Updated: Feb 10, 2020
From 2013-2017, I lived in the small African country of Malawi. This is a story of a time when I received hospitality.
My language tutor, Ulemu, and I planned a trip one long weekend. We would visit some of the old schools where she had taught. She wanted to see friends, and I was always ready for another adventure. We traveled by mini-bus and traded off in the capital for a large bus, which had a tire explode on the road. We hitched a ride (for a fee) with a traveling choir, who dropped us off at a trading post where we caught a taxi (and had to wait until it filled to maximum capacity before we could take off). After some miles, the taxi came to its stopping point, and we mounted bicycle taxis to complete our journey, pausing to visit some of Ulemu’s friends, who she had lived with as a teacher, learning to accept extreme hospitality from her hosts’ extreme poverty.
The first night we stayed with a pastor and his family. I was the first white person the pastor’s wife had ever hosted. She was very nervous, she had told Ulemu. I was ready to accept whatever hospitality was given to me, knowing how important it was to her. The first was taking a bath. Bathing in the village is not always easy. Water is transported from a bore hole (clean water well), heated over coals, and put in a room with a hole in the floor for the water to drain out. Each person gets a fresh bucket. It feels more gracious to spare people the trouble and just not taking a bath, but knowing hospitality is not meant to be convenient, particularly in many non-western cultures, I politely thanked my host and took a bath in the water that did not flow easily from a tap.
Dinner was next. When language is not easily shared, graciously accepting hospitality is even more important. When I was handed a plate with what felt like a football sized piece of nsima (cornmeal and water, boiled into a thick porridge eaten with fingers), tiny fish (eaten whole), and a small serving of beans (my favorite, for real), I breathed a breath willing my stomach to expand to accommodate all this tasteless food. I ate every single bite on my plate. The pastor’s wife was very pleased. I had accepted her cooking. I had accepted her. When we left the next day, she said I was welcome back anytime.
When we learn to look at aspects of cultures as different and beautiful, rather than strange or unnecessary, it becomes much easier to give and receive hospitality.