Stories of my adventures in Madagascar… for my daughter and son

Posts tagged “nazarene church


My purpose for being in Madagascar was to teach carpentry.  In connection with the SKC already established, there were still many teens and young adults for which traditional schooling was no longer possible.  The ministry then decided to start a vocational school to train these young men and women to have skills that they could use to find a job in the workplace or start of business of their own.  With a moderate amount of skills there were jobs available, so it was a much better opportunity than their current path in life, which would likely be that of a menial labor worker.

The three skills that the school was to teach were computers/keyboarding, sewing, and carpentry.  The year I was going, was to be the first year of the carpentry program.  Wood working has always been an interest of mine and others in my family, so I was really excited about the opportunity.

Upon arriving in M/car I found that I would be starting from scratch on developing the program.  There was a limited amount of curriculum that Tom had acquired, and there was a great shop in need of some clean up and organization.  At some point previously, a work and witness team had walled off a corner of the basement where a collection of power tools and a workbench had been placed.  I had no idea  the level of effort it would take to teach the incoming students.

My task when I arrived was to set up the shop.  I did all of this in July and August between the two work and witness teams.  The shop was already well stocked with Grizzly power tools: table saw, band saw, lathe, jointer, planer, combo sander, drill press, shaper, and miter saw.  A few of them were being used, but some had not really been set up yet.  In addition, most of the shop area was being used for storage, so there were several pallets of goods taking up space.

First step, cleaning.  I moved the pallets out, swept, vacuumed, dusted off all the tools.  The area was actually pretty spacious, so  next, I worked on determining the amount of space needed for each power tool.  After a few design tweaks, I moved the tools around into their determined positions.

Second step starting up the tools.  Some were being used already, so I worked on adjusting and calibrating each of them.  For the others, there were a few hiccups.  Upon starting two of the machines, the capacitors blew.  Thankfully we found this before the second W&W team came, so they were able to bring replacements.  It turned out some wiring was crossed, that we were able to easily fix, and get the tools up and running again.

After getting the shop tools organized, set up and calibrated,  I then finished setting up the shop for the students.  There were no workbenches, so David and I built about six workbenches along one wall of the shop.  We also collected tools necessary to teach the students the finer points of crafting with hand tools.  We focused on teaching the hand tools, as that is the type of work they would most likely be doing upon leaving the program.  Near the end of the school year, I began teaching the use of the power tools to a few of the students.

The student workbenches

With the shop set up, and waiting for the school year to begin, I got the chance to build a few projects for David and Lisa and a few other people.  I built a bunk bed, bookcase, desk, a single bed, an entertainment center, and a small armoire.  It was not museum quality, but I was proud of my work, and had a lot of fun building pieces of furniture.  Unfortunately, the wood available that we used was never really cured properly, so after several months, many of the pieces began warping.  It was a hard problem to find a solution for.

When school started, my students were very raw, and from a variety of backgrounds.  They had all received little or no schooling, and a few of them likely had learning disabilities.  Teaching was a difficult process.  We started small, identifying tools and their uses, learning to measure, learning to use each tool.  Cutting straight lines with a hand saw was one of the first difficult obstacles to overcome.

The sense of quality was very different among these students then my own understanding, and may have shed some light on the state of maintenance and quality among infrastructure in the country as whole.  For them, completing the task was sufficient, quality was not a concern.  I spent a lot of time trying to instill a sense of quality, and that completion was not enough, but making it look good, and long-lasting was equally important.

After getting past basic tool usage.  We moved on to more complex tasks.  For a few new ideas and tasks, I would design a project that practiced those tasks.  So along  the way, we made more and more complex projects, eventually practicing all that was learned.  At one point, I brought Lisa down to judge their projects, to help reinforce the concept of quality.

In addition to vocational skills, the students also learned English and took a Bible class.  I taught a small English class for a few of the computer students that already spoke English.  Not knowing much about teaching English, I made it a conversational class.  I would have the students rotate brining a topic to class for everyone to discuss, and therefore, practice speaking in English.  Through this, I was able to learn a lot about Madagascar.  The students discussed the state of affairs in Madagascar, their way of life, and what they see for the future.

