Saturday, July 28, 2018

And even more photos!

More photos of Nahampoana

Outing to Nahampoana Reserve

On Friday morning we took Dean Donne and his wife, Vero, the Days for Girls team, (Viviane, Harisoa, Josianne and translator Miza) Evangelist, Antsa, and her husband, Olive, and baby, Joy, and student evangelist, Gaston (brother of Gaston who is in seminary) to Nahampoana Reserve to see the park and lemurs and share a picnic lunch.  It was a lovely relaxing time for the whole team!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Prayers and prayers...

Simon was unwell for a couple of days, even bedridden, but is now on the mend.  He is back to eating a little food. Thankfully he was just about strong enough to fly across the diocese to Fort Dauphin, in the south east corner of Toliara province. 

We received a wonderful welcome from Dean Donne (the priest) and Neny Vero  (his wife) at the airport.  Neny Vero had been in the class in Toliara town, and had travelled back by taxi brousse.  She looked so pleased to see Simon and I when she saw us inside the terminal.  They then rode on their motor bike ahead of the taxi along with a group of women, children and a couple of men at the church, Santa Gregoire, which is paired with St Gregory’s, Deerfield, IL.  Some of these women had walked for two hours from Betaliny and Ampasinapoana churches to come to welcome Simon and Sue.  This was the first time that we received the French style greeting of three “kisses” on the cheek with everyone.  It takes much longer!!  At the end we received the traditional ten-clap Malagasy welcome, followed by sodas and cookies in Dean Donne’s home.

Simon is so grateful for his recovery and prays he continues to stay healthy.

I, Sue, have now had a less bad version of Simon’s stomach upset – and hope that I am now over that. Patsy, Jacky and Simon laid hands on me yesterday afternoon before Patsy and Jacky left for the afternoon DfG presentation. I felt a prompting within me to take a deep breath, breathing in the Holy Spirit who gives us life – and there was an instant change in my stomach and intestines: peace reigned (and has done so since then!) Hallelujah!

The bad news about it meant that Simon and I were not well enough to go to yesterday’s presentation at Betaliny (but missed a spectacular car ride: gas fumes in taxi; water coming in through the car floor when they forded a stream; battery then being flat for their return journey because of the water and finally an electrical fire in the engine!) The good news was that we were able to spend 4.5 hours re-packing DfG heavy flow kits into post-partum kits for the maternity clinic visits).

Today (Friday) is a full day out – taking the team to a lemur reserve in the morning followed by another DfG presentation at Ampasinapoana.  Saturday is a maternity clinic visit, bookkeeping for Simon and DfG presentation at Santa Gregoire.  Please pray that we have strength for these longer days. 

I have woken with a sore throat, and am concerned that I need my voice to preach on Sunday.  Please pray for me to make a quick recovery from that also.

There is very slow internet here.  We are grateful for your messages to us, but it is difficult to reply.  I won’t be able to post any photos.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Excellent Week!

We had an excellent week here in Toliara, teaching the women to teach others and then practising in various locations distributing kits.  We gave out kits in two different villages (Andranomena and Anketraka which are in the Cathedral Parish), in Santa Lioka Church, Ankilifaly (one of Rev. Noeli’s Churches), at Ambohimahavelo (one of Rev Theodore's Churches), Clinic St Luc and Ste Lucille School.

Teaching and distribution at Anketraka

Ste Lucille School

There are now a lot of women and girls in Madagascar singing “Happy birthday clean hands” in English!  It is the recommended Days for Girls’ teaching tool for the length of time it takes to wash one’s hands effectively.  At each line, one washes a different part of one’s hands.

On Saturday, we had time to review the making of some of the DfG kits and understand the changes in process that DfG have made in the last two years. 

On Sunday, we worshipped at Santa Filipo, Ambohitsabo - with a service led by two Bishops, two priests and two catechists, and various lay people.  

Now we are relaxing at Hotel de la Plage, Ambolimailaka, about an hour north up the coast from Toliara.  It is very beautiful and very peaceful.  

We have discovered that you get much more hot chocolate for breakfast than you do coffee! 

They also serve the best mint ice-cream I have ever had!  Very creamy and made with fresh spearmint.  I am hoping to have more with supper.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

From Z to A: Zwingli to Aristotle

As there is not an Episcopal seminary in Madagascar, would-be Episcopal clergy usually study at the Catholic University of Madagascar.  Not surprisingly, the dominant understanding of the Eucharist at that university is the theory of Transubstantiation held by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox branches of the Christian church.

