Seven Weeks Maroamboka

Seven Weeks Maroamboka

At the time of writing we have arrived back in our new house a week ago from a trip to the capital. So we have started our ‘second term’ here. How did it go since the move in February? We share our ups and downs with you.

Circus Hofmann

Some of our new neighbours had never seen white people before we came, so there are children who are very afraid of us. But most found our every move most interesting. For the first three weeks there seemed to be a youth gathering right outside our house. When we went for a walk we were followed. Words uttered were repeated with many giggles. Mothers bragged to other mothers that their child was not afraid of the ‘vazaha’ (white foreigners), proving their statement by bringing their – sometimes screaming – child up close. By now most villagers are somewhat used to our appearance and we feel less like circus artists.

New Friends

Friends and good neighbours help make a house a home, and that certainly goes for us here. We already knew Sylvestre, our first contact here who allowed AIM to build us a house on a plot of his land. We regularly share a meal. We have also become acquainted with the president of the fokontany, a high local government official, and his wife.

A great blessing is the friendship with maman’i Prisca, who welcomed us from the beginning. She even gave us a life chicken, a traditional but costly welcome present. We see each other most every day.

 Then there is Menja, the local teacher, who has agreed to help Jurgen translate Bible stories into Tanala. They have already visited a remote village together.

New Foes

Or challenges at least. We had fervently hoped for running water in the house. The pump is there, the pipes are there, and the taps – but the water… As we understand the main pipe leading from the upper village to the lower villages had breaks or leaks, and nobody knows exactly where. Then the pumps that do work leak badly so there is no pressure left to make our pump work. We are working on a solution, but things go slowly on Madagascar. So we rejoice in rain and fill up as many jerry-cans as we can to avoid having to walk to the faraway pump all too often.

Water can be a friend, but a foe as well. In March a cyclone hit our area, causing flooding and land washes. We discovered our ark-like mansion is not so waterproof… Jurgen has already spent many hours fixing leaks. So long as the rain comes straight down we stay dry, but at an angle… The road was already bad, but has got worse since the cyclone. Travelling by night is no longer an option in our area, and we had to buy mud tires for the car. They have already helped us out of a ditch twice on our last trip!

Then the rats. When we asked our friend maman’i Prisca whether she had rats in her house she said “Yes, in the roof.” Did that not bother her and keep her from sleep? “Oh well, we Malagasy sleep together with animals.” is what she replied. We honestly have a little trouble there. So far the rats have put their teeth in our food, soap, bedding, pillow covers, clothing, schoolbooks, toys, and wood. We are not amused. We gave Vanya a kitten, but she is still somewhat young to be on the job. In the meantime Jurgen is making us a ratproof cupboard for storing our fresh foods. No more rats on our tomatoes!

Elaborate Greetings

The Tanala take pride in their elaborate greetings. When meeting, one should inquire about how the other person has fared before, ask for news and express joy over seeing each other again. The longer the time lapse between meeting, the longer the greeting. We have not quite worked out all the greetings, but we can follow the general patterns. When walking through our village, the villagers love to test us and see if we give the correct responses.

Far Away But In the Right Place

Of course, we already knew we were far away from Holland. However, being at the end of a mud road, living off-grid, having no internet to speak of and missing the postman on his rounds (where is that man?) makes us even more aware of the distance. At times, we have felt isolated and down, but over all we recognise Gods hand in our being here. He planned it and prepared it. He wants us here. He loves the Tanala. We are learning to love them too – and so far that is not so hard.

Language as Ministry

Language as Ministry

Since this month we have a Malagasy teacher who teaches us at home several times a week. It makes a huge difference! Filmantra (pronounce: feeluhmantrs) insists we speak Malagasy like the locals do. That sounds logical, but she told us many foreigners learn to speak Malagasy as it is written – which is not quite how it is spoken. This ‘school-Malagasy’ sets the foreigner apart from the locals, and that is not what we want. An example: ‘I am happy’ is written: ‘Faly aho’. Pronounced as written you hear /fahlee ahoo/, pronounced as the locals do, you hear /fahlea/ (ea as in Andrea) instead. It is easy to see how you can sound ‘funny’ pronouncing words as they are written. We have noticed that – if we do a good job – our Malagasy neighbours instantly recognise what we say. Their eyes start to glimmer, a smile appears. It also makes a difference when bargaining, and that helps our finances!

The correct pronounciation takes some getting used to. In Dutch and English we try to say the whole word – in Malagasy not so. Some word endings seem to go missing completely, like in the word ‘inona’ (meaning ‘what’) which is pronounced /eenn/ with the prolonged n representing the last two syllables. Oh boy, what fun! We really love this language.

