Madagascar has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world: long, pure white sand, insanely warm water, devoid of people. Being my first trip to a tropical place, I was especially enthralled with the beaches. Shortly after arriving in Nosy Be, we visited our first beach, Ambatoloaka. It was beautiful.
Two local guys, Sevy and Patrick, who often helped David at the church and were the most consistent of the youth group, came with us. While there they decided to lead a few of us; Jeff (a holdover from a Point Loma group that had been in Nosy Be earlier), Loriann, Patrice, and I; down the beach. We walked down the beach and around a point, and came to a beautiful little bay. The bay is almost a perfect circle, with an arch at one end of the entrance. Unfortunately, there is also a shrimp packing plant in the bay, the only thing ruining the beauty.
After hanging out there for a bit, Sevy said he knew an easier way back. We all thought it would be easiest to just go back the way we came, but Sevy thought it best to keep walking and get back to Ambatoloaka beach a back way.
We ended up walking little trails and roads through villages, with Sevy stopping to ask directions every once in a while, of course. Although we were completely lost and barefooted, it was pretty cool to explore a little.
When we did finally get back to the beach it was near sunset and we jumped back in the water and swam around some more. While swimming, my knee hit the bottom, and at the time I thought I just scraped it, and didn’t think about it. When I got out of the water I realized I had a really deep cut. Blood began to run down my leg and everyone got really worried. I used an old towel and held it against my leg to stop the bleeding as we all piled back in the Land Cruiser to drive back to Hell-Ville (no, really), the city where we were staying.
We dropped off everyone except me, Loriann, Scott and David. We then drove back to Ambatoloaka where there was a French doctor. We picked up a South African missionary along the way who knew where the doctor lived. This guy was pretty funny, his more famous quote being, “Nobody likes the Frenchies but the Frenchies. Jesus loves them, but he doesn’t have to like them.”
Madagascar is formerly a French colony. Like many French colonies, the French colonized, destroyed much of the local culture and way of life, profited off the land and the people, then left. The country has since been unstable and unable to gain much progress since it’s independence in 1960. The French are blamed by the Malagasy people for much of the ills, and often accused of meddling in the political affairs of the country. There is some evidence that the French may have been involved in the coup d’etat in early 2009. Additionally, the former 23 year president of Madagascar, Didier Ratsiraka, now resides in France after fleeing the country following a failed civil war attempt to regain his presidency after losing the controversial election in 2002. To add to their own bad reputation, many French men tour the country and sleep around with the local women (sometimes teenagers). Therefore, being in Madagascar, it’s easy to take on a negative view of the French.
Ironically, we were on our way to see a French doctor to stitch up my leg. After first going to the wrong place, we then found the correct house and went up to the door. We met the doctor and showed him my leg and the pack of fresh sutures we had brought. He didn’t speak English and none of us spoke French. The doctor put my leg up on table, cleaned it with some iodine and then he began. There would be no anesthetic since it was a small cut, and he probably didn’t have any anyway.
Not knowing how many stitches it would be or how much it would hurt, I bit on my shirt. The first stitch was pretty easy and all I felt were a couple of small pricks. the second stitch was not so easy. He got the needle into one side easily, but it would not come out the other side. He kept pushing and pushing but it would not go through. I finally looked down to see my skin pushing up from the pressure of the needle. It was not very comfortable to see. I only got two stitches, cosmetics not being a concern.
He put a bandage on it, gave me some antibiotics and sent me home. I had to go the next week being careful not to bend my knee, and sacrificing not playing basketball (our primary ministry). A few days later we stopped by the doctor again to make sure everything looked okay, and after a week, I cut the stitches out.
During that week, I took it easy. The cut was small, but it was deep, and right on the knee where the skin stretches. Not wanting the healing to take all summer, I did my best keeping my leg straight which meant not doing as much walking around town and not playing basketball for that week. Hanging around the neighborhood a little more, gave me the opportunity to get to know the neighborhood kids, and some of the other people who stopped by.
We played games with the kids we taught them some games we took from training camp like “Boom-chicka-boom,” and “Little Malagasy.” I also made balloon animals one day. It is amazing how an empty street can become filled with dozens of kids in just a few minutes. Some kids I especially remember are Baba, Madame, Emilio, Vola, and Yasmine. Through the summer, we threw water balloons, shot “finger-blasters”, and aimlessly ran around.
These kids generally had nothing; you could always tell when it was laundry day because the little kids were running around in their underpants (having only one outfit of clothes). It gave me an opportunity to really experience what God’s love was like, it was a situation in which there was nothing but the building of relationships; a lesson I still keep with me.
I also taught the “children’s church” on Sunday mornings. I would take a fun story from the Bible and re-write it in a way that I thought would be easiest to tell through a translator. David and Lisa also had some Bible pictures that I was able to use as well. I would tell the story, Patrick would translate, and hopefully the kids understood the lesson at the end. The last Sunday there I told the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection and all the kids raised their hands to accept Jesus afterwards. I’m not sure if they understood or not, but hopefully it planted a seed that stuck with them.
On our last day there, I gave away a few of shirts, including my two YIM shirts to Baba, Madame, Vola, and Emilio. They were all beaming. We then had to say goodbye which was by far the hardest day there, seeing the little kids cry as we were leaving.
While getting stitches seemed like a set back at the time, it ended up being the trigger to getting to know the kids and building a relationship with them. When I was able to go back to Nosy Be a year and a half later, many of the kids were still there and remembered me. I would love to know how those kids are doing now.