A Weekend Trip to Ambohimahtatsinjo
On Saturday, November 14th, I woke up around twenty past four to take a shower , dress and leave to meet my taxi at the round-a-bout in Talatamaty. Its about a ten minute walk, and I left at a quarter past 5 am. It was already light, and had been so for close to 40 minutes. A Malagasy man, that I don’t know stop and offered a ride, after talking with him, I discovered that Laura and I have spoken with his daughter who we met on a bus. He dropped me off at the round-a-bout where I walked over to the gas station, and just then the taxi driver found me. We then proceeded to pickup Bro. Ernest at his house.
A little over an hour later, we arrived in Mahazo, at the bus station where we would find our bus toward the village. Now when I say, “bus station”, it is not the kind you’re probably used to. This bus station is really a glorified ally that is a one way street. Maybe thirty feet wide or so, busses backed in to the left side of a narrow cobblestone road just to right of center, and on the left side of the road is a drainage gutter that is maybe eighteen inches deep with no barrier. Sellers mill around in and out and between the busses selling bread and butter, sausages and salamis, cheap watches, sunglasses, flashlights. Seasonally, there are sellers selling rain coats.
Ernest went to buy our tickets which cost about $1.33 each for a two hour trip. For this trip, Ernest had called ahead to reserve the front bench seat next to the driver, because it has more leg room for me. I am not that tall, at 5’ 10”, but compared to most people I must seem like a giant. The bus “normally” would seat around 20 to 25 passengers. But, here in Madagascar, they assume that number as a recommendation and not a limit, and so there are at least 35 people packed like sardines in this bus. The bus has a left side row of benches that face forward, each being able to seat two people, tightly side by side with a very narrow aisle. When someone walks the aisle they turn side ways to slide past rubbing up against everyone on an aisle seat. The bus fills up, and between the seats, in the aisle way, a board is placed for someone to sit on. Now, there are five people sitting in each row, and when there are more people traveling, sometimes a sixth person is forced into an already very tightly packed row. I have seen a person sitting on another persons lap to fill the “quota”. The problem is that often the vans are over the legal limit, so when the van gets stopped at a check point, the driver usually gives the police a 500 ariary bribe, around $.15-$.20, to let them pass through. Personal space is a concept that seems to not exist here.
We arrived at the station a little after six, purchased tickets, and then threw our bags up on the cargo rack. Then we went to the market around the corner and up the street. Since we are going to be in the village for a few days, and we also provide for a group lunch on Saturday for the students of the Bible Institute, we take a couple of kilos of carrots, and potatoes, a hand full of onions, a bunch of chives, a few limes, a half dozen eggs, along with 2 kilos of fresh meat.
While I am standing in front of the meat stall, there are several large pieces of red meat hanging from hooks over the counter. In the market you can find dried fish, fresh chicken, duck, pork, and beef. I prefer the beef. Blood drips from the haunches of meat and splashes on the white tile counter. The blood pools and runs through the grout lines as if it is a purpose built drainage system and runs off the front of the counter splashing on the pavement at my feet. Ernest is talking to the butcher about the price of meat, which is about $.60 more there than on our side of town, I examine the meat hanging on the hooks. Something odd catches my attention and at first I think that the motion of the meat is from it swinging, and then I realize that this meat is very, very fresh. Flies are buzzing around and lighting on the meat, but then the meat twitches. I inspect the other pieces which still twitching also. The meat twitches from muscles spasms still, I tell Ernest and he looks, and tells me that’s the first time he has seen that.
We finish at the market and return to the bus. Since we are in the front seat for this trip we have to wait outside, because people are still filling the seats in back, and there are only two doors, the back hatch, and the front passenger door. Finally, around 8 the bus is full and we leave. Schedules aren’t top priority here. We leave when the bus is full, and only when the bus is full.
Just prior to leaving I visit the Public Pay Toilet, I walk up to the window and tell the person inside weather I have to go, “mipipy” or “mikaka”. The first costs 50 ariary and the second will cost 100 ariary. It takes about two hours of jostling, and lurching in our seats before we get to the disembarking point. The village we are in is Tetezana, which means bridge, and there is a bridge we cross before the bus stops. Our baggage is handed down from the cargo rack on the top of the bus. We also “tip” him 500 ariary for getting us the front seat. As we pulled up to our stop, Patrice and Bruno, the two men in the Bible institute, are waiting for us by the side of the road. After a few minutes, and a quick stop to pick up a couple of things at a shop, we each grab a bag and start on the path for the village. From Tetezana, we have a 45 minute walk up the mountain to our destination village of Ambohimahatsinjo. About 5 or so minutes into our walk, we meet two men, one of which is going to be working on the new church building. So, we stop and Ernest, p\Patrice, and Bruno discuss some details. After what seems like about 30 or 40 minutes, we continue and not stopping until we arrive at Patrice’s house at noon. We brought bread, which is quickly cut and buttered, and tea is brought out. We pray, and have a snack before I begin teaching this weeks doctrine lesson on the Church. I teach for about 85 minutes, and then we break for lunch. Lunch consists of vary maina, cooked dry rice, and laoka, which is a type of soup of beans, meat, onions, zuchini. This is a treat for the folks in the village because we brought fresh produce and meat. Normally they eat rice and some cooked greens, along with whatever they managed to catch from the river or if they butchered a chicken, duck or rabbit. We resume our doctrine lesson at 2:30 and continue until about 10 minute to 4:00. I didn’t finish the lesson, only about half way through. Afterwards, we walk up to the church, for Ernest and the others to work with the children on songs for the Christmas program. I lay down in the grass out side, pull my floppy hat