Sunday, July 31, 2016

Worship at Sakaraha today

For members of St James the Less  - Reverend Hery was so impressed with our singing the refrain to "How great thou art"  in Malagasy last week, that he included the hymn in today's worship!

The four people in red or teal anoraks walked 12 hours to come to Church - 8 hours on Saturday and then 4 hours on Sunday morning (and then 12 hours back, of course). That's real determination to worship!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Adjusting the road bridge before we drove over it, on the way back from Soatanana!

Photos of Lac Hotel, Sahambavy:

Tana to Fianar photos - 2 Soatanana Weaving Village


Today we visited the nature reserve operated as a cooperative of the nearby village of Antja.  This gave us our second fix of lemur viewing, as the reserve contains several families of ring-tailed lemurs.

The local people at Antja use the tetradecimal (i.e., base 14) number system.  In the familiar decimal (i.e., base ten) number system, 12 (say) represents one lot of 10 and two units.   In the hexadecimal (i.e., base 16) number system much used in computer science 12 represents one lot of sixteen and two units – a total of eighteen.   Analogously, in the tetradecimal number system, 12 represents one lot of fourteen and two units – a total of sixteen.   You get the idea.

Why do the villagers at Antja use the base fourteen number system, a practice that (as far as anyone has been able to ascertain) is unique in the entire world?   The explanation is as follows.   We use the base ten system because we can count to ten using our fingers, but then need to start over as we’ve run out of fingers.  In Antja, the villagers carry around the tails of the ring-tailed lemur.  (Presumably this was originally for talismanic reasons, though the roots of this cultural practice are now only conjectural.)  Extraordinarily enough (contrast with cats for example), every ring-tailed lemur has precisely fourteen black stripes on its tail.*  It was therefore natural for the Antja villagers to count in multiples of fourteen.

·        *  Some sources suggest that the scientific Latin name for ring-tailed lemurs (catta catta) may be a corruption of the Latin word for the number fourteen quattuodecim.  Whether that is so or not, catta catta definitely does not derive from the Malagasy name for these lemurs, which is maki, based on some of their calls.

Tana to Fianar photos - 1

Paul at the seed shop

Telma phone shop

Wood carving at Soa Guesthouse, Antsirabe

Traditional dancers at lunchtime
Hotel Artisan, Ambositra

Friday, July 29, 2016

Tana to Fianar (or, in full, Antananarivo to Fianarantsoa).

Much has happened since we last wrote in the blog.  We have not really had much internet connection, or time to write, so I’m playing catch up tonight! Photos will be added to this when I have a better connection!

Soa Guesthouse at Antsirabe lived up to its “good” name – pun fully intended here, as Soa is the Malagasy word for good.  It was beautifully decorated, with pretty plantings outside and good food too!  We lay outside on the grass looking at the stars (one of Paul’s many enthusiasms in life).  Tonight’s (Friday’s) stars at Antsirabe were even more striking as we had a wider view of the sky.  Even as the sun was setting we were able to see, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury (Paul tells us we are in the top 1% of people in this day and age, who have seen Mercury with the naked eye) Saturn and Mars, plus the southern cross and more! 

Our bungalow on stilts, in the lake at Lac Hotel, Fianarantsoa is beautiful, and there are wonderful plants growing in the gardens here, along with lettuce, herbs and cute animals which will turn into dinner (makes one think of becoming vegetarian).

We had a wonderful day, taking a 3 hour drive as a detour off the main road – indeed off anything approaching a road for the last portion -  to visit a silk weaving village called Soatanana (“Good Village”).  The occasional stop was made to reassemble the wood bridges before driving over them!
On the way we stopped to see the tapia forests, where the Malagasy silkworms live out their life cycle.  The village protects the trees so that there is food for this native silkworm, which lives only on these trees.  We were shown the preparation of the cocoons, spinning with a drop spindle, winding the skeins via a home-made umbrella swift, and warping of the threads, before we entered one of the houses to see a woman weaving.  It was like good back in time to the Middle Ages, with space downstairs for the animals at night (and storage of her bicycle!) and one room upstairs with bed, cooking pots and weaving loom.  But this was not a re-enactment – it is real life.  The whole village of women and children had turned out to show us their wares, and threads.  They work as a collective and make a small charge to visitors to pay for the upkeep of the road and so on.   We tried to buy from each family, to be as fair as possible. 

