I Won’t Tell You I Miss Rice and Beans

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Up and down we go, around and out of the country. On my in-laws’ green sofa in the drawing room, at my parents’ sturdy wooden table. Drinking tea with friends, pushing our battered pink buggy up and down the streets, always with our jackets zipped up because our blood turned African years ago and we feel the cold, even though it’s spring. We have a lot of fun, splashing about in the pool in France, face down in worship in Holland. And we feel the tension of transition, all the time. We listen to our loved ones, and they listen to us. Some ask questions, one of which is this. “Was it sad, when you left Mozambique?”
I cast my mind back to that day. I didn’t feel sad. I felt hot. Hot, hot, hot, dripping down my face and pressing in on every side. Nick was lying in bed too ill to move, and I packed up our entire house alone with two children underfoot. It was the day after Christmas, and I pressed everything into suitcases and left the rest outside on our porch, sold or given. I felt stressed. Only two out of the group of boys we invested in over years had the courage – the capacity? – to say goodbye, and although I remember thinking this should hurt, it didn’t. I was too stressed and busy to have time. I was hot. We arrived at the airport and our friend came too, but we barely talked as the sweat poured down our faces. I sat on the floor spooning pink yoghurt at the babies, while Nick lay, sick, prostrate on the tiled floor. 
There were emotional moments saying goodbye to loved ones – missionaries and Mozambicans – but honestly, that day, it felt like the plane came not a moment too soon.
I was determined I wasn’t going to be a fraud. I wasn’t going to leave bent over and wake up the next day with rose glasses, declaring it all lovely when it wasn’t. I wasn’t going to post photos of me smiling in the dirt and say I miss the rice and beans when I really, really didn’t. I would tell the truth. It was amazing but it was also hot and hard. It was too much. We got sick and we snapped and it felt like we ran out. The house was dark and cluttered – we tripped over wires and over children and over each other’s careless accusations, spoken from feeling pressed in ourselves. So I guarded my heart. I didn’t miss it at all, I told myself, because if I did, that would be inauthentic.
The only problem with that is we are allowed to feel two things at once. I am allowed to remember the hard and the lovely. I am allowed to hate it and adore it.
And the longer I let my heart breathe, the more I can admit, I did adore it. Mozambique. I would walk up to the prayer garden every morning, the sun yellow and full of hope, the children waving as they zig-zag up the dirt hill to school. I loved those children, all of them. The hard ones and the distant ones. I see their faces in my mind. The babies – that one baby I fed and that tore at my heart with such a force that I wept that I couldn’t be his own mother. And the mamas. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever enjoy people again like I enjoyed the mamas. They drove me crazy the way they shouted and ignored my personal space and never said thank you, but they made me laugh every day. They made me think. I watched them, carry their babies and eke out a living, with strong arms and determination. They would suffer but they would never stop. Never stop carrying their babies and eking out a living and they would never, ever stop laughing.
I miss them.
I miss the simplicity of throwing my children in buckets of water and watching them waddle in the dirt, naked and happy. I miss the evening glow at five pm, walking around the base and seeing all the wonderful faces of the Makua – people who accepted us, loved us, held us. They were never hard, not ever. Sometimes they were complicated and sometimes they told us what they thought we wanted to hear, but they would always embrace us.

I miss it.

So I let that tender part of my heart breathe, and cry a little, and it’s good. I put boundaries around it, because I won’t let myself wish it all back. It was good and wonderful and so hard and too much. It was about Him.
And He is the one who frees me to feel that tenderness and let go of it again. He is the reason we live. He’s the reason we moved there, and the reason we left. He’s the reason we rest here in this green island of the UK, and He’s the reason we fill in forms to fly across the world to Cape Town. Thankfully, whether I love or resist Mozambique needn’t be the most important thing. He is. Thankfully, when I look ahead to Manenberg, how I feel about it needn’t be the most important thing. Some days I’m so excited I can barely think of anything else. Other days I’m so unsettled I don’t want to go at all. The beauty of it all is that He is the reason for everything. He is the source of our joy and our strength. What a relief to not have to dig my hands into a piece of dirt for stability. I have found it in Him, and He is with me always.
I wake up most days and exercise my faith, like a muscle. Back and forth. The longer I’m away from Cape Town, the less I feel naturally drawn to setting up home all over again. But that’s not the deciding factor. His whispers are. He is so pure and exhilarating and lovely and present. He makes me strong. Sufferings lead to endurance, which leads to character, which leads to hope. Suffering, in a small and humble way, marks our little path. The trial of Pemba, the goodbye, the insecurity of transition. He makes us strong. He helps us walk, holding us up like a toddler waddling and falling, waddling and falling, and our muscles grow. Our faith grows. Our hope grows. And we laugh, running into His arms as He shouts “well done my love!” And our eyes, seeing His sparkle, start to shine like His.
XOXO
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