One observation from today is the joy the Malagasy people have in their eyes. Despite the hard work and challenging lifestyles they are faced with daily, they remain happy and content. I met an elderly couple in their 80s who have been married for 60 years (they were not certain how many years for sure). They have 14 children together and still farm the land to make their living. The smiles on their faces and the joy in their eyes is magnificent. Just picture the sound of their laughs.
Throughout the day we all took breaks to go outside and enjoy the spectacular views from the hillside. The vibrant colors and expansive horizon were magnificent. The rains moved in this afternoon and caused a downpour for 45-60 minutes. The people all piled into the church and waited it out. This created new mud for us to traverse on the way back down the hillside at the end of the day. I can only imagine how the locals safely complete that trek on a daily basis in the rainy season. It could be like a slide of mud at times.
This evening we were able to experience a bit of the Malagasy culture. One of the nurses who works at the Lutheran Hospital and who served with us early in the week had his mother pass away this morning. Tonight was the wake, and we joined many of the hospital staff to go provide our condolences to the nurse and his family. We walked in the mud to visit the family at their home, which is a very small two-bedroom house where at least 6 family members live. All of the furniture is moved out of the home. The body of the deceased is prepared by the family and placed in one room. Large groups of family and friends come to see the family. A member of the visiting group offers a speech to the family to share the condolences. A family member spokesperson then offers a receptive speech of gratitude. Those in attendance then provide the family with envelopes of money that are gifts to help the family pay for the funeral. Another prayer and speech is given and then the visitors provide condolences to each family member in the room through a receiving line. It was very interesting to observe this custom and how the body is prepared. There are no mortuaries or funereal homes so the family completes all of the body preparation. This wake continues for two days, and then the funeral will be held at the Lutheran church in Antsirabe. Depending on family tradition, the body will either be placed in a family tomb or buried in the ground.
As we learned more about this custom, we discovered that tribes of Malagasy in southern Madagascar have slightly different traditions. For instance, when a man dies his family has to get rid of all of his livestock. This means that if a man has 100 zebu, then the family needs to kill all of the 100 zebu before the body can be buried. It may take 2-3 months for this process to occur and for all the meat to be consumed. The family feels it is an honor to feed all of the people offering their support. Once all of the zebu are gone, the body is placed in the family tomb along with all 100 zebu horns. We questioned why the zebu would not be passed on to the next family member, such as a son or daughter. The thought is that each person needs to earn their own living, but the honor of feeding all of those supporting the family is very important.
In discussing cultural traditions, we also learned that Malagasy people have a tradition of dowries for marriages. In some parts of Madagascar, money is the dowry, and in other places livestock serves as the cost. When a woman is married, she leaves her family and joins the husband's family. In the southern part of Madagascar, part of the dowry process is to steal a certain amount of zebu to provide to the bride's family. It seems that over time families are continually stealing livestock for this practice.
This evening the rains have ceased. Our medications are prepared for tomorrow. And we are all hoping for a restful night as we are weary and needing rest so we can be diligent in the care we provide.