Friday, July 22, 2011

Hunting for Seeds in Antsantia

Things are continuing to go well, seeing and learning a lot, loving this part of the country much more than Antsirabe, the city we were in the first month. We went to two different mangrove forests today to look for seeds. One of them was quite destroyed but the second was in pretty good shape.
The good forest was just beyond a beautiful French-run hotel, so we parked at the hotel, ordered lunch and left Alissa and the kids at the pool. Jaime, Elizabeth, Josy, Armand, another Malagasy and myself hiked down the beach and into a small bay where the forest was. Beautiful white sand beaches on either side before entering, now on my list of most beautiful beaches.

The forest is incredibly dense and has a great variety of species. There was a dryer path around part of it, but to get a really good look we had to go wading through deep mud amongst the prop roots of the trees. A bit difficult but the mud felt amazing between the toes and thankfully there were not many barnacles attached to the roots in this forest as their often are. The mud was about a foot deep in this particular spot, but other places you can sink two or three feet, sometimes more. The trick is to keep on moving, constantly lifting your feet up, kinda like doing an accelerated high-step in marching band.

Jaime spotted a chameleon in a mangrove tree, which is quite rare. Even Jaime who grew up here had never seen a chameleon in the mangroves. A good sign! As for the seed collection, the seeds we were looking for, they weren't mature enough yet, so we'll have to go back to that location in a week or two, though we did find some other tree species which we were able to procure seeds from.

After arriving back at the hotel we jumped in the oh so refreshing pool, then had an amazing lunch of red snapper with sauteed veggies and curried rice, definitely the best fish I've ever had.

On the way back home this evening we witnessed a large portion of forest on fire, which was set by a local because the burning causes green shoots to spring up which their cattle like to eat. Such a waste, so much destruction. There was at least a few football fields up in flames. When the forest burns all the chameleons die and even the lemurs don't make it as they climb to the tops of the trees instead of fleeing the area.

It was an amazingly full day, and we can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Arrived in Majunga!

We took a Taxi Brousse the 11 hour journey to Majunga, and it was a BEAUTIFUL drive. It was incredible driving the hilly road passing very dry dessert lands with valleys filled with small pockets of lush forest. We could really see the remnants of what once was, and prayed as we drove through the lands that this land could be restored!

We arrived in Majunga, and were promply picked up by Rich Shattenberg, Jamie's father, who has been living in Mad for 35 years. We have been staying at his house the past week and really enjoying the hot yet breezy ocean air. It is so refreshing to walk on the beach and see the beautiful ocean! Since Jamie grew up here, there's already a handful of people that live near them and know them. It's exciting to already start to meet some Malagasy. It is good to finally be here!

Shopping in Tana

Madagascar has such an array of handcrafted products. Just about everything I find here is so detailed and well made....which made for a difficult time when we were given the chance to do a little souvenir shopping. Raffia, bull horn, silk, alligator skin, and wooden crafted things are very popular.

The Story Behind the Fishies
One special stop we made was to a group of women who make paper maché fish that can hang from the ceiling or wall. They are so well done, and their story is even more compelling. A french woman approached a Malagasy woman and asked if she would be interested in learning how to make these paper mache creations. The Malagasy woman took the opportunity, and now has her own shop and has been training woman at her shop so they can start their own businesses. So far about 65 woman have graduated, and as a result have risen out of their difficult life situations. The Malagasy woman who started this shop was a single mother with many children, but is no longer poor. Now her life has been transformed and she thanks God for her blessings! We were so touched by her story and were excited to purchase the beautiful fishies!

Happy Bday USA in Tana!

We arrived in Antanarivo and it was fourth of July! We had a busy couple days planned there, yet we found time to stop at one of the Shattenberg's favorite restaurants, Sakamanga, for an amazing meal and just wondering ambiance. The guys had the buffet while all of us ladies (Alissa, Eliana, Isabella and I) had the Vanilla Chicken...mmmmm! To really celebrate America's Birthday we sang and enjoyed a tower of passion fruit sortbets! There were no fireworks except the ones going off in our mouth at this meal!!

Endings and new beginnings

Skole (school) graduation
Isabella, Eliana, and Oliver had a little graduation as their 6 months of skole came to an end! Parents were so pround!

Language School finished
Alissa, Jonathan, Mandy, Cristal and a couple others finished their 6 months of language training with Madame Lalao! To celebrate we had a short hike to some waterfalls near her house and a delicious malagasy meal of pork, chicken, ginger and rice.

