Time

The empty anti -malarial packets along with the full packet that I will begin tomorrow

The empty anti -malarial packets along with the full packet that I will begin tomorrow

Time is an unavoidable reality. In The Hobbit, Gollum gives Bilbo a riddle about time; it goes like this,

This thing all things devours:

Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;

Gnaws iron, bites steel;

Grinds hard stones to meal;

Slays kings, ruins town,

And beats high mountain down.

In my opinion, this is a slightly pessimistic view of time, but the inevitability of time passing on is also not something to be neglected. This inescapable truth can be used to kick start motivation or ignite a passion that has become dormant. I have also found that sometimes as time passes I begin to allow it’s incessant march forward to lull me into a state of somnolence. I find myself simply going through the motions and forgetting to embrace the beauty that is life. I have had a wake up call these past couple of weeks in realizing that my time here in Madagascar is almost finished. It is wild to think that a year ago I had just graduated. Upon graduating the whole world is in front of us. We are young, ambitious, and admittedly a little naive, but there is something magical about that. We have so many goals and we fully intend on achieving all of them. It may be a naive belief, but there is something courageous and empowering about unbridled ambition. Coming into this year I had dozens of goals and ideas and then they were flipped upside down once I arrived. That was difficult at first, but realizing what was realistic and unrealistic was a process, and I learned a lot navigating through that. Not every goal I set in my life is going to be achievable, but setting a goal I am certain I can accomplish isn’t much of a goal as much as it is an item on a to -do list. I don’t want to live life checking things on a list. Stretching oneself beyond what they believe they can achieve is in my mind, what living truly is.

As my time in Madagascar is approaching it’s end I want to ensure I make the most of this amazing place and the wonderful people that surround me. I have to take an anti -malarial pill every day. A while back I began saving the packets after I finished them. I thought I would use them as a way to measure or gauge my time here. As I watched the stack of packets grow I began to realize that my time remaining was shrinking. I no longer like the meaning behind this pile of empty packets, so I decided to change it. In each packet there are 10 pills. Each pill represents one day. I am finishing a packet today and tomorrow when I begin the new packet, so will a series of 10-day challenges. I am going to set mini goals that I will attempt to accomplish every day to help me soak in all that I can in the next two months. I may not be able to stop the all-devouring appetite of time, but I can control what it eats.

My Walk

I walk down these streets every day. They are decadent with life. I look ahead and see a husband lovingly looking into the eyes his wife. As I continue I am engulfed by a rainbow of luscious food scattered everywhere. My eyes meet those of woman’s that glow with joy. There, sitting behind her produce is a little boy. He does not have a single toy, but I see him flash his lightning white smile and I know that he has been happy for quite a while. As I continue happily on my way my path is abruptly blocked. I am blocked by a dead pig. Oh, what a horrible gig, to grow up big and fat just to have it’s life ended like that. I shuffle my now shaky legs around it’s robust body wishing for a day when we no longer need slay God’s creation for our nutrition.

I continue my walk.

I begin to feel hungry. “I just ate, how could this be?” I think to myself. This thought immediately exits my mind as I am approached by the frail outstretched hand of a beautiful elderly man. The wretched perception of poverty and wealth. As he ignored the other passerby’s it was clear that the color of my skin is what attracted him, to myself. I  sheepishly nod my head in denial as ours eyes meet. We both exchange looks of defeat as I subconsciously quicken my feet.

I continue my walk.

The new thought consuming my mind won’t escape so easily. I continue processing what just occurred, the lines of right and wrong are so often blurred. I want to help, but is it worth perpetuating an engrained societal ideology of white hegemony? Now half way to my destination I look to my right and see a woman washing her clothes at a public water station. I am now ascending the hill that will consume the next 15 minutes of my life.

I continue my walk

I reach the top of the hill and I am greeted by the voice of a child, innocent, but shrill. “Bonjour vazaha.” I respond, “Salama” with a smile while wishing as humans, we could all treat each other with equality. But what do I truly know of inequality when this is the first time in my life I have ever been a minority.