Patrice, myself, and most of the wood shop class

At the end of the school year we had a graduation ceremony.  The students sang songs, and we handed out certificates, and took lots of pictures.  It was a great occasion and a great conclusion to the school year.

One of my most special students was Andrianjaka.  Andrianjaka had what I presumed was epilepsy that caused him to occasionally have seizures, though he never had one while in my class.  Knowledge of this kind of thing is limited in M/car, so everyone presumed he was possessed, or at least just crazy.  He also clearly had some mental disability as well.

Nonetheless, he faithfully showed up to class each day, even on days when no one else came.  He slowly caught on to some of the concepts, but never made real solid progress.  However, he kept working hard, and always came with a smile on his face.

One morning, Andrianjaka was found dead on the side of a road.  Perhaps, he had a seizure while walking home the previous evening, and with no help, passed away in a ditch until he was found in the morning by a passerby.   He had a large funeral with many people in attendance and was laid to rest in a cemetery outside of town.

It’s a sad event that sticks with me.  However, unbelievable even to myself, I made no mention of his passing in the journal I kept during my time in M/car.  Perhaps at some point, I realized that life was just different there… and more fragile.  In the rush of writing  my journal, simply to keep track of my actions each day, I forgot about the details and the relationships built in everyday life.

I mourn for Andrianjaka, for a young man, with never much hope in life, who had been written off by all but a few as un-helpable, who will stay firm in my memory the rest of my life.


Return to Nosy Be

One of the guys we played basketball with in Nosy Be was Birkoff.  His actual name is Frederic, and goes by Freddy, but for the white people that come visit, he tells them to call him “Birkoff.”  He got the name from a French TV series/movie, “La Femme Nikita.”  In the TV series there is a computer geek named Seymour Birkhoff.  Freddy wanted to be a computer programmer, therefore, Birkoff (with a different spelling).

Birkoff is a pretty smart guy and spoke English perfectly, and now works off and on as a dive assistant in Nosy Be so he’s one of the guys that we got to know well on our first summer in Nosy Be.  He’s very crazy.  When I arrived at my first church service at the local church in Tana, behold, there was Birkoff.  I was amazed to see him there, as was he to see me.  Apparently he had since moved to Tana to try to go to school and live with his father.  He had spent some time trying to find the Nazarene church and this was the first Sunday that he had found it, an amazing coincidence, or providence.

It was nice to have a friend there for my first couple of months.  We hung out a lot around the church, managed to fix the basketball hoop, and played a lot of basketball.  We hung out quite a bit during the year, during the off and on times that he was in Tana.  He had a troubled relationship with his father so he ended up back in Nosy Be for much of the year.

Fortunately, at the beginning of November, I got the opportunity to go up to Nosy Be at a time that Pastor Dave would also be going.  I got to visit Birkoff and his family, and visit the others I had met there the year before.

November is quite possibly the warmest month in Nosy Be.  It’s getting to be summer by then, and is before the rainy season starts.  So it is just pure heat with no rain for relief.  Flying into Nosy Be was so beautiful, it was right about sunset, the sky and water reflecting a palette of colors.  We also circled the island before landing, giving a great reintroduction.

Birkoff and his mother were waiting for me at the airport.  I stayed with Birkoff at his modest two room house with his mother and sister.  They treated me so well, preparing great local food for dinner, giving me a bed to sleep on, it was wonderful.  His house, of course, did not have plumbing, so I took bucket showers with water from the well, and took care of other duties at a hole, covered by a thatch hut.  On a couple of occasions we showered at this half-built abandon building, that somehow, had warm running water.  I didn’t ask any questions about the nature or ownership of the building.

Being in Madagascar, was often a practice of being opportunistic.  If an opportunity came up to do something, I usually went ahead with it.  That’s how I ended up on a swimming club, hiking through barren grasslands, spending 20 hours on a bus, or two days on a lorry.  Most often, it was best to only partially know what was going on, and enjoy the journey; as long as I didn’t get in trouble.

On Sunday morning after arriving I went to the church.  I surprised everyone by showing up.  I saw Patricia, Patrick, Claude, and Faed.  It was great to see everyone.  I walked home with Patrick and Patricia and talked with them for awhile before having lunch.