Roman Catholics usually seek to explain Transubstantiation using philosophical ideas that derive from Aristotle.   So it seemed to Bishop Todd that -- given my acquaintance with the relevant philosophy -- I might be a suitable person to lead a discussion on the various ways Christians have sought to understand the Eucharist.

The participants in the session, held yesterday morning, were the same as in the previous day's session on Augustine and Anselm.

The obvious starting point for such a discussion -- or so it seems to me -- is whether Jesus meant his words "This is my body" and "This is my blood" to be taken metaphorically, as in (e.g.) his saying "I am the gate" (John 10:9), or literally as in (e.g.) "Love one another as I have loved you" -- or at least near-literally.

The 16th century Swiss Reformer, Huldrych Zwingli, took Christ's words strictly metaphorically.  According to his Memorialist view, the Eucharist is a powerful remembrance of Christ's life and death -- no more, no less.   Most Christians, however, have experienced Christ as present in the Eucharist in some special way not fully captured by Memorialism; this majority view is usually referred to as involving the Real Presence of Christ in some way.  But in what way?  Where exactly?  And how is this Real Presence supposed to work?

There is a spectrum of views about Real Presence, ranging from the Receptionism espoused in the young Church of England, through to Transubstantiation.  Transubstantiation is one of two views which reckon we should take literally Christ's sayings "This is my body" and "This is my blood".  According to Transubstantiation, the "substance" of the bread and wine cease to exist when they are consecrated, being replaced by the body and blood of Christ -- though leaving behind their "accidents" such as their appearance, taste, and the power to nourish our bodies.   "Substance" and "accidents" here do not carry their everyday meanings, but are technical terms drawn from Aristotelian philosophy.

So there you have it -- albeit without spelling out the intermediate views, or elaborating the philosophy bit about "substance" and "accidents" -- Eucharist from Zwingli to Aristotle.   But you didn't really expect all the details for free and in a blog post of less that 500 words, did you?

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Augustine and Anselm in southern Madagascar

This morning, we held the first of two philosophy sessions.   I was teaching mainly about the relation between faith and reason, as seen by Augustine (around 400AD) and Anselm (Bishop of Canterbury around 1100AD).  Both Augustine and Anselm wrote large amounts of sophisticated philosophy, as well as theology.  In the last couple of years, I had read some Anselm with one of the professors at Loyola, and with one of my fellow graduate students.  Last semester, I had taken a course of Augustine's philosophy from the professor with whom I had been reading Anselm.

One reason for using  Augustine's and Anselm's ideas is that they are way cool !  The range of issues they wrote about, and the novel ideas they came up with, and the way they positively valued responding to objections to their ideas, were all outstanding.   A second reason was that I was able to obtain their writings in both English and French (the language of secondary and higher education in Madagascar).

Several nationalities were present at the session -- Bishop Todd being American, Derek Waller (a 3-year missionary with his wife Jane whom Sue and I knew at university in the 1970s) being British, and the rest being Malagasy clergy, seminarians, and a student evangelist.  Assistant Bishop Samitiana did the heavy lifting of translating between English and Malagasy, for the benefit of those with limited or no English, or to translate questions from Malagasy into English so that I could try to answer them.  Sometimes, I and the other participants spoke in French, temporarily sparing Bishop Samitiana the need to translate.

This was my first ever experience of trying to teach philosophy.  So hey, let's make it a tri-lingual debut!

One major theme of Augustine, taken up also by Anselm, is "faith seeking understanding" -- the idea that Christians should tackle difficult questions relating to what we believe, with the aim of arriving (as best each of us is able) at an understanding of (say) how Jesus could be both human and divine, how the one God can exist as the three Persons of the Trinity, why God allows so much suffering, etc.   We did not tackle those huge questions themselves, but we looked, for example, at the advice Anselm gave in the early sections of his On the Incarnation of the Word

Here's the Cliff notes version of Anselm's advice:
Anselm points out that if our faith is second-hand, based merely on the testimony of others -- whether in Scripture or from listening to other Christians -- then we will lack experiential knowledge of God.  We will then not have enough grasp of the God about whom we are trying to think, and will likely get hopelessly lost if we try to tackle difficult issues.  So, whereas the quality of our moral or spiritual lives don't really affect our ability to do (say) mathematics, it is important to seek to lead consistent Christian lives if we wish to get our heads around (say) the Trinity.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Wonderful Days in Toliara!