I continue my walk.

Before long it’s time to turn off of the main road. On my left I pass a not so humble abode. It looks quite out a place. It is unnecessarily big, and in my opinion, a waste. It is so in your face! Why? Every time I pass it it feels as though my heart was sprayed with mace. I divert my attention. My thoughts begin to wander again.

I continue my walk.

I pass a few shops here and there and before I know it I’m  at Amboalobaka’s burnt orange gate. I walk directly to the classroom where the students eagerly wait. As I walk inside I try put all of my other thoughts aside. I reach the front of the classroom and ready myself to teach. However, I am really the one doing most of the learning. Finding out as much as I can about this complex and beautiful country is a constant yearning. My last wandering thoughts drift from my mind as I begin to talk.

I am thankful I still have 4 months to continue my walk.

Love

LOVE

When I embarked on this journey that is the YAGM year I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew a few YAGMs that had come back and knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives. They had found their purpose. I also knew a few who came back and still had no idea what their next step should be. Coming into this year one of my hopes was that I would be the first person. I hoped I would find my purpose. I am halfway through this year and that has yet to happen. But oddly enough, something I didn’t expect, is that it doesn’t bother me. I haven’t totally figured out what I want to do, but I have come to learn about other aspects of life and myself.

I have learned how essential relationships are in life, and to me personally. Relationships in a sense, are the essence of who we are as human beings. Without relationships life would be a lonely and solemn voyage. When I reflect on my happiest moments they always involve being with other people, and I don’t think that is a coincidence.

Last night when I was praying with my family, the verses we read (Colossians 3: 12-17) deeply resonated with me, especially one verse in particular. Colossians 3: 14, “Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together.” After reading that verse this profound value in relationships that I have recently developed made sense. If everything we do is done with love, we as individuals will feel more connected to what we are doing. It will not only make ourselves happier, but it will also bring more happiness to those around us.

I haven’t figured out what I want to do with my life yet, but that’s okay. As long as I pour love into every relationship I have and anything I do I know that happiness will follow. At the end of the day that is all I can really ask for, happiness.

I want to invite you to spread love today. Whether it be approaching your job in a new and impassioned way or just smiling at someone as you walk down the sidewalk. Approach everything you do with love, and connect yourself with the beautiful world that surrounds you.

You are loved. You are awesome.

-ML

Biogazy: Turning Poop into Power

Alfred, my supervisor at FaFaFi, teaching the students at Amboaloboka about biogazy

Alfred, my supervisor at FaFaFi, teaching the students at Amboaloboka about biogazy

During the past 5 months I have been graciously welcomed by both Fanentanana momba ny Fambolena sy Fiompiana (FaFaFi) and Amboaloboka to teach English. Amboaloboka is a school where young women come from all over Madagascar to learn skills and trades that they can then take back and use in their hometowns. FaFaFi’s mission revolves around teaching farmers “to be autonomous, self sufficient, and sustainable in their farming practices.” FaFaFi and Amboaloboka have collaborated in the past to teach the students various farming techniques. They have recently joined forces again, but this time for a slightly different purpose.

In Madagascar a majority of the population uses charcoal or wood burning stoves to cook their food every day. Over hundreds of years tens of thousands of trees have been cut down for the use of this necessity. As you have probably concluded this is not the most sustainable practice, especially in a country that is often associated with it’s beautifully diverse and endemic plant life. Hoping to curb the use of this method FaFaFi began educating farmers and other interested parties about the possibility of using biogas (biogaz in Malagasy). Amboaloboka has recently become one of those interested parties.

Biogazy is a method of producing gas by the anaerobic putrefaction of animal waste. The apparatus used to do this is called a “biodigester.” There are many kinds of biodigesters, but FaFaFi uses the Chinese method in which the biodigester is made with cement. This makes it possible for biodigesters to last up to 50 years. Human dejections and vegetation can also be used to provide biogas, but FaFaFi always uses waste from cows or pigs.