Patricia and Patrick are great people.  Patricia lives pretty well, but her husband works a fishing boat and is gone for long periods of time.  Patricia speaks English so she is easy to visit with.  How she came to know English is amazing.  At one time Pastor Dave had never heard her speak English and neither had her husband, until he came home from a trip to find her able to speak English.  Amazed, he asked, how did you learn?  Jesus taught me, she replied.  That’s the story she’s stuck with and nobody has any evidence to the contrary.  She asked Jesus, and she received.

Patrick was another very smart kid, did well in school for what he had.  Unfortunately for the previous year he had often been sick with malaria, and had gotten a whole year behind in school.  Graduating from high school is surprisingly tough there.  He is also one of few Christians in Nosy Be, and I don’t think he had any friends who are Christian.  It always seemed to me like he may have been a little lonely.

After visiting with them, Birkoff and I took a taxi to the beach at Ambatoloaka that I was dying to visit.  Taxi’s were always a fun experience, especially in Nosy Be.  The taxi’s are typically ancient Renault 4L‘s or Citroen‘s that are cast-offs from other countries.  They run primarily on modified sheet metal, ingenuity, faith, and a water bottle of diesel held by the driver’s feet.  In Tana, they are always out of gas and the first part of any taxi ride is a trip to the gas station (oddly, this particular characteristic of taxi’s in Tana was featured on The Amazing Race).

In Tana, there are more regulations on taxis (including they all be painted beige), particularly on the number of riders in the taxi.   On our first trip to Nosy Be, we became accustomed to packing the whole of our 7 person team in one taxi.  When we arrived in Tana, we found that this didn’t fly, and would have to split up in two taxis.

On this particular trip in Nosy Be, I rode a packed taxi of 11 people (7 adults, 4 kids), my personal best. We made it to the beach, luckily making it through the police check points (police check point = location for bribe payment/creative negotiating).  We hung out on the beach, saw where Birkoff’s mom worked, then went home to bed.

Monday morning I went back to Ambonara to visit the neighborhood that we had stayed in.  It was great, all the kids were still there and I had a lot of fun hanging out with them again and talking with them.  Many were now learning French and English in school so I could talk with them a little bit.  Madame, Babo, Yasmine, Vola, Emilio, they were all there.  I felt so happy to be back.  I went back again and played with them on Saturday.

Later in the day I walked down to the basketball court.  When I got there many of the same guys from the summer before were there playing.  They were also surprised to see me.  I had a good time hanging out with them.  They still played the same crazy basketball, missing most of their shots.  But, when they did make a shot, there was a lot of trash talk and posturing.  Patrick also showed up at the court so I got more time to talk with him.

Each night we had dinner at about 9:30.  After getting up around 6:00, and walking around in the heat all day, I could not stay up til 9:30.  I always ended up falling asleep, then waking up when it was time for dinner.  Something to know about living near the equator, the sun sets between 5:30 and 7:00 year round.  With very little to do once it gets dark, besides read or write next to a candle (the power was always going out), it was hard to stay up too late.  M/car is an 11 hour time difference from the Pacific Time Zone, so when my body adjusted, it adjusted to waking up without an alarm at 6.

Tuesday I just hung around with Birkoff most of the day hanging out with his girlfriend, or at his uncle’s house.  In the evening we went back to the basketball court and played basketball with the guys again.  It was fun to play and hang out with the guys that we had made such good relationships with the year before.

I went to the beach again Wednesday and Thursday, one of my most favorite places to be, and again on Saturday.  I felt good to hang out at the beach, walk around, and enjoy the warm water.  I explored different areas around the beach, just walking and hanging out.  Thursday night was the youth meeting at the church, so I went to that.  I saw a lot of the same youth from the year before, and all the kids from Ambonara showed up as well.  Everyone shared how things had been going, and David shared and preached.

Friday I stayed in town, and played some basketball in the afternoon.  The guys that showed up at the court this day were much different from the guys that we had played with before.  These guys were really good, and it was much harder work to keep up with them.

Sunday was my last full day in Nosy Be.  I went to church again, helped lead the children, and watched as David led the annual meeting.  With the kids, we played Boom-chicka-boom and Little Malagasy, some of the games we had taught them.  During the church service, Patrick was made a full member and leader along with Patricia and Mama.  I got to talk with Patrick several times during the week and really enjoyed it, I hope he is doing well.

