My pen ran out the other day. I can remember when I bought that pen, and can honestly say I used it from start to finish. How often does that happen? Usually my half-used pens are in a drawer, in my car, in the pocket of an un-used briefcase or left behind somewhere. And so often, I have no idea where I picked up the pen I’m using.
But that’s how life works here in Swaziland. You have something, and you use it until it doesn’t work anymore. And then, where possible, you use it for something else. You don’t go buy a newer, shinier one just because you’re bored or there’s one that says ‘New and Improved’ on the package.
One day I decided to wash my shoes. I took out a brush, some ‘green bar’ soap (a true miracle product, really!) and put some warm water in a bucket. I sat on the ground, in the sun, and scrubbed out the grime. It was surprisingly gratifying. As I watched my dull Nike’s return to a bright white, I thought of all the shoes I had given away to charity over the years. I’m no shop-a-holic , but looking back I’m embarrassed to say that the only problem with some of them is that they were dirty.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, I loaded up a few of the Life Skills School students and we set off into the community. Our mission was to plant a garden for a lady living close to the farm (and by close I mean a 10-minute drive on hilly, rough roads and a 20-minute walk across the valley to her homestead). When I had met the lady a few weeks before, she was telling Pastor Sipho (SEE-poe) about needing seedlings for her garden. At the time I had the impulse to drive to town and buy them, but I’m resisting the urge to just ‘throw money’ at any problem I hear about – I’ve heard too many stories of westerners, with all good intention, spending a fortune on projects without thinking of the long-term results. (Plus, I don’t have any money haha) As the days passed my mind kept returning to this lady and her bare garden. Pastor Sipho encouraged me to follow my heart and reassured me that planting a garden for her wouldn’t cause problems in the community or perpetuate any ‘dependency’ mindset.
So, armed with the students and 600 vegetable plants (cost of about 600 Emalegeni, or $60), off we went; excited to simply bless someone. I had no idea what she had in mind for her garden; but had just picked up whatever I could find that might grow at the higher altitude in winter. Cabbage, beetroot, green pepper, onions, spinach, carrots.
As we planted, Lusito translated for me and we got to know a bit more about this lady and her family. She had been praying for the chance to start a business making Achar (picture kimchee or chutney – spicy and chunky and usually served with meat). Turns out the ‘random’ plants I’d purchased were the exact ingredients for Achar. Trippy, right? For me, that’s the sign of living a life simple enough that the ‘still, small voice’ of God can speak to me when I’m buying plants. Sometimes he even lets me believe it’s my idea. I get goosebumps every time I think of it – it’s a ‘wheeeeeeeee!’ feeling knowing that God has used me for a small part of His plan, and I somehow paid attention long enough to be obedient .
My Nike’s and I are partners now. We’re in this for the long haul. Not only would replacement shoes be difficult to find here, I couldn’t afford them if I did. They have to last until they just can’t walk another step, and I have to keep cleaning them. As for my pen, I’m back to the plain ol’ Bic, and I have just one.
And I’m content – with my hand-washed shoes and my single pen. With where I am – where the fruit still tastes like sunshine, and with what I have – all of the necessities and a few of the comforts. I’m not trying to get anywhere or prove anything – I’m just here. Fully present and drinking deeply from each day and its offerings. And listening; waiting for the next time God speaks.