Packing and saying goodbye to Antsirabe

I have been so amazed watching Jamie and Alissa pack up ALL their stuff for the fourth or fifth time in 6 months without too much stress, and pretty quickly. Language school finished Thursday and we were all packed up Saturday ready to drive to Tana for a few nights and then onto Majunga! This has been an invaluable week in Antsirabe as we've been a part of the experience of packing up a house in Madagascar. Now ready to go to MAJUNGA!!!

Gavin is ONE

We had such a fabulous celebration for Gavin Shattenberg! We felt so priviledged to be a part of this family and celebrate their son's very first birthday fun! Alissa amazingly made the cutest little froggy-i-the-pond cupcakes and decorated with Malagasy Independence Day lanterns! We bounced on a trampoline, played with balloons and met a baby lamb. It was a great party! Happy Bday Gavin!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Life in Antsirabe

This month in Antsirabe has been flying by! Our little house on Jamie and Alissa's property has been perfect! It's pretty cool at night and warm with a nice breeze during the day. Every morning we get to see the girls and their friend Oliver have Skole (malagasy word for school) from 8-12 while Alissa and Oliver's parents (Jonathon and Mandy) are at language school with Madame Laloa. They sing songs, learn their abc's and numbers and then we usually ALL go on a "bear" hunt or field trip to a neighboring hill or lake so they can run, play, and explore learning malagasy words along the way. It's so fun to see the girls growing up so much these past few weeks!

One day we went to Lake Chichiva, a HUGE crator lake that actually rises in the hot dry season, and lowers in the wet season! It is said that 2 lovers died here when their parents wouldn't allow their marriage. No one swims here because of bad luck or taboo, but Nolan jumped in the icy water for a swim!

Another day we visited some people who have a very difficult job: brick makers. They spend their lives doing this back breaking work in the mud for not much money, and still they stopped to tell us about their lives with the always present malagasy smile :)

Antsirabe is also home of some unique artisans. As we were getting ready to leave this city, we wanted to see these beautiful products.
Bicycles and trucks hand crafted from old and new medal pieces.
Jewelry made out of bull horns
Beautiful hand made paper with flower pedals

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


This short trip started with a lonnnng taxi-brousse ride...16 hours to be exact through the night to Morondava, a little town on the west coast. Even though the journey was long, driving in at sunrise with the Mozambique Channel's waves hitting the long stretch of white flour-fine sandy beach for the first time made it worth the ride! After a short little jaunt from the taxi station in a deux chevaux (two horse-power) taxi, we pulled into Chez Maggie and enjoyed a nice long nap.

The beach was so peaceful, scattered with men preparing their outrigger canoes, propagule seeds from the nearby mangroves, sand dollars, &fishermen. Before dinner, we ran into an American guy named David (who worked in Antarctica with a good friend of mine and has a sister working in Korea and another living in Santa Barbara), had a fabulous dinner of fresh jumbo prawns & fish, & planned our trip to Alley of the Baobabs & Kirindy Forest.
Baobab Alley:
The baobabs are such a stunning site! We could not get enough these other-worldly trees, towering like mythical sentinels, a humbling experience to stand beneath them. Sadly, it is only for a couple hundred yards that the density is such that you are flanked on both sides by the awe-inspiring specimens. There are baobabs scattered throughout Madagascar, but the baobab forests no longer exist and even those which are left face an uncertain future due to human-induced threats.

Kirindy Forest:
A primary dry-deciduous forest with a plethora of flora and fauna! With our trusted guide, Christian, we went on two tours through the dense forest by day and one by night. We saw a myriad of magnificent creatures, among them being the feigned predator, the fossa, 5 lemur species (red-fronted, sportive brown, grey mouse, fork-marked, and the shifaka), some beautiful endemic birds, a mongoose, skink lizard, and the very rare and surprisingly cute, giant jumping rat (only found in this forest). We arrived back in Antsirabe last night after a 12 hour taxi-be ride from Morondava...the trip only takes around 7 hours in a private vehicle, but the taxi stops around 15-20 times for a combination of police checkpoints and dropping off and picking up new passengers and cargo. Our trip back was particularly entertaining as a few roosters, chickens, and a couple young turkeys were stuffed behind the rear seat, so we had periodic wake-up calls from the agitated roosters and fowl throughout the journey. Oh what a memorable trip with many more stories to share than space permits!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011



We had a four day weekend for Penticost holiday I believe, so all 7 of us went to Ranomafana (GREAT name, eh?) where we were able to see an amazingly still in tact would have LOVED it! It was wild and well taken care of with tons of chameleons, geccos, frogs, insects, mangoose, lemurs and more! it was so cool to see how the forests here SHOULD be. So many hills throughout the country are bare and eroding because they've been burned down for farming or planting of invasive trees like pine or eucalyptus (pardon my spelling). Anyways, it was so neat to see all the creatures and fun stuff in the forest! Here is a list of our favorite sites....

