and greet you. The only way to understand how lucky we are in the USA is to share a day with someone who, for what ever reason, has been destined to lead a life comprised almost entirely of searching for food and water and caring for family.
- We visited the lemur park and the arboretum to support the local economy. This is important, as it encourages the locals to preserve and protect their natural resources which also employ guides and bring in tourism dollars. Without tourists visiting and helping to generate an income from the worlds rainforests, beaches or lemur parks, there is no reason for the local to value them and thus will more likely slash, burn or eat the resources we claim to value so highly and admire on the Nature Channel.
- Honduras, Haiti, Madagascar, the Philippines or Belle Glade Florida all have a section of the population who live in poverty. The World Monetary Fund (WMF) considers those making less than $1.25 per day living in poverty. Working a sapphire mine for $2.00U.S. Per day is above the WMF poverty line. REALLY?! Most people are surprised to discover that in areas where people make $2.00 per day it does NOT mean it is cheaper to live than it is in the USA. Gasoline costs $6.00 per gallon, food is more expensive, electricity and water are more expensive when you can find it, and the only thing that is cheap is labor. $2.00 in Madagascar will buy you a 50 gallon drum of water pumped from a truck on the side of the road and then people carry to their homes in 5 gallon pails. $2.00 in Honduras will buy a few beans and rice which will feed a family of 6. $2.00 in Haiti will buy a plate of pork deep fried on the side of the road which will be the single meal to feed 2 people for a day. To see homes built from mud and sticks and no sight of school anywhere on the horizon drives home the definition of abject poverty. It is not only a monetary state, it is a state of living without access to health care, education, clean water, housing or food.
- The average person in FL consumes 150 gallons (567 liters) of water per day – this includes bathing, washing clothes, watering the grass, washing the car, flushing, drinking and cooking. The average person in Betaola, Madagascar consumes 2 liters of water per day. Wastefulness is a sin. It not only takes from the environment more than is necessary, it also makes us clouds our thinking of what is “normal”. We need to take a hard look at our habits and consider what we could do better if not for ourselves then for the future generations who are doomed to repeat our mistakes.
- Madagascar was amazing. Todd and Patsy are doing amazing work and are giving 100% percent of themselves to the people they council. They are growing a diocese that will have a far reaching and long lasting impact.