Other highlights of the trip so far:

  •           finding a road-side stall and buying 16 packets of vegetable seeds for a hoped-for garden in Toliara, ready for Glen Tracy’s visit next February.  Now we need to find / make good soil.  Maybe Paul can teach Pierre how to turn the pig manure into good compost ready for Glen’s visit.
  •           buying a Malagasy phone and plan for 30 days for around $30.  We couldn’t have done this without the help of Maggie and Paul and their fluent French – let alone Paul’s cell phone knowledge from his days developing cell phones!
  •           having lunch in Antsirabe while watching the traditional dancers
  •           being thankful for electricity at home – such a privilege!  It was challenging getting washed, dressed and packed by small flashlight before dawn.  (The generator at Hotel Artisan is switched off between midnight and 6am.)
  •          seeing our first two lemurs of the trip on a small island just outside Paul & Maggie’s bungalow.
  •          discovering it was worth bringing silk long-johns to survive the chill of Ambositra, and that wearing a t-shirt, collared shirt and both fleeces to eat dinner may be undignified but makes the unheated restaurant much pleasanter!
  •          having fascinating conversations with several young people from the lycee (secondary school) near Lac Hotel.  They had heard us speaking in English and came to practice their language skills, which were very impressive (especially considering they had all only just finished first grade). 
  •          a small heater in the room at Lac Hotel, which has made writing this manageable.  It is luxurious after the last few cold nights.
  •          further gratitude for hot water, and a consistent supply of it.  Cries of “no, shower, no!” emanated from it this morning as the water turned cold part way through! Argh!

Quote of the trip (so far) from Paul:  “I am very interested in carrots”!  (He meant to say “stars”!)

Tomorrow (Saturday) we will visit Madagascar’s only tea plantation and see more ring-tailed lemurs (“maki”) as we travel on to Isalo.  Sunday we will worship at Holy Trinity (Trinite Masina) at Sakaraha church.  


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Pity there's no snow!

Some of you may merely have glanced at the title of this post and concluded that I must be alright as I'm in a typically whimsical mode.

If you have so concluded, you would be correct.   28 hours of air travel passed better than expected, and we arrived safely at Antananarivo airport.  The altitude reading on the plane when we landed read 1268 metres (about 3800 feet) above sea level, which is higher than many Austrian ski villages.  The Malagasy capital is 18th highest in the world.  No wonder, then, that although it's in the tropics, it's a bit chilly in the middle of the southern hemisphere winter.

Now what if there were snow in Madagascar?   Skiing and lemurs would be an awesome combination.  I think I might be tempted to come live here!


At Manga Guesthouse. Thanks be to God!

Hurrah! Everything went very smoothly with all three flights, including our friends (Maggie and Paul) arriving just as we started to board in Paris.  All our baggage arrived and we got to Manga around 2 a.m.

Breakfast soon, and then we set off for the drive to Antsirabe.  The sun is fighting with the clouds, and might win!  

Extraordinarily, while we were having juice in Paris airport, we heard "Hello, Babbs!" and there were Bruce, Shay and Abigail Mason, on their return from Tana.  It was lovely for both sleep-deprived families to have time to catch up on each other's news, and to keep each other awake for our next flights!  We had seen Avery on Sunday at St James the Less, with his grandparents,  We had been sad not to be able to be here at the same time as the Mason family this year, so it was great to catch up in these ways! 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Even the smallest details!

Late last week, I received an email from Miriam at the Church of the Annunciation, Gurnee, Illinois, saying they would like to help doing something for Toliara again in the future.  I had no idea what that might be.  

Then on Sunday morning several large bags of fabric arrived. Miriam stopped by to collect them today, and once again the Church of the Annunciation members will be washing and ironing fabric ready for stitching, in the fall, to make bags for more Days for Girls kits. 

Thanks to Carol for donating the fabric, Val for transporting it, and for the willingness of Miriam and members of Church of the Annunciation to do more laundry!

Before the fabric arrived on Sunday morning, I was given around 50 reading glasses, some with cases but mostly without them.  Lo and behold, the bags of fabric contained some pieces of ready-quilted fabric, which have now been serged into simple glasses cases! 

Thanks be to God, for great timing and once again for His careful planning of even the smallest details!