Veronica the Widow

I am here. Pemba. Mozambique. Africa. And could not be more utterly content. I inhale the noises and smells, the endless sea and majestic baobabs. I love the huge smiles, sweltering heat, and small breezes. For 9 years I have come and gone. I celebrated birthdays and Christmas. I struggled and suffered and wept alongside friends I now have for life. I changed. I grew. I lapsed and then grew some more. I believed with all my heart. I doubted. I had all the hope in the world. I lost hope. I found it again. Here I get to sweat and wear flip-flops and eat with my hands.  It is every Tomboy’s dream. I get to ride in the bed of a pick up truck and shop in the mercado with the Arabs. I get to bargain for bananas and shop for African wax fabrics and get a new dress, tailor made. I get to take walks on white sand beaches, never alone, always a trail of little village babies. Henrique was a village kid, then he became one of my students, in part because I took long walks on the beach and we talked, we colored, we engaged, I stopped. And now he is part of the family.

I feared the visit would be traumatic and my heart could not take the pain of leaving again. Leaving was painful because I left my dream and passion. I left a hard, dirty, exhausting and beautiful life for a peaceful, tidy one and that just never seemed right. It was beautiful and God ordained, but the longing for African life never went away. 

The joy of seeing tiny little Nema, and Ancha all grown up and tall stunning Olga scream my name and hug me tight is priceless. Three little girls I have watched from a distance grow as my peers poured into their lives, enduring all the drama, tears and frustration of raising little girls, little motherless girls. Stunningly gorgeous little lives transformed through love. Relentless love. I take no credit. They sat in my lap on drives into town, I bought them hair.  I spun them around and snuck them candy from my pocket, but the real heroes were up with them all night when they were sick. The real heroes sat patiently during the temper tantrums, tears, fights and homework. And they are radiant and daughters in this family and so am I. 

My philosophy on foreign aid keeps changing. It is essentially what I have been dedicating all my time and energy toward for the past ten years. But I often consider a lot of programs and aid more harm than good. It is a delicate balance of submission to and coming alongside and living within the culture. We don’t always do that so well. I read Chinua Achebe in college and know all too well how easily things can “fall apart”. But today I am just so utterly grateful I am allowed to see this world and show them bits of mine. It is the Gospel. A religion that is pure. It is one big messy, multicultural family. Your mess, my mess, your pain and mine, different but so alike. Your losses and fears sitting on my lap so I can hold them for a little while for you. Your black skin against my freckles, so different but the same. 

 Veronica and her son Thiago

Veronica and her son Thiago

I spent the morning with Veronica today. Veronica cleaned my house, washed my underwear, bought me vegetables at Mozambican prices, ironed my linen and cooked for me. My iron, stove and freezer were foreign to her. She walked to my house in the mud and rain. She sang while she did my laundry. She wanted to learn English so I taught her phrases at my kitchen table. She met me at the gate this morning. She squealed when she saw me in a traditional capalana skirt, suitable attire for a woman in the village. She remembered my telling her I didn’t like them because they made me look fat and we laughed. We sat on her bed in her tiny little hut with dirt floors and reminisced. It was hot in there, no windows, no breeze. Windows are a luxury. She asked about our mutual friends and my family. She has met my parents. She beamed when she showed me her freezer that sits in her bedroom. She told me how she saved and saved having our friend Raphael hold the money aside for her. She cannot keep large amounts of cash in her home for fear of being robbed. There was a machete in the corner by the door. I asked if it was for rats or bandits. “Bandits,” she replied and then showed me how she hit them. An old scarf of mine hangs in the corner. The freezer is a business for her. She told me she doesn’t use it because she has nothing to put in it, but she collects food in need of freezing from families in the village and they pay her. She is so, so proud of it and I am so, so proud of her. Tomorrow, her day off, she will spend the day collecting perishables from village residents. Her daughter is 23 and has two small children who live with Veronica, along with her two sons. Veronica is solely responsible for feeding five people. She walks for hours to her house cleaning job. She had her daughter at age 15. At 15, I was playing basketball and daydreaming through high school. She was raising a child.

She is full of joy and sings and laughs and gives God all the credit for taking care of her. Her faith is stronger than mine. She gives me hope. I had photos of her family enlarged and gave them to her as a gift one year, she has them alongside photos of me displayed on the mud wall in her house. Every day she looks at my face. I have a photo of her too, in the little flat in London. I brought it from my things in Nashville where she sat on my bedside table. I liked having her near. And now she is here in the flesh and I love sitting and breathing side by side. We dangled our feet on the side of the bed and exchanged stories. She fussed at her son and grandson and told them to stop starring at me and go outside and not to fart in the house. It is the poorest little house, dirt, no running water, but it is cosy and filled with peace. This visit with the” widow in her distress” and her endless trust in her Maker. It certainly has nothing to do what I can do for her, I have so very little. I can only scoop up the treasure of faith housed in that tiny hut and take it with me.

 Veronica says she is 34 but also says she was born in 77. This is her grandson, Vincent.

Veronica says she is 34 but also says she was born in 77. This is her grandson, Vincent.

 The machete

The machete

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
— James 1:27