Yesterday, I gave a Swazi woman a ride into town. With the rainy sheeting down, we snuggled into the truck’s cab with dripping umbrellas and jackets drying under the heat from the blower. We exchanged pleasantries, but before we got far, my phone rang.
Seeing it was Mother Lulane aka Glorious, my friend, I answered in siSwati, “Yebo, Make. Unjani?” Hi, Mrs. How are you?
We chatted for a few moments, then cleared up that indeed, I had NOT phoned her by mistake. Ending the call, my stranger-now-passenger said, “So you like our language,” pronouncing more of an observation, than a question. I nodded my head, saying, “Yebo, Ngiyasitsanda. Ngiyazama kufundza siSwati.” Yes, I like it. I’m trying to learn it.
From there, she asked where I was staying. We talked about our new homestead and how the rain was good for the crops we just planted. She shared that she was hoping I lived close because she wanted to ask me to interview a family member for a job. Being asked for a job is a common occurrence. No one ever pressures or begs really, yet finds a simple balance. “Do you have a job for me?” Oftentimes, the Asker may add the specific skills that they have, speaking their resume and not handing me a sheet of paper. It is partly due to me driving a car (sign of wealth) and largely to do with my skin color.
For reasons I’d rather not explore here, most white people (about 10% total in Swaziland) employ black Swazis. Oftentimes a “white” household will employ anywhere from 1-4 Swazis. Yard maintenance, house-cleaning, nannying and driving are the most common jobs. And the jobs ARE common. Since hiring a maid is not afforded in the average American home (or maybe my parents just wanted to use the cheap, child labor), this seems pretty strange to me. It’s just not a part of my home culture. Yet it is a part of my current culture – one I need to navigate stealthily.
Upon moving here, I had no idea that lines would be drawn so economically and seemingly racially.* I mean, I’m not a doofus, bringing my white, wealthy self into a 90%+ black, 3rd-world nation would cause me to be the minority in appearance and income. However, I figured that eventually people would come to see me for my heart not my wallet or hair tone. I knew I came here as an agent of reconciliation. Of myself and others to God. Of myself and others to the Creation. Reconciliation of myself TO others, and us to each others, as well as, myself to myself and themselves to themselves. In any place I live, I know this is my mission, right? For us all to become disciples of Christ who live as little Christs in our communities, agents of peace and redemption and grace among ourselves & our neighbors. This is my mission everywhere, I just happen to live in Swaziland instead of Newark or Ohio now.
I did not figure the ways in which such reconciliation would be needed. I now understand that the Swazis who speak honestly with me, tell of story of a divide between themselves and the “whites.” Although “Swazis like white people, for some reason, the white people don’t like Swazis.” Here is space for reconciliation.
I know that my husband can enter the grocery store, and the manager agrees to buy all the watermelons from him aka the farmer he’s asking for. But when Ncamsile enters with watermelons in tow and nephew strapped to her back, she’s turned away and hassled a bit. Told, “No,” initially. Lord let us be known for our words and hearts, not faces or pocketbooks.
SiSwati words spoken from these lips often bring a raised eyebrow, clapping hands, a delighted smile. Christ, let us savor your words of love and grace amidst our neighbors. Always. Regardless of if our neighbor is like us, or not.
Apologies that “I have no work because I live in a small, Swazi home. I cook and clean and grow my veggie garden, but I know the work is hard to find,” often meets the Asker with such awe. Astonishment. May people see Christ.
Explanations to an expatriate acquaintance about where we live, and how, and why. Her eyeballs bugging out of her head. “Do you feel safe?” and “Why did you move there?” and “Why don’t you come rent such-and-such place?” Her shock and discomfort clear. May people see Christ.
Our lives aren’t just ones of watching skin tones and pocket books. They’re pretty complex, like us all. Yet. Yet. The story of leaving Those-Who-Are-Like-Me to learn from and be among Those-Who-I-Am-Unlike in language, economics standards, culture, or religion certainly is a story that causes most people to jerk their heads back in shock, try to focus their eyes on mine, try to read my soul, figure it out.
But I come from a rich history of such stories. Of a God who came to a people who lived differently from him, looked different, spent money differently, and worshipped other gods. And His followers eventually went to the people unlike themselves – the prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans - gasp! – the lower levels of society, the poor, the disabled, the broken. It is a story unlike one the World tells. It is a story worth listening to because it’s a story that’s of God and about reconciling people to each other, Him, themselves, and Creation.
It is a story I’m honored to share, lest I forget that I am crippled with pride, broken from selfishness, and entrenched in my own sins. It is a powerful, moving story, but one that needs told, fleshed out through many lives, and all people, and every angle. May people be Christ.
*I name these in a similar fashion to what’s happening in America. Oftentimes we draw lines along race, only to decide they’re really drawn along class. VERY, VERY oversimplified, but I seek to draw our attention away from just skin color into some deeper implications like the divides between RICH and POOR that only grow deeper & wider weekly. Such divide is one I see Christ talking a LOT about, so one I figure doesn’t hurt to discuss as I aim to tell His story.