Mercy Ships

Mercy Ships
The largest NGO hospital ship in the world providing free medical care to the forgotten poor

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Reflecting on the New Year

A year ago, I knew it was time for a change.  I was hoping 2015 would be a year of new adventures. So when I spent New Year's Eve in a remote Malagasy village, a 12 km hike and an hour boat ride from the main road, dancing with the villagers young and old, under the light of a disco ball, powered by some mysterious power source since the village was without electricity or running water, I knew my wish had come true.

Living overseas has been an important life experience for me, pushing me out of the comfort zone of what I know.  At the same time, living on the ship is a very controlled environment, so I don't always feel like I'm really living in Africa, just on a ship that happens to be parked on the coast of Africa.  So over the Christmas holiday, my friends Jen, Michelle, and I set off to spend 4 days experiencing what Madagascar is really like.

Through this great Dutch non-profit, we were able to get connected with a local village who wanted to host us and with a local Malagasy guide.

After 2 bus rides and a boat ride, we hopped on a tractor that happened to be going up into the mountains. The road was so bumpy we could have walked almost as fast. (I wished we were walking as I was perched precariously on the very top of the mound of supplies and people and with every bump I thought I might be tossed from the tractor).

We joined at least 20 other people who piled into the back of this tractor.
But when we finally got off the tractor, we found ourselves in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

Although the village we stayed in was very poor, they were very excited to welcome us.  Most of the villagers grow rice.  A little bit of tourism can provide a much needed additional income source for the village. The kids were shy at first, but they warmed up once I started teaching them Frisbee. 

Our meals consisted of lots of rice. Breakfast was soft rice and coffee. Lunch might be rice and carrots. Dinner: rice and chicken.  


The homes in the village were made of palm trees. 
The river where we swam every day.

One day we hiked to a beautiful waterfall.  The entire village accompanied us; it was like a processional or festival!

Me, Houssen (our guide), and Michelle
Having 100 people joining us at the waterfall just because we were "vazas" (white foreigners) was a little unnerving. Part of me was wishing for a quiet day of solitude in nature. But at the same time, I went on the trip hoping to connect with local Malagasy people and get to know a bit of their culture.  I realized that they were just as curious about us and our culture. So instead of being annoyed by the crowd, I just enjoyed it. Enjoyed the high-fives from the kids, the funny attempts to communicate, the awesome photo ops.

The teenage boys showing off for the camera

Relaxing after the day at the waterfall

Touring the local graphite mine which employs about 40 people from the village.
We got to see first hand how it works from start to finish.

I wish I could have a dog on the ship!

The 12 km hike down the mountains on the last day was one of my favorite parts of the trip. The scenery was breath-taking. And I was so glad not to be on a bumpy, crowded tractor.

On the way home, I was sitting in a crowded taxi-brousse (the bus system here consists of 20-25 people squished into a 15 passenger van), hoping not to get car-sick, wishing I was anywhere else in the world at that moment, when I had an epiphany.  2015 was the year of external change: changing my job, where I lived, the people I see every day.  I changed almost every external factor of my life in the past year. And I am happier for it.  Every day I am glad I made those changes. But the hard work still remains: working on the inner change I want to see in my life.  Being able to find contentment no matter what my circumstances are. Because it doesn't matter how "cool" my life looks on Facebook, I can still only find happiness from within.  

There are things I wish for that I don't have.  But my prayer for 2016 is that I won't miss them because I am wrapped up in what I do have and in what God is doing in my life. God has been faithful to me through all the changes of the past year; He deserves my trust for the coming year and beyond.