FaFaFi constructs two sizes of biodigesters at 10 and 30 cubic meters (32 and 98 cubic feet). To begin, a hole is dug in proportion to the size of the biodigester being installed. Once the hole is complete, a mold is put into place and concrete is poured over the mold. The concrete sets for 1 to 2 days and then the mold is removed. Once the mold is completely set, water and waste are placed in the fermentation chamber at a ratio of 2 to 1. In the 10 cubic meter biodigester 4,000 liters (1,050 gallons) of water and half the equivalent of waste is placed into the fermentation chamber to begin the initial process, which lasts 20 days. After 20 days all of the gas that was produced is allowed to escape due to a high volume of impurities. Methane, Carbon dioxide, Oxygen, Nitrogen and various other gases are produced, but the only gas used for this system is Methane. After this initial release the filter used to extract the Methane is fully functioning and the biodigester is ready for business! One tube is connected at fermentation chamber and to a container in the home. This container has subsequent tubing to provide gas to a variety of appliances such as lights, stoves and rice cookers. To continue the regular production of gas, 20 liters (5 gallons) of water and half the equivalent of waste is placed in the fermentation chamber every three days. The 10 cubic meter biodigester produces enough Methane to power four lights, one two -burner stove, and one rice cooker (multiply these numbers by three for the 30 cubic meter digester).

Biogazy is a great way to create more sustainable households and communities, but that is not to say it doesn’t have flaws. Implementing biogazy in an urban setting would be fairly difficult, but seeing as 75% of the population in Madagascar lives in rural areas this is not a major drawback. When farmers are first approached about biogazy they are often hesitant about the actual functionality of the system and about using animal waste to power appliances, but once they see a successful example they often become enthusiastic about the possibility. The cost of a biogazy system can also be an issue, but FaFaFi helps to alleviate the cost by up to 73% for farmers and organizations that agree to work with them.

What does all of this mean exactly? It means that the use of charcoal and wood burning stoves could be significantly reduced and potentially unnecessary in many places. With an average production lifetime of 50 years it means multiple generations of a families and communities can benefit from the installation of just one biogazy system. It means that a more sustainable future for Madagascar is possible.

Animals are always going to poop, so why not turn it into power?

*I obtained all of the information for this blog post from Bodo, my friend and employee at FaFaFi.

The initial stages of digging for the 30 cubic meter fermentation tank being installed at Amboaloboka.

The initial stages of digging for the 30 cubic meter biogazy system being installed at Amboaloboka.

The finished hole before the mold was installed.

The finished hole before the mold was installed.

This is the 30 cubic meter mold. The molds are always assembled before being installed to ensure there are no major defects.

This is the 30 cubic meter mold. The molds are always assembled before being installed to ensure there are no major defects.

The mold was set into place and ready for the concrete to be poured.

The mold was set into place and ready for the concrete to be poured.

The concrete mold had hardened and was covered. The final touches were then added to the rectangular chamber where the waste goes once it has been processed.

The concrete mold had hardened and was covered. The final touches were then added to the rectangular chamber where the waste goes once it has been processed.

7 of the eleven piglets that were born at Amboaloboka in October. There are a total of 26 pigs that will be supplying the wasted for the biogazy system at Amboaloboka.

7 of the eleven piglets that were born at Amboaloboka in October. There are a total of 26 pigs that will be supplying the waste for their biogazy system.

Litchis & Life

DSC_1051It is litchi season in Madagascar right now, and it has quickly become my favorite time of the year. Articulating the awesomeness of litchis is difficult. There really isn’t anything comparable to a litchi in the states, but if I had to compare it to any other fruit I would to say it is a combination of a few. The texture is like a skinned blueberry and then add a pit to the center. The taste is unique and indescribable to a degree, but, to me, it has the sweetness of a strawberry combined with a slight tartness similar to a cranberry. Not only are litchis delicious, but eating them is an experience. You pull off the peel into a spiral until about 3/4’s of the litchi is exposed and then with a squeeze at the bottom you shoot the litchi into your mouth! It’s quite fun, except when you miss your mouth and it ends up on the ground…

