Fort Dauphin - this place can be likened unto a Malagasy Hawaii, an incredible paradise minus all of the usual tourist fringe-benefits that come with the location. There are tourists here, but it is just so far away from anything that coming here adds an extra price-tag to an already costly vacation. Consequently, the area is still relatively undeveloped. There are a couple of restaurants and hotels, but they are small and pretty expensive. But, this place is heaven on Earth -- seriously.
Elder Ravelomahefa and I left early Monday morning to get to the Ivato Airport. I still don't understand why we had to arrive at 6:45AM for a flight that was supposed to leave at 10:25AM, but it sure did give us a lot of time to tour the airport, which was a surreal-as-can-be experience. I never thought that I'd be coming back to the Ivato Airport for anything other than going home in November.
We ended up being able to sit in what we think was first-class - or as first-class as Air Madagascar can provide. We sat in the very back of the plane with a bunch of rich dudes, seperated by a curtain from the other passengers. The fed us real food and gave us sodas, where as everyone else on the plane just got small little bread balls that you can easily get on the street. The food was very strange, and the coke just made my stomach hurt, but it was a nice gesture anyways.
The flight was about an hour and 45 minutes, which seems to be quick work for a propeller driven plane. It was very interesting seeing all of the Madagascar landscape roll beneath us. Not a cloud in the sky blocked our view of the changes from rainforest, to mountains, to desert, and finally to Taolagnaro (Fort Dauphin).
We settled down into a little-bitty airport, grabed a taxi that had been brought courtesy of the two elders already down here (Elders Smith and Peaden), and cruised off to the house. We got settled, taught a couple of lessons, and finally chowed down. During the appointments I realized that though everyone understands what I am saying, I have to strain to understand what they are saying. They speak in two main dialects here: Atanosy and Atandroy (probably spelled those wrong). Their accent is very different than what I'm used to, but the biggest problem of all is that unless they are speaking directly to me, they usually speak in their own dialect. These dialects are somewhat similar to Marina, and they rarely speak in straight non-marina, but when half of the words they use are spoken in a language I don't know, I'm having to really pay attention and do some quick deciphering. It's fun though.
Unbelievable story- last Friday we went to one of our investigators houses to meet an appointment. Elders Cassel, Mclaughlin, (he's from Scotland, and way legit) and I were walking down the path, coming pretty close to the person's neighborhood, when all we ended up seeing was a giant, burned patch of destruction. A huge fire had blazed the night before, completely leveling all the wooden shacks in sight. 500 people without anything but the clothes on their backs; 5 dead and many in the hospital for severe burns. It was probably one of the saddest things I'd ever seen. As soon as we walked up one of our investigators approached us, burn marks on her face and hands, and apologized for not being able to receive us because her house was burned to rubble.
Long story short, we talked with a couple of the leaders about things we could do, talked with President Donnelly and Elder Ridges (humanitarian missionary) and then finally decided that we were going to do something about it. The next morning we (Cassel, Mclaughlin, and me) found, bought, transported by pouspous, and delivered 200 kilos of rice to the homeless people at the burn site. We had to pay for the rice with our own money, but were then payed back from out of the humanitarian-mission's budget. It was hard to describe, the experience.
We also had two baptisms this past Saturday - Melissa and Nany - which went really well.
Don't start worrying about me down here in old Fort Dauphin. I wasn't able to email yesterday because it was some sort of catholic religious holiday. I figured that there might be some worrying because I wasn't able to email, so I'll start by saying that there are indeed Internet cafes here, it is just that they are expensive - as is everything else in this little chunk of paradise! Seriously; every single thing that is available for sale in Fort Dauphin that is also available in Tana is about a dollar or so more expensive. Now that may not seem like much, but it adds up! They have regular restaurants here, regular-ish stores here, but everything they have to offer is pricey pricey pricey. Fear not though, for my goal is not to ask for more personal funds. It is to learn to budget better.
Praying for you guys all the time. Even when I'm really tired and I can only stay awake for a couple of moments in prayer, I always pray for you guys.