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* Christmas eve at Anka

January 11, 2016

Pauly was a Malagasy man who came to our door in Fort Dauphin, bananasMadagascar about once per week to sell us bananas. He was short, wore a straw hat and an old sport coat my dad had given him over his short pants. He’d set out early morning in the dark from his village of Anka, nestled up against the foothills about 10 km from town, carrying his bananas in a big, woven twig basket he carried on a pole over his shoulder. Arriving at our doorstep about breakfast time, he’d cough gently outside our door until we came out to see him. He’d greet us with a smile, holding up the bananas he’d brought for sale and then setting them on the porch as my dad or mom picked out the ones they wanted, bargaining only enough to be polite.

Pauly was also one of the elders of his church in Anka. I’m not sure how it img162happened, but I’m assuming one year he invited us out to his church for the Christmas Eve service. So we set out late afternoon in our little Peugeot 403 white sedan, mom and dad in the front, us 3 boys in the back, driving over a bumpy red dirt road that led through the lush, green countryside that existed between the ocean and the hills just north of town. About 20 minutes drive Fort Dauphin we headed west on a much less impressive track that headed towards the hills. While we didn’t go very far on this, dirt roadthe road wasn’t very good, so dad carefully chose where to drive to miss the biggest holes and rocks. It was getting dark as we pulled into the edge of the little village that was Anka. We were met by what seemed like the whole village, who walked us over to the small thatched church, its walls and roof made from the dried leaves of ravinala plants.

As the honored guests, we were told to sit on some of the few pews in the front of the church along with several of the church’s elders and the Catechist would would be leading the service, as a pastor only came by country churchonce a month or so. “Pews” was a bit of an exaggeration, as they were simply raised poles, uncomfortable to the point that after a while, we boys would sit on the woven straw mats on the floor instead. The rest of the congregation, except for a few elders and the Catechist, sat on straw mats on the floor. Being near the front of the church, we were next to the Christmas tree which was decorated with the first page of Christmas cards, attached to the tree as decorations.

The closest electricity was back in Fort Dauphin, so the church was lit by jiro kapoakaseveral lamps which had been fashioned out of sweet milk cans. They were held up by parishioners who would pass them off to someone else as they grew tired of holding them. We were still waiting for members of a nearby congregation to join us, so as we sat there, people would say a number, like “254” for example. After a brief paused, everyone gathered would sing, with gusto, hymn 254, all verses, all by memory, as there wasn’t nearly enough light in the church to see the words in the hymnals which was only a problem for those of us who didn’t know the hymnal by heart.

And then between songs, we heard singing off in the distance. I was fascinated to listen to the church’s youth group, having gathered at the other end of the village, walking over to us waiting for the service to begin, sinhard candyging Christmas Carols as they came. Before long they joined us in the church, which now was so full some had to sit outside. And then the service began in earnest. Songs, prayers, eventually a sermon given by the
Catechist, it went on for several hours. At the end of the service we handed out some hard candies, the only “gifts” the kids were going to be receiving that year.

And then, after lots of hand shaking and thanking us for coming, we got back in the car for our ride home.

A Christmas Eve I’ll never forget.

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