While there in Nosy Be, I acquired some kind of sickness.  I had a stomach ache most of day Wednesday and felt just drained the whole day.  Sitting in the water on the beach felt nice, but it was just so hard to escape the heat, it may have just been some heat stroke.  Later in the week, starting Saturday night, I got a terrible, pounding headache.  All day Sunday I was just miserable, and could hardly function.  I got some aspirin, but it barely helped.  I ended up being exhausted for the next week until I got over it.  I’ve never been sure what it was, but after getting malaria later on, perhaps it was that, or maybe a stomach issue from some bad water.

Overall, I loved my trip back to Nosy Be, it’s one of my most favorite places on earth.  I loved the opportunity to talk with Patrick and Patricia, to hang out with the kids again, to visit the beautiful beach, and to get the opportunity to live with a Malagasy family for a week.  It was great, Nosy Be will always hold a special place in my heart.

The Second Trip: Laying Block

My flight to Madagascar took me, with only short layovers, from Seattle to Cincinnati (4.5 hrs), Cincinnati to Paris (8.5 hrs), and Paris to Antananarivo (11 hrs).  I arrived at about 11:00pm disoriented and sleep deprived.  David picked me up at the airport and we drove back to “the compound” where he let me stay in their house for the night (They had by this time moved to Tana).  I slept in Amanda’s room for the night.  I actually felt bad sleeping in her room, I had not had a chance to shower since arriving and I stunk.  In Charles de Gaulle the only place I had found to lay down was a smoking section and the stench was lingering with me.

This is what I refer to as the compound, though, its not really much of a compound

A couple days before I arrived, a Work and Witness team from South Carolina had arrived.  I had never been to South Carolina and still have not been, so this is my only introduction to people from there.  They loved grits more than any food except Coca-Cola, which they drank constantly (10-12 bottles per person a day).  Ironically, the same guy in charge of mixing the mortar at the job site was the same guy who cooked the grits, possibly some similarities between two.  Some of them spoke in such strong accents that I honestly couldn’t understand a word they said.  Think, Boomhauer from King of the Hill.  They all played fantasy NASCAR and were very concerned about the standings.  They also swore that South Carolina girls were the best in the world and all loved their wives a lot, calling home nearly every night and running up huge phone bills.  They snored uncontrollably but thanks to hard work and jet lag, I managed to sleep in the bunk room just fine.

In addition to all of this, the crew from South Carolina was a professional construction crew.  At the time, the new Street Kids Center was getting started with building a new building.  The purpose of this S. Carolina W&W team and team from Arizona that came later, was to lay the block and build the first two floors of the center.  The S. Carolina team finished the first floor in record time and record quality.  Compared to the guys on this team, my masonry skills were greatly lacking.  They were good at everything they did.  When the Arizona team came a few weeks later, I was one of the best bricklayers.  The professionalism of this team was amazing.

One of the first days of construction

The first week and a half I was in M/car I spent at the job site, hauling brick, pushing wheel barrows, cutting brick, laying brick.  Jet lag was never a problem.  The team was scheduled to take most of two work weeks to finish the job but instead finished by Tuesday of the second week.  Therefore, we got some time to roam around town a bit and get oriented to my new surroundings.  I visited the current SKC they were using, shopped at some of the markets, walked around Analakely.  A group of four girls were there with the current YIM team, so I hung out with them some and saw the work they were doing at the SKC.  With David moving to Tana, there was no one to guide them in Nosy Be, so this year’s team was staying in Tana.

Map of Antananarivo

The local workers a the SKC were unbelievable.  The location of the construction project was down a steep hill from the street into a small valley.  The Americans had trouble just walking to the job site.  The local workers, however, repeatedly loaded 50 kilo bags of cement, or two 40 lbs cinder blocks on their head and cruised down the hill…barefoot.  The wonder of seeing people carry things are their head is always remarkable to us western outsiders, but this was the most significant example of their abilities I ever saw.