The children are taught Malagasy by us during short breaks and before and after meals. It helps both them and us, as we repeat what we have learned with them. We have found the children really need to be helped with their language, it does not come to them without effort. They enjoy their growing proficiency, as they are encouraged by our Malagasy friends and neighbours.

Another fun way we learn Malagasy is through singing children’s songs. We share our favourites with you here:

‘Tia zaza’ – a song somewhat resembling ‘Jesus loves the little children’ in lyrics.

‘Iza no namorana’ – Dani’s favourite: he loves the ‘funny’ policeman. The song is about God being the sole Creator of the earth, the water, the trees and YOU! See if you can find out which of the four he is singing about (hint: order matters).

‘Miantso anao Jesosy’ – a song somewhat more for teens and / or adults. The lyrics say that Jesus calls you and loves you. Return to Him, my friend.

But why spend so much time and effort on language learning? We are apt to believe it is necessary to minister to the people – later. On the contrary: we have learned that language learning is ministering to the people now. Through learning the language and culture we put ourselves in a humble position, as Jesus did. We position ourselves as learners and testify of the love of God, who came to this earth a helpless babe and became one with us in everything – even carrying the burden of sin on the cross. Language is the most important way to be one with the Malagasy, a means to somewhat understand our fellow man and feel what they feel, experience life as they do. During this process we will be on the receiving end for quite some time: we have not come as the know-it-alls, but as hands and feet of our Lord.

We have made a video about our language lessons. In it, Jurgen once more explains the importance of language learning. You will also meet our language teacher, see us try hard to communicate in Malagasy and help our children express themselves in this beautiful language.

Give Us This Day Our Daily…

Give Us This Day Our Daily…

We have lived in Tana for almost 2 months now. What is our daily life like? What is different? And what is the same?

Water – Rano

Our house has running water. It is not like that for everyone. There are many who have to go outside to a tap at the roadside. Sometimes it is a public tap, sometimes private (they have a lock).

We cannot count on the water pressure. Now that it is rainy season the pressure is often failing. Because of that we have a store of about 30 litres of water in 2 big lidded buckets in the kitchen. We use the stored water frequently.

We would rather not drink water directly from the tap. There may be too many bacteria, virusses or parasites in it. Many Malagasy also use filtered or bottled water. One of the children’s chores is to fill the waterfilter and the storage buckets.

The water does not taste great. Even after filtering the chloride  lingers. The colour is changeable. Sometimes it is more mud than water, but the water is clear most of the time. The filters from the waterfilter do reveal there is always the typical terra cotta dust.

Food – Sakafo

Our eating pattern has not changed much. Most of the foods we are used to are available, although it does cost more trouble to buy the ingredients to bake our own bread. Storebought bread is mostly white and we prefer wholemeal or at least brown bread. We have to travel about 7 miles to buy our favourite bread baking mix and about 14 miles to buy wholemeal.

The Malagasy diet is based on rice. Many families eat it at all meals: vary (rice) with loka (whatever you eat with the rice). Lunch is the main meal of the day. In the evening the leftovers are served. It is easy to buy the ingredients for vary with loka: almost every street has several stalls with vegetables, meat and rice. It is quite cheap to buy food in the street or at the market.

Before preparing fresh food it needs to be washed thoroughly. Sometimes the stalls are not more than a filthy plastic sheet spread out on the ground near a local waste dump or open sewer. We either rinse fresh food with filtered water or we let it soak in water with a drop of chloride. We are relieved this hardly affects the taste of the food.

Laundry – Manasa lamba

The laundry is done by hand. Whoever has a little money can hire a laundry woman – mpanasa lamba – to do the work for him. Washing machines can be bought, but for the same money you can help someone to a part time job for 3 years. We are very happy with our laundry woman as our laundry takes her and Katja more than a full working day a week. The downside of washing by hand is that clothing does not last as long: the scrubbing grates heavily.

The laundry is line-dried. It is clearly visible the sun’s radiation is stronger her: the colours are quickly fading. The other day Jurgen pulled out a black t-shirt and we both remarked we could easily see he had not worn it here yet. The clothes are dry quickly, but often the heavy monsoon rains surprise us – a free extra rinse so to speak.

Transport – Fiara

We do not have our own vehicle – fiara – yet and we are happy for it. Because of our walks and bus rides we make more contact with the people around us and learn more language. People are somewhat surprised to see white foreigners using public transport and we feel it is a witness to them that we respect them and want to be like them.

It is cosy and snug in the bus. Up front near the driver there are 2 seats. Behind the driver there are 5 rows with 2 seats on each side. In the aisle small seats can be lowered or short planks are used as an extra seat. That all adds up to 28 seats. Add to that the driver’s helpers who opens and closes the doors, receives payments and cries out the destination at every stop; quite a few children on people’s laps and the people standing at the back and on the bumper and the capacity of the bus is about 40 people!

