Peanuts in My Bra and Other Discoveries
I've lived in Mozambique for about two months now. And I have discovered a few things.
I had never lit a match before I came here.
It seemed a simple enough task.
You just strike it against the box.
So, I did it.
The match broke in half.
I tried a second time. It worked.
I made fire.
I lit my gas stove.
Later I discovered that it was a self-lighting stove & I just had to be patient longer than 4 seconds.
However, I have also discovered that match-lighting is a handy skill for power outages.
I’ve always been a little skeptical of prayer.
I’m just not very good at it.
I’m just not sure about how it works and how it fits in with who I think God is.
I’ve just never had something in my life that I really prayed for happen – and if it did I forgot, or wasn’t paying close enough attention, or chocked it up to some other non-supernatural occurrence.
But I asked people to pray that I would take it one day at a time here and not get overwhelmed by all the things I couldn’t do, like teaching classes and learning a language.
In the past I have been overcome by pride and felt a need to do everything successfully. If I wasn’t very good at it I probably wasn’t going to do it.
But I am completely incapable of doing most things here by myself.
I don’t know how to get to the market, I can’t talk to people, I don’t know how a lot of things work, and there’s a lot of kinks to work out with teaching.
And I discovered that, for the first time in my life, I’m okay with that.
I discovered that I am completely content with where I am right now in my language study, in my cultural transition, and in my elementary education experience.
I discovered that this feeling, one that is unlike any other I have ever had before, is an answer to prayer.
And then I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to stay.
I kept having legal issues with my visa and it didn’t look like they were going to go away.
If I didn’t get the approval then I was going to have to leave the country and reapply.
The government said no after the first meeting.
So I asked people to pray.
People all over the world were praying for my residency documents.
I was planning a trip to South Africa and trying to figure out alternative entry strategies if I was still not approved after reapplying.
But there was no need for that plan.
After a meeting the very next day the documents for my roommate and I were approved.
This is the first time that any document has been approved for the team here in over a year.
And I discovered that it was more than just a smooth meeting on a good day.
I discovered that it was more than a man just changing his mind.
I discovered it was an answer to prayer.
And we have discovered many more document-related prayers to be answered since then.
It was just lying there on the floor around 9:00am.
We have geckos all over the house that attach themselves up near the ceiling and eat mosquitoes.
But this one was on the floor.
Around noon it was still there. In the same spot. With a fly crawling on it.
I didn’t have time to deal with it then.
Around 8:00pm it was still there.
I discovered that the gecko was dead.
So my roommate and I had a small funeral for it in our yard.
I love coffee.
But there is not much coffee around here.
But while at the market with some friends, we discovered raw coffee beans.
I have roasted two batches now.
The first batch made coffee that tasted very similar to charcoal.
The second batch made coffee that tasted very similar to water.
I have been teaching elementary and middle school kids for a few weeks now.
In college there was a tendency for some students to look down on elementary education students.
Sometimes it seemed unfair that they were reading children’s books while I had to read some dense theological study by a centuries-old author who likes to randomly utilize German lingo.
But I have discovered that teaching is really difficult.
I have discovered that it takes so much time to plan lessons and think of interesting things and get all of the supplies together.
I have discovered that it takes a lot of courage to present your ideas to a group that may just stare blankly back at you as if you are speaking Japanese.
I have discovered that you have to know so much about so many things to satisfy the curiosities of a third grader.
I have discovered that you have to change the ways your brain processes things like math problems to keep up with how your students are coming to their conclusions.
But I have also discovered that it is a great blessing.
I have discovered that it is so fun to teach about things they love – the terrifying creatures on the ocean floor, or how the ancient Egyptians lived, or how to build a wheel and axle.
I have discovered that it is so exciting to see someone grasp a concept for the first time – when they can yell, “That’s a nickel and it’s worth five cents!” or “I understand how to calculate the mechanical advantage of a screw!”
I have discovered that it is worth all of the hours of lesson planning, and worth a few lesson plan failures, to have them ask to do extra projects, or see them know how to apply a concept to a real-life problem, or be surprised by the complex questions that they ask.
I have never been very good at reading.
The idea of reading is very interesting to me, but it is very difficult for me to choose reading over something else.
Occasionally I would spend six months reading a book that I really liked and recommend it to everyone, because if I could get through it then everyone should read it and love it.
I prided myself on getting through high school without reading over 90% of the reading I was assigned.
But I have quite a bit of time here.
I have Mondays off, I spend a lot of nights in, I don’t have TV, and I try to conserve my internet.
So I’ve been reading.
I mean, sometimes I’m reading by headlamp.
This is serious business.
Don’t give hand-outs.
That’s what everyone has always said.
Don’t give money or gifts to people because then they’ll become dependent or they’ll manipulate you or take advantage of you, and so on.
But now I am in a rich resident in a place dominated by poverty.
And not only that, but I am a resident in a culture that builds relationships upon the idea of community and sharing.
To give is to befriend.
And so my idea of what is appropriate when it comes to giving must change.
I must ask what is good stewardship, what is most beneficial, and what shows love to my neighbors.