Since late November when litchi season began I have been throughly enjoying eating copious amounts on a daily basis. I am determine to eat as many as I possibly can while they are still in season. Anytime I leave my house all I have to do is walk a few hundred yards and there are litchis abound! Lately though, the supply has not been as abundant. This is the first sign that the litchi season is quickly coming to close. The short lived season of litchis along with a break from teaching due to the holidays has given me time to pause and reflect on life. I know, you are probably thinking, “What the heck? How does fruit and some free time lead you to think about life?” Well, it all started when I was walking home the other day. I had just finished a toko (a stick or handful of about 6 to 10 litchis) of litchis and I wanted more. I looked around, but to my surprise I could not find a single person selling them. I thought to myself, “How is this possible? Litchi season just began, how is it already over?” I continued walking home and my thoughts began to wander. I began to think about how it is already Christmas and how I am already almost half way through my year here in Madagascar.

How did I even get to Madagascar? It feels like yesterday I was starting college, but that was four years ago. In high school I thought 22 year olds were old, and now that’s me. I’m not old. Life is flying by and keeping up is virtually impossible, but that is okay. Life is short. The end sometimes comes before we even realize it, but in my opinion, the finality of life can be a powerful motivator. Life is awesome. Sure it has it’s moments, it’s fallen litchis, but it is a blessing. It should be experienced, enjoyed, sometimes over indulged and always appreciated. In a sense, life is exactly like litchi season.

I may never eat another litchi after my time here in Mada, and that’s okay. What’s important is that enjoy every moment of this one season I have been given.

-ML

Adventure to Sandrandahy

One of the views of Manampsoa, the village within Sandrandahy where we were staying.

One of the views of Manampsoa, the village within Sandrandahy where we were staying.

Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to travel to Sandrandahy, a village about 180km North of Fianar and where my host mother, Nrina, was born. I wasn’t sure what we were actually going to Sandrandahy for, but Hery told me that it was a special occasion. We loaded up the car and I quickly realized that Nrina was not joining us. I was slightly perplexed, but then she informed me she had too much work to do, so it turned out it was going to be a road trip with just the guys. I was down with that. We left around 2:30pm which meant we would arrive around 7:30 or 8pm, but that didn’t exactly happen. Around 80km outside of Fianar we got to a straightaway and Laza (Nrina’s brother) picked up the pace a little bit. All of a sudden I heard a subtle pop… I looked at the side mirror and all I could see was smoke pouring out from behind the car. Laza immediately stopped, we got out and quickly opened the hood to see what happened. It turned out that Laza’s car was completely out of oil. Hery and Laza decided to run into the nearest town to find some, while Andrianina and I stayed with the car. While we waited I tried to teach Andrianina Tic -tac -toe. It was a total fail, but we still had fun so I wasn’t too disheartened. Hery and Laza returned, we put the oil in the car and started it up. We didn’t see any smoke. Yay! Then Laza gave it some gas to see if that was okay. It was not. All of a sudden the engine revved uncontrollably and wouldn’t stop. Laza was yelling, “Tsy mety! Tsy mety! (Not okay! Not okay!)” Thankfully, just a few seconds later he got the engine to turn off, but it was safe to say we weren’t getting to Sandrandahy anytime soon. Hery made a call and a van met us at the car. Using a piece of rope the van towed the car into town. It was pretty late at this point, so we quickly ate some food and then headed back to the car where we all “slept” fairly unsuccessfully. The next morning a cargo truck arrived to pick up the car. Four men got out of the back and I immediately began to attempt to figure out how the heck we were going to get the car 4.5 feet up into the bed of the truck. Then everyone disappeared for a minute and when they returned they were carrying six logs. They placed three logs on each side at an angle aligning them to the width of the car. After the logs were in place 10 or so men got behind the car and pushed it up into the bed of the truck. It was incredible! Unfortunately, Laza had to return to Fianar with his car, but Hery, Andrianina and myself continued on to Sandrandahy.

