Thursday, February 12, 2015

5 American Habits I've Changed Since Working in Mozambique


I've been in my position as the Associate Director of the Mozambique Initiative for just over three years now, and I can't even begin to describe all of the ways that my experiences in Mozambique have changed my life. As I contemplate the new year ahead and attempt to incorporate the lessons I've learned during this time, here are 5 key habits that are significantly changing in my life since taking this job:
  1. Obsessing About Time: Am I going to be on time? How long will this last? When can I move on to the next thing? Is there time to do this if I do that first? Are we running over time? Being so time conscious is a luxury; it's a luxury to have reliable vehicles, and gas stations on every corner...not to mention watches. My desire to control time is fostered by these luxuries that allow it. And with all of these luxuries, I gradually started convincing myself that it was through my fingers that the sands of time fell. Not that we should be flippant about getting to work or school or important meetings, but how we orient ourselves around a clock is purely an expression of American excess and our desire for control. The sting comes when I realize the implications of this habit - that I move on to the next thing in my head and in my heart before even taking in where it is that I am standing, or who it is that I am standing with. Mentally, spiritually, emotionally, we are gone before we even arrive. What are the long term ramifications of this on our psyches? On our spiritual lives? Life is short. All we have is this moment. Mozambicans realize this in a  way that is humbling, sobering even. I'm reminded again and again to just. be. here. now. The next thing will inevitably come. No need to rush.
  2. Being So Damn Self Reliant: Where would I be if it weren't for random strangers pushing my vehicle out of the mud and sand, or pointing us in the right direction when I'm lost in a random village, or offering me coconut beer in the middle of the jungle when I haven't had a drink in hours? Where would I be without the hospitality of the Mozambican mamas, offering me food and rest when I stumble into their villages, a complete foreign mess? For all intents and purposes, I am a stranger in a strange land when I travel in Mozambique, and yet, my Mozambican brothers and sisters, through the connection of the United Methodist Church, instantly induct me as family. And thank God, because I CANNOT do this work alone. It is impossible. Hell, I can barely tie my shoes by myself after 20 hours on a plane. We need each other. And it's never more evident than when I am the white, female, foreigner trying to get around Mozambique in my feeble attempt to work toward poverty alleviation and justice. So, how does that translate here, to my habits back in the US? We have the luxury of thinking that we can do it on our own here. We have the resources, we know the language, we have our cars, and houses, our own little blocked off lives, separated from everyone else. But the truth is, we still need each other. The collaborative, community-based nature of Mozambican culture, where cooking, sleeping, living, and breathing is done communally, upends me and reminds me that I rob myself of great emotional wealth when I try to do it alone. We rob ourselves of depth and connection, friendship and intimacy, shared experiences and stories. We have the great gift of togetherness in this life, and because I've witnessed the joy of this gift in Mozambique, I intend to use it. As they say in Mozambique, estamos juntos.  
  3. Not Savoring Meals: Food takes time. From the planting, to the growing, from the harvesting, to the cleaning, and preparing, and finally, to the eating. There is not one McDonald's in Mozambique...and I hope it stays this way. In the villages, food is not a rushed affair. In fact, most of the hours of the days are spent securing, cultivating, or preparing food. What we take for granted is that this is the focus of the entire day for so many in the rural villages. Even in the cities, when I've gone to restaurants in the urban areas, ordering and waiting for food takes all night. Here in the US, because we don't have to think about it, we expect everything to be quick and easy to prepare. Or if we are out, the waiter better be fast, responsive, and get our food to us so that we can leave and go check off the next thing on our list. We miss the tasting, the savoring, the gratitude, the company. We miss the nourishment.
  4. Planning Every Detail: It's funny, when I help mission teams prepare for travel to Mozambique, it's always about the details. The whens and wheres and whats. The itinerary is key, and, "Sarah, what are we going to DO at every moment of each day"?? And of course, this is super important in some regards. You must have a visa to enter the country, you have to purchase plane tickets, you need a plan; these are the realities of travel. But the more specifics I plot out, the more I realize that things just don't go as planned in Mozambique. Maybe, instead of driving to a remote area of the country in a roomy SUV, it turns out that the river is super flooded. And so you have to load a motorbike onto a ferry to cross the flooded river, and motorbike through the jungle instead. And maybe they give you a chicken to take back with you, and you can't possibly leave it behind because it's their only chicken, and so the chicken comes along too. And, oh, the pastor needs a ride back by the way, and before you know it, you have three people, two backpacks, a bundle of sugar cane, a sack of casava, and one chicken all riding together on a single motorbike in the middle of nowhere, and you look up and realize....this is what life is all about. Spontaneity. Living in the magical moment, and taking life exactly as it comes. Because no matter how long I had spent planning that itinerary, I never would have planned myself into that brilliant scenario. And it's one that I will remember for the rest of my life. 
  5. Caring About Stuff: Cars, clothes, shoes, houses, gadgets, phones, gear, computers. The list goes on. All the stuff that we are told that we need, how empty it all seems when just securing the basics - food, water, shelter - are so difficult for most in Mozambique. I love getting my hands on the next amazing smart phone just like the majority of people in my generation, but detaching my identity and happiness from securing these things has become the key. We can't be defined by stuff. And it's funny that the less I own, the more freedom I experience. It's the old saying that you don't own your stuff, your stuff owns you. Because it wiggles down into your heart and whispers lies about success and security and control that are simply not true. And before we know it, we are working jobs we hate for way too many hours of our lives in order to make payments for stuff we really don't need. Because let's be honest, it's not money that buys the stuff, it's the hours of our lives that we exchange for money that buys the stuff. And I am not willing to put my life on layaway. Less is more. Literally. Less stuff = more living. As Thoreau said, "The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it."

4 comments:

  1. Very much appreciate your words here, particularly about obsessing over time. It would benefit all of us to pay more attention to that.

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    1. Thanks, Christy! I'm so glad this resonated with you!

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  2. I love this. We are friends with a lovely family in Kenya. Being friends with them has changed our way of thinking. Personally, I am reading tons about Africa, learning all I can, watching documentaries. My dream is to go to Africa one day. I think a part of my heart lives there. I am obsessed with it. I can't really understand it, as I have never been there. But it's a longing. I want to meet my friends in Kenya face to face. I only know them from the internet. I have talked with several people who have gone there. It makes me long for it more. We are simplifying, changing the way we live and eat. We are spending time in prayer, praying for our friends and all of Africa. We have sold so much stuff, to help them. It feels so good. The more I let go of things, the more I want to let go. Reading this just seals it in my heart. I will go there someday. I can't wait to experience it, whatever it has to show me. I am ready in my heart but finances are tight. Thanks for letting me share my feelings with someone I don't even know...I just felt I could here. Blessings

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    1. Jenn - thanks for your thoughts and glad to hear about how you are making changes to simplify your life. What an inspiration. I am cheering you on in your dream to go to Africa one day. I'm sure it will change your life!

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