Lemurs big and small:
The first evening we went on a night hike and we saw our FIRST lemur...this was no ordinary lemur either, we saw a gray mouse lemur, which is THE smallest primate that only comes out at night! They were curious fellows and fun to find!

A Fantastic Gecco:
On one of our day hikes with our trusted guides, William and Andry, we saw the most amazing fact it is so amazing it's name says just that : Uroplatus Phantasticus. It is a gecco that looks and feels exactly like dead leaves. Fantastico!

We finally saw chameleons! A few lined the trail into the forest, but we saw the most on our night hike. They were glowing white in the trees, sleeping sweetly until we disturbed there slumber. Once we picked them up they would instantly begin to change color! What an amazing creature!


About 10 minutes from our home in Anstirabe is an orphanage where 22 girls and boys are being raised in a healthy and happy environment. They live on a nice piece of property with a great backyard, which was perfect for a kicking around a soccer ball and running around. We were curious about what would happen to the children when they reached 16 or 18 and could leave the orphanage, but after talking to Miri an 18 year old girl, she said that each child chooses a trade as they get older so once they leave the home, they will be able to get a job.

This one experience made me feel so much more at home and at peace with being in Madagascar. I don't know if it was because we were able to hug, swing, and run together, or because I became friends with my first Malagasy friend who happened to be a beautiful 5 year old girl named Cynthia, but I absolutely cherished these couple hours at the orphanage and hope to return very soon!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Christmas in June in Antsirabe

So much fun! When we arrived in Antsirabe we were greeted with heart warming squeals and hugs from the Shattenberg girls: Eliana, Isabella and Alissa :) It was so great to see them....they were so excited to see us...but also they were SO excited to see the BIG suitcase full of presents from their beloved Grandma and Grandpy back in Santa Barbara! It was a joy to be a part of the gift giving Christmas in June celebration!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


We are actually in MADAGASCAR! We left on Friday and arrived Monday morning at 1 am after 45 hours of very interesting travel! Flights went smoothly; we weren't charged for extra luggage or carry-ons and British Airways staff were impeccably witty even if their leg room left much to be desired ;) We even fit in an amazing 5 hour Safari in Kenya with lions, giraffes and zebras oh my! Jaime, our good friend who moved here in January with his family, was there to pick us up in Antananarivo, (Tana) and thanks to one of the security guards being a friend of his, he was even able to surprise us in the baggage claim area!

From the airport, we went to a World Venture friend's house and slept a few hours until the sun came up. Once we woke, the day was full of running errands like picking up a stove and Jamie's dad....and then we took the three hour journey south to our home for the next month with the Shattenbergs in Antsirabe!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Saying Goodbye well

I think its pretty hard to say goodbye well. As I start this blog, I am thinking of how we have been saying goodbye to many things the last few weeks. We were blessed with a wonderful opportunity to go to a cross-cultural training called Mission Training International which offered Nolan and I, as well as 40 other adults and 20 children going out into the mission field, an amazing preparation to entering other cultures. We spent three weeks in community with many other like-minded friends and learned many practical skills about going cross-culture, as well as dove deep into our own selves, understanding our own values, grieving, resting in Christ, as well as a plethora of other themes. It was so helpful and gave us lots of things to think about as we prepare to go to Madagascar.

Leaving our dear friends at MTI was hard, but it was so fun to drive back to Santa Barbara visiting my brother James in New Mexico, my cousins Jenn and Josh in Phoenix, Nolan's parents in Tuscon, Nolan's brother Evan in Pasadena, and then seeing all our friends back in Santa Barbara. Now 10 days since our return to SB, we have to say goodbye for 4 months, which isn't at all a goodbye forever, but still, I think it is representative of a much longer goodbye that will come in the near future. Anyways I wanted to say goodbye here to a short list of the things and people we will miss

....Goodbye Free Methodist Church, goodbye Paradise Cafe, goodbye Super Cucas burritos, Goodbye Sara, Goodbye Jack, Jenn & Rob, goodbye Wuerz', Cass', Jenny,Orchowskis, Conways, Canadas, Alexandra, Mumms, Sunday small group, Kierstin, Elise, Eden, Jake, Cole, Travis, and the rest in Youth Group, Daily Grind blueberry streusel muffins, Denny, Doug, Discipleship group, Shoreline Park, Buddy scooter, Mesa donuts, Goodbye Worth Street Reach, Goodbye street friends from Thursday nights, Goodbye farmer's market, SB airport, beach walks, El Cap camping, ELS students, Julie, and even more unlistable things....see you all in mid September!! We'll miss you!