Woman carry a 110 lb bag of cement

While the Work and Witness teams were there, all the men stayed in a room in the basement of the church.  In the room were about 15 bunk beds, with plenty of room for visiting teams.  I stayed with the teams in this room, and once the two teams had finished, I had the room to myself for the rest of the year.  I did my best to make the room my own from the scraps that I found around.  I pushed all the bunks to one half of the room so that I had an open space for the other half.  I moved in a bamboo couch, a chair, a folding table, a couch, a desk and a small shelf that were around the church and shop in various states.  I found a small TV and an old VCR that I eventually hooked up to an antennae from the market and was able to watch French and Malagasy TV and borrow videos from the missionaries.  Later in the year, after I had built Amanda a new bed, I was able to get her old twin mattress and use that for a bed, a huge upgrade from the too small bunk-bed.

Watching local TV allowed me to really improve on my French comprehension skills and having a space and table to myself allowed me to spend a good amount of time journaling, especially during the rolling blackouts.  The electricity would go off for some period of time everyday, and as many as 5 or 6 times a day, so that for much of many days there was little or no electricity.  I ended up making a few candle sticks on the lathe and burned through many candles as I sat in the dark reading and writing.

The church and my home

Communication with home was limited.  I borrowed an old laptop from the missionaries and set up Outlook so that I would write emails and have them in my inbox, then once a week or so, I would hook up to the internet, at the missionaries house and send the emails and download my inbox.  The internet was slow and priced based upon amount of usage, so I did not use the internet much.  Occasionally I would go to an internet cafe if there was something that I wanted to spend a lot of time looking up.

I went all but the last couple months of my stay with no home phone and no cell phone.  In my world now, it seems impossible and utterly absurd to go 11 months with no phone.  But I don’t remember it being much of a problem.  The few times I needed to make a call to arrange a hotel or for the three times during the year that I got to talk to my parents, I used the phone at Dave and Lisa’s.  After I got more friends, they began leaving messages with Dave and Lisa when they wanted to get a hold of me, which probably led to them finding an old phone that I could use.

In M/car and likely in other countries in the world, entrepreneurs would set up little tables and an umbrella, where they would have a phone for each of the local phone companies.  You could then pay them to use their phone and make a call.  I did use this on occasion.  In developing countries, cell phone technology has greatly outpaced most other forms of infrastructure.

My bedroom

I also went to M/car before digital cameras really became popular.  So I wen to M/car still with a cheap point and shoot film camera.  The quality of the pictures I took in M/car is greatly lacking.  When I think of M/car I remember the vibrant colors and beautiful scenery, but when I look through the pictures I am always disappointed the poor quality and the lack of justice they do for such an amazing country.

When the W&W team had finished the first floor of the SKC, we all went on a short trip to the rain forest, and stayed at a hotel called the Vakona Lodge.  It was a beautifully constructed resort, with small bungalows for rooms, and a large, tall ceiling-ed central lodge, where meals were served.  The S. Carolina boys were always so picky about the food at the lodge and how it was prepared, it was a little annoying.  I learned early on in my stay, not to be too concerned with the food, but just to pray a fervent blessing and dig in.

Vakona lodge

While at the lodge we went on few different tours.  In one tour we went to “Lemur Island” which is a small island of domesticated lemurs.  It is actually an island with no bridge (so the lemurs don’t escape) and we rode in small canoes the 30 feet to the island.  See the big S. Carolina boys try to navigate the tiny canoes was pretty funny, they need a lot more keel.  The guides then brought out snacks and the lemurs flocked around, crawling on us, and allowing for a lot of good pictures.   In addition, we then toured the crocodile refuge, which was  pond with a couple dozen crocodiles lounging on the beaches.  It was winter, so the crocs were in a slow state of mind.  There were also cages with birds, snakes, and the legendary Fossa, the primary predator to the lemurs.

At night we went on a night (of course) tour to find the elusive mouse lemur. Mouse lemurs are really rare, and small, less that the size of my hand, so finding them is difficult.  The only way to really find them is to shine flashlights into the trees and look for the glowing eyes.  So we wandered through the forest for a couple hours looking for the elusive glowing eyeballs.  Luckily we were able to find a couple and focus in on them to see their little bodies.  We also saw a number of chameleons, which are quite common.

