If I were asked what I love most about Mozambique, I would not hesitate to immediately respond, “The children!” I have always loved children. I was, after all, an elementary teacher for 17 years. And while I love children everywhere (my own included), the children of Mozambique have a tender, joyful endearing quality about them that just delights me. They captivate me as I see them out and about. At first glance, they appear to be little dirty ruffians in even dirtier clothing. But to me, they are just adorable and I want to wrap them up and love on them! The dirt and tattered clothing just makes them all the more appealing to me. I think it is because of the joy they have despite their material circumstances. They have so little materially, yet they are so content and happy.
Of course I am totally smitten with the children at the Iris Matola-Rio Children’s Center. Who wouldn’t be? As my car rounds the bend in the dirt road that leads to the center, they begin chanting my name repeatedly, “Mama Terri! Mama Terri!” as they come running from every nook and cranny around to gather around my car. As I get out, I am swarmed with hugs and smiles. They are filthy, their noses are runny, their feet are bare, and their clothes need a good washing, but I could care less. God has truly given me His heart for these children. I just scoop them up and love on each one until each child has received an individual greeting, hug, and kiss.
I don’t even have to know the children to be delighted by them. It is often these little ones that bring the biggest smiles to my face. As I drive down the road, they are out everywhere- playing, singing, talking with friends, walking to and from school in their blue uniforms with their little backpacks on their backs. Some are working hard wheeling wheelbarrows full of bags of rice or cement or large plastic containers of water for their families’ use. Others are out using a primitive hoe to tend their families’ plantings. Little boys that can’t be a day over 8 years old are herding enormous cattle with really big horns guiding them along the road to graze. Older siblings are given charge over their younger ones. I love seeing the older children walking holding onto their younger brother or sister’s hand, watching protectively over them. Little girls, as young as 7 or 8, can be found walking along with their little siblings tied onto their backs being carried along. In the US, we are so guarded with our children. We keep them close by and their only freedom to play is often in our fenced in back yards. But here, they roam about freely.
The children out here always look at passing cars inquisitively to see who is in them. Not many cars travel the back roads. They step to the side of the road as I approach and stare intensely as I go by. When I look back at them in my rearview mirror, I often see that they have stopped and turned to watch me as I continue on. As they look at me, I can’t help but wonder what they must be thinking- their faces are so still. Yet when I lift my hand to wave and smile, they break into a full ear to ear smile as they wave back at me. It just tickles me and makes me giggle every single time. What I wouldn’t do to have a big bag of DumDum lollipops from America to pass out as I go by.
I must add that the adults I pass are just as inquisitive and kind. They also step to the side as I pass. I wave to thank them for their courtesy and to simply acknowledge them and bless them. They smile and raise both hands to say, “You are welcome”.
As I said, most of these experiences happen on the back dirt roads that lead to our home and on the road I travel frequently to the Iris Matola-Rio Children’s Center. We are soon moving into the town of Matola. I am already sad that I won’t be driving on these roads anymore. Yes, there will still be children everywhere doing the same things in town as they do out here closer to the bush, but there are so many more cars passing by and so they pay little attention to them. Fortunately I will still be coming out this way to spend time at the children’s center and with friends, so I will still get to see them. Life in Mozambique for me would be less meaningful without these experiences.