When buying groceries at the local market we walk. This is not very healthy or safe: there are no footpaths and smog is filling the air. Some Malagasy cycle, but there are many safety issues there.

Traveling by normal car is also different. Seatbelts – if there – are hardly being used and there are no children’s car seats. The possible number of passengers is again quite flexible. Only a week ago we saw it no problem to fit 3 adults and 8 children in a car when using the back (a favourite place of our children). It is very baby-friendly: you can drink while traveling!

Language: Malagasy

Malagasy is very different from European languages, apart from the French words that are being uses like ‘fromage’, ‘olives’ and ‘taxi’. We are happy to find we are remembering more and more words. Syntax and grammar are quite mysterious to us. The subject usually comes last in a sentence. Verbs are only conjugated for the past and future tense. There are many adverbs of place, Malagasy are very precise in these matters. One of Katja’s favourite sentences is: ‘Manana zanaka dimy aho.’ which transliterated says ‘Have own children five I.’

The Malagasy are very happy to hear our limited Malagasy. They even brighten up more when Jurgen tells them he has absolutely no mastery of French. His favourite sentence: ‘Tsy mahay teny Frantsay i aho.’ which transliterated reads ‘Not to be good at language French I.’ The Malagasy are very encouraging when we are using their language. We witness first hand how language learning is a labour and a witness of love. We want to be known as friendly and humble people so we greet everyone we meet. It works: people like to great us back and chat with us, asking where the (other) children are. The market sellers already know we have 5!

Report first weeks

Report first weeks

ABO (Africa Based Orientation)
After an eight hours flight we arrived at 8 pm (Saturday the 10th of October) on Nairobi airport. The first three nights we stayed at AIM’s guest house. From there we travelled on to the ABO conference at Nakuru.

We were not alone! A total of 22 adults and 28 children joined us and they were all ready to serve the Lord at different places. To see a bigger version of the photo on the richt you can click on it. The first week at ABO we have studied the African culture and values. Among our tutors was a Kenyan man who lived in the UK for several years. This made that he could relate to our western culture as well as to the African culture. It was good to talk with other missionaries—some of who already work in Africa for several months or even years. We have learned a lot from each other.

Other subject were healthcare, safety and world-view… What to do when you are bitten by a snake or what are the symptoms of certain parasites. The last week we have discussed how missionaries can make a real change in people life and finally we looked at several world religions.

Visit Local Church
All three Sundays we were assigned to a local AIC (Africa Inland Church). We have introduced ourselves and Jurgen gave his testimony on the first Sunday. Our names are not that easy to pronounce so soon Jurgen became ‘babba Isaiah’ and Katja ‘mamma Isaiah’ (after our oldest son Issa, which is Swahili for Isaiah). Guests, especially mzungus (white man), can not make themselves scares. Obviously Jurgen could do the sermon and Katja would probably have good ideas to share on Sunday school… Uh? Yes, sure… of course, no problem.

After the church service we were invited to some ones home to eat lunch. That was a great experience. The lady of the house washed our hands and after that she served the food. We have noticed how proud the people were of there property, and thus they had no problem with us taking photos and recording it. The last Sunday one of the elders invited us to his home. It was a bit further away so the pastor suggested that we could take his car. ‘Babba Isaiah, you can drive… can you?’ Well, of course Jurgen can drive! That is to say, the road… Wow, rally roads are smooth compared to these! Anyway, they wanted to spare us the pain of walking as mzungus are not used to that (and they are probably right on that). The other elders came 40 minutes later and said that the walk did them good. On our way back the pastor drove us and his kids were coming along… 10 people will fit just fine in one car, in Africa it does! All in all, it was a great day and we have enjoyed the hospitality and kindness of our Kenyan brothers and sisters very much.

How Did the Children Like it?
Vanya said that she really liked it. They have made several nice crafts that had to do something with the African cultures. She said that the lessons about the “do’s and the don’ts” were very good. For example they have learned that for children, in an African setting, it would be considered impudent to look older people straight in the eyes. Vanya said that she is happy to know that in advance.

Issa: ‘There was a nice playground and the food was good! I also made new friends. We have learned lots about 14 different animals and countries.’

Abbey: ‘I liked the teaching about other countries. We also did fun projects. The snacks were great and we also played games.’

Dani: ‘The teacher gave me a book and that was all.’

Simeon: ‘…. ‘

Antananarivo, Madagascar
On the 6th of November we travelled on to our final destination Tana, Madagascar. We have a fine place to live and every now and then we make outings to the local marked. The children enjoy themselves in the garden and with the children of the neighbourhood.

