Here in the rural districts in Malawi, the first words that are spoken to me in the morning are generally these: “Abusa? Water is ready.”
I remarked to my wife this morning how in so many ways that simple phrase sums up the gifts of the African partnership for me. You see, while “Water is ready” may be the first sentence spoken to me in the morning, it’s not the first thing that I hear. No, far from it.
Sometimes I am awakened by the call to prayer at a local mosque. More often, the first sound to reach my ears is a rooster’s crow. Fair enough, considering how many of his brethren I’ve put away this week (more on that below). But once I’m conscious, the sound that reaches my ears is that of wood being chopped and a fire being kindled right outside my window. Five minutes after the fire is started, I hear the weight of a heavy pot being placed on the fire as five gallons of water have been hefted from the borehole into our compound. Then I hear another pot, this one of cold water, being taken into the bathing room. Once the water on the fire has boiled, it is taken into the same room, which is essentially a four-foot square with a drain on the floor. There are the buckets of hot and cold water, and a third empty bucket in which to mix them to the optimum temperature. Lastly, there is a pitcher or small pot of some sort.
And that’s when I hear the magic words: “Abusa? Water is ready.” Then I climb out from under the mosquito netting and enter the bathing room, where I am free to strip and splash myself with water that is exactly right. As I stand erect and dump the steaming pitcher on my head, I wonder, “Would I be that gracious?” Not only that, but know this, beloved: this ritual happens twice a day. It is not only the manner in which I rise, but it is the expectation that frames my bedtime as well. When I demurred and said, “Ah, no, at home I wash only once a day,” I was told, “Yes, Abusa, but you are in Africa now. It is hot. It is dusty. Please, do not make me feel bad for putting you to bed when you are dusty.”
I have learned so much in Africa in the past twenty years. For instance, I’ve discovered that I really like “Stoney” ginger beer. I’m pretty good at telling jokes to an African crowd. I can barter in the market and baptize babies in Chichewa and drive on the opposite side of the road. But the number one thing that I’ve learned is that I am not as graceful and as hospitable as Christ intends me to be. While I end each worship service at Crafton Heights by saying, “honor all people”, I am a real piker in that department when I compare myself to my African sisters and brothers.
Below are some images of the day. They are fine photos, I know. But a picture can’t capture the warmth with which a cold bottle of Fanta is offered, or the insistence with which I should take another cup of tea after a long worship service. The smiles you see here are two-dimensional, whereas I have been given the gift of being welcomed and honored. I am forever grateful to my African family for teaching me to greet each new face, each new day, each new challenge, each new situation, as an opportunity to show gratitude and honor and joy.
Maybe the reason I keep coming back is that I’m a slow learner. I know that most of the people who are reading this know me only in the USA, where I am prone to rush and criticize and push far more than is necessary. I hope that you will catch me improving in my ability to serve with honor and grace.
Chances are, I will never, ever be able to knock on your door and softly say, while gently rolling my ‘r’s, “Water is ready.” Yet I hope that somehow in my daily life, someone will say, “Hey, that Pastor Dave – he’s noticed how tired I am; he cares for me.”
If that ever happens, remember where I learned it – in worship and in worshipful presence right here, in the Warm Heart of Africa.