One of my many lemur admirers

Early the second morning, we got up to see the famed Indri lemurs.  Indri are known for two things: (1) being the largest of all current lemurs; and (2) making a haunting siren-like wailing.  We drove to the edge of the forest where the Indri were known to be.  As soon as we got out of the vans, we could hear the far off wailing.  We proceeded to trek into the forest with our guides, until they pointed high in the trees to the lounging lemurs.  We could see them in small groups, with their babies.  Every so often, they would call out, a loud, siren like sound that could be heard for miles, and hardly describable.  The volume was incredible.  Amazing animals.

I was fortunate enough on my trips to Madagascar to see many kinds of lemurs.  In addition to the mouse and Indri, I also saw (in the wild) brown, black, Sifaka, ring-tailed, and maybe some others I don’t now remember.  I also saw many more in zoos.  Since all lemurs and endemic to Madagascar, it was really a special experience.

Completion of the first floor

The S. Carolina team finished the first floor of the building and the main construction of the restroom area.  After they left I had about 2 months of calm to settle in before a second team came from Arizona.  During that time, I organized the shop, which was currently being used as a storage area, got all the tool calibrated and running, cleaned everything, determined the optimal placement of all the power tools, built a bed for Amanda and a couple other projects, and took a flight with MAF.

I also spent a lot of that time getting to know the the youth and young adults of the church.  There were several guys and girls I hung out with including Patrice (from my first trip who was then the youth pastor and now the senior pastor), Draza, Valarie, Felana, Nanjan, and Sarah.  We played basketball and volleyball at the church, went to the Tana zoo, went to an English Club (where I was unknowingly the guest speaker) and walked around town.  I also went on the youth group trip to Mantasoa where I got to hang out and get to know everyone better.

At the end of August the second W&W team came, this time from Arizona.  Before they arrived, Dave and I moved about 450 cinder blocks down the hill one morning to prepare for the team to come.  This was a much different team.  Rather than the professionally organized construction crew from S. Carolina, this was more of a random collection of church members who had come to help out.  With the S. Carolina team, I had taken more of a support and learning role.  With this team I took more of a lead role, laying block.  Hard work, but for a good cause.  The Arizona team was different and I didn’t feel I got along with them as well, but they got the second floor done and kept the work moving.

Over the course of the next year, the school continued to be built by the local contracting company.  I was fortunate to get to watch the progress of it being built.  It is now successfully in operation as you can see in some of the pics below.

Completion of the second floor

Completion of the third floor and roof

This is how it looked when I left

How it looks today (not my picture)

The SKC and students (not my picture)


On Wednesday of each week we had a “day off.”  On a few of these days off we got to go on excursions around the island.  We were led by our guide and member of the church, Don.

Don was a character all to himself.  Despite having terrible eyesight, he was able to spot chameleons in every tree as we drove past.  He was always more than happy to stop the van, get out and hold the chameleon for us to take pictures.  On one excursion we found a boa in a tree and we all took turns taking pictures of ourselves with the boa.  Don wanted in on the fun so he held the boa and requested we all take pictures of him while he struck poses for us.  We obliged, pretending to take pictures of him as he posed.

Our guide, Don

Don had a couple of other quirks.  He was unable to say “Madagascar” without also adding the phrase, “the fourth largest island in the world.”  All along our tours, every time we talked to him, it was always “Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world.”  It became a joke for us so that every time we would say Madagascar, we would also include the obligatory phrase.

A second favorite item of Don’s tour script was the Traveller’s Palm.  The Traveller’s Palm is a beautiful plant, found only in Madagascar, and is the national tree and symbol of Madagascar.  You’ll even see it as the logo of Air Madagascar.  Each time we came to a Traveller’s Palm, Don would ask, “Do you know why they call it a Traveller’s Palm?”  By the second or third palm, we all knew why, and despite us calling out the reason he would proceed to tell us anyway, with a smile (not wanting to go off script), “It is called the Traveller’s Palm because the base of the plant can hold water that can be used by weary travelers.”

Island Tour

Our first excursion was an island tour.  It was shortly after arriving, so it was good to get our orientation and a feel for where we would be staying.