down over my eyes and try to rest as I am listening to a couple of podcasts. At this point, I have been going and going for about 12 hours with no break. The sun starts to set, there is a thick haze over the mountains, which turns the color of the sun into deep orange. The temperature starts to drop a little as the evening closes in. Its after six when we finally return to Patrice’s house and have dinner by candle light. We talk a little after dinner, I mainly listen, but able to understand some. I get a half bucket of water from the water barrel and go out to the makeshift shower stall outside. Its dark so I use my LED strip light. I’ve learned that taking a shower at night is a little warmer than in the morning when my body temp will be much cooler and the temperature of the water has lowered. Around 20 after 8:00, I lay down on my grass mattress across the room from where Bro. Ernest is sleeping, and go sleep. Around 4:00 or 5:00, I hear some movement on the porch and in the kitchen. Patrice and his wife are preparing breakfast for us. I lay in my bed for a little while just thinking, and trying to wake up for the day, when Brother Ernest gets ups rapidly and starts going about his day. Soon, we set down for breakfast at the table that is at the other end of the room. After breakfast, I finish my sermon for the morning service, get dressed. I brush my teeth while standing on the porch. I use bottled water to brush my teeth and drink. After I comb my hair, I pack my Bible into my backpack and head out to church. After the morning service, which is held in a makeshift building covered in tarps and plastic sheeting, we return to Patrice’s house for lunch, and then I take a nap. We have another service at 3:30, and I try to listen, but end up just tuning out. At this point, my brain is fried from preaching, and then speaking Malagasy all weekend. Ernest and I were invited to Bruno’s house for dinner. We waited near his house for him to return from getting his Zebu (cow) from pasturing. Bruno’s mother lives next door and invites us in to talk. She is a member of the church, and considers it a privilege for the pastor and missionary to visit. She gives us some mangahazo or manioc, which has been cooked in here aluminum pot over a charcoal fire. Politely we eat a small amount, knowing that this is some of what they will eat for their dinner. We pray with Bruno’s mom and then we leave. Haingo, Bruno’s wife is preparing dinner, and their three boys are inside the house with her. We ask if Bruno has returned, but not yet, so we wait outside. Then, Haingo comes outside with a bucket of slop for their only pig. The pig stands on its hind legs resting his front legs on the top of the small gate, like a dog. After the pig is fed, and Haingo retreats back inside, We walk into the bottom floor of the house, which is dirt, and back in the corner is a very steep and rickety stairs with chickens roosting on the steps. There is a thick smell of fermenting grass along with some chicken manure. We ascend the steps, careful to not step on a chicken and squeeze ourselves through the opening leading to the second floor. We are now in a small room, where a cast net hangs from a rafter, and large metal chest sits in the corner. To my left, I pass through a low doorway, which leads me into the single room of the house. In the left corner is a family bed, about the size of a double. This bed is where all five of the family members sleep. In the middle of the room, there is a small table a little larger than a card table. In the back right corner, there is a metal oil barrel, that is used to beat the grains of rice from the heads of the stalks. On top of this barrel is a pile of clothes for the different members of the family. Immediately to my right is a bench for Ernest and me. Then, in the corner is a steep stairs to the attic where the cooking takes place. Haingo disappears up the stairs to the attic, followed by Bruno and the two older boys. The boys eat upstairs, but Bruno and Haingo return with rice, and beans, and a plate of indistinguishable meat. We pray, and then begin eating. A dish that is half bowl and half plate is set before me along with a single spoon. I dish out a plate of rice, then spoon the beans on top with a little of the juice to moisten the rice. After I see that Ernest takes a piece of what is some sort of meat, I look a little closer and discover that the meats is actually cow tongue. I select my piece, pull out my pocket knife and trim of the outer sheath of the tongue. The tongue tastes like roast beef, but I only eat one piece. I thank them for the food and cow tongue. But I said, “Misaotra aminy Lelo” and when I look at Ernest I notice he has a questioning look on his face. I ask him if that was correct, he said no, and told me the word for tongue, which is lela. And then I remembered that Lelo is the word for snot, and Lela is for tongue. I apologize and say it correctly, while everyone enjoys a laugh. Later, I asked Ernest about the tongue and he told me it was from Bruno’s calf that had died three days ago. Bruno’s Uncle had given him some land, and someone in the community thought he was getting rich, so they asked Bruno for land. Bruno told them it was impossible to give them land, and they then responded by poisoning his calf. So, once the calf was dead they butchered it and had been eating it.
After dinner, we talked and then Ernest and I take our leave and return home. Bruno walks with us, and once we get on to the main path we hear a mans voice in the dark from the direction we are going. We continue and as we get closer I recognize the voice as Bruno’s father. Bruno’s father is a Fokotany President, a sort of mayor, and lives next door to Bruno. He is sitting stone drunk in the middle of the cart path, mumbling about someone taking his money or something. Bruno helps his dad back to their house and Ernest and I proceed to our lodgings at Patrice’s. Once we have arrived at Patrice’s house I take another shower before bed, and then retire for the evening. Ernest’s alarm on his phone sounds at 2 am, we wake up, and pack our things for the trip. An hour or so before we rise, I had heard Bako, Patrice’s wife working on making rice for breakfast. Breakfast was vary laina, wet cooked rice, and some fried eggs, and left over laoka. At 2:30 we leave on the 45 minute hike down to the bus station. We arrive, wait and at a quarter to 4:00, we leave, making the two hour return trip to the bus station we departed from. After going across town and dealing with traffic I arrive home at 10 am. The total distance from my house the village is 72 km (about 40 miles) and it took us seven and a half hours to cover.