Recently I’ve had a few conversations with different people about differences between Uganda and Mozambique. Everyone agrees that Ugandans are very smiley, friendly, open, happy people. Mozambicans are not. I rarely see Mozambicans smile. Other people’s experiences with Uganda are that Ugandans are generous people. That is certainly not my experience with Mozambicans. I had seen no evidence of generosity here until yesterday.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that there is a group of street boys who hang out outside my office guarding cars. I’ve gotten to know one in particular. J seems to be the most reliable boy. I’ve never seen him drunk or high or hassling people. He often asks me for food but also accepts it graciously when I don’t give him any. More often he just wants to chat about life. He’s older than the other boys; he says he’s 18 but doesn’t seem older than 15. He’s shared with another colleague that he’s tired of a life of guarding cars, especially in the company of other boys who are often drunk or high and tempting him to steal. He’d like to start his own small business selling phone credit or snacks.
Yesterday morning when I arrived at the office, the person with a key hadn’t yet arrived, so I took the opportunity to go run some errands. As I was walking across the street to a Chinese shop, J came running after me asking where I was going. Then he asked if he could join me. I said, “Yes, but I’m not buying you anything. I’m only buying what I need to.” As we were walking around the shop looking for clothesline I realized it was probably a treat for J to be in a shop. Likely, a door guard would never allow him to enter. My presence allowed him to browse undisturbed.
I found my clothesline but not clothespins.
That afternoon when I left work, I headed to another Chinese shop to look for clothespins. J came running after me again asking if he could go with me. Sure, no problem. I found my clothespins but as I was going to pay for them I realized that I had a 500 meticais ($20) note in my wallet along with a 20 meticais (80 cents) note and some change. I really didn’t want to pull the 500 meticais out in front of J as that would be an obscene amount of money. The clothespins cost 20 meticais, but I owed that amount to my conversation partner that afternoon. I put the clothespins back and said to J that I only had enough money for a chapa and to pay someone at my house. He picked them up and said, “No, take it.” I said, “No, I can’t today. I’ll come back tomorrow.” Then he pulled some change out of his pocket, counted it, picked up the clothespins again, and said, “No, take it.” With 500 meticais in my wallet, I certainly could not accept him buying my clothespins with half or possibly all of his day’s earnings. But I also didn’t want to discourage his generosity or squash any of his pride. I insisted no, and he insisted that he wanted to give them to me. I thanked him, so sincerely, so touched by the little argument we were having in the aisle, and explained that it was very nice of him but that I didn’t need the clothespins today and could easily come back tomorrow.
So we left the shop empty-handed but heart-full, my view of generosity in Mozambique seriously altered.