This week was pretty good, it had it all, from monkeys to rongony (marijuana). This week I have noticed that I am able to understand Malagasies a lot better. Last week I could discern a word or two in a sentence, but now I can make out 3 and sometimes even 4. From this data we can conclude that my language comprehension ability has improved two-fold. Madagascar is a swell place.
Early on in the week, Elder Schroedter and I went contacting around Ambohimararina. On our way across a thin path through the rice paddies, we realized that we were lost, and didn't know which fork in the 1-foot wide path we should take. As we began to head down the path that we thought was the most correct, a fellow in his late 20's corrected us. He told us that we should turn around and so we did, while travelling along this new path we, again, spotted the same fellow. This time the man was sitting down with his friend and what I concluded was the friend's young son. They beckoned us over and wished to talk with us, so we came. As we came nearer I noticed that they had in their hands what appeared to be seeds of a plant of some sort and pieces of paper. My suspicions were confirmed when the man in his late 20's asked, "Te-hifoka Rongony ve ianareo?" (Do you guys want to smoke weed with us?) So naturally my companion and I accepted. Who could refuse homemade Rongony? (just kidding, we sharply refused. Obey the Word of Wisdom) Elder Schroedter told them that our church believes that illegal drugs are not to be consumed. While he was introducing himself, he handed the first man his plaque so that he could read the small letters. But rather than handing him back the missionary badge, the Malagasy in his late 20's put the plaque on himself. (Even without strong and convincing proof I'm fairly certain the man was stoned) Elder Schroedter then asked for his badge politely, but alas, it was to no avail. After a few minutes of the back and forth asking and refusing (and the smoking of the rongony by the Malagasies), the fellow's friend took the badge and gave it back to Elder Schroedter when the fellow in his late 20's wasn't paying attention. We then quickly yelled Mazotoa! (diligence) and left them to their hard work. In Madagascar lots of people smoke rongony, I am pretty sure it is legal here.
A few days ago, Elder Schroedter and I taught a lesson that he remarked was, "The coolest lesson I have ever taught". After a long day of contacting we arrived at a red gate. After knocking, an older Malagasy gentleman opened the door and spoke to us in French. "Bonjour! Comment ça va?" He then realized that we were Mormons and got excited, yet cautious. He said, "I won't let you in because I don't want to have to get baptized, but I want to learn more about what Mormons believe in". My companion reassured him that we would only teach him, baptism wasn't our goal. He then let us in. As we entered into his home, he asked us something in Malagasy, he noticed by the puzzled looks on our faces that we didn't understand his question. It was then that we learned that he spoke near flawless English. No Malagasies can speak any English really, so to learn that he was near fluent made us excited. As we began teaching, he asked us a question about what we believe about the Holy Trinity. He then stopped us and began sharing with us his own beliefs. He started by saying that he believes that God is a spirit only, and that he was confused by a scripture that said something like, "God created man in his own image" He asked us (in English mind) "How could God create man in his image if God is only a ghost, just air?" We shared an article of faith and then he shared a story with us. He said that for a time he worked in Senegal in Africa. And one day he went to the zoo and saw a peculiar sight. He said that he saw a monkey that was smoking cigars, visitors to the zoo would throw cigarettes into the monkey's cage, and then the monkey would smoke them. He also added that whenever a guard came close, the monkey would throw the cigarette away. He then said that he was just like the monkey, in terms of behaviors and such. He then said that that day at the zoo a question that he had personally was answered, "He wondered about the beginning of the human race, and whether Adam and Eve were the first humans on Earth or not". He told us that Adam and Eve weren't in fact the first humans on Earth, but that they were the first to receive the breath of life from God. I am pretty sure that he believes in evolution, and that was the basis of his story. He then said that he wondered why Cain was afraid of being killed by other humans if the only humans on Earth were Adam, Eve, Cain, and Able. He concluded that Adam and Eve weren't the first of the human race to have existed, but the first to receive the breath of life from God. I'm running short on time so I summarized the story pretty heavily, but I was shocked by how smart and deep-thinking "T---" was. He has really thought hard about religion and life and such. We then shared a lesson dipping into many areas of our beliefs like Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon, and the articles of Faith. After an hour we asked if we could return, and he said yes. He told us that he has many questions about the Mormon faith. T--- is a pretty cool dude.
Well, I'm just about out of time. I regret to announce this is the end. I am going now. I bid you all a very fond farewell. Goodbye.
Rice paddies in Ambohimanarina, Benjamin's first area, pictures taken by Elder Hein one of Elder Anderson's roomates and zone leader.
Close up of a rice paddie path.
Benjamin's Christmas skype.
Mom QuestionsMom: How are you feeling.
Benjamin: Fine. I have all of these red itchy bumps on my arms and legs and everyone. what are they?
Mom: From what I've read on other Mada mission blogs they are flea bites, there's not a lot you can do about them - sorry, they are quite a nuisance! You can try to vacuum your apartment a lot and wash your sheets with permethrin you can get from the mission home - but you will likely pick them up at investigators homes anyway.
Mom: How many people fit in a taxi be?
Benjamin: I am not sure, a lot are crammed in.
Mom: Did it make you homesick to skype?
Mom: When is your next meeting or visit to the mission home and is that the only time you get dear elder letters?
Benjamin: Not sure and yes.
Excerpt from Mom's email to Elder AndersonI used you in my young womens lesson today and they were touched by your example. I told them the story of how our family did our traditional sub for santa. We all loaded up in the minivan Christmas Eve to deliver clothes, food and some fun things to a family in need. All the kids got out of the car and carried the bags to the doorstep, then Rachel rang the doorbell. They all got back in the car quickly. Dad said he thought someone had stepped in dog crap and the car smelled awful! We got home, everyone checked their shoes and Isaac, Hannah and William had stepped in it. William's boots were the worst. He had stepped on both seats in the minivan, and on Grace (she had poo on her legs and on her jammies) as he had climbed over the seat to get in the back. There was dog crap all over the place. As I sat in the freezing cold garage scrubbing poo out of their shoes, both van seats and the van carpet - it was hard not to have a really bad attitude and wonder how something so disgusting could happen when we were serving and giving of ourselves. I wanted our family to feel the true meaning of Christmas and instead they were all grossed out. I got the distinct impression at that moment that it was not about me or my family - it was about the family that we served and then I got the impression that said 'Your son serves everyday in situations much worse and doesn't complain!' It is not about the condition - it is about the service. I had wondered if our kids would be able see the good after such a gross experience. Then at dinner tonight Hannah, Isaac, Johnathan and Rachel explained how they told their classes at church that they got to do sub for santa to help a family and how happy it made them to be able to serve. I am so glad that they were able to catch the real meaning of it all - even with the dog poo. I am grateful for you Benjamin! I admire the service that you so freely give, even with the poor conditions that you must give it in. It's not about the sewage - it's about the service - haha. I am touched by your willingness to serve in the conditions that you do - you are such a great example to all of us.
Side note: During Elder Anderson's Christmas skype he mentioned to us - without any complaint - that he walks daily through sewage during this rainy season because the sewage is on top of the roads and they become a 'river of poo'.