Friday, August 26, 2011

Photographer of the Dead

Crammed into a small, dark room, inebriated people jostle me from every side. Amidst the wailing and moaning, I steady myself to take a picture of the deceased woman lying in the center of the room. A warm liquid drenches my pajama pants as a mourner spills their alcohol on me. Feeling a bump to the back of my knee, I catch myself just before falling on top of the dead.

How did I get to be here?!

Yesterday we arrived in the village of Vatofotsy. A lady had died and the people were on their third day of mourning (meaning that they would bury her the next day). We decided to be culturally-appropriate and just grieve with the people, which for us meant paying our respects to the family, having quiet conversations, and not teaching any lessons until the next day. I decided to steal away for a minute to go up on the hill and take a photo of the city from above.

“Yip yip yip yip!” I heard yelping from the mountain. I must admit that my first thought was that there was a dog fight, but then I saw a line of mourners coming down the trail, headed to the room where the dead lady lay. I soon learned that as people came in from other towns, as soon as the Vatofotsy was in was in sight, the wailing would commence.

“The brother of the deceased is here to see you,” Mirana informed me as the evening grew dark. A forlorn-looking gentleman shook my hand. “We have heard that you have a camera. Won’t you please come and take a picture of my sister before she is buried?”

“I’m sorry, but there’s nowhere in town for me to get pictures developed,” I explained. “You wouldn’t have an actual photo, but just an image on this screen here.” “It doesn’t matter,” the man replied. “We just want to honor her memory by letting her have one picture taken before she is never seen again.” Oh my. How on earth can you say no to that?! “Of course I will.”

Since it is already dark and there are preparations to be made to the body, we make plans for me to come at 7am the next morning to take the picture. Mirana and I set our alarm and doze off – only to be awoken by sobbing and mourning songs that went on all throughout the night.

I awoke to Mirana shaking me. “The men are outside and ready for you!” It was barely light. The 6:30am alarm had not gone off yet. Who knows what time it was. I grabbed my lamba, tied it around my pajama pants, and stumbled outside. I gave the men a solemn smile, and followed them down the muddy path through the mist to the wailing room.

As I entered, the women instantly started primping the body of the dead woman for the photo and the brother started primping himself and the woman’s son. I asked, and sure enough, he wanted a picture with the family and the deceased after I took one of just her laying there…which brings us back to the beginning of this tale.

Finally upright, yet smelling like a distillery, I take a photo of the dead woman. I drift off, wondering if my sister, Cali, ever had any classes on this in photography school… Snapping back to real time, I let the immediate family position themselves near the lady’s head and take another photo, only to hear the brother ask me to then take yet another picture of the woman’s cousin, great-aunt, etc. Soon enough, I have taken a panorama around the room of everyone in there – and quite awkwardly. I can’t exactly say, “1-2-3-smile!” when people are mourning all around me, and am definitely not used to taking pictures of people looking downright morose, but such is life in the rain forest. I finish snapping the photos and head back to my tent, while the mourners hoist the woman onto their shoulders and start the long, slow journey up to the burial place of the ancestors.

So, smelling like alcohol and still in my pajamas, I had this great and strange cultural experience. And that, my friends is how I became the “Photographer of the Dead.”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Proverbs 25:25

God is awesome.

“The LORD will be awesome to them, for He shall reduce to nothing all the gods of the earth; people shall worship Him, each one from his place, indeed all the shores of the nations.” Zephaniah 2:11

I want to share with you guys some snippets from the villages we have recently visited:

Ampitambe – ahm-pee-tahm-beh Status: first time visit
Just as we were about to present the Truth, it began to rain. I asked God to stop the rain and hold it off until we were done and that He did! The moment everyone was done asking questions, the rain came back and the people looked at each other and said, “It’s a miracle!” The people in Ampitambe are very ignorant regarding Truth. They informed us that “God is like your mom and dad – a source of life. But your mom and dad are the gods you can see." When we asked what illnesses were common in their village I had to chuckle, because among the normal diarrhea, convulsions, and malaria, a man piped up and said, “A lot of us have bad breath!” :P

