Monday, August 26, 2013


Did I mention I'm going to have siestas in Mahajanga?  Did I mention how much this culture is my culture?  Love a first... heard?

Ish-ing Around

Ish.  It's a term that I have always lived with, but the Malagasy actually live it TOO!  Ish is a term that we all know.  It's the three letters we put behind a time.  3-ish, 4-ish, 7:26ish (maybe).  It's the time I go by, and the Malagasy go by it also!!  I love this culture and it's going to suit me just fine I think.

My New Home

Hello again!

I am being surprisingly really good with this whole blog thing thus far.  Please don't get used to it, I am certain that it will all begin to change once were not at this Norwegian mission thing that has actual toilets and internet with French influenced food, and a tennis court among other amenities.

Wanted to write and give you the good news about my placement... I HAVE NEW!  After waiting almost 6 months to learn more about my individual placement and family, I have some information.

1.  Community.

Mahajanga (pronounced Ma-ja-ga, the ja is like the g/z sounding j if that makes any sort of sense at all... I'll have to insert a video or something at some point) is on the northwest coast and it's dry, and HOT.  It's a pretty big community of about 200,000 people (as per wikipedia.. so take that number as you will) and I'll be living in something like a suburb.  AND I'LL HAVE A BIKE.  I'm super pumped about that.  I'll be about 8 kilometers from the center, so a 20 minute-ish walk or quick bike ride.  The beach is about an hour drive, and a popular spot with lots of people and smoked fish!  I love smoked fish.  Mahajanga is known for their kabobs (sticks of meat, as I was explained), among some other things, that I don't really know...  They also have an active nightlife.  Since it will be so hot during the day, they have siesta's and go out with family during the night time hours.  Naps are what I live on, needless to say I am stoked beyond belief.

2.  Living

As I was explained, I will be in sort of a gated community I guess, but it is a community of families that are somewhat related.  The house is fairly new, and has a brand new hole, you can guess what for.  I think I am the only volunteer that has the blessing of a hole for a toilet.  Luckily I went on that fishing trip with Dad, so I know the routine.

My family is really exciting.  My site coordinators met with my mother and she's seems like a great woman.  She doesn't speak much English, but wants to learn, so that will be perfect with my wanting to learn Malagasy.  Perfect!!!

My father is a fisherman.  More specifically shrimp.  So we have come to call him a shrimperman, which I am excited about not only because I love shrimp, but because I love Forrest Gump.  I am super excited that I will hopefully have the opportunity to go on the boat with him and do some shrimping myself.  At times my mother will go with him for a week at a time, so I am reeeeeeeeeally hoping I can go with a couple of times.

They also have a couple of younger children from what I understand, but the whole "complex" has a ton of children.  I am really excited about that, not only because I get to play with freaking kids all day (luckily I brought a frisbee and football), but I'll be able to work on my Malagasy and French a lot!

3.  Work

I basically have 3 options when it comes to work.  Project Shalom, the area hospital, a deaf and blind school, or a regular Lutheran school.

Project Shalom is a program inspired by the FLM (Malagasy Lutheran Church) to help facilitate an inter-fatith dialogue between different religious communities.  It basically works with a budget to manage where there is most need for projects.  So they will go into the community, or an outside village to install a water pump, or school, or other needs.  With this, I will have the opportunity to be a part of those project where I will get to go out and work at a village for a few days, or even be a part of their managerial work at the office, and get to better know the people involved, all of which I am told are very impressive people.  Another high point is that its a really nice new office, with great toilets, so at least I have the comfort of those at work.

The hospital is a great way to be involved in the obvious clinical work, or even just helping out landscaping or something like that.  The schools are pretty self explanatory.

So there is it, thats a lot of information, AND I DO APOLOGIZE, but that is pretty much what these first few days are, information information information.


Friday, August 23, 2013

A Malagasy Welcome

Greetings from Madagascar!

After 36 hours of traveling we are finally here!  First of all I want you to meet the MadaLife crew.  Thats me (in case you didn't already know) to the far left who looks like I'm mildly constipated, Anndi on top with the pink head band to the right of me, Molly in blue on bottom left, Ian to the right of Anndi, Karis just below her in red, then to the right is Anna and Tom the Bomb.  To the far right is Austin and Tanya Propst who are the country coordinators for the program, and probably some of the coolest people I have met.  Their energy and enthusiasm is getting me pump for an awesome year.

We are finally beginning to see what it means when we ask "Is the captital a big city?" and always receive the "ehhhhh" response to so many of our Malagasy questions.  There are rice patties in the middle of a sprawling metropolis of 2 million people!  

And of course soccer fields..

We move to the site of our 3 week orientation tomorrow after a welcome from the vice-bishop of the FLM (Malagasy Lutheran Church), so we'll be on the road for part of the day.  And boy does it get cold here at night, no wonder they stressed layers!  Look forward to updating you as I go.  Enjoy!