We arrived and I finally learned why Hery wanted me to come so badly. They were planting their rice fields. We had missed the plowing of the fields that morning, but we got there right as all of the men were eating. Hery told me that men from Sandrandahy volunteer to help plow the fields and in return they are receive food and Ambodivoara (Malagasy moonshine). I walked up to the second story of the house and saw that all of the men were sitting in a circle on the floor eating. Hery explained to me that this was a part of Malagasy culture. It symbolizes that they work as one, they eat as one, and they are one. I thought this was beautiful and a blessing to be present while it was happening. The next morning (Friday) I awoke staring directly into the eye of a rooster. Startled, I jumped back hitting my head on the wall behind me. It wasn’t exactly how I imagined being woken up by a rooster, but it worked just the same. A little later I walked down to the rice fields with Hery, Andrianina, and Nrina’s mother. Today, woman came volunteering to plant the rice for the same exchange as the men, but with the addition of a small wage as well. Hery described the process to me as we watched and I realized how important this was to him, to his family and to the Malagasy as a whole. Malagasy eat rice at least three times a day, every day. It is the main component of their diet. The preparation and planting of the rice fields is a HUGE deal. I am deeply honored that Hery wanted to share this process with me and explain it’s intricacies and cultural importance. We may have had a heck of an adventure getting to Sandrandahy, but it was an experience that I will not soon forget.

Trees are the Lungs of the Earth

This is my backyard, and if you look in the far right, the concrete block is where I wash my clothes

This is the backyard where I live. If you look in the far right, the concrete block is where I wash my clothes. The skinny poles you see are the water spigots.

I saw recently (I hope it’s still somewhat recent) that the UN held their climate committee meeting. Seeing this made me pause and reflect on my lifestyle here in Madagascar. Living here has made me aware of some changes I could make to decrease the footprint I leave on this planet. I have running water, but I do not have a shower. I take a bucket bath. I have found that it only takes about 5 to 7 gallons of water to get squeaky clean. 5 to 7 gallons, that’s it. I use dozens of gallons of water when I take a shower back in the states. Thinking of this makes me wonder if taking a shower is really a necessity; or is it an excessive luxury I have afforded myself by living in a more “developed” country? I put quotations around developed because I sometimes feel that we have tricked ourselves into thinking abundance is synonymous with developed. I recognize that isn’t completely incorrect, but in my opinion when it comes to conserving the earth “developed” may not be always be positive. This may seem extreme, but I am curious to see what types of lifestyle changes we and future generations might have to make to ensure the vitality of the earth.

My laundry also uses significantly less water and energy. The process is more time intensive, taking around 60 to 90 minutes depending on how many clothes I have to wash. I don’t mind it though. It gives me at least an hour where I don’t have to really focus on anything. I can just relax and try to get my clothes clean (I haven’t totally mastered the form yet). Is this feasible in the states? For me personally, absolutely. For a parent of three children all of whom may be athletes and/or menaces of the jungle that is suburbia, it’s debatable.

 

I am also finding myself walking almost everywhere. The farthest walk I have is 40 minutes (around 3km) to one of my work sites. I could also take public transportation, but I don’t mind the exercise. None of the food I am eating this year has been raised or processed on a factory farm, which I have been enjoying! In the US, on average, processing two pounds of beef emits 110 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere. Fortunately for me and the earth, factory farms do not exist in Madagascar.

 

There are many ways in which my life here is more sustainable. You could say I don’t have a choice because I’m not living in a “develop” country. But in my opinion, when it comes to what could be considered developed vs. non developed countries; Madagascar and countries alike are sometimes miles ahead in sustainability. They have the advantage of learning from the mistakes more developed countries have made and can make certain they don’t repeat them. Even if you are a skeptic of global climate change I beg the question; shouldn’t we always strive to live in a way that is benefitting the earth, regardless of the reality of the situation? After all, without this blueberry of a planet we don’t really have a place to call home.