Hospitality and names

We began writing this in the last few weeks of living in Milange. We had just spent a day driving around Milange on our motorbike, partly in order to collect a number of watch devices that I handed out to people as part of a study on sleep in rural and semi-rural communities (more on that another time), and partly just simply to get out and try to appreciate and remember life there. These goals gave us an excuse to visit some friends houses, just like how you would pop round for tea when you are in the area.

We stopped at two friends houses. They are both adeptos working in the overall community development work of the Anglican church. We sat in their houses and chatted about our upcoming departure, the weather, new children, Joanne’s recent trip to Australia. It was all very normal. Two things from our conversations really stuck in our minds as things special about Milange, Niassa and Mozambique. The first was when we got talking about the recent harvest.

Like most ‘Milangeanos’, people living in Milange, both Memory and Pedro have farms in the surrounding countryside. These are often on family land, where the Milangeanos grew up before moving to Milange for work. They refer to it as minha terra, ‘my land’. Often relatives look after the farm since it is on family land, but sometimes villagers will work the land for some payment. Because of the poor rains, the poor harvest of the staple crop, maize, has been a major topic of conversation amongst Milangeanos. It would be if your farm is your food source and you don’t have backup for food for the year. When maize is scarce you would have assumed that people would be quite precious about the little maize they had as they try to conserve it until the next harvest next year. Amazingly, that assumption would be quite wrong here. Both Pedro and Memory talked about their food, their harvest, in a way that expected guests. Rather than decide that they would have to turn guests away or ask them to not to come to visit, they plan in the likelihood of guests coming to stay. Even if that means their maize won’t last as long and they will suffer because of this, providing for guests is a given.

Hospitality like this is normal here. If someone arrives at their house, at any time of day or night, people will provide a chair, or a bed, or lunch or dinner. Food will stretch to an extra mouth or two and people will be accommodated. Sleeping places will be arranged. It’s something special to foreigners like us, used to planning and invitations. It reminds us of the cup of tea culture in England, but it goes further. It’s an attitude that we want to take back to England when we move back – to have a welcoming home and not afraid to share our best.

It is a part of the greater mentality of community living. One thing that we’ve heard about the difference between Westerners and Mozambicans is that Mozambicans are generous with their belongings and stingy with personal information while Westerners are stingy with their belongings but generous with personal information (see Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc).

Also in this communal attitude is in the naming of children – the second thing that struck us from our visits that day and that we now want to share here. Pedro told us about how his sons got their names. Very often, a close relative or important member of the community will give names. These could be names within the family or descriptive, character names. Either way, names have significance. Unusually, Pedro himself named his eldest son. He called him Aldo, who was a wise and kind person Pedro knew when he was younger. By giving his son this name, Pedro wanted his son to grow into that kind of wise and kind person. His second son is called Jacinto, a name that the we spent a while talking about because we weren’t sure what it’s English equivalent would be. Jacinto got his name from a member of the community where Pedro was living, Jacinto was a neighbour. It’s fascinating how names here have such a backstory, and it reminds us of the famous characters in the Bible, and how their names were always given with a meaning associated (e.g. Moses, who was rescued from the river as a baby, the name given to him means ‘to pull out of water’; Abraham, the patriarch of the Abrahamic faith and the Israelites, the name given to him means ‘the father of many’; Eve, from the Garden of Eden, means ‘mother of the living’; Isaac, born in Abraham and Sarah’s old age, his name means ‘he laughs’; Moses’ son, born in Egypt, was named Gershom which sounds like the Hebrew for ‘a foreigner there’; Jesus,’the Lord saves’.

We had the privilege of giving a name to our friends’ youngest son. We gave the name Jonah, a name from the Bible and one that works in Portuguese and in English so we can call him as his parents will. He turned 1 just before we left. We wonder what he’ll tell people in the future about where his name came from.

Helping Jonah onto the slide next to our house

Helping Jonah onto the slide next to our house

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