Category Archives: Madagascar

10 of My Favorite Things

There are so many cool things I’ve seen in the last four months. I thought I’d pick 10 of my favorites from Madagascar and South Sudan since February, not in any particular order.

1. Babies on heads. Yes, there’s a baby in there. It’s what they do in parts of South Sudan. It’s simply too cool and a first for me to see. Motot, South Sudan

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2. Strange beauty.  We tattoo our bodies – they cut patterns. Kapoeta, South Sudan

3. Women who carry the heavy stuff on their heads.  It was the women, not the men, who carried the cargo from the plane to the clinic. It never ceases to amaze me what women can balance on their heads in Africa (even babies!). Mayendit, South Sudan

4. Children who make homemade balls. I’ve seen this in all sizes in the bush, including soccer balls, all made from found items. Mayendit, South Sudan

5. Rest for the weary. “Mama Eunice” (as her younger colleagues call her) with Medair, was ready for a break from work in the bush clinic, heading for Juba from the remote village of Ganyiel after MAF delivered a plane full of cargo. I’ve heard people talk about how it feels when they are in the middle of nowhere and hear the MAF plane approaching. Eunice has been evacuated many times by MAF, for medical and security reasons. Once when her team was running from gunfire, she fell and broke her arm. When MAF came to rescue them, she said it was “like angels” coming. People like Eunice are true VIPs. Ganyiel, South Sudan

6.  People who are easily entertained. The men in this village found the signing of a cargo sheet to be fascinating entertainment. Longochuk, South Sudan

7. Homemade Toys. I’ve seen incredibly creative home-made toys in the bush. Who needs Toys-R-US? Kapoeta, South Sudan

8. Pilots with hidden talents. I was quite impressed to see these two MAF pilots, Daniel and Ryan, jam after a day of flying in South Sudan

9. MAF planes taking off in the bush. I love watching the planes take off and land from bush airstrips. Usually I’m on the plane, not on the ground, so it’s a treat. This particular strip had tall grass that was nearly too much to land on. Madagascar

10. Beautiful Late Afternoon Light. South Sudan isn’t exactly a beautiful country. A lot of flat land. But on this day, the light turned the landscape into something magical. The White Nile channels criss-cross the landscape in the late afternoon.

 

The Bible Man

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I have rarely met anyone so passionate about the Bible. Meet Jean-Claude, an African from the Ivory Coast, whose enthusiasm seems unquenchable. Whose entire speech is punctuated with italics, bold, and exclamation marks. Who laughs and shouts and preaches with arms lifted or fingers pointing, always with a Bible in his hands. He’s larger than life and it’s all real.

Jean Claude’s dream is to see every Malagasy own a Bible. MAF is trying to help.

In Madagascar, they have offered Jean Claude and other local missionaries & churches highly subsidized flights in their small green Cessna 182, charging only 10¢ a kilometer. Last week, this allowed Jean Claude and his colleague Rado to fly to Morombe and Manja, both towns that would otherwise be inaccessible during the rainy season, or a three-day trip in the dry. Or…a two hour and 45 minute plane ride.

Jean Claude was thrilled that he could go this far this fast and constantly, unprompted, praised MAF for making it possible. “Because of you, I have this BIG opportunity to come here to preach the gospel! It was TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE because there’s no road to come here!  There’s no bridge, so no road. Because of MAF, I have this opportunity!”

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A megaphone is key to what they do. It announces why they are here. As we drove from the airstrip into town, Rado shouted into the megaphone the entire drive as we passed small clusters of huts or people gathered by the side of the road.  “We have Bibles! We have just arrived! Please come to the market and you will have a Bible for only 5000 ($2).”

The actual cost of the Bibles is $5 each, but one of the MAF pilots, Josh Plett, got his church in Canada to raise money in order to drop the price to $2, something a Malagasy is more likely able to afford.

The crowds surrounded Jean Claude and Rado once they reached the main street of town, and the Bibles rapidly sold out. Rado even sold his personal, heavily marked up Bible when a woman begged him for one and there were none left. The two preached a bit and handed out free Biblical literature, nearly causing a fist-fight on the street as people tried to claim a piece.

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“With MAF, just two hours and I’m here with my megaphone,” Jean Claude exclaimed.  “I can preach the gospel, and you see? We came with the New Testament and Bibles. In 30 minutes…FINISH the Bible! FINISH all the New Testament, and people are crying because there are no more Bibles! Thank you to MAF for giving us this opportunity!”

