Hello Everyone! Below you will find the beginnings of a book I have started working on. It feels rather shaky like I’m floundering around hoping it turns out right. So, your feedback is appreciated. Please let me know what you think!
A Blessing and a Curse
Hot wind mixed with sand hit my face and my bare arms and legs. It was a suffocating heat. Every breath felt stifled with sun. It was hard to keep my eyes open because of the brightness and the sand but somehow we made it inside the airport. We had arrived. After about two days of flying we finally made it to Mozambique, Africa. The country I would call home for the next thirteen years. The country that would mold me with its sand and color me with its sun; that would awaken my soul with its beauty and crush me into pieces with it’s darkness.
It seems like people believe there is some sort of superpower about being a missionary. It’s like you and your family walk on water. Especially your father. And I thought he did. But there was so much my little heart didn’t know at seven years old. I thought we would live in a grass hut and have dirt for our floor and hunt deer for our food and I was excited about it! It was an adventure we were going on! And it was an adventure. A breathtaking, heart wrenching adventure. But it was also life. We lived every day just like other people, only we weren’t in America anymore. People say, “But you were doing the Lord’s work every day!” As if somehow that makes you more holy than any other believer. It doesn’t. And really, we weren’t. We were just surviving and living and trying to build relationships with other people.
While my father was trying to gain numbers for the churches back “home” and bring more to Christ, I was just a kid wanting to have friends and play outside in the dirt. But making friends was hard. Not just because they spoke Shangaan-their tribal language- and Portuguese- the official language- which I was learning; but friendships were hard because I was white. Being white was a sign of wealth, especially a white American. So while people in my passport country (America) upheld me and my family as water-walkers and somehow being more deep into God’s heart and mind than anyone else, the people in our home country (Mozambique) upheld us as someone wealthy and untouchable and “above” everyone else who should provide for everyone below.
But thankfully all kids don’t think like the adults modeling for them. Isabel was one of these kids. I met her when we both were seven. Her mom worked in our house and was my mom’s friend. Now before you start thinking we owned slaves let me explain. There were not very many job opportunities in our village. So in order to not just give hand outs we, including the other missionaries who lived on the compound, which was surrounded by a tall hedge of thorns, we would hire people from the village.
There, in Machava, there was no grass just brown sand. In order to grow grass you would have to plant it. And it wasn’t the soft kind but the snake like kind that vined along the ground. So we hired a gardener, Tio (Uncle) Louis, who planted grass and watered it. He also planted the towering eucalyptus trees in our yard. Under one of these I buried my pet guinea pig named Piglet. His tree grew the tallest. We also had white and pink “beja-me” flowers planted around our cement-not grass- house.
We also hired Isabel’s mom, Tia (Aunt) Florinda. Tia Florinda was a very strong independant woman who stood up for herself and for what was right no matter what other people said even if you were a “powerful white American missionary.” As a sign of respect, you call all grown ups “Aunt” and “Uncle.” Or if there are younger people who are older than you, you call them “Mana” and “Mano” which means “Sister” and “Brother.” Really old people you call “Grandma” and “Grandpa.”
So Tia Florinda worked inside our house helping my mom. Her and my mom would cook together and clean together and talk about God together. She also washed our clothes for us because we didn’t have a washing machine or a dryer. There was this big cement tub with two sides and on one side there was a cement wash board. It is called a “tunky.” Tia Florinda always used to tease me about how I said the word “Tunky” and she would try to say English words I said. After Tia Florinda and my mom would wash our clothes they had to hang them on the clothes line. We weren’t allowed to wear our clothes for 24 hours after they were dry because flies would land on the clothes on the line and lay their eggs. If you put your clothes on before the larvae had died it would borough into your skin and live there. But if you really needed a piece of clothing before the larvae’s 24 hour lifespan all you had to do was iron your clothes and the heat would kill it.
In addition to working in our house, Tia Florinda also ate dinner with us before she went home to sleep. This is how I met Isabel. Tia Florinda brought her daughter with her one day to meet me. At first it was difficult because I didn’t know alot of Portuguese and she didn’t know alot of English. But we managed with the words we knew. There was one time I spoke a sentence in English, Shangaan, and Portuguese, using different words from each just to ask Isabel something. Eventually I taught Isabel English with my first grade homeschool books and she taught me Portuguese which made communication much easier.
