Madaworks Update: A Christmas Story from Tana

It's time for an update on my campaign to send two Malagasy girls to high school! For those of you just joining this story, check out:

I am continually amazed by the moments this project of mine has produced. Here's a Christmas story for you.

I was sitting on the floor of the Madagascar Underground Hostel in Antananarivo on Christmas Eve Eve (the day before the day before Christmas), scribbling thank-you notes on kids' drawings from the rainforest. I was rather conspicuous: in my pajamas because I was just getting over a nasty illness (have you ever had a fever that made your hands and feet go numb? I don't recommend it), surrounded by stacks of papers and stamps and ibuprofen, muttering addresses under my breath.

My fever-survival supplies: iPhone charger, electrolytes, antibiotics, suspiciously-pink Malagasy ibuprofen, two bottles of water, and the piece of plain toast I nibbled for a day.

Naturally, the other guests asked what I was up to. When I told them, one guest asked me to show him the Madaworks website, and I watched as he donated $600 on the spot. WOW. Another guest told me she couldn't donate online because she's Iranian and there's some weird embargo stuff... so she asked if she could just hand me some cash instead. (She didn't end up donating, but still, it's the thought that counts!) I couldn't believe the trust from these strangers, but after travelling in Madagascar, they were eager for a chance to help address this most obvious problem, the lack of education for young women.

Here's a breakdown by the numbers:

  • total donations so far: 30
  • from people I've never met: 7
  • from people I met playing frisbee: 7
  • from people I'm related to: 4
  • via PayPal: 6
  • via Venmo: 11
  • directly to Madaworks: 13
  • number of people who downloaded an app just to be able to donate: 1 (that I know of)
  • total money raised so far: $3,280
  • our goal: $3,600
  • percentage of goal raised so far: 91%

Because a lot of these donations flowed in around the holidays, I'll end with a story of my Christmas in Madagascar. I didn't have any family or old friends, but I was lucky to have the company of two new friends, Haja and Mahery. They came over to my hostel and helped me cook a Christmas Brunch that would've made the Lester Finleys proud.

It started on Christmas Eve. I spent the morning with Mahery, Haja, Haja's sister, and a trio of adorable nieces and nephews at a holiday gift market selling the incredible silver jewelry that Haja's family has been crafting for generations.

Selling silver is a family affair.

Then I walked to the enormous Antananarivo market, just before it closed, to buy groceries. That was an excellent adventure! I purchased potatoes and onions in the vegetable quarter, then wove through the dry goods stalls, a maze unlike any I've seen. Each stall stocks an unwieldy assortment of products. I managed to find the items on my list, but each from a different stall: ketchup, black tea, butter, a tiny bottle of oil, and dark chocolate. Then I held my nose and headed for the meat market, where I asked for hena kisoa, pork, the closest thing I could find to bacon. It was the end of the day, so I had to buy out the last hunks of meat hanging from the hooks of two different vendors. Mangoes, lychees, and bananas were easy (it's harder to avoid buying fresh fruit on these streets than to just give in and buy it, the vendors are so persistent), but the eggs were nowhere to be found. I asked everyone, "Aiza ny atody azafady?" Please, where are the eggs? Everyone had an answer: down that alley, around that corner, oh sure, eggs! But nobody had the eggs. Finally I found a girl cracking eggs into a cauldron of boiling soup, and I asked where she got her supply. A woman overheard and, eager to make a few cents, offered to find the eggs and bring them to me. Good luck, I thought, but I agreed. Five minutes later, she appeared holding a small plastic bag filled with straw and a dozen perfectly clean brown chicken-eggs. Christmas brunch was on!

The market is a sea of colorful umbrellas taking over the streets and sidewalks for miles of downtown Tana.

Christmas Eve was a breakthrough. If I'm being blunt, this city intimidates me. The traffic is aggressive, the streets take dizzying turns up cliffs, the air smells like diesel exhaust, and when I counted the number of times I was verbally bothered on the sidewalk, it was once every twenty seconds. Children beg for money, gripping your shirt and following you for blocks while whimpering, "Madame, madame." Men say hello in French whether or not you make eye contact. Taxi drivers block your path to ask if you might need a ride. Plus, I seem to get seriously ill whenever I enter this city. So, given all that, I was proud of myself for learning how to navigate the gritty streets confidently and finding a way to enjoy Tana for my last day here.

Mahery shows off our tropical fruit salad of mango, lychee, and tiny banana.

Haja scolded me for buying three normal mangoes and three squishy papaya-mangoes (woops!) but she quickly solved the problem by turning the squishy ones into juice.

Scrambled eggs and salty pork strips.

My babies: vegetarian and decidedly not-vegetarian home fries.

It wouldn't be Christmas without potatoes!

We cooked enough for a dozen people, and we served Christmas brunch to everyone who, for one reason or another, found themselves stuck in a backpackers' hostel on Christmas morning. Our happy family consisted of businessmen and hippie travellers, a young family in the process of moving houses, the cleaning and cooking staff, Haja, Mahery, and me.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone reading this! If you're feeling inspired, perhaps you'd like to donate to my Madaworks campaign and get that final 9% of our goal reached, to send two Malagasy girls to a fully-funded, three-year, high-school education.

Here are three ways to donate:


Venmo: @Nina-Finley

Madaworks website:

And hey, let's also take a moment to be grateful for being 91% of the way there. Every supportive thought, message, and dollar has been a gift in this unconventional holiday season.

Now that I'm in Bali (what?! I know, I'm a little behind on the blog posts), writing thank-you notes has a very different vibe. I loved writing postcards from this low table in the back of a Balinese restaurant. Just look at that rice-paddy view, complete with a sitting-cushion and the sweetest ginger-lemon tea I've ever tasted.