If you had asked me two or three months ago, I would have said that one of the hardest parts about being a Peace Corps volunteer was the painful dearth of gratitude.
"It's not just the lack of thanks for the bigger things," I would have said, "for the hours spent in the classroom, for the private tutoring sessions, for the dedication to that little old computer lab..." I would have shaken my head. "I also miss the "thank yous" for the little things. I miss the niceties that I was raised with in the States."
Kids don't really say "thank you," in Mozambique, and it's awfully conspicuous. To us, at least, there's a hole in the conversation where a "thank you" should be placed:
Kid: Can I have a piece of paper?
Lisa: Why yes! I have a piece of paper right here.
Kid: (Stares at the paper, then takes it and runs away)
Lisa: (Quietly, to no one in particular) ...Bye...
We've poured our heart and soul into this village, and, for the longest time, we felt like we were being sucked dry. Like everyone was taking and taking and taking and taking.
After a while, though, we started to change our way of thinking. We learned how to glean pleasure from the little tiny offerings, instead. From a sticky hand offering a dirty bag of peanuts, to a flower on the doorstep, to a bag of lettuce given on the road, we learned to accept gratitude as a gesture, rather than as a spoken phrase.
We've come to call these gifts the "blue shoes," in honor of a Teacher's Day present that Janet received from a student when she lived in Zobue. (see Teacher's Day, October 2010).
Blue shoes can come in many forms. They can be in the form of a hug from a child. They can be a small paper airplane, or a picture on a scrap of paper. They can be a carrot, an apple, or a plate of bananas.
Blue shoes are valuable, but ever so rare. That's what makes them special.
Here is an extra meaningful pair of blue shoes. It's a letter from a member of my computer class, written on our final day of lessons:
A LETTER OF THANKGIVINGS TO MY COMPUTER INSTRUCTER
Ho! It’s wonerful, I ‘m now a Proffeionalized person,
Now I have a Diploma in computer
Grand thanks to our good instructer Mrs Lisa Spenser for
Her tolerance and diligence in her all days of computer teaching.
I wish her and her husband a long living wherever they live!
It's the small offerings like this that complete the cycle of giving and loving, and reinforce my decision to keep doing what I'm doing.
It might seem like a minor thing, but that little note means the world to me.