To start, we first went east from the city (Hell-Ville, or Andoany) where we could look out over the water back to the mainland and where there was an oceanographic museum.  Besides the nice views, they had a room filled with fish specimens in jars.  It was facinating to see all these preserved types of fish.  I don’t know how much work was performed by the oceanographic society or what actually occurred at the museum.  They also had pictures of a coelacanth that was caught off the coast of Madagascar.  It’s a little bit of an urban legend, but true.  Its a prehistoric fish that was thought to be extinct for millions of years until this one was caught.

Oceanographic Museum

From the museum we went to a local ylang ylang factory.  Ylang ylang is a flower that grows a on tree that is used to make perfumes and other aromatherpy products.  It is the main crop that Nosy Be is known for and has led to Nosy Be being called the “Perfume Island”.  When we first arrived in Nosy Be we were all given (by Don) leis made of ylang ylang flowers that we kept fragrancing our room for the rest of the trip.  We toured through the orchard, went into the factory to view the distillery, and had a picnic in the yard.

After lunch, we made our way back west and around to the north side of the island.  We stopped in a small village, Djamandjary, where there was an old sugar cane factory and some other sites to see that escape my memory now.  Don shared again about the Traveller’s palm and more about some of the other plants and flowers in the area.

Old steam engine

We continued on to Andilana, the most beautiful beach in all of Nosy Be.  It was incredible.  I could not believe I was there.  It was like something you see only in books or calendars, or computer desktop backgrounds.  The beach is about a mile long of pure white sand, the warmest water, and coconut trees leaning over the beach.  It was unbelievable.  Julie and I walked and picked up tiger cowrie shells because I couldn’t swim still at that time.

The most beautiful beach in Madagascar

After enjoying the beach for the afternoon, we drove up to the highest point on the island, Mount Passot.  There, we were able to view the tranquil, crocodile inhabited lakes of the center of the island, and look out over the Mozambique channel and watch a beautiful sunset.

It was just an amazing, beautiful, relaxing way to get introduced to Madagascar and all the beauty that the country holds.

Sunset over the Mozambique Channel

Loko Be Nature Reserve

Our second excursion was to the Lokobe Nature Reserve.  Lokobe is probably the last untouched piece of jungle on Nosy Be.  Deforestation is a problem in all of Madagascar and Nosy Be is no different.  It’s a shame because there is so much amazing flora and fauna that is only living in M/car.  We took a boat around to the village that served as an entrance to the forest.  We then hiked into the forest.

In the forest there were tons of Black lemurs.  There were also nocturnal lemurs but they were just huddled in the trees trying to sleep.  It was amazing to watch the lemurs jump between the trees, and glide so easily through the branches.  We fed them bananas and they would come down to our shoulders and eat right out of our hand (which is actually a bad thing, meaning they are now habituated to humans).  They would also sit in a tree, reaching out to lick your hand while you pet them.

We also found a boa when we were walking through the forest.  Our guide took it out of the tree and we got to put it over our shoulders and took pictures.  The nature walk through the jungle turned out to be really cool.

The picture of me holding the boa is lost to history

After the hike, we went back to the beach and had a delicious lunch and lounged in the water.  At the time, I was short 1 science credit for graduation.  Since there were no 1 credit science classes, it meant that I would need to take an entire semester class.  Since I had previously taken a couple ornithology (bird science) classes, I worked it out to do a 1 credit self-study by watching and documenting the birds in M/car.  This trip to Loko Be gave me plenty of opportunities to see birds, the most spectacular probably being the large frigate birds that soared high overhead.  While we were at the beach, I spent a lot of time walking around the mud flats identifying birds.

We took a boat there and back which was a beautiful ride, going between Nosy Be and nearby Nosy Komba.  On the way back, we stopped out in the water and jumped in and swam around for awhile.  The water felt so good, and so much fun to swim in.


The clear water of Tanikely

For our third excursion, we visited the small island of  Tanikely.  In the morning, the weather was rough, and the ocean between Nosy Be and Tanikely was choppy, so we bounced along in our boat the whole way there.  “Bounced” may be too soft of a term, the waves were so rough that the seat Pastor David and I were sitting on actually broke in half.  For the rest of the ride I had to sit on the bow of the boat, feeling the full effect of the waves.

Once getting to the island, however, the weather cleared and it became another sunny Madagascan day.  The island was beautiful and there was a great view of Nosy Be.  There were tons of tropic birds and also a large group of bats on the island.