Thursday 8/22/2013

I wanna give a quick shout out to my sister Rebekah.  We gotta set up a skype/facetime date stat when I get there, so I’ll have to send you an email regarding specifics.

I’m currently writing from the London ayerport.  With a 9 hour layover after a 6 hour flight, we continue our journey with an 11 hour flight to Johannesburg and a skip over to the island nation.  Luckily we got to spend part of it at a pub just down the tube a couple of stops, which was nice to get out and stretch our legs.

The flight was a little terrible, aside from watching all the Disney movies I could find, it was hot on the plane.  If you know me, you’ll know I sweat like a Walrus wrapped in heating blankets staked to a bon fire so that was incredibly uncomfortable, and I am sure unbearable for the people around me, regardless of how good any grown man think their musk smells better than the rest.  I also got the chance to test out one of my brother Jonathan’s theories during the longer international flight.  If you know my brother, you know he’s a pretty analytical and fairly emotionless person, unless of course he’s laughing at his own jokes, but he surprised me with a question a few weeks ago.  “Zach, do you get emotional during international flights?”  That of course floored me, so I respond with “uh, maybe?  I’m not really sure, why?”  And to explain he says “well, I just tend to cry at the end of the of some dramatic movies like Gran Torino.  And apparently, according to the internet, I am not the only guy that feels that way.  It an odd phenomenon that affects other men as well!”  Fortunately, I was not sobbing on my knees in the middle of the aisle way, but thank you for making me very self-conscious the entire flight Jonathan.

Finally, I just wanted to close with saying that I am going to be thinking very much of all the other volunteers that are going to their respective countries as we Malagasy make our own journey.  It is crazy to think how close you can become to 60 other people just bonding over the unknown experience that everyone is on the verge of embarking on.  Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as well.


I say “mada” you say “gascar”!!




Monday, August 5, 2013

What's a Blog?

Hello all,

First of all I want to thank you all for your thoughts, prayers, love, and support of me leading up to my adventure abroad volunteering in Madagascar.  Just wanted to start off with a warning.  This is my first blog.  So hopefully I'll be able to get more creative with it along the way, but please bear with me as I figure this out.  Additionally, I want to keep this entertaining for everyone, especially myself.  So I am going to try and do different things, such as just telling a story from the week, or sharing a picture or video and work around that.  My primary goal will be to keep you involved and entertained, so if you have any feedback, even if its negative, I would much appreciate it, questions, comments, anything, please let me know.  The last thing I want is for this to be a burden to have to read so I'll keep it short, sweet, and to the point.  I'll also be planning on putting pictures up on facebook and may even start a flickr or something along those lines.  It's gonna be an amazing ride and would love to have you join!

Additional warning, this first post most likely will not follow my grand scheme.  I want to be able to catch everyone up because it seems even my parents have been bombarding me with the same questions these past few months.

For those of you who don't already know, I am going to be volunteering in Madagascar for the next year through the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's (ELCA) Youth in Global Ministries (YAGM) program.  You can find out more about the program here:


I'll be volunteering with a final number of, 61?, other volunteers.  They will be headed all over the world.  I will be experiencing Madagascar with 6 others from all over the US and I am definitely looking forward to sharing an experience like this with them.  We will be directed by our country program coordinator Austin Propst and his wife Tanya, both of whom we were able to meet at our retreat in April and both seem like really great young motivated people.

At this point in the process we are just waiting for orientation to begin on Wednesday August 14.  It will be a week long orientation in Chicago with all the other volunteers followed by a 3 week in country orientation for which we fly out on Wednesday August 21.  Of course my parents are flipping out about  about my packing situation, but I thought 2 days would be ample enough time to put together a couple suitcases.  For whatever reason, they seem to think that will not be the case, as I guess parents are supposed to act.

As far as my actual placement, I will be in Mahajanga Madagascar.  A port city on the northwest side of the country.

All I know is that I will be living with a large host family whose main income comes from being fishmen, so I will be eating a lot of seafood and rice as I was told.  The opportunities for volunteering will include, but not necessarily be limited to teaching english, working with Project Shalom who opens it's doors to aid Muslims in need, volunteering with an FLM Hospital, and working at a school for deaf and blind children.  I've looked a little up about the city.  Apparently it's one of the warmest climates in Madagascar, and if you know anything about me, you know its going to be interesting adjusting to a climate that I will most probably be soaked in sweat a majority of my time there, haha.

It's been kind of nerve racking getting ready for something like this, without much literature to go by, the only real sorts of reading are devoted to the biological diversity of the country.  About 90% of the species of plants and animals living there are found only in Madagascar which is awesome!  So I've just learned to take this, as I do with my everyday life, one step at a time and try not to worry about anything.  It'll fall into place at some point just as it's meant to, and if not?  Well I'll just have to make the most of it.

Again, I apologize for the lengthy first post, and I hope to be more entertaining once the journey really begins!


- Zachristew