Lemurs and Crocs

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The purpose of my trip to Madagascar was not to see the famed lemurs and beautiful touristy scenery, so the MAF Program Manager felt sorry about that, I think, and took us to to a “Croc Farm” near the airport where we could see some wildlife. They had crocs (of course) and one type of lemur that freely lived in the trees and came down to get a banana if you offered it. Even though we were at a zoo, it was still amazing to get so close to a gorgeous lemur, and even stroke it’s soft fur and feel it’s mouth ever-so-gently touch my hand as it took the piece of banana. I’m sure if I lived in Madagascar for years I would tire of lemurs, but for me it was a thrill. So here are a few photos of crocs and lemurs (and giant chameleons, snakes, and the cat-like Fossa) to contrast the previous post of croc bites and tumors.

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A Year of Firsts

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Sometimes it hits me that I have an unusual number of “firsts” in my life, and this year with MAF will most definitely fill my life to overflowing. I arrived in Kenya to begin a new job as Roving Journalist for Mission Aviation Fellowship, and a week later flew to Madagascar for the first of many research trips.

The last two days began with some interesting “firsts”.  MAF pilot, Josh Plett, flew us down to a village about one & a half hours from the Madagascar capital of Tana to visit a team of doctors on a week long “Madagascar Medical Safari”, referred to as MMS. We arrived on the forth of five days and stayed overnight. The plane landed at a grassy airstrip about 3 km away from a wide river on the opposite side from the village of Beroroha. Getting to the village required a drive to the river, crossing the river in a canoe-like boat, then walking for about 15 minutes in the sweltering sun to the hospital. We had left Tana at 6:30 AM, and arrived at the location at about 9:45, soaking with sweat, red faced, and in desperate need of liquid and a breeze of any kind.

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In contrast, two of the doctors had been pulling teeth, and doing circumcisions since 6:30 AM, while the other three medical personnel (a doctor, nurse, and volunteer medical student) saw patients who filled the shaded area next to the building, waiting their turn. A pastor sang and preached to those waiting. By 10 am the first two doctors took a break to eat breakfast, and by 11:30 AM they were back to perform three major surgeries that lasted until 10 PM, without a lunch or dinner break.

The surgeries were a first for me. I had never really watched a full abdominal surgery before where I could see the inside organs of a person. And this was no ordinary abdominal surgery. The 37-year-old woman, Nestine, had a tumor the size of a volleyball. She looked pregnant, and had suffered from this condition for more than a year. With no money for a trip to Tana, plus surgery (costing over $300), lodging, food, and medical fees, they felt there was no hope. She would simply die eventually. MMS charged $7 for a surgery that lasted 2 ½ hours.

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The second surgery was for a 16-year-old who had suffered from a hernia since he was a baby. It was a complicated surgery, the doctors said. The boy was given a spinal anesthesia so was conscious through the procedure, and the anesthesiologist read a Bible story to distract him during the surgery.

The third surgery was for a 30-year-old deaf man, Langa, whose hand was bitten by a crocodile three weeks earlier. They walked five hours from their village to the hospital where they received little help until the MMS doctors arrived, but by that time it was too late to save the hand which had turned black and smelled of rotting meat. It had to be amputated. It took the man a day to come to terms with the loss of his hand before he was ready to have the surgery. This was also a complicated surgery requiring tendons to be tied off, blood vessels sealed, and many other details I don’t understand – a three-hour surgery. I stayed for the first part where they literally just broke off the rotting fingers and bones but managed to save the thumb.

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We slept that night in a tented camp set up for the MMS team, but had eaten and were in bed by the time the doctors finished around 11 pm.  6:30 AM to 11 PM. They kept these hours for three days in a row.

I asked 46-year-old Dr. Clara, who assisted Dr. Sylvain in the surgeries, how she felt about the hard week which included her sleeping bag getting wet from a rainstorm on the final night and spraining her wrist when she fell off a cart that tipped over on the way to the river on departure day.  She responded enthusiastically, “I loved it!”  Irene, the 23-year-old anesthesiologist, could barely express herself as she held her hands over her heart and her eyes filled up with tears, while she explained how meaningful it was for her to be helping her desperately poor countrymen and women.