The snorkeling was awesome; there was tons of coral growth everywhere and thousands of neon colored fish.  It was my first time snorkeling in a tropical place and took awhile to get used to the breathing, but once I did it was great and comfortable.  There were a few sea turtles there so we were able to swim after them and touch them.  There was one that was a little smaller that I tried to dive after but it was quick and went into evasive maneuvers so I couldn’t get it.  The bigger ones were more docile and easier to touch.  There was also one huge school of smaller white fish that was just hanging out against the rocks.  It was fun to dive down into them and watch them part as I swam through.  It was equally cool to watch someone else go through and see the fish part around them.

We enjoyed an amazing buffet prepared for us on the beach, enjoying the beauty of the beach and the island.  Fresh grilled tuna, zebu skewers, carrot salad, pineapple so fresh it burned.  I distinctly remember each of these meals that we had.  I particularly like the zebu skewers.  I could eat a dozen of those.  There were typically made from the hump of the zebu, which probably isn’t actually the best meat.

Tanikely Lighthouse

During a break in the snorkeling, we walked up to the top of the island where there is a small lighthouse and from that point we could see back to Nosy Be and also see all the fruit bats flying around.  Later in the day, Loriann and I trekked around the small island, exploring all the little coves, beaches, and mangroves.  Some parts of the island had no beach and we had to swim across, with me holding my camera over my head.  Somewhere along the way around the island, Loriann stepped on a sharp rock and got a huge cut on the bottom of her foot.  She was close to needing stitches, but thankfully not a second round of that, and I carried her the last few hundred yards back to the others.

Walking around the island


On another occasion we went back to Andilana and just hung out at the beach all day.  It was, of course, warm and sunny.  Marie Rose, our cook during the trip, cooked us an awesome meal, likely consisting of more zebu skewers, coconut rice, and other local favorites.


The first time to Andilana, I was unable to swim, so this time I took full advantage, jumping in the water, walking out along sandbars, and exploring the length of the beach.  After playing around in the water till my legs were burnt out, I went back to our picnic area and strung my hammock between two trees.  Earlier in the trip, I had bought a hammock at the market, a pretty well made one actually, for a cheap price.  For the summer I hung it up on the veranda at the house, and would spend a lot of afternoon laying in it and napping.  It was one of my favorite parts of the summer.  At the end of the summer, I gave the hammock to Don as a gift.

The view from my hammock

It was wonderful to be at the beach, swinging in my hammock, underneath palm trees and a bright sun warming my skin and a light breeze cooling me.  I could not think of anything I would rather be doing.  At the time I was feeling the need for a little alone time, so being able to just lay and relax at the beach felt really good.  It made my week, just laying there, not a care in the world, swaying in the breeze.


On our final day off we went back to Ambatoloaka beach.  We slept in, played with the neighborhood kids a little, then drove over to the beach.  It was awesome to relax and swim in the warm water again, lay in the sun, and walk around.  Patrice and I walked again around to the cove with the arch.

Early on our last day in Nosy Be, Scott, Patrice, Mindy, Julie and I went back to Ambatoloaka for one last swim.  It was like living in a fantasy world for the summer, far away from cares and worries, and in such a beautiful place.  I had no idea that the summer would be like this when I signed up.

Cell Churches

We had the opportunity a few times to go out to some small villages and visit the church services that were held there.  The first place that I went to was to Andimakabo with Julie.  Andimakabo was a small village on the beach where they picked and dried coffee beans that grew in the nearby fields.

Church at Andimakabo

The second place that I went, again with Julie, was Andrihibo.  The drive there was nice, with a lot of views of the ocean.  This village was in the center of the island somewhere.  Both of these villages, I have no idea where to find them on a map.  I went to Andrihibo one last time with Loriann, on one of our last days there.

Church at Andrihibo

We also spent four nights showing the Jesus Film, two nights each in two villages.  It was a great opportunity to see how the film is used.  I have since seen the Jesus Film several times, but always in Malagasy, I’ve never seen it in English.

It was an amazing summer, full of small adventures.  Our team is really what made it amazing, we bonded and got along well; we were a strong group.  God’s hand was really upon our summer.