The day Jesus came to church
We've made it to roughly the week mark of our visit to the grand island. Since we arrived on a Sunday evening in Tana, this Sunday at Isalo is our first (and probably only) chance to attend church while visiting. At our request, Patrick had made some inquiries about the local churches and potential services. Since Nathan’s dad had been a missionary pastor here back in the day, working with the Malagasy Lutheran church, our desire was to attend a local Lutheran service if possible.
Initially, it appeared we would be attending a Protestant or Catholic service instead, since the Lutheran Church in town is described as “broken”. However, additional inquiries determined that the congregation still has services in a classroom at the Lutheran school. We reached town a bit early so we walked around town a bit, taking some pictures and saying “salama” (hello) to the friendly local residents.
When we arrived at the church grounds, we immediately began attracting attention, as usual. Christy theorizes that they had never had anyone visit their church who had such a resemblance, in local terms, to Jesus (white, long hair, beard). Anyway, while waiting for things to get underway, we verified that the church building is, indeed, broken. It’s little more then a pile of rubble with a couple of partial walls still standing. We were told that it was caused by a cyclone that came through a few years back. As it was Sunday, Christy didn’t take her camera on to the church grounds,which seemed the most respectful thing to do, but as a result we don't have any pictures of the church or the small school where services were held.
Given we were in a very small village and the service was all in Malagasy, it’s not surprising we were the only white people there. We appeared to be quite the topic of conversation leading up to the service and had a buffer of space around us until the room was mostly full. Once the service started, it was roughly as Nathan remembered (though he could no longer understand any of it except through inference).
The service started pretty informally with those in attendance singing a few hymns acapella, which was pretty impressive if you compare the musical ability to most mainstream US congregations. The service got formally started when a woman in a stole began with an invocation. She appeared to be an assistant minister since an older woman took the pulpit for the sermon later. In fact, all but one of those who led the service were women. The organist was a man who spent some portion of the service getting the electrical connection to his electric keyboard working (think hot-wiring a car), which certainly reminded us that we were in the developing world, if nothing else did. Keyboard or not, the beautiful music is what stood out in the service, as it always did in Nathan’s childhood. We managed to stay in the service for a bit over an hour before our guide Patrick eased us out the door, to keep us from falling further behind on our trek schedule.
At that point, Nathan used his gimpy ankle as an excuse to go back to the comfortable bed in th Lodge to catch a quick nap. Christy represented us by going with Patrick, Tony and local guide Parson back to the park for more trekking, both on foot and in the Land Cruiser.
During the afternoon trek, we visited three separate sites that were located along a loop dirt road driven in Tony’s land cruiser. The first stop was a small garden with local native plants. After a brief stop to walk through the garden, we got back in the car and bounced our way to the next stop, “the boot,” where we had a short hike out to an area where the sandstone has been sculpted to look like a cowboy boot. Along the way we saw a grasshopper, scorpion (only an inch or two big) and a locus (just one!).
Our last stop was at the geological site where there were some really cool geological formations formed in a peat bog hundreds of thousands of years ago. We don't have much more info at this point as the language barrier and the potentially involved scientific explanations were a bit too much of a barrier for to be able to learn much more from our guide. Really interesting formations however.
After Christy’s return from the park, we found our way over to the main lodge building, got a couple of soft drinks at the bar and began playing some Carcassonne in the lounge area (which of course also had a great view). Things were quiet there, with most of the guests out on day excursions. By the time other folks started coming back to the lodge, we’d attracted interest from the barman and receptionist. Once we’d explained the basics of the game to them, they were playing a game of Carcassone on the iPad (which they unfortunately didn't get to finish, since things got busy again) while we finished our game on the table. Patrick arrived as we were finishing up so we had the chance to explain the basics to him before he had the chance to finally teach us fanorona, the national game of Madagascar, as previously promised.