Vatofotsy – vah-too-foo-tsee Status: first time visit
The people of Vatofotsy had never heard of missionaries before. They queried, “Are you guys politicians?” Sure – Cara for president! Ha ha. While there, we encountered some of the most spiritually hungry people we have met. One man, after hearing the Word, said, “I don’t know what the elders will say, but I personally give my life to Him.” In this communal culture that is just huge! Before we left, he came and thanked us for giving them the Truth because “you guys are the first to bring us the truth.” Oh my. What a pleasure it is to work here.

Ankazotsara – ahn-kah-zoo-tsah-rah Status: regular follow-up being done
When we first come to a village, a lot of people wonder why we are there and what we’re up to. We have to earn their trust. After finishing up my lesson on nutrition, I learned one reason why they are so cautious. “Thank you so much for the nutrition lesson. The last people who came here to teach us about nutrition didn’t. They taught us to drink alcohol, steal other men’s wives, and ended up almost fighting by time their talk was done. You are the first one to actually teach us what it really is.” Jeremy and Tim have been going here every Thursday to study through the book of Acts with a group of believers and interested people, so Mirana and I also led a couple sessions on how to study the Bible and were encouraged by their desire to learn. An elderly lady visiting from town said, “It’s so good that you have come here, because the Church tells us we should not read or study on our own because it might be confusing or scary, but we really need to know what God says!”

A couple dates for your prayer calendars:
August 23-26 – hiking to far-off Ambadivoahangy (evangelism, discipleship, medical teaching)
September 19-30 – medical mission trip to Tulear, Madagascar (on the southwestern coast)

Proverbs 25:25 says, “As cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far country.” I hope this news was a blessing to you all! As I gear up to come back to America in less than two months, I am wondering if y’all would send me updates on what’s new with you and your family so I can start getting caught up on the last two years of your life! Thanks!

And again, thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement.
I love you all,
Cara :)
Joel 2:13/I Samuel 16:7

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What We Do On Rainy Days

No clue what's going on with the hand pumping thing, but this is one of the joys that comes from hiking very muddy, wet trails. :D

Also, the lamba (piece of fabric tied around my waist that I am sliding on) has 53 documented uses (who knows how many undocumented!). I don't know how to hike without it anymore! :-)

Oh wait. Did I just try to upload a 9-second video? Silly me - this is Madagascar!

Back in America:


Monday, August 8, 2011

Prayer Request Update

Above is my sweet friend and prayer warrior, Hanta. I know many of you are faithfully and specifically lifting me up, so I wanted to put these up before the busy next two weeks because “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:15-18)!

Pray for Mirana and I as we hike out to two new villages this week (Tues-Sat): Ampitambe and Vatofotsy. The chief of Vatofotsy heard us teaching a few months ago and invited us to come, but we have been unable to do so until now. Since Vatofotsy is so far away, it is very likely that many people will be hearing the Truth for the first time. Please pray they will listen!

for Mirana and I next week (Tues-Fri) as we stay in the village of Ankazotsara. There are some growing believers there, and we look forward to spending time discipling them. I’m excited to see some of the children of this village now growing up with the Word being taught. What a blessing.

Praise the Lord
that Heather and her national friend (who are living in the village of Amandrovany this month) are doing well. They have been able to begin a study through the book of John with the people there.

Praise the Lord for His faithfulness in being everything I need. Pray that I would echo His faithfulness and be a diligent student of His Word, continue in prayer always, and share His truth with all that I meet.

Please continue to pray for unity for our team, health, safety, boldness, and that God would turn the hearts of the Tanala people to Him.

I appreciate you guys so much!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Battle of the Leeches

Adventuring is part of my job title and life, so when the opportunity came for part of my team and a visiting friend, Sandra, to find a waterfall we had seen from afar off, I jumped at it.