After the first couple of weeks, Isabel started coming everyday to play with me. She was my best friend, besides my cat Gray, who we had brought with us from America. Even though there were other missionary kids who lived on the compound the girls were mean teenagers struggling with their bodies and boys. The boys were going through their hormones and trying to pick out the right girl for that week and the youngest boy of them all was a mean little boy with a temper. My only other best friend besides Isabel was Joseph. Joseph was a small white, blonde haired boy who could squat for hours to play marbles in the dirt.
Joseph, Isabel, and I had many adventures together. We would go to Josh’s tree, which was one of the older missionary kid’s tree. We called it Josh’s tree because his dad had built a wooden board and put it up in the tree as a sort of tree house. He also had hung two orange ropes on either side of the tree which we would use to climb up into the tree by putting the knotted rope between our big toe and our second tow. To this day I still have a somewhat large gap between my two toes.
Josh’s tree was the best place to play because it had such great shade from the burning sun and the sand wasn’t scorching under its leaves. We used to dig holes under Josh’s Mafura tree. Holes so deep we found water. We each dug our own hole and called it our house. Then we would make sand balls with the wet dirt we had dug to. Then we would have sand ball wars and throw them at one another. I would get so dirty my mom told me I had to clean up outside before I could come in.
Isabel, Joseph and I climbed alot of trees too. Our goal was to see who could climb the highest. I think Joseph always won. He was so small and quick he climbed better than Mowgli could climb an elephant. Since we were always searching for something to do, we would go down towards the front of the compound and “spy” on the guard. We didn’t have a guard who carried a gun or anything. He was just a sturdy, strong Grandpa who would greet people who came from the village to see a missionary and he would tell them which house to go to. But in our eyes we thought he must see and hear everything and it became our new goal to get as close to him without him knowing it. Usually it never worked and he always saw us and caught us before we got anywhere near him. I think he knew our game and sometimes he would play along with us. But one time we actually did sneak up on him. He was sitting on his bench facing away from us. Slowly and as quietly as we could, we crawled through the dirt on our bellies and got right up under his bench. He only knew we were there when we started laughing!
There were other times when we were really feeling adventurous when we would climb up the walls of the outdoor shower and jump off of the top into the dirt and grass. We also had an old broken down windmill on the compound. Next to it was a huge cement hollow square. It was sort of like a giant swimming pool will huge walls you couldn’t see out of but no water. We would go and climb the rusty ladder of the windmill and once we got high enough we would step over the 2 foot gap onto the cement wall. If we fell at any time on the ladder it was a straight plunge into the well beneath the windmill. Once we got on the wall we would jump down or slide down the 6ft wall to the floor. Inside we would draw with chalk on the walls and fill it with our hidden graffiti. One day it was so hot and had been so hot for some time that all of us missionary kids convinced our parents to let us fill the cement square with water. It was the best swimming pool ever.
So, no matter what adventure we went, Isabel, Joseph, and I were usually always together. Isabel had moved in with us because her mom wanted her to have a better life and since her mom was always at our house anyway it worked out really well. So Isabel and I were always together no matter what. We shared a room, toys, blankets, showers, food, fights, and love. I would braid her curled black thick hair while we watched movies. And her mom always talked about how much better it would be if Isabel gave me her thick, poofy hair for my straight long hair. And we really agreed to switch.
Isabel really was my best friend. But our friendship wasn’t always easy. Isabel got made fun of for being my friend. The kids at her school told her, “You’re just her friend so you can get something from her.” Isabel was almost in tears when she told me. I felt bad that it was because of me that she was hurting and being made fun of. But I didn’t want to lose my only friend and I didn’t want to mistrust her intentions either. So, sitting on the floor in our room in front of the Barbie house my dad built me, I told her: “We know we are friends. And we know it’s not because you want anything from me. You have everything I have. We know the truth and that’s all that matters.” Isabel and I would remain close friends for the next 7 years until my dad made us move further out in the bush. I had hoped Isabel would come with us but when I asked her she said, “But all of my friends are here. I can’t leave them.” To which I answered, “But you’re my best friend. I don’t know what to do without you.” But I moved and she stayed. Later, I found out that Isabel had gotten pregnant at 17. Now, she has three beautiful little children who look just like her. And she’s just as hardworking as her mother and she’s happy.
Like I said before, being a missionary doesn’t make you walk on water and we don’t radiate a glorious light everywhere we go. We just live. We make friends and lose them. We make a home and then move. That is one thing that is different than other people’s everyday life. There is alot more moving. I think I moved about 20 times in my life as a child. That is counting returning to America to visit and then returning back to Africa again.