We regularly make some video recordings which we will upload when the internet and electricity allows us to. You can watch them on our multimedia page.

Introduction and language learning
We are busy learning the Malagasy language. This is not a simple task. Jurgen never had France in school but still he can follow Katja’s France conversations. This is because our languages (France, German, Dutch etc.) have similarities. These similarities cannot be found in the language of Madagascar. Not a single reference point and a totally different grammar. Nonetheless, we did learn some words like ‘hello’ (manao hoana), ‘sorry’ (azafat), and ‘thank you’ (misaotra anao). Also some sentences like ‘my name is …’, ‘what is you name?’, and ‘how are you doing?’. We enjoy learning a new language but it is exhausting.

The AIM-Madagascar unit leader, Anna Jarmy, is helping us with the introduction. We discuss our tasks which will be mainly language learning for the first period. To speed things up, Anna will try to find us a language helper. Furthermore, she said that the normal procedure is to stay with a local family for a few days. This is less straightforward as it sounds because how do you find a family that can house seven persons extra. We will wait and see.

At the moment we are trying to get our work visa. This is quite complicated as we do not speak Malagasy yet and locals are not very good in France. We are happy to receive help from Parany, a man who works at the AIM office in Tana, who speaks English. Still, we try to do many things ourselves as this helps a lot in getting to know the people and culture. The walks to different offices is an adventure on its own. People initially greet us in France (bonjour), but are surprised when we greet them back in Malagasy (‘Manao Hoana’ or ‘Salama’). When we finish all preliminary works we will hand over the task of getting the visa to a man called Roland. He is a well known man at the official offices and will not likely be ‘run over.’

Buying food is fun. Delicious mangos for only € 0,08 and banquettes for only € 0,11. We can buy all sorts of things on the market. This week we bought  1 kilo tomatoes, 1 kilo carrots and about 400 grams of beans for 2400 Ariary (€ 0,67). Other things are more difficult to find. Full grain bread is hard to come by and can only be found in the supermarket but than you will have to be prepared to pay more.

Different culture!
That we have arrived in a different culture is obvious. We already received two spontaneous visits. This means that you just stop with whatever you were doing and make some coffee, offering biscuits or the like and chat. This chatting is less straightforward as you might have guessed but, because we do know some of the cultural rules, we have done well. You need to offer the guest some biscuits first and place them on the table. Of course all the biscuits need to be eaten, a tradition the children do not mind. Jurgen and Vanya were going to visit someone’s house as well. They prepared their table with six classes but where were Katja and the children? Jurgen told them that they were very tired and that he only brought along his oldest child. This was pleasing as Vanya was a good representative of the children and the host was relieved to understand that the others did not stay home because of him. On Madagascar it is not necessarily the oldest boy who is most important (like in Kenya) but the oldest child. In Kenya we were the ‘father or mother of Issa’ but here we are ‘dadda/mamma nie Vanya’ (father or mother of Vanya).

If you want to know more about these differences we can recommend Sarah A. Lanier’s book, ‘Foreign to Familiar’ (for sale at e.g. Amazon). Sarah lived for eleven years in Holland and she is very good in explaining the differences between cold climate culture (with Holland as a strong example) and warm climate cultures.

We love to see all the learned theory in action. At the same time we are very tired at the end of the day. This ‘end of the day’ is about 6 pm—the sun has gone under by then and will be up as early as 05:20. Thus our day starts at 6 am and around 9 pm we are already in our snug beds… talking about which…

It is time to stop. We could write on but we will keep that for next time.

We wish you Gods rich blessings or in Malagasy ‘Andriamanitra ny fitahian’.

About Our Work

About Our Work

When we arrive in Antananarivo (Tana) we will become part of the Tana FOCUS team. It is the vision and stategy of the team to reach the unreached of Madagascar through the training of local believers. The team will train Malagasy Christians as missionaries and will support them when they serve amongst an unreached people group on the island. After successful service in Madagascar the Malagasy missionaries will be encouraged to go back to their roots (Indonesia) to do missionary work there. We are much delighted about this approach and find it a privilege to take part in it.

While in Tana we expect to spend much time on language acquisition and study of the culture and history of Madagascar. Katja will continue educating the children.

AIM’s unit leader over Madagascar has proposed that we help him survey which people groups still need to be effectively reached with the gospel and how this can be achieved. We will probably visit various people groups and locations on the isle. In time hopes are that we may be involved in starting a new team amongst an unreached people group.

– As part of the Tana FOCUS team we will help train Malagasi Christians to be missionaries;
– We will study Malagasy language, culture and history;
– We will help survey unreached people groups;
– In time we hope to start a new team amongst such a group;
– Katja will home educate the children.

To read more on unreached peoples visit this page. To learn more about Madagascar and its people go here.