by Clare Sandy, Andranomena, Madagascar
One thing that has struck me most about the difference between my life here and life in America is that here it's so apparent where everything comes from and goes. In the United States, I rarely thought about where my tap water came from, how it was made potable, or where it ended up when it went down the drain. This is true not only for water, but for practically everything.
If you eat chicken here, it was probably running around your yard the day before, and you know the person who plucked it. If you buy fish, it was pulled out of the water that morning by the neighbor's kids. Any trash or garbage gets thrown outside and eaten by animals, composted, burned, or buried. The villagers grow or raise almost all their own food, and the wood or charcoal they use to cook it on comes from the rapidly diminishing forest surrounding the villages. Even when I would flush the toilet in the United States, I wouldn't think about where that flush went, but here you either use the woods or build a latrine.
A couple of times, I've reached for a non-existent light switch when coming into my dark house in the evening; it's automatic to expect to have light whenever we need it in the United States. Now I have to buy candles and lamp oil. I have to plan ahead so I don't run out, and remember to light them before it gets too dark to see.
by Rob Roberts, St. Augustin, Madagascar
I entered the room to visit a friend, who had just recently given birth to a healthy baby girl. It was midday. All the windows were shut, and the room was noticeably hot.
I saw her sitting on the bed. She had a jacket on and a blanket draped around her shoulders. Sweat was dripping off her face. It was difficult to believe that she could be comfortable in such a situation. As it turns out, she wasn't. But that didn't seem to matter.
She was following the traditional practices of women having given birth. Her mother was her caretaker and she was only content if her daughter was very hot and sweating profusely. She had also forbidden the new mother to wash herself. Only after a month would she be allowed to do so.
Her diet was similarly restricted. It consisted mostly of large bowls of rice in hot water, a souplike concoction. Many foods of the normal Malagasy diet were not allowed. Furthermore, she had to drink several large bowls of aoly, a special tea made with the leaves of a local plant. It is made especially for women after birth.
by Robin Larson Paulin, Andranofasika, Madagascar
Joe and I were having dinner at a restaurant in our village, and when we returned home we discovered that our house had been broken into and that my bike had been stolen. We ran back to the village and told as many people as possible in our broken Malagasy that there had been a thief in the house. Within seconds the church bells were ringing and hundreds of people swarmed to the center of the village, yelling and screaming. People divided up into search parties and began to search the forest. Everyone in my village—kids, the elderly—were out and about to help find my bike. I was sitting on the side of the road with my head down, tired from all the running and excitement, when people told me to run again. I could hear people chanting and singing coming down the road. Hundreds of people surrounded Joe as he walked the bike back to the village. Within an hour my bike was home. The support from our community was amazing. It was so reassuring that they would take such good care of us in our time of need. Finding my bike meant so much to everyone! I honestly feel that if I were home in the United States. and my bike were stolen, I'd probably never see it again and would never receive the support I did that night from the Malagasy people. It was a wonderful experience!
by Jina Sagar, Ambalahenko, Madagascar
Time was always very consistent in the United States. Essentially, you set your watch and it ticked along incrementally all day. In Ambalahenko, when I ask a villager what time it is, he looks up. Wristwatches are both unreliable and unaffordable here, so time must be told by the sun's passage. Another method villagers have for telling time is the crowing of the roosters in the wee hours of the morning. "What time are you going into town?" I ask. "When the second rooster crows," they answer, meaning 4 a.m. In the absence of electricity, events are sometimes scheduled by the phases of the moon. Parties are planned for the ample light of the full moon. Time is also told by the tides. A villager tells me, "The women will go out fishing the next time the tide is low and the wind has fallen." I have found myself using this new version of time! I catch myself saying, "We'll go when the moon is full," not even glancing at my wristwatch.