Woah. Two blogs in two days, Britta? Are pigs flying? Possibly.
Here's four reasons why you're getting a bonus blog this week:
1. It's safe to say my body has finally adjusted to the high-heat, high-humidity environment of Diego, which only took nine months to happen, of course, just in time to leave. Anyway, when my parents visited we started most mornings with breakfast at their hotel which included coffee or tea, and I realized that after months of protesting and refusing warm drinks because "it's just too dang hot," I could actually drink them without my body descending into heat stroke. So this week I've gone to a couple cafes at 8AM to drink tea and steal wifi. It's been fun.
2. Anything's better than packing and cleaning.
3. The other YAGMs have been overall, absurdly productive at updating their blogs, and I feel bad :/
4. I took some of my favorite photos ever yesterday, and I really wanted to share them.
Last year around this time, when my country coordinator Kirsten asked in a Skype interview if I'd be okay working in differently abled ministry in Madagascar, I lied. I some how got out, "sure, I'm cool with anything." In reality, I was internally panicking. I'll be honest with you, in three years of working at a camp with a program for differently abled kids, every single year when we wrote down our preferences for what programs we were interested and not interested in working, I bolded and underlined Super Campers (differently abled campers from a broad spectrum of ability) as an absolute HECK NO.
It's not that I wasn't comfortable interacting with differently abled folks, but the added one-on-one, focused option, that seemingly always demanded more responsibility and care than your average camper terrified me. I wasn't trained for that. I've never had close friends or family members that demanded I shape up, just deal do research and figure it out, so I never did. I can be nice to kids and lead a Bible study here and there, but the ins and outs of Down Syndrome, navigating wheel chairs on the hills around camp, and what I should do for intense, specific, mental and physical needs of a child I'm solely in charge of? Nope. Can't. Not into it.
(Side note, the counselors that do work with Super Campers at LCBC are some of the coolest, sweetest, chillest humans in the universe, and what they do is literally incredible. Props to y'all, you are Jesus' love embodied!)
So you can why I was a bit apprehensive when I received a placement at Sefama, the sole Lutheran School for the Deaf in northern Madagascar, which offers basic and trade education for deaf students from all around the Diana region. Furthermore, my job at Sefama was to teach them English. Needless to say, my inner monologue immediately went something like this:
Wait. What? How the heck is that supposed to work? I don't even know ASL, how am I supposed to communicate with them? Will I have a translator? The last volunteer learned Malagasy sign? You're kidding. I'm already nervous about learning Malagasy, now I have two languages to learn? I already feel ill-equipped to do this whole teaching English thing in general, and we're adding another challenge? I am not qualified for this.
Fast forward to day one at Sefama, where I apprehensively sat and watched classes go on, unable to even borderline understand what was happening with minimal Malagasy skills and zero Malagasy Sign. This surely is what it must feel like to be an alien. And what was worse was that I left still having no idea how to teach English to children who couldn't hear. Great. I came back the next week with the idea of just teaching some basic vocabulary words: money, cup, pencil, bag, etc. And just in case we sped through them in my hour and a half class window, I'd have a family vocab list and colors available as well. "I'll draw pictures, I'll bring my dictionary and look up the translations and write them next to the words. It'll work. I hope, anyway," I thought. Well, we ended up going through all three vocab lists in a half an hour with me not really sure if they had understood anything. Clearly, I'd have to re-evaluate my methods.
But in the uncomfortable weirdness of having few ways to communicate with my students, something real cool and beautiful happened. Yes, I sort of taught them English, but they taught me to sign. My teenage students inadvertently taught me how to speak their language, to have a real means to communicate, learn about them, tell stories and ask questions. Slowly, over the course of the year, I eventually reached a level of sign language where I could effectively communicate with kids and staff upwards of 75% of the time. That was such a wonderful, welcome, pleasant surprise to me after so much struggle at the beginning. Some days I even felt like I was better at sign language than actual Malagasy.
Months later, I know almost all of the student's written names and signs, I know which kids are filled with boundless energy for soccer, jump rope and hopscotch, and which ones prefer sit down games. I know which kids are the best dancers, the best artists, the ones with the best jokes, the ones who are tireless laundry washers and cooks and chicken-slaughterers, the ones who will work in trades for their adult lives and the ones who will likely continue their schooling. And looking back with the hindsight of what I know now, I see terrified fresh-out-of-college-Britta and it makes me laugh to know that this was what transpired. That arguably one of the best, most beautiful, most meaningful experiences of my life to date was what I was afraid of. Yes, there were moments that it was really hard being in this placement. Yes, there were days that were boring, or tough, or I didn't enjoy, but goodness gracious, I wouldn't trade my time at Sefama for anything.
Hands. Those of us who use them regularly I'm sure rarely consider their significance. For the kids at Sefama, hands are not only necessary for doing school work and washing laundry, they're how they form relationships, learn carpentry and embroidery, voice their needs and wants and how they speak to God. Meal-time prayers were strangely perhaps one of my favorite parts of my time at Sefama because of this. God hears all prayers, spoken and unspoken, we know this, but the idea of God hearing prayers that aren't spoken, but seen, and still knowing them is something that sticks out as especially powerful thing to me. We worship an all knowing, all loving, all perfect, all accommodating God, regardless of who we are individually as people and oh, was this made abundantly clear in the kids at Sefama this year.
Yesterday, on the last day of school, we sat around weaving friendship bracelets as we waited for students to be picked up by their parents. I brought my camera just in case something interesting happened, and after awhile of watching the kids work, I realized there would be no better final ode to Sefama than photos of these hands that do so much. These photos are some of my favorites not just that I've taken in Madagascar, but ever. I hope you'll enjoy them.
Happy Malagasy Independence Day weekend!