For months, I’ve wanted to post a blog entry looking back on my trip to Mozambique in September 2011. I tried to prepare it for the one-year anniversary and then I decided I’d write in October because it took a full month to re-adjust after returning to the US. But as is typical of me and my brain, with any subject that’s important to me, I’ve had writer’s block. How to condense the story of everything I saw, felt, experienced, and processed over two weeks? And how to communicate what it means to me more than a year later? There may be no way to share as accurately as I’d like, but as we dive into the holiday season, I’m determined to offer my best explanation of the most important lesson I learned.
Even though it’s been more than a year, I still remember the journey so clearly. Mozambique is the eighth poorest nation in the world, and you can see the signs as soon as you cross the border from South Africa. The two countries are as different as night and day. I will never forget the trash in the capital city of Maputo – trash lining the streets, trash dumped into large craters in the middle of dirt roads, trash washed onto the beach along the Indian Ocean. I was so excited to dip my foot in an ocean on the other side of the globe, but I was stunned and saddened by the debris and beer bottles floating in the surf. And yet despite these conditions, the churches we visited in Maputo were overflowing with uninhibited joy.
Our team spent a week camping in the African bush on the lawn of a church where the village water tank ran dry halfway through each day and left them without until the next morning. The building with its few lights routinely lost power for hours at a time, leaving us to fumble around in the pitch black with small flashlights. The only “bathroom” did not include running water, only a toilet over a hole in the ground; and buckets were the closest thing we had to baths. But despite the poverty, dozens of people showed up to the church every night to sing and praise the Lord, even in the dark.
On several occasions, our team drove deeper into the bush to visit villages with no water or electricity or vehicles. We brought a soccer ball as a gift for a group of children, and they invited us to play on a field where you had to avoid large holes and sidestep throrn bushes and rocks. But the children were thrilled to play a game against the Americans and couldn’t stop smiling. These same villagers have to walk 2 miles to reach the closest water source, and yet they used their limited supply to make soup in our honor. They grow cashews to trade for staples like food and fabric, and yet they presented us with pounds of cashews as gifts.
In Mozambique, the women do everything – tend the fields, go to the markets, raise the children. We rarely saw a woman without a bundle of wood or bucket of water on her head and without a baby strapped to her back. Even teenage girls tote babies and juggle household responsibilities that keep them from attending school. The men do very little. Mostly, we saw them sitting around in groups, laughing at the Americans. And yet despite their lives of labor, it’s the women who smiled and sang and danced in the aisles of the church.
There are children everywhere you turn in Mozambique – children of all ages, shapes, and sizes. They have nothing. One soccer ball to be shared by the village is a reason to celebrate. Two crayons or an empty crayon box is a gift to be treasured. Our team held a special kids’ day in the bush, and more than 400 children showed up. My station featured a rope for tug of war, and I’ve never seen a group of kids more excited. They pulled and pulled and pulled, screaming and laughing the whole time. And when they won, they danced and shouted with joy as though they’d captured the World Cup. Then they immediately wanted to play again. They would’ve been entertained for hours by the same simple game.
During this holiday season when we have so much and we spend so much, it’s humbling to remember the thankfulness of these Africans who have so little. I was ready to leave after just a week in the bush, but they don’t get to pack up and go somewhere else. After 14 days, I was back in my own house with lights, heat, refrigerator, plumbing, shower, and bed; many of the villagers in remote Mozambique will never experience any of those things. And yet, THEY are thankful. How can I not be??