A Madagascar Thanksgiving

Untitled-1There are many ways in which we can say thank you! Here are some of the ways we can say thanks in the La Salette world: Merci (French), Misoatra (Malagasy), Danke (German), Mesi (Haitian), Grazzie (Italian), Dzekuje (Polish), Obrigado (Portuguese), Salamat (Tagalog), Dyakuju (Ukrainian), and Kyay Zoo Tin Pa Deh (Burmese).

Every year when we observe Thanksgiving Day (in the U.S. on the last Thursday in November), I recall one of the earliest Thanksgivings I celebrated in Madagascar.

Although Thanksgiving is an American holiday, none of our Missionaries whether they were Malagasy, French or Italian would have any reluctance to join in celebrating this special day.

It was a few days before our celebration and I was returning home from a visit out in the bush. I planned to take advantage of the occasion to stop in a village where I knew they raised turkeys. I bought a nice live and plump “tom turkey”. I had our catechist securely tie it up and put it in the back of the jeep. We took off for a neighboring village that I needed to visit.

This village was only 15 miles away and was conveniently on the road home. As soon as I arrived in the village I asked a teenager if he would take the turkey out of the jeep and put it in the shade and give it some water. It was a very hot day and I did not want Tom to die before his time. The boy just gave me a strange look. It was evident that he did not understand me.

I knew that my Malagasy was not the greatest so I led him to the jeep and showed him the turkey. As a wide look of wonderment crossed his face he excitedly said: Akoho lehibe which literally mean a “big chicken”.

Untitled-2Left: a Madagascar turkey, Akoho lehibe; Right: Fr. Jack Nuelle while ministering in Madagascar many years ago, playing with a small animalNow I was confused because I knew that the Malagasy word for turkey is Vorontsiloza. So I asked the catechist if in that village they had a different word for turkey? He just laughed and said no. He explained that the boy had never seen a turkey before; in fact there were a good number of villagers who were viewing a turkey for the first time. Now how could this be since the village where I got my turkey was only a few miles away? The answer was simple yet astonishing. This boy and others had never traveled that far from their village.

Later I would read that in many parts of the world there are many millions of people who would never travel more than 35 miles from their village during their life time. It is truly remarkable to realize that in our age of computers, cell phones, ipods, satellites, TV, jet travel, etc., that a vast population of the world is still so isolated.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are wonderful opportunities to appreciate the fact that our lives are so rich in many diverse ways and too often we do not realize just how blessed we are.