Hiking deeper into the rain forest then we ever had before, sweeping away vines, canopied by lush green trees overhead, it was simply beautiful. Looking down at my ankles, I mock the bloodthirsty leeches I see crawling around my pants. “You guys are the reason I wear long pants hiking even when it’s hot. So you can’t get on my skin – ha!” Glancing at each other with sick amusement in their wicked eyes, the leeches give me an evil grin before diving THROUGH my khakis. Horrified, I yank my pant leg up just in time to see them burrow into my skin. Ow! Oh my word.

I am an emergency room nurse. I do not get squeamish at the sight of gaping wounds, burns, or vomit, but seeing multiple wriggling creatures delving through my clothes and into my skin grosses me out. And it is not only these, but with every step I take it seems another leech has jumped on for the ride. They are crawling all over me. I cannot get away. Ew ew ew!

Beauty of the canopy and vines forgotten, I now have one goal: to get to the waterfall so I can get away from leech territory, stand in the water, and yank all the repulsive pests off. Hacking through the last obstacle with his machete, our guide motions ahead. Before me is one of the most amazing waterfalls I have ever seen. The magnificence is easily worth a dozen leech bites, but…

…end of the day count was 81. And I had to pull them out or shave them off with a knife. This is not even counting the ones I nabbed before they latched their teeth into me – this tally is only from the bruises I have from them going into me. I am cringing just typing this. The picture above is of Sandra, who was brave enough to take a picture while the leeches were still on her. I did not spare a moment from removing the malevolent bloodsuckers to snap a photo, no sir-ee! Just grabbed their writhing bodies and smashed them on the rocks. Ew.

On another - and definitely more pleasant - note, I had an incredibly encouraging time in the village of Bevoahazo this week! Mirana and I were able to spend time with a believer we know there. As we warmed ourselves by the fire, we talked about the Bible. We had quieted down for only a few moments when she said, “Oh please keep talking about Jesus!” Made my heart so happy. She and her husband are building a new house and dedicating one room to prayer and study for all the people in the village. We asked if she knew that this is how the first church began – in homes – and she is so excited to read through Acts to see for herself!

The next morning was drizzly and gray. We were not able to put out the word till late that we had a lesson to share, but even so, close to 70 people showed up and listened attentively (standing the whole time!) to the early-morning lesson. Afterward, I told them that this may very well be the last time I get to come to their village, as I am leaving Madagascar in October. They were very sad. One man called out his thanks for everything we have done and told me that, even though I would not be here any longer in person, I have left much behind. Oh how this warms my heart! Another person asked Mirana and I to sing them a song before we left, a request which we happily obliged. My friends, what an honor it is getting to see our awesome God work mightily in the rain forest. He is so incredible to go exceedingly abundantly above all my expectations. (Eph. 3:21).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

How to Remove a Sand Flea

By request, the 12-step program:

1. Compile your supplies: lighter, needle (if it’s not already been boiled clean – do it!), band-aid, antibiotic ointment, hydrogen peroxide, and paper towels.

2. Position yourself in a comfortable position with your affected foot up by your head in the light.

3. Poke the needle in JUST BARELY where the black spot is in the middle of the whiter bump.

4. Skim the outer layer of skin down around the bump with the needle.

5. Do number four again on a different side (like peeling an orange).

6. Do it again, being VERY careful not to puncture the white sac with the parasite and eggs/baby parasites inside (depending on the stage in which you noticed said sac).

7. After your skin has been peeled back from around the sac, loosen the sac from underneath until it is just hanging by a thread.

8. Snap the last thread with the needle while raising the sac upwards on the end of the needle.

9. Grab the lighter and burn the evil pest and sac, putting the remains in one paper towel and placing the needle on the other.

10. Inspect area to make sure no particles of sac got left behind.

11. Cleanse with hydrogen peroxide.

12. Dab area dry and apply antibiotic ointment with band-aid.

Repeat as needed. :-)