Days for Girls trainings have been going really well. We are training over
30 women how to go out and teach others about women's health and hygiene and the use of DfG kits.  They came with notebooks and pens ready to take notes, and have been practising role play very hard, before going out today to do their first real-live presentation in the neighbouring village.  I was so proud of them.  Three years hard work on my part has finally come to fruition!

I hope you will all be able to see the two videos I posted on the People Reaching People website .

Simon has had two very good sessions with the Diocesan Accountant, working on
various aspects of the bookkeeping, budget, and keeping track of donations
made for designated projects.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Day 2 - post 3: Cabbage stuffed with strawberry coulis

After our visit to Ambohimanga we stopped for lunch at the nearby “Relais du Rova”.  The first two words in that name are French (“Inn of the”) while the third is Malagasy (“Palace”).  

Elaborate napkin folding at Relais du Rova

We invited Jocelin to eat with us, but he preferred to go off to the drivers’ table somewhere round the back.  Like many Malagasy restaurants, the Relais provides a meal for drivers who bring their clients there, by way of paying the drivers a commission.  We’ve sometimes wondered how the food that restaurants give drivers compares with that offered to clients.  On this occasion, it seems he had the same Malagasy pork dish as I had, though he chose beans for his vegetable while I was curious to try cassava leaves.

But, you may be wondering, what about the “cabbage stuffed with strawberry coulis”?

How could I resist such a choice from the dessert menu?  This dessert turned out to be profiteroles containing small scoops of ice-cream, accompanied by slices of strawberry at the side.   The joys of English(?) menus in foreign lands!   “Choux farci” is French for stuffed choux pastry – and thus an alternative way of saying “profiteroles”, while “chou” is the French for cabbage.  Thus profiteroles with strawberries at the side had metamorphosed into cabbage stuffed with strawberry coulis.

So today’s blog posts have given you your language lessons:  “Ambohi” = “forest” (that one was new to us, but explains why so many Malagasy place names start with “Ambo”), “manga” = “blue”, “rova” = “palace” -- and “stuffed cabbage” = profiteroles (well, sometimes).   You cannot deny that reading “Babbs among the baobabs” is an educational experience! 

When we get back we will play you the CD from the Malagasy musicians who entertained us during lunch.  They also spoke excellent English. 

Valiha - Malagasy Composers and Musicians

And instrument builder!  A 48-
stringed instrument in the shape of Madagascar

Day 2 - post 2: Ambohimanga

The rain did indeed stop and the sun came out!  Jocelin drove us via the scenic, rural route to avoid the traffic jams to Ambohimanga, a UNESCO World Heritage site, a fortified hilltop where the kings and queens from the Merina people, who unified Madagascar in the 18th century and ruled over it until being on the losing side of the Franco-Malagasy War in the 1890s, maintained a residence.

The French colonial authorities did not treat Ambohimanga kindly, as it was a potent symbol of the Malagasy nation of which they had taken control.  When one considers that the area of Madagascar slightly exceeds that of France itself, one gets one insight into the enormous audacity of European colonial ventures.

In addition to rebuilt parts of the residence, and a number of medicinal trees – still used for that purpose throughout Madagascar – you can see part of the dry moat around the hilltop, and an impressive brick-built gateway.  The inward side of the gateway used to be closed by rolling across it a 10 ft diameter flat stone that still rests at one side of the gateway.

The hilltop used to give views of forest (Ambohi-) that extended as far as the eye could see until they looked blue (–manga) towards the horizon.  Nowadays, the view is still impressive but consists of villages and lowland rice fields ringed by hills that look as if they should be covered in forest but no longer are (a distressingly all too typical sight in Madagascar).  In the distance one can make out the distinctive outline of the (former) Queens’ Palace on the highest hill in Antananarivo, and the tall buildings in the centre.

Traditional Malagasy culture and religion involves a major role for ancestors.  Royalty also played a partly-religious role.  The air near the royal residence was perfumed by incense being burned by two groups of visitors seeking the blessing of the long-departed royalty.  A fire extinguisher hung on a nearby tree, just in case!

Small black incense burners by royal tombs

Day 2 - Post 1: No power, no shower!

