I am not sharing any new news when I say that I am not an overly frequent blogger or Facebook poster, either for myself or for the page that I manage for my work, YAGM Madagascar.
Over the past 2 weeks I posted twice, see what I mean? And the posts are the same for my work and my personal, as I shared the work posts to my personal page. One posted on Thanksgiving showed a fun picture of the current group of volunteers as the backdrop to a typical (and a bit gluttonous) American Thanksgiving feast and the second post was on the current near famine in Southern Madagascar. No idea if this contrast was glaring to anyone else, but its had my thoughts and attention…
I have a pretty crazy job, some would look at me as so lucky, others brave and still others as if I have lost my mind. And truth be told, depending on the day I would agree with all of these assessments. My life in Madagascar holds few similarities to my life back in the US, whether that life was Stockton, St. Paul, Clear Lake, Phoenix or Detroit. The consistent pieces are that I eat and I sleep, I find life and work both energizing and completely baffling. I work more than I should, I find it difficult to stay interested in a workout routine. I occasionally laugh really hard and I’ve know tears of sorrow.
I live in an apartment in the middle of the city of Antananarivo in a neighborhood called Ampasamadinka. (Yes it took me a few months to say it correctly.) I look out my front windows to a busy stone street. There’s a gym and an alley across the way, there is a stand at the alley selling phone credit and snacks. People walk by up and down the street all day, going to who knows where, some selling flowers or apples or baskets. Every couple weeks there is a band of boys probably 4 – 10 years of age that play music for money, there are tourists and beggars and residents and neighbors. And too many cars, small buses, scooters and trucks moving past each other with a lack of respect for adequate space and for the quality of air we all breath.
If I look out the back windows, relative peace. Many buildings built too close together housing too many people in the heart of the city. From my vantage point up the hill, I don’t see many people but only hear the sounds of living and life … the wind, guitar and drum class, some kids playing, church bells on Sunday morning, christmas concert practice from the elementary school, the occasional midnight party and barking dogs.
And you might be thinking, well Kirsten this all sounds quite normal and pieces of it are kinda nice, and you’d be right, it is, at least for me. I have enough food, security, finance, critical support (health insurance, a flight home if ever necessary, support, connections) and I have a job and the dignity that comes with it. And so do many of my neighbors in Ampasamadinka and beyond, there is a section of people supporting the many fancy restaurants and boutiques around here. But they are only one part of this story and quite frankly they are the easier part to tell.
They are who I run into when I am craving a leafy salad, or have finally convinced myself swimming is a good and healthy thing. Today, I went to the pool for a good swim at a fancy hotel, because that is where the pool is. Out of curiosity, I often come into the hotel and walk through the lobby on my way out, you never know who or what you might see. Today it was a handsome crew from Corsair, other days its special security for distinguished guests or a market place set up for clothes shopping, but whatever it is, its always things and people from a world that doesn’t belong or necessarily even know or acknowledge the famine in the south of this country or even in the neighbors in and around where the hotel sits and where I live.
Coming out the shiny glass revolving door today I was caught by the dichotomy of what was inside and outside the hotel gates, I see it every time I go, but somedays it speaks more loudly.
I walked out the guarded entry onto the busy thoroughfare which encircles Lake Anosy. The sidewalk exists there but not without large holes and exposed sewage, people line the streets selling honey, fruit, batteries, scarfs, belts, used books, newspapers, cookware, really anything you can imagine. Across the street you can look at the lake and the Antananarivo hollywood style sign in the distance. There is a large crowd gathered around a betting game, kids playing and trash along the waters edge, further down the street sparks literally fly as welders work on ironware while we all walk by dodging sparks on one side and cars on the other. Dogs scavenge for food while people hopefully search for useful discarded items in a dumpster so rank that I start walking faster. Soon I ascend a steep and long stone staircase where more sellers sell their wares and where a waterway runs open next to it without guardrail or warning. At the top of the stairs I am back on a street with cars parked on both sides forcing the walkway into the street, cars zip by as I continue to ascend, I pass a new restaurant and an art gallery. I turn the corner and pass a phone credit booth, the Indian restaurant, the day spa, and the Cuban restaurant that looks like a gathering center for prostitutes and their clients in the evening hours and I turn again down my street to pass a banana seller, a chalk lined hop scotch, some small children begging, the driving school, the Japanese language school and the convenience store next to my apartment where I usually end up at some point on the weekend and finally to my apartment where the smily and warm Sampson who guards my building through the day, listens to me tell him about my adventures with my childlike Malagasy.
So much humanity in a 10 minute walk. As it is throughout this land, the rich and poor, the hungry and full, the employed and the jobless, the extravagant and the destitute, bumping up against each other all day everyday, unless you choose to stay behind the gate. But it is only a few who truly have that choice.
In my work and in the heart and faith work of my own life, I talk, think , make decisions and counsel about living with less. Many people including myself have access to much excess. How many clothes can you wear at a time? For the most simplest of examples. I do think that living intentionally with an eye to what is really needed and necessary for one’s self with an open heart to love and generosity towards friends and neighbors, strangers and refugees (of all sorts) is a good and noble pursuit and philosophy. It is certainly needed in our world of waste and consumerism but I want to look more to our neighbors, strangers and refugees without the choice to worry about excess, instead they simply struggle to get near enough and often to an enough that is inconceivable to many living in the comfortable west.
I turn my attention, and my heart breaks. The options of begging, dumpster diving, prostitution, and in the rural areas, selling off even the very meager belongings and pulling the thrones from the cactus to have something to eat … somehow this seems inconceivable, yet it is reality here and in so many places all over the world. So what do we do?
What one person thinks or does will be different than the next, that’s fair and that’s real. For some its difficult to even conceive of the reality of millions of people world wide struggling to get enough and further stretching the definition of enough to less and less everyday.
For me, I am one of those who gets angry and overwhelmed and sometimes feel defeated. I often feel guilty about the choices I can make and the access to excess that I have. But you know just because you have something doesn’t mean it has to remain yours… Money, time, food, resources, knowledge, compassion and care, many to most people have an excess in one (or more) of these to share.
Any thoughts on what you might be able to share?
Anyway, this is already the longest blog I’ve EVER posted, its not complete and nor are my thoughts or journey, so for now and today, thanks for listening and for considering and supporting this ever hopeful sojourner.