I think sometimes people think that returning back to America is the easy part. It’s your home, it’s where you were born, it’s where all your family is. But it’s not. Coming back is hard. You’re leaving a whole continent behind but bringing it with you at the same time only no one else can see it. But you feel it. You look like everyone else and you look like the little girl your family remembers, but inside you aren’t the same. You grew up with sand not snow. You grew up with green trees reaching for a blue sky not a playground on woodchips. You don’t know all of the unspoken rules. You know the rules you have learned at home.
Do you call people “Tia” and “Tio”? What is the polite way to call people? When people ask where you are from what do you say? When people come over to visit your temporary house or apartment, how do you explain why the walls are bare? How do you explain why you don’t know who is better, NSYNC or Backstreet Boys? When you see little orange grass flags in yards how do you explain why you just got shocked with fear since little orange flags mean land mines where you live? Or why you think there is a vehicle broken down up ahead every time you see a branch with leaves in the middle of the road? How do you explain you live in Africa but no, there are not lions everywhere you look? How do you explain why you don’t have very many friends? You’re from Africa who wouldn’t want to be your friend? How do you know when people are really interested in you and not just because you are from Africa?
What do you do when people look at you strangely when you say you’re homeschooled? I am still smart and no, I do not do school in my pajamas. I don’t get snow days. Sometimes I don’t even get sick days. I’ve never been to a prom or homecoming. So I’ve never been asked to a dance. But I have dreamed about it.
How do you explain a gorgeous sunset full of purple and pink and blue and yellow? Or why you cry when you smell smoke from a burning field? How do you show people the dark night sky twinkling with so many stars it’s like paparazzi surrounding you? How do you paint that galactic picture and the thrill that fills your lungs to know there is so much out there beyond the little world you’re in?
How do you explain why your feet are so rough? And why you don’t know how to tie your shoes and hate wearing them? How do you explain you aren’t skinny because you don’t get enough to eat? You do, but rice and chicken and brewerst are better than Taco Bell. Which clothes do you buy when all you’ve ever owned are hammy downs? And you’ve never really cared before. What do you do when you can’t remember a word in English? Or don’t know the word in English?
Who do you talk to when your missionary dad shakes with rage at you because you asked a question because you didn’t understand? How do you tell the truth to a possible supporter that no, we did not stay in America this long because you weren’t ready to go back? How do you answer without lying without letting them know your dad lies? How do you plaster a happy smile on your face every time your dad tells preachers and supporters you are his “Number 1” when he yells at you in private about all your failures? How do you pretend you’re not afraid of your father when others worship him as the best advice giver but you understand why the mothers tell their children the white boogeyman will eat them if they don’t obey?
How do you pretend you’re not afraid of God when you’re a missionary kid and have the “closest” relationship with Him? You have a father who is not only a preacher but a missionary! How could you not be close to God? How do you get close to God when you’re already supposed to be close to Him? How do you explain it’s not wonderful living with someone who is so “into” God’s word and knows how to twist it? Where do you find hope when others expect you to already have it?
These are just some of the question that brought turmoil to my heart as a missionary kid and a preacher’s kid and a third culture kid. A third culture kid is someone who has two different cultures inside of them that have turned into a new kind of mixed culture. It means that even though I look American I still am African. It means two cultures have taken root in me but I don’t fit in either culture. Even though being a third culture kid is something unique and a topic that will flow throughout the poetry in this book, I still think even if you are not a third culture kid, you still know what it feels like to feel like you don’t fit anywhere. Everyone has felt alone and misplaced and overlooked and forgotten at some point in their lives. So even if you have the blessing and curse of growing up in one country in one house with walls marked to measure how much you grew, I hope you still find relief in the words I write. Even though we may have lived on different continents and speak different languages, we still have the same feelings. We still cry and laugh the same language.
There is too much that happens in a life, even a part of a life, to be able to write all that has happened. It’s hard to suck someone into your world so they see all you see and feel all you felt. But I want to try to give you a small taste. So, in this book I will tell stories mixed with poetry because sometimes poetry is the best way to really express deep feeling. This book isn’t going to be full of the glories of missionary life as you have already seen. It is just going to show life. Life with pain with joy with beauty and with destruction and loss. Even though our lives are different, I hope your heart can still sing with mine.