Monday, March 9, 2009

Coming Home! 3/9/09

Today I’ve been visiting my Mozambican host family for the first time in three months. The day before my visit I got that excited nervous feeling you always get in your stomach before seeing loved ones you haven’t seen in awhile, but as usual when I finally got to their house I instantly felt at ease. The whole experience is much like a college kid going home and being surprised by how much they missed being taken care of and the comforts of home, and how nice it is just to relax in a safe space. The last few weeks of homestay all the PC volunteers were feeling a bit smothered by the love, attention, and advice of our host families. Like a kid about to go off to college, we were ready and anxious for some space (especially b/c in our PC homestay we were treated like little children after being on our own schedules in college). But it’s wonderful to have a kind family to visit anytime I want in Mozambique, a whole world away from NC where this adventure began…

Get ready because I’m about to draw a series of shamelessly sappy comparisons, but that’s just the mood I’m in. When we arrived to our host families last October, Namaacha was barren and brown. The roads were just dust and mud lined with the exposed skeletons of trees. The view from my bedroom window was the bare, brown hills of Swaziland. In the same way, our host families, this culture, and Namaacha meant nothing to us but an empty landscape.

Just three short months later my friend Emily and I were blown away as we traipsed the 30 minute walk to our families’ houses because the terrain was completely transformed into a luscious, green paradise with flowers and crops everywhere; we were following the trail now lined by six-foot corn husks that had shot up from the ground quickly. (Emily was carrying a bag of 20 coconuts on her head to gift our families, so you can imagine we were making quite the entrance). It was touching to hear everyone in the neighborhood welcoming Emily and me by name as they peeked out from their yards where they were doing wash and gardening. Of course we were received with open arms, big hugs, and kisses from our families who kept pensively claiming, “Gracey, you’ve lost weight.” (I think I might have lost around the 5 lbs I gained during training, maybe, but in the US this would normally be a congratulatory affirmation rather than this great cause of concern).

I had not realized how much it meant to our families that we visit until the following happened. During training three of us PC volunteers were next-door-neighbors so all of our moms were good friends. Unfortunately the volunteer in the middle of this row had to go home immediately for family reasons in January and had not had the chance to give an explanation to her host family. When we greeted Mama Rosina we did not know she had not heard the news and so when we broke it to her in the midst of all that celebrating, she started crying. We felt sad she was sad so we are trying to get the volunteer in touch with her, but it hit home with me that I better not neglect these families because they really care a lot about us. As the visit continued, I became reaffirmed how important it is to invest in relationships and how beautiful (and humorous and hard and every other emotion in the book) the cultivation of them can be.

This time when I showed up at midday I welcomed the bucket bath awaiting me like a pro, celebrating the privacy my family learned I liked (but only after some humorous events). When I finished my bath, I noticed they had washed the outfit I was wearing (undergarments too, just gotta go with it); it was hung neatly on the line. The house runs like clockwork and after 10 weeks I was familiar with how it ticked. There was no discussion or arguing the fact that I’d sleep in my room and I’d be crazy to call it anything else even though there are three beds for nine people. Since I’d been gone, my family had also adopted another child who was not being well taken care of so now they have 6 small children to feed. That did not stop them from stuffing Emily and me with food because they had baked cakes and more in honor of our visit. They even killed a chicken the hour I arrived so dinner would be fresh and the kids spent the afternoon munching on liver, which they kept offering and I kept declining!

It was fun to spend the afternoon with my host siblings. The CDs I’d burned for them as presents were blaring, the kids were dancing the jitterbug to “Build Me Up Buttercup” and re-teaching me the dance I’d taught them months ago, they were singing “Hey Jude” by the Beatles which I was learning to play on the guitar with them during homestay, and they were Crazy Eight card-playing champs! Farida defeated me in Speed and promptly trounced the older neighbor boy too; I could hardly hide my smile as she confidently gloated. After an afternoon full of playing, I decided it seems they benefited and learned some about American culture and I certainly benefited and enriched my life through this exchange. I was navigating their language with much more confidence thanks to their help, introduced to another way of living, and familiar with a new culture because they had opened their doors and hearts.

Five months ago I met this family in a bleak-looking Namaacha and now they have grown to be an unforgettable part of my life much like the physical transformation of the land here into a much more welcoming, fertile place. And this morning as a final reinforcement, I saw the water coming out the faucet at their house for the first time. There was no water when I lived with them because of a drought and they had to walk miles carting it everyday, but a few months later it is coming out with no effort. That’s one of the beauties in life that parallels this experience and makes life wonderful – one moment the water finally pours out after a long, dry spell and you feel content. What a good feeling when things that were once hard and took a lot of work, start to flow naturally and you see the fruits of your hard labor! How nice it has been to be laughing with this family in our home like I’ve been part of it forever…

1 comment:

Lauren said...

grace, I am so incredibly proud of you! I need to be way more like you! My goodness, how I doooo love you!!!