A couple of the other volunteers and myself recently had the opportunity to share a meal with both Pr. Themba, the ELCA representative for Madagascar and southern Africa, and Pr. Andrea, the ELCA Global Mission Area Director for Madagascar, West and Central Africa. We hadn’t seen either of them since the beginning of our year of service. It was a lot of fun to catch up and to tell them about our time here. During our conversation, Pr. Andrea asked us to name one thing we will bring back with us at the end of our time here, whether physical or not. The first thing that came to my mind is lychee honey. Of all the varieties of honey I’ve tasted here, this one is the sweetest.
There is a certain sweetness I have discovered here in Madagascar; and like honey, you can’t partake of it without a little bit sticking to you. It’s in the rains that come to nourish the island, and in the warm sun that bakes it dry again. It’s in the red clay earth that becomes slippery when wet, rendering shoes useless, forcing you to navigate barefoot and to allow it to coat the bottoms of your feet. It’s in the abundance of fruits – even the avocados are sweet here. It’s in the Malagasy language, which I’m only beginning to understand. And it’s in the people, who are some of the most generous and resilient I’ve ever met.
Just as I can’t seem to open a honey jar without a little bit sticking to me, I won’t be able to leave this place without pieces of it stuck to me. I’ll have visions of Fianarantsoa’s rolling hills and vibrant green rice fields engrained in my memory. I’ll have bits and pieces of the language stuck in my mind. The flavors of the many sweet fruits will linger in my mouth. I’ll have a little red earth clinging to my feet. I’ll be stuck with all of the love, lessons, and generosity I’ve received from my community. And I’ll have a jar of lychee honey.
I arrived in Madagascar a confused, disoriented mess; and I will leave this place a beautiful, sweet, sticky mess. And when I open that jar of honey, I’ll pour a little bit on my finger, close my eyes, and savor every last bit of sweetness that’s stuck to me.