I don’t think I would have ever visited Mozambique if I didn’t have family there. I knew very little about the place and its people and I don’t speak Portuguese. Plus it’s so far away! But once I heard Joe, Coloma, and Ramona were going to live there, I knew I wanted to go.

Knowing people who live in a new place makes travel so much easier. The fact that they are family makes it wonderful! Besides taking me to see things and places I have never seen before – like the Indian Ocean and big animals in Swaziland, they let me see a little of what it’s like to live in Mozambique.

Travel in general feels good to my soul. Somehow, it is easier for me to be accepting when I am far from home. Where 90 degree heat would make me pretty testy in Gainesville, instead of wanting someone to turn on the darn air conditioner, I just think, “So this is what it’s like to live in Mozambique.” Here in Mozambique water just flows out of a pipe instead of a shower head, here a lot of the roads are unpaved and bumpy, here wifi is unpredictable if available at all… Not only do I not mind it, I enjoy the fact that it is different from what I am used to it. I always want to take a little bit of that acceptance home with me, the ability to enjoying what is rather than narrowing my perception to what I think it “ought” to be. It’s one of the gifts of travel – to wonder and delight, almost like a child. The fact that my own (grown) child is speaking for me, helping me count out change, making travel arrangements, advising me on safety, and giving pre-travel reading assignments only fuels the transformation. What a great vacation from the rigors and responsibilities of adult life!

Joe and Coloma made it easy to imagine what it’s like to be at home in Mozambique. I love the easy relationships they have developed with their Mozambican neighbors, how when I walk down the road with Coloma, she stops frequently to introduce me to fellow moms and their children, Ramona’s friends. And I appreciated their ease at the marketplace, asking for advice, helping me buy fabric and other gifts – all in Portuguese! Hiking out to visit their friend Antonio’s mashamba (vegetable plot) and sharing a coconut at his home were amazing experiences for me. The relationships they have made allowed me to enter into the lives of Mozambicans at a different level than if I had just been a tourist.

Mozambique is not the tourist destination some African countries are, so people here are not used to seeing many folks from the U.S. When I brought fabric to Galileo, the tailor, to make some gifts with, he asked me to tell my American friends that he had made these bags for them and wanted them to know that this is the good work that Mozambicans do. Right before I left, I picked up some beautiful pants Senhora Lucia, a talented (and quick!) seamstress had made for me. She gasped when Coloma told her I was heading back to “America” later in the day. Galileo and Senhora Lucia seemed as astonished that I was there as I was.

I was so happy to bring back and share their beautiful handwork. And really happy, too, to share that of friends in Gainesville. Once I had made travel plans, Coloma had asked if any of my friends could make toys for the preschool where she and Ramona go every day. One of them happens to make handmade dolls for an organization called Dollies Without Borders. She introduced me to their founder, Madeline, and soon I was picking up 40 beautiful handmade dolls to bring with me.

Each one was different, with unique hand-painted faces and beautiful handmade clothes, some with jewelry! It was such an honor to bring these beautiful dolls, made with love and skill, to the preschool! I felt like Galileo, so happy to share the work of Americans with the Mozambicans.

Some of the beautiful pictures my son took the day we brought the dolls to school:

It was a wonderful trip to a beautiful country. In some ways it was hard to believe I was half way around the world from my home. In other ways, I felt amazed that life can be lived so differently in the same century on the same planet. One evening, standing with my feet in the Indian Ocean, I realized for a moment exactly where I was, on the edge of Africa, some place I never expected to be – with the people I love. I am one lucky Mimi.

And here is a video of the school experience too: