Nobody noticed her except me. As if she came only to let me know: I am.
This happened while we were painting their nails. Eight Makua women and us two. And children, it is not known whether theirs or their neighbors. A lot of kids. Bowls of water, towels, soaps. It smelled there like dust, boiled beans, nail polish and body lotion. Mozambican SPA. We taught them about germs and diseases on a large mat on the ground. About washing hands and feet. And we enjoyed our bodies.
We come to them twice a week. I joined two months ago, but the missionary who started this project has been visiting them for four years. I like it this way. Do not come just once, say what you want to say and disappear. But come and stay. And come back.
They started on the bare ground, under a large tree, so that there was enough shade for everyone. But the months spent together in this way were tiring with drafts from the wind, the noise of motorcycles passing by, the attention taken by the events around them. So over time, the classes were moved to mama Amina’s fenced yard. In the shade, on a mat made of dry grass. With a small black board, notebooks signed with each woman’s name, and pencils. Concentration increased. Although it’s still hard to find. Thoughts and attention not practiced by the school for years, do what they want and when they want.
When you walk by, you won’t see anything. Women in colorful capulanas carry buckets, baskets or brushwood on their heads. They walk a long time, which is probably why they don’t smile often. They do what they need to do, no matter what happened yesterday evening or how they feel about it. They are not in bed and are not good for themselves because period is comong. They don’t go to a psychotherapist to work through a sore life. Present, whatever the price. As soon as you pass by, they will all be the same.
But it is different when you stop and enter their house. And you’ll come back and ask how they are. And when you sit with them on the ground and complain that it’s hot today. And when you ask what kind of tree is that, what grows in their yard. Or you can say how nice they look once or twice in their language. That’s when, very slowly, you will start to see the details. They will reveal to you the stories from which their lives are drawn. They will share the emotions that they will get out of the tired and hardened face. You will see them freaking out over the new capulana. How they burst out laughing. Someday you will come and they will be sad and tell you why.
They don’t have as many ways out as we have. But, look, they are.
They write each letter slowly, carefully copying lines, recreating shapes. They watch the needle movements to repeat them and have something of their own. They like interaction during the story. This makes it easier to understand. And not to fall asleep. Because in Mozambique, people fall asleep wherever they are sitting – from the sun, from the heat, from talking. You have to do something.
After they finished sewing the blouses, I took a photo session for them. It was nice to watch them picking in hats, handbags, and umbrellas. How they found all those feminine little things with which God made us. And for which there is often no place in their world. And I’m glad we gave them space to be women for these two unhurried hours.
This happened while we were painting their nails. I looked up as I straightened my back. And I saw her in the doorway. I took my eyes away because I only glanced briefly. And then the thought about her eyes came to me. About their depth. It took just two seconds to find understanding.
This hardly happens to me in Mozambique. Not at this level. Understanding beyond cultures. Attraction.
I don’t even remember what she looks like. Only that she was with the baby tied with a scarf to her. And as if she was saying: Look, I am.