A couple years ago on a trip to Uganda, the Scottish friend hosting me said, “You don’t seem like someone who’s never been to Africa.” I took that as a compliment. Well, I had actually been to Africa before but on holiday as a child. As an adult, I certainly hadn’t been to Africa. But I had lived in Honduras and had spent time in other developing countries.
Now here I am, barely one week into living in Mozambique, never having lived in Africa before, and it feels disappointingly familiar. Disappointing because the things that should be new and exciting are so similar to what I’ve experienced elsewhere, particularly in Honduras. People back home have asked me if it’s fascinating. Will I sound like a snob if I say it just feels normal?
This first week has brought me back to my first week in Honduras when everything was new and interesting and fascinating: giant spiders and cockroaches, the sound of tropical rain pounding on a tin roof, electricity six hours a day, bucket baths, sleeping under a mosquito net, eating rice and beans for every meal every day, coping with the heat sans air-conditioning, purifying water (and dealing with the amoebic consequences of drinking water that probably hadn’t been properly purified), learning a new language, sitting on hard wooden benches for three hours of church, clapping and dancing and jumping during worship, sharing life with people completely different from my own.
As I was taking my bucket bath this evening I realized that while I’m not experiencing the same excitement and awe that I did upon arrival in Honduras, I realize that my time there (and elsewhere) is serving me very well here: I know how to take bucket baths, I know how to tuck in a mosquito net, I know how to eat a mango (although the one I was eating this evening did slip out of my hands and onto the floor), I know what inescapable heat feels like, I know how to navigate a foreign city unintimidated, I know how to share my immediate personal space (e.g. on public transportation – nothing like someone else’s sweaty armpit on your shoulder), I know how to interact with “the locals”, I know how to be patient when things don’t start on time or work according to schedule or expectations, I know how to worship in a charismatic church.
So my first week may have been less exciting than expected, but it means I can focus my energy on learning Portuguese (and even then the Spanish I learned in Honduras is helping me out), developing relationships, and learning the ropes of my job. Certainly that last one is all brand new to me. And I’m sure as the weeks and months progress there will be surprises and fascinating experiences that I will be able to attribute only to Mozambique.