So here I am, thousands of miles from Mozambique. Lily is snuggled upstairs in her sleeping bag, and I sit by a crackling red fire, with coffee and chocolate. It feels like the laziest morning I’ve had in years and I am counting on having many, many more.
It didn’t feel like such a warm transition at first. I didn’t think the first type of culture shock that I’d feel would revolve around being polite. But it was, whilst at Nairobi actually, watching the Brits board our plane. We were two hours delayed, so our flight didn’t leave until 2am. Lily lay asleep on the ground while Nick and I took turns to keep our tired eyes open. And finally, as we boarded, I watched the expressions of what felt like another breed. “Excuse us!” barked a lady who pushed past us. Was I taking too long with my bag? Why the bark? Another woman was body-checked at security and rolled her eyes languidly as if the lady checking her was the size of a shoe. Another man sighed.
Maybe that isn’t crazy. If human beings get tired, we get a bit cranky. But here is why it was strange to me – I have almost never seen a Mozambican act that way. Under almost any circumstances.
I have seen them get angry. But this kind of annoyance? Not really. This kind of entitlement to an easier experience? Not much. And it got me thinking – us beloved Brits, we complain a lot. We are unhappy about a lot of really small things. And I don’t know why.
I have travelled with a man and his dying daughter to a hospital, to get an HIV test. He carried her in his arms through the village, everyone staring from their huts, and held her in the car as her skinny frame sunk downwards. The exhausting journey over, the hospital told us the machine was broken, and there wasn’t another one in town. They didn’t know when it’d be fixed. He nodded his head, picked up his daughter and got back in the car.
I have seen women sit for hours in the dark outside a clinic, waiting for it to open so their children can have medicine. In the queue, they are laughing. I have seen my friend Fatima pound peanuts with a baby on her back for hours and she sings. I have seen my beloved Mama Latifa carrying Lily on her back through the village until she couldn’t breathe with asthma, she was just so grateful I would make the trip. (And she gave me her last bag of peanuts even though I’m rich and her family would go hungry.
Mama Latifa died a few months later. It was her daughter who got me crying as I left Mozambique for our break. She hugged me, and whispered prayers in Makua in my ear. And the reason I started to cry was people like her. Why should she love me? Why should her mother carry my baby even though she was frail enough to die a few months later? Why should this nation flood me with their love? When all they remember of the whites was people who stole their children, and ate fat food while the Mozambicans wore plastic rice sacks to cover their nakedness? My mama friends actually remember it. And yet, this grateful heart, this wildly generous spirit, this unbounding love comes to me and covers me. Mozambicans aren’t some perfect race. I have seen a hundred things to make one shudder. But I have felt love like God’s own.
And one of the most beautiful attributes of these Makua people is their gratefulness. (Not every one. Many aren’t. But the ones you are truly shine.) And it is filling up my heart too. Because I have learned that when there is no electricity it is better not to complain about the heat, but to focus on the white stars piercing the nightsky. I have learned it is better when I can’t boil a kettle just to heat water on the stove and savour every drop of coffee. I have learned it better to not look at my blocked toilet and instead gaze at the wild pink flowers of the bourganvilla dripping down bamboo. I have learned it is better not to see my house as too small for my baby, but to take her outside because the world is limitless. I used to think thankfulness was gritted teeth and dry heart, but it is anything but. It is taking joy, seeing beauty and feeling the heart swell up like an overflowing spring.
(Note: I am learning. I regularly retreat to having a moan, a cry, a temper tantrum. Just ask my husband.)
In this nation where people can moan about sports cars and ski holidays and traffic and busyness and broken Macbooks, I am reminding myself of Mozambique. When a man of a dying daughter won’t utter a word. When a crucified GodMan lowers his head and keeps his mouth closed. I invite us – invite myself really – to dance a dance of thankfulness. To join the adventure of seeing beauty. The enjoy the glorious unravelling of a thankful heart.