Once again we woke up to discover that Jirama had cut off power.  At 07:11, we heard the remote for the heating beep and realized we had power again, and thus no water at all.  So I quickly ran the shower to see if I could get hot water, but it kept running colder.  Just as I was plucking up courage to have a really cold shower it turned hot! Hurrah!  I hurriedly shampooed my hair and rinsed it off.  Thankfully I absent-mindedly didn’t apply conditioner and only a little shower gel came out of the guesthouse’s dispenser, because the power went off again! 

Much hilarity, as we recalled the last time, I encountered this situation!  Then I was 33 weeks’ pregnant and in a  room on the top floor of a little hotel in Porlock, Devon and had applied liberal quantities of shower gel!   Simon had to go down to reception and get a bucket of water for me.  This time the drip from the shower was adequate (but a very slow process)! 

We’ll see what the rest of the day holds for us!  We are supposed to be going out sightseeing.  Will it stop raining????

Friday, July 13, 2018

Mada Again! More bags than ever!

Suitcases ready to go - in our garage
Thank you to Charlie Ash for driving us to O'Hare airport and shifting all those bags on to luggage carts for us. 

Simon and bags at O'Hare airport.  
 Air France turned out not to have many staff working, so we just made it to the gate in time!  Thankfully we had uneventful flights to Antananarivo, arriving with all our baggage at Manga Guesthouse in record time – just before midnight rather than around 01:30 – and we even got a new SIM card for our Malagasy cell phone and local currency from the ATM.  We then re-packed the rolling duffels for their onward journey to Toliara, and went to bed for the first time in too many hours!  Hurrah!  It was cold in the room as it was only 11 C (about 52F) outside and no heating in the room (and one of the windows doesn’t close fully!)

The plan was to get up at 8am for a warm shower and breakfast.  We have to enjoy the warm showers here before moving to Todd and Patsy’s home where there are only cold showers (but at least the room is warmer!).  However, I struggled to get water to do more than trickle out of the shower (either hot or cold) before pulling on a fleece over my nightie and going to ask the reception staff what trick I was missing  to get this shower arrangement to work.  The answer in French and Malagasy was “shower cut” which completely confused me - until I was shown that the electric switch didn’t turn on the light! Jirama (local energy company) had cut the power, so there was also no water being pumped.  No showers, no wash, no flushing the toilet.  Thanks be to God for “Wet Wipes”!

Of course, no power also meant no internet access.

Jocelin, our driver for the day, turned up early and we were able to get the 6 rolling duffels across Tana to the offices of the taxi-brousse services.  From where they will set off to Toliara on Saturday morning, arriving in Toliara on Sunday.  This is much more economical than taking the bags on Air Madagascar with us on Sunday.

At Alain's office ready to leave Toliara
On the way we had travelled through the seemingly permanent traffic-jam seeing the usual zebu grazing at the road side, laundry being done,  brick making and tossing and this year, a lot of tyres being rolled along the side of the road to be repaired / replaced.

Brick tossing!

Tyre rolling!

Next we tried calling the woman who sometimes sells PUL (polyurethane laminate fabric), which is the waterproofing layer in the Days for Girls kits.  Sadly she is still not stocking it, but thinks she might get some next month.  Jocelin was not knowledgeable enough about fabric shops, so we decided to give up on that part of the plan for today.

Instead we went to our next meeting at Blue Ventures, who are a not-for-profit based on the west coast.  As well as their work trying to protect the world’s third largest coral reef which is off the coast near Toliara, they do a lot of community health programmes.   They contacted the Toliara Days for Girls’ enterprise around this time last year, so it was very good to meet Nick and Njaka face-to-face and have a conversation instead of lengthy emails.  We had a very good talk, and now understand each other’s positions much better.  Nick was also able to tell me more about the health work of SEED Madagascar in Fort Dauphin so this might make our upcoming meeting with them later in the month more fruitful.  We were planning to visit SEED because of their work teaching local women to embroider and sell their products.  Now we know we also need to talk with them about their sexual and reproductive health programme for middle-schools.

Blue Ventures Team

We stopped for a very good lunch in a shopping mall 
Look at that plate decoration! The restaurant name is written on the side

– and drove back the scenic route through the rice fields to avoid the permanent traffic jam on the RN4.

Then we sat in the outdoor garden room while it rained outside, enjoyed a beautiful sunset, and begged a room heater to take the chill off our bedroom!  Thanks be to God!!