I’ve never had a heart for Africa. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t care about Africa (obviously), it’s just that I love people…from any continent, really. I love the idea of being a part of someone’s growth and development. I love watching God restore brokenness in much wounded hearts and the tears and laughter that accompany real friendships. I love the silliness of children and I love genuine heart to hearts. I treasure smiles and I consider it a pleasure when someone shares their life with me.
This may come as a surprise for some of you but, I didn’t come to Madagascar because I had a heart for the country. I came because after much prayer and consideration, I felt as though that was where God wanted me to go. I came in anticipation, knowing that God would reveal to me bit by bit why He wanted me here.
You may have heard about the different stages of culture shock…well, to be honest I haven’t really taken the time to identify which stage I am currently in, but I can definitely tell you that I skipped one of the earlier ones. I never went through the honeymoon stage. As some of you know, after 2 hours of being here (literally), I wanted to turn straight around and get back on that plane to the U.S. and forget that Madagascar was ever in my cards. Sounds a little embarrassing, seeing as I was supposed to come as a missionary excited to share the Gospel with those around me, but really, I just missed my friends and my comfy little Southern Californian bubble. You all had sent me off with such words of encouragement and prayers, while telling me that you thought I was brave …and yet, I froze after minutes of stepping off the plane.
That was day one. Fast forward 5 months later, to today, and here I am- in love; completely smitten with Mada. I was never infatuated with the culture. It too real work for me to want to be here for the first month or so. Everyone adjusts differently. I’m still not infatuated. Instead, I’m in love with real people, with real stories, and real lives. In other words, now that I know them, how can I not help but love them? They are beautiful.
I was just talking to someone from church the other day about how Mada has a way of digging itself into your heart. I wish that I could fly you all over to my home in Imerinafovony and show you firsthand what it’s like here so that this wonderful place and these beautiful people could capture your heart as well.
I wish that you could meet the students that I teach and see how incredibly talented they are and how their personalities truly come out when we play games in class. I wish that you could have been here when Hattie still lived with Lara and I and heard the laughter that echoed in our flat. I wish that you could meet Mamonjy, our friend who works here as a taxi driver, and see his encouraging smile as we speak to him in very broken Malagasy. There are so many people that I wish that you could meet. Too many to list, really. Truly, without the people, Madagascar would just be an island full of forests, deserts, and lemurs. It’s beautiful here, but it’s not the landscape that I’m in love with, it’s the people.
Anyway, so I’ve been here for 5 months now. I don’t often get the opportunity to share with you the precious interactions with people that have played a vital role in shaping my heart since coming here. So, I have decided to take the time to relive a few of these stories with you. I’ll start with one for today and then hopefully over the next few blog entries, I can send you some more.
Vonona ve? Ready?
Okay, so meet Perline. I know that “beautiful” seems to be my choice adjective in this blog post but really, that’s what she is. When I first met her, I knew her as the woman who cleaned our house and did our laundry, which of course, made me uncomfortable. I thought to myself, “I can definitely clean my own house and do my own laundry…” haha JOKES! Truthfully, I knew how to operate a washing machine but not actually clean all my laundry by hand…but I quickly realized that Perline depends on this for income. That’s employment.
Funny side story, by the way, we started language learning during our first week of orientation here. I was a little nervous speaking the language, well, because, it’s not my language. We had learned all the phrases but had not actually been able to practice much. So anyway, during my first week I kind of avoided Perline because I was afraid to introduce myself to her in Malagasy. One day, as she was hanging our laundry outside, I reviewed with Hattie about what I should say to her. My back was turned to Perline and I thought, “Well, if I don’t do it now, I probably won’t do it later.” So, in determination, I quickly turned around, stuck out my hand, and blurted out, “Brittany no anara’ko, ary anao?” There were no pauses. I had no clue what the intonations were or where they should be placed, and my accent didn’t help. It just came out as an incoherent blob of words. Needless to say, Perline didn’t actually understand anything I said, so Hattie had to come and reintroduce me….we laughed about that for a while after.
Anyway, back to the real story. As I said, I felt uncomfortable with Perline cleaning our house without having any sort of friendship with her, so when an opportunity came up for me to teach her English, I took it without hesitation. After a few weeks of teaching her, she invited Hattie, Lara, and I over to her house for lunch after church. So, we sat down in her cozy home and enjoyed a time of eating rice and chicken and playing charades. Well…not that we were formally playing charades, it’s just when you can’t speak each other’s language well, that’s what it turns into-charades. We mimed out things while frantically flipping through our Malagasy dictionaries, trying to communicate with each other. We laughed. We somehow understood one another, and we enjoyed a friendship that went beyond words. J
So, Perline lives next to a rice field and at the time, Lara hadn’t walked through one yet. So, we scanned our dictionaries for the word “field” in Malagasy and sooner or later, found ourselves in a maze of rice. Now, I’m not sure if you have ever seen or been to a rice field, but you have the rice and then in between, a tiny little path to walk on. So, even though it’s really fun, if you’re not used to walking through one, you spend most of your time concentrating on where your foot goes and hoping that you don’t fall….unless you’re Brittany Farmer.
If you’re Brittany Farmer, you at some point get distracted by a beautiful butterfly that happened to go by at the same time that your foot should have been touching the path…but instead, your foot misses the path and heads straight for the rice, causing the rest of your body to begin to topple over as well…and if you’re Perline, and have a heart of gold, you do everything in your power to make sure that Brittany doesn’t fall (seriously, I had scratch marks on my arm afterward from her trying to grab me), not knowing that Brittany is clumsy and will fall regardless of what you do. Needless to say, my foot went in completely.
So, that was funny and all, but this is the part worth listening to.
I pulled my muddy foot out of the rice and started laughing. I took my shoe off, thinking that maybe I could wipe the mud on the bit of grass that coated the path. Without any hesitation, Perline grabbed my shoe and began washing it in the bit of water next to the rice. After that, she grabbed my foot and as she knelt on her knees, washed every inch of mud off of my skin. I stood there in amazement watching her. I didn’t even have time to protest because I was so overwhelmed by how much of Jesus I saw in Perline in that moment. She didn’t even miss a beat. There was no question in her mind over whether this was the right thing to do or not. While the rest of us were laughing (trust me, it was funny), Perline jumped straight to servant hood. I’ll never forget that. That little interaction shifted something inside of me.
I just kept thinking, “That is what Jesus is like.” I had traveled for close to 30 hours to come and share the Gospel with others and yet, it was being shared with me, by actions and not speech.
Perline willingly humbled herself that day, and I knew that I was witnessing love first hand.
So…some exciting news! I finished this blog this morning and Perline came over to clean this morning. She looked at me and said, “misy vaovao faly!” I have good news. She’s pregnant! She prayed for a baby girl and that is what she has! Her stomach is so tiny that I couldn’t even tell. Praise the Lord.
Hattie, Perline and I in the rice fields.
Lara, Perline, and I
Lara actually got a picture of Perline washing my feet. I will never forget that moment. ❤