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Brynn Wiessner is serving her YAGM year in Madagascar. She names her faith homes as Memorial, Afton; Camp Wapogasset, Amery, WI; and Black Hawk Church, Madison, WI.
“Mondroso”, my friend says to me, offering me his plate…Hesitantly, I take a small amount of vegetables off his dish. We are at a party with my choir and having a picnic. Everyone has brought food, and it is assumed this food will be shared (sort of like a Minnesotan potluck!). But, instead of setting out the food on a table and taking portions for your own plate, my friends walk around with their dish and spoon food off of or onto each others’ plates.
When someone says “mondroso, sakafo,” they mean something like “come and share this food with me.” It could be to share a meal, or a banana, or maybe it’s to share a half eaten package of crackers. It doesn’t matter what the food is or how much there is; if you have food, you share it.
Before my arrival to Madagascar, I would have said I am pretty decent at sharing. After all, it’s something I’ve been taught is the right thing to do since I was a child. But, I’ve always understood that in order to share something, first I had to have something that was mine to share. It was my choice to ‘take the high road’ and share, and it was my choice how much I shared. However, here in Madagascar, I’m learning it’s not my food to share, but simply the food I brought, which, consequently, will be shared.
When my friend asks me later why I was hesitant to take, in my eyes, “other people’s food,” I try to explain the cultural difference. I tell him about the peculiar Minnesota culture of always leaving the last bite of cake on the plate and of having to refuse politely at least three times when someone offers you food.
As I live with and alongside my friends and family here in Toamasina, I am finding beauty in a culture which is much more communal based than the individualistic mindset common in America. This isn’t to say that at times I haven’t been confused or frustrated when suddenly “my” water bottle is empty, or “my” guitar is picked up and played by someone I haven’t met yet. There simply isn’t the same claim to things and possessions here as I have been accustomed to in the U.S. Instead of an emphasis on the individual person, the focus is on the community and people’s roles and relationships within that community.
In these ways I am learning to live in a culture which highly values community. We are a part of something bigger than ourselves. As God’s children and followers of Christ all over the world we are connected to each other. We are one. Love and peace from Toamasina.
The ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission has called six young adults from the Saint Paul Area Synod to serve a year abroad in a variety of countries, doing congregational ministry, human rights work, development projects, healthcare, education, and youth work. More about YAGM can be found at www.elca.org/yagm.