I have discovered that in this place, thoughtful giving is good.
I have discovered that contributing money is a contribution of praise.
I have discovered that giving more than is asked is giving affirmation.
I have discovered that sharing a bag of beans is sharing respect.
I have discovered that offering an onion is offering love.
I have discovered that giving a Christmas cookie is a gift of friendship.
Mozambique is really far away from my home.
And when I talked to people before I left they would often emphasize how far away it is.
And it’s true.
It’s really hard to get from the house where I grew up to the house where I live now.
It takes several planes and many hours in the car and even more hours of paperwork.
But I’ve discovered it’s not all that far.
I’ve discovered that social media and the internet have enabled us to live in an extremely connected world.
I’ve discovered that I’m never far from a text with my parents, a Facetime with my friends, or up-to-the-minute election results.
But sometimes Mozambique feels as far away as it is.
When I wish I had packed a slightly different wardrobe, I’m very far away.
When I’m waiting on a package to arrive, I’m very far away.
When there’s a holiday or a birthday, I’m very far away.
When a friend at home is having a problem, I’m very far away.
When someone gets a scary report from a doctor, I’m very far away.
When someone dies, I’m very far away.
I’ve discovered that even the Internet cannot change that sometimes I feel very far away.
Because Mozambique often feels far away, I always wonder what sort of cultural things I’m missing out on.
Especially when it comes to all the hip new lingo.
I would send pictures of my home here and people kept replying “Loved an Image.”
I thought this was the new cool thing to say, so I said it once to someone.
I then inquired about its origins.
I discovered that “Loved an Image” is not a cool new phrase.
I discovered that no one is actually saying that.
I discovered that it’s just an iPhone update that I haven’t gotten.
Some ladies farther north of Montepuez came to visit for a retreat.
There were almost 50 ladies singing in the yard next door.
I went over to join them.
It began to rain and thunder too loudly to hear the Bible lesson.
But no storm can stop singing.
And here that means that no storm can stop dancing either.
And the dancing here is different than at home.
There is something genetically different that forbids me to dance like the women here dance.
And yet I was pulled up to dance.
They complimented by dancing when they took a break from the hysterical laughing that ensued when I participated.
It is difficult to say whether they thought the dancing was acceptable or ridiculous, but my goal of entertainment value was certainly achieved.
I discovered – for the first time in my life – a group of people who appreciates my sweet dance moves.
Sometimes I walk home by myself.
This always leads to people stopping to talk to the mysterious white person walking around.
This always leads me to using up most my Makua knowledge in the first minute to explain that I don’t know Makua, but I’m studying it, and want to speak it well.
They think this is very funny.
And so they laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
They have me repeat phrases over and over to show their friends how little Makua I know.
And we all laugh some more.
I discovered that laughing at myself takes the scariness away from any cross-cultural faux-pas.
I discovered that laughing at myself allows me to turn strangers into friends and language instructors and tour guides.
I discovered that laughing at myself is going to be the basis for most of my initial relationships.
I found a cool colorful mat in the market that I wanted for my kitchen.
I unrolled half of it and saw a cool African design.
I will be so culturally appropriate, I thought to myself.
I got home and unrolled it.
I discovered that I had purchased a mat with a giant picture of Mecca.
I am in fact now culturally appropriate. Perhaps more so than intended.
There are many things that people fear about moving abroad.
Some fear the distance from a hospital, some fear terror attacks, some fear crime, some fear disease.
I think what they should probably fear is lack of community.
Community is what provides you with resources and support.
Community is what invites you over to watch a movie or comes over to your house for tea.
Community shares in your struggles, appreciates your successes, and laughs at the never-ending stream of cultural misunderstandings that happen everyday.
And I have discovered a community here.
I have discovered community with Westerners – with the families on the team here, with my roommate, with Peace Corps workers, and with other couples who live in town.
I have discovered community with local people – with church members who greet me warmly, with house workers who are patient with my broken Makua, with ladies who are excited to teach me new things or guide me around when I clearly don’t have a clue what I’m doing, with people to call me over when I’m walking by, with the kids who steal mangoes from my yard.
I have discovered a community that is self-sacrificing and endlessly joyful, that endures hardships and seeks peace, that cries and laughs, and that loves to play games.
I went to a village for church one day.
We left really early and came back really late.
It was a blessing to laugh with so many people – some new and some I had met before.
It was a blessing to just sit in the midst of the culture into which I had entered and watch it unfold around me.
It was a blessing to have lunch with this community.
It was a blessing to be taken around the village to visit people.
It was a blessing to play games with the kids.
It was a blessing to worship alongside these people.
It was a blessing to sit in the back of the truck with friends as we drove past beautiful scenery and enjoyed the breeze while we talked about our Mozambican experiences.
It was a blessing to get back home and rest.
And there I discovered that my bra was full of peanuts.
I discovered how to roast a chicken, where to find the best vegetables, how to greet market vendors in at least 5 different languages, how to build a 3-D model of ancient Greece, and how to find the presence of God in moments throughout the day. And a few other things too.
Every day in transition is a bit of discovery.
And perhaps some discoveries are more significant than others.