A Twist on Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day heartsEvery year February 14 is Valentine’s Day, a Hallmark holiday that traditionally includes cards, chocolates, flowers, and often dinner out and perhaps a new bauble or other token of affection.

Ash cross on woman's forehead

This year February 14 is also Ash Wednesday, a Christian holiday that marks the beginning of 40 days of fasting in preparation for Easter, the most important holiday in the Christian calendar.

That coincidence of the two holidays gave me inspiration to look for a way to observe both of them in some compatible way.  A way to move from a strictly Hallmark holiday to a holiday in the spirit of II Corinthians 13, often referred to as the Love chapter. The last verse may be the most well known: So faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not forgetting my husband on this day of romance. He will receive a card with just the right sentiment, selected after 45 minutes of sifting through cards with texts ranging from syrupy sweet to barely appropriate humor. He deserves the perfect card. Each year I search for it. He is the reason my life is so rich I can think of ways to be generous to others–to share faith, hope, and love with others.

The specific inspiration for the twist came from alerts of new Internet stories about the countries I have lived in. Reviewing them keeps me in touch with a variety of aspects of life–political, cultural, religious–in those countries. The posts I received most recently about Madagascar gave me an idea for the twist.

Before I describe it, I’d like to introduce readers to Madagascar. Briefly.

Madagascar is the world’s fourth-largest island. The curves of the west coast of Madagascar match the curves of the east coast of the African continent, just to the west. Without the benefit of more detailed knowledge of how the supercontinent of Pangea rifted, it’s reasonable to assume the island broke away from Africa, but it’s more complicated. In fact, the land that corresponds to the island of Madagascar broke away along with a larger landmass that eventually moved northward and collided with what became the continent of Asia. That collision formed the Himalayan Mountains at the northern edge of the Indian subcontinent. During that land migration, the island of Madagascar broke away from the northward-moving landmass and drifted back toward Africa. Wikipedia includes an animation of the breaking apart of Pangea which shows these rifts and movements.

lemur sunning himselfThe extended period of time that Madagascar drifted first away from Africa and then back again resulted in the incredible variety of unique plants and animals of Madagascar. My favorites are the lemurs, ranging in size from as small as a mouse to as big as a baboon. Dream Works’ Madagascar film franchise helped popularize the lemur I believe is most widely recognized: the ring-tailed lemur. Distressingly, Scientific American reported in January that the ring-tailed lemur population has plummeted 95% since the year 2000.

Lemurs are not all that Madagascar is losing. The agricultural practice of slash-and-burn has contributed to the loss of 90% of Madagascar’s forests. But the practice has more than agricultural significance. Because the ash left behind after the burning enriches the soil, the practice has cultural value as it is associated with wealth and prestige, a powerful combination of motives difficult to overcome.

red silt in the rivers of MadagascarA secondary loss from the slashing and burning is the erosion of the soil which settles as red silt in the rivers and flows into the ocean, making it look as though the island is bleeding.

Economically, Madagascar in 2016 was identified as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The average annual income in Madagascar is only $1,000. Madagascar’s agricultural industry, including fishing and farming, employs 82% of Madagascar’s labor force. Other industries–including textiles, mining, and tourism–are growing, but a combination of factors including food insecurity, fluctuations in investment from outside, and political instability have made for a rocky road. In its 2002 election two candidates, the then long-serving president, Didier Ratsiraka and a challenger, Marc Ravalomanana, claimed victory, which led to a political crisis, resolved eventually in favor of the challenger. But seven years later, the military took over. Elections were reestablished in 2013. Since then, Hery Martial Rajaonarimampianina has served as president.

The idea for my Valentine’s Day twist came from the several alerts about people in Madagascar who had received micro-loans from Kiva.org, an international nonprofit, founded in 2005 and based in San Francisco, with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. It is possible to loan as little as $25 to a project through Kiva.

Here’s my proposal: In addition to following whatever romance traditions you have established with those special people in your life, consider sharing your faith, hope, and love through a small loan with Kiva to someone in another part of the world–or even to someone within the United States–to be part of another person or family realizing their dreams.

I have added my contribution to the loan requests of Clarisse and Ernest of Madagascar.

Photo credits:

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A is for Antananarivo

Cochecitos by copepodo, on Flickr

Check out the toy cars made from soft drink cans.

From September 2003 until January 2004, I lived in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. Known as Tananariv during a period of French colonization, it got shortened even further to Tana, especially by foreigners who have trouble getting the multiple-syllable names out with accents in the right places.

I had always considered Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, to be part of Africa, but the Malagasy people don’t agree. On a map, the gap between Madagascar and Mozambique on the east coast of Africa gives the impression that Madagascar split off from Africa. But there is more evidence, hidden from view, that Africa first split off from Gondwana, the supercontinent, at which time Madagascar’s west coast was formed. We’re talking millions of years ago, nearly 200 million years ago. Then a mere 88 million years ago, Madagascar split off from what since became the Indian sub-continent. It then drifted west. The minerals and precious gems found underground are similar to what can be found in India.

Its people also do not seem African. And they aren’t. The original people who settled Madagascar came from islands in the South Pacific. The people look more like Indonesians than Africans. They are short in stature and lighter in skin tone. They dress more like the people of Indonesia. The women wear sarongs and shawls around their shoulders. And their original animist religious traditions are more like those of Indonesia. They revere their ancestors and periodically remove the bones from their tombs in a ceremony referred to as turning the bones. Once the bones are removed, the family gathers to celebrate after which the bones are rewrapped in silk, sprayed with perfumes, and then returned to the tombs.

Madagascar is also home to unique plants and animals, the most famous of which is the lemur. More than 100 species of lemurs exist, all of them endemic to Madagascar. They range from the size of a mouse to a rhesus monkey. The largest, the indri, has a very distinct call which some people compare to a baby crying. Listen and decide for yourself.

By the way, the movie Madagascar got it right: the natural enemy of the lemur is the cat-like fossa.

For more information about Madagascar and Antananarivo, check out the following:

Enjoy some music from Tarika, a Malagasy group focusing on traditional Malagasy music and its roots in Indonesia: