The Uarila’s are a family here in Murrupula that I have grown close with. I met the teenage son, Inocêncio, through my neighbor (they were classmates). While my neighbor was away from April to July, Inocêncio became my go to person for questions like finding a carpenter to build a bed frame, finding someone to bring me water, and controlling my house while I travelled. He now is the one person I let stay in my house while I am away.
A few months ago, Inocêncio’s father wrote a letter to my parents that I’d like to share here.
Parents of our dear Teacher Sara,
It is with great pleasure we remember you, that in a magnificent and unforgettable form brought to the world an intelligent, beautiful, and admirable daughter to whom you gave the name Sara. After her national travels to America and others, she returned to be with us in Murrupula, and resumed her indispensable teaching activities and projects for creating conditions for a library where children, teenagers and adults can easily pass to read and write Portuguese and English. It will be joyous and unforgettable if she succeeds this effect.
She can give the name that she wants, but we will call her by the name Sara and we will preserve it with all merit and quality for a long time and the name Sara won’t disappear between us.
Sara is really a good teacher. She teaches there to work, to read, to write, to know and to distinguish living things, to speak, to live correctly, to cook. With her we know what happens beyond the border.
Our family is always happy for the fact that God has brought us another member. We feel happy and encouraged since she does not ignore us, which happened with some Russians of her color that worked in Mozambique who ignored, discriminated and isolated us. With her we feel freer. Before I had four children, now I have five with Sara. She even knows how to live in a typical African hut.
You are with congratulations for having a daughter, seeing that you worked a lot to create, educate and form someone like this with a lot of kindness, gentleness, and workmanship.
In her departure, we feel we will become full of longing.
We are waiting for the day you will be with us, the parents or whatever member of Sara’s family, to visit us, exchange experiences that the distance, climates, races, and cultures offer us.
Although we had delayed quite a lot in responding to your letter, it brought for us quite a lot of happiness and we have revised the moment for another.
We know that still they have not received the touch of Christ, but we plead that you locate there in your city a church, a group of churches, with whom we could establish ties and exchange experiences in the faith of Christ.
We hope that we will write forever.
A great embrace to all of Sara’s family, health, peace, tranquility, harmony, prosperity and longevity in the love of live.
I don’t visit the family as often as I should maybe (maybe once every few weeks), my excuse being that their house is about a 30 minute walk from mine. Also, though I feel welcomed in the family, it can sometimes feel awkward sitting with a Mozambican family. Due to my American lifestyle, I am still not comfortable with those moments of silence where people just sit around. I mostly communicate with them through Inocêncio, either by text message (usually attempted in English) or when he comes to visit me. All in all though, they are a very sweet, caring family, particularly the father, Mario.
From what I have gathered, Mario has worked in many different areas including being a professor, school director, government employee, and, currently, a pastor. He’s even travelled to Brazil where he worked with some missionaries! He’s a smart man who has a strong grasp on the size of the world and I’ve had many interesting conversations and discussions with him about problems Mozambicans face in this country like poverty, malnutrition, problems with the education system, corruption, and health issues.
Thursday was Inocêncio’s 19th birthday and I decided I would make him a cake and visit the family for lunch. I fashioned my “oven”, lighting some charcoal, placing some rocks in the bottom of a large pot, mixing my cake batter while estimating the amounts without measuring cups, and placing the cake batter in a smaller pot inside of the large pot to cook. I attempted to make a marble cake, and it came out okay. Kind of sad looking and lop-sided, not super pretty to look at, smaller than I had anticipated, a little dry from overcooking, but a cake nonetheless. Honestly, I was a little embarrassed to present it to the family, but butter is a rare commodity and I didn’t want to have to go buy more materials. Cake, in the Mozambican culture, is somewhat symbolic, its cutting the center moment for the party’s beneficiary. I hoped my cake would suffice.
I arrived at the family’s house around 1pm, ate a small meal of a few fingerling potatoes and a small piece of chicken with xima (corn flour mixed with water to create a thicker consistency than mashed potatoes, no flavor but good for absorbing sauces). Then the rest of the family including his two younger sisters, mother, father, uncle, and nephew, came in for the cake cutting. His father explained the story of Inocêncio’s birth, revealing how he received his name. (Apparently, his father was waiting and waiting to hear how the C-section had gone, and had no idea if the baby had even survived for hours. He thought the baby had died innocently, hence Inocêncio.) Should have seen this coming, but then I was asked to say a few words so I thanked the family for their hospitality and congratulated Inocêncio on his completing another year. His sister’s led a song saying, “Cut the cake. Cut the cake. We want cake. We want cake. Eat the cake. Eat the cake.”
This was not a rambunctious, loud, energy-filled kind of event. We sat in a circle modestly listening while his father spoke, ate the cake pretty much in silence, and then everyone left. In fact, I’m pretty sure there wouldn't have been any kind of recognition for this day if I had not been there, probably mostly due to a monetary deficit among the family. I’m also certain my presence had something to do with the demeanor of the room, his sisters and mother pretty shy, as they are still becoming accustomed to me.
I stayed around for another hour or so, chatting with Inocêncio’s father about my upcoming travel plans, life in America, etc. Then I returned home.
It got me thinking about the differences in family dynamics between here and the US. I think that “family” is a much more general term used here, extended to neighbors and friends. I don’t mean to say that families aren't close, as family is a central part of their culture, but it’s almost as though they are much more individualistic in a way. The women clean, cook, and care for the babies. The children entertain themselves. The fathers work and do their own thing. Everyone coming together to eat, usually not discussing much, and then they return to their own things again. It’s an interesting dynamic that I can’t quite figure out yet. Though ,I’m sure my being there has a huge influence on the general going-ons as well…