24 March 2008

Easter, Gasy Style

“There are too many of us and we are all too far apart”- Kurt Vonnegut, Adam 1954

It’s Easter, known as Paka here. Being a largely Christian country, this is a national holiday, as are Pentecost and Asuncion, whatever those are (I am ashamed of my ignorance but there you have it). On Sunday, everybody goes to church in the morning. And I finally went with my family, though dad stayed home. We went to the church farther up the road in another village where my host-mom is from. Two other volunteers and their families came here, but most others all went to the bigger church in the bigger town.

It is interesting to see everybody in his or her Sunday best. Here, that means a clean, unholy (but maybe holy?) outfit of the most random assortment: from ill-fitting prom dresses to “Beijing Basketball” hoodies to tailored suits, with most people wearing flip-flops.

We sat through all the usual rigamoral of sermon, singing, baptism (I think?), but then something unexpected happened and I didn’t know what to make of this at first. A man in a lime green suit walks up to the front, and standing behind the podium he holds a live chicken up high over his head with both hands. Then he starts to yell. I probably wouldn’t have been able to understand him if he was yelling slowly, but he wasn’t anyway – he was on a roll, very passionate persuasive. Then people started calling out to him. It seemed to me that he was getting the audience worked up for something that something appeared to be an animal sacrifice. I knew already that they do practice sacrifice here, as an offering to the ancestors when someone dies or there is another major life event. But I didn’t expect it here in church, and was shocked and considering getting up and going outside (which, incidentally, wouldn’t have been inappropriate because they sell concessions outside and people go in and out all the time). But then, he handed the chicken to somebody who brought it to the audience and placed it under someone’s seat. Now I was thoroughly confused but that was short lived. Someone then handed the would be Master of Death a pike of bananas, that he then proceeded to hold up and yell about. Then a couple of bottles of milk, some eggs, a cake… that’s right, it was an auction to raise funds for the church or maybe some other cause. Typically, instead of passing the basket around, they will have the whole assembly file to the front of the hall where a box is and you put your donation in there. This may happen two or three times during the service so they tend to drag on. But this was a special Easter fundraiser, and I was damn glad that they weren’t spilling chicken blood all over the church.

We harvested and threshed rice in the afternoon and then had Easter supper. Usually they turn the radio off for the meal prayer but this time they didn’t for some reason and I found myself straining to hear my host-mom over some country song. Dinner was rice, eggs, carrot salad, pasta, and greens, and pineapple. Nutritious and delicious.

But the fun doesn’t stop here. Easter Monday is also a holiday and everybody goes for a picnic. My family for some reason though, ate lunch at ten in the morning and then walked the couple of kilometers to the dam on the lake where everybody was hanging out. The place is called Pasi-potsy, or White Beach, and it was more of a small fair than anything. There were booths set up selling foodstuffs, a shack with a generator and television showing Fists of Blood dubbed in French, a human powered carrousel, and motor boat or canoe rides. I mostly wandered around eating mofo akondro, which is deep-fried battered bananas, played some soccer and lounged around in the shade of a tree. I think that I like Gasy holidays.