Nothing to Prove

Posted Mar 28, 2009 by 8 Comments

The following is a story by Maeven Mendoza.  She is World Next Door’s first “freelance” journalist.  She spent last summer in Malawi, Africa.  

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Walking around the trails of the bush, I always carried with me the fancy title of “Women’s Advocacy Intern”. Really, it was all in my head, considering the Malawian women had no idea what a white, North American 20-something was doing on their front porch until I visited with them and explained.

I would turn to my translator, Mayi Kachingwe, signaling that I needed her to translate, and would slowly begin, fumbling around with a proper introduction.

“Hello.”

Pause.

“My name is Maeven and I have come from the United States…”

Pause.

“I have come because I have a special interest in Malawian women. I see how hard you work…”

Pause.

“…and how much you love your family. I am encouraged by your strength and faithfulness to provide every day for your husband and children…”

Pause.

“…I have seen you in your gardens. I have seen you at the watering hole with your buckets.”

Pause.

“ You work so hard and are so valuable to your village.”

Pause.

“Do you know that?”

Malawian women with their families.

Malawian women with their families.

At this point, almost every woman would look toward the ground, staring at the mat below her like it was the first time she saw it. A few would try their best to suppress shy smiles.

It was during these times of meeting and interviewing women that I woke up in a way.

In the midst of the most isolating bouts of culture shock, when every part of my being had turned inward and self-focused, the words and stories of these women never failed to stretch my heart, and turn me inside out.

I remember one such instance:

The red dust plastered my feet as we walked toward the village where Violet lived. I trailed loosely behind Abusa Mwachipa (my resident translator/ pastor/ Malawian grandpa).

And by “trailed loosely”, I mean that I slugged all the way down the trail and back in Katingeza Village for the third day in a row. By this time, Africa and I had ended our honeymoon stage, and I was willing to admit that life in the bush was uncomfortable. I was so tired, so spent. And I was positive that I could not bear one more story of heartbreaking proportions.

Violet with her son

Violet with her son

But we were going to visit a woman named Violet, who desperately needed someone to restore a little dignity and listen to her story.

I had met her only a few days before, during one of my routine interview mornings, and knew that this woman had more to say.

A subsistence level farmer, a wife, and a young mother to two children, Violet was steeped in a lifestyle of survival. My interest in her had peaked in our previous interview when her reply to one of my questions caught me completely off-guard. I was asking about her education and why she spent ten years in school, barely completing the 3rd grade. Even across the cultural communication divide, I caught the matter-of-factness in her voice when she turned to me and simply said,

 “I have no intelligence.”

 My heart stopped in a way. This woman truly believed she had no intelligence. Beginning school at the age of ten, she could not pass the tests to go on to fourth grade by the time she was 20. Talk about persistence! And exhaustion.

 Ten years in three grades. 

What in the world was I supposed to do with that? How could I possibly reconcile Violet’s reality with that of my own back in Carmel, Indiana where “no child is left behind?”

Because Violet was left behind. The system clearly failed her.

The next few moments were filled with vain attempts to try to explain to her that she did possess intelligence. After all, it takes intelligence to figure out how one is going to successfully feed a family every day and make a marriage work. Sure, Violet did not have a fancy degree to wag in my face. She didn’t even have a certificate of graduation from grade school. Yet, unknowingly, this seemingly unintelligent person was teaching me a very important lesson.

I was the one sitting at her feet, learning that all I’ve held to be the epitome of important does not generate my self worth. As confident as I was that Violet had value worth identifying and celebrating, despite her failures, I was not measuring myself by the same standards.

My friend Lissa constantly reminds me of the mantra we had plastered to our dorm room wall last year,

“There has never been anything to prove.”

And this is what Violet reminded me of that day. Beyond failures and all of the ways I can disappoint, and far beyond all of the ways I cannot compare or do not measure up, I do have value that is worth identifying and celebrating. Violet and I- we are both cut out of the same image. And that’s beautiful. 

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About the Author: Maeven Mendoza is a freelance journalist with World Next Door. She graduated in 2009 from Indiana Wesleyan University with a bachelor’s degree in International and Community Development, and is now pursuing a master’s in Social Work from Indiana University.

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Comments

  1. Blake Anderson said... 

    Reply

    March 29th, 2009 at 2:18 pm  

    Great Mantra, Wish that was a cultural theme in the U.S.

  2. Mable Mendoza said... 

    Reply

    March 29th, 2009 at 5:35 pm  

    You spread the “fragrance” of Christ wherever you go and I am thankful you invited me into a part of Violet’s world. Thank you for the dignity you afford to women everywhere and for reminding me once again what is truly valuable to God.

  3. Amy said... 

    Reply

    March 29th, 2009 at 7:18 pm  

    Oh how my heart did a little flip of joy when I saw that you, dear Maeven, are a WND freelancer!!! That means I have the privilege of seeing how you so beautifullly weave words and the love of Christ together into the amazing tapestries you do…and this entry serves as yet another example of this: “Beyond failures and all of the ways I can disappoint, and far beyond all of the ways I cannot compare or do not measure up, I do have value that is worth identifying and celebrating. Violet and I- we are both cut out of the same image. And that’s beautiful.” Indeed, Maeven, Indeed. Christ has given you the ability to see into peoples’ hearts and that is no small gift…and the fact that you can put that gift into words is like yummy hot fudge syrup on top of all that. Keep looking for that brokenness in people. Keep working that into the beauty that brokenness becomes when it is used as an example of Christ’s adoration and use of it all. XOXOXO

  4. Amy said... 

    Reply

    March 29th, 2009 at 7:24 pm  

    P.S. I love Violet, and I’ve never even met her. I do.

  5. World Next Door said... 

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    April 1st, 2009 at 9:43 am  

    Thanks a lot, Maeven!

    I really wish everyone had a chance to meet people like Violet…

  6. Dave q said... 

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    April 2nd, 2009 at 2:04 pm  

    Awesome and fragrant blessing left behind in Malawi in the midst of the interview. Great job Maeven!

  7. Kathy Whitesell said... 

    Reply

    April 9th, 2009 at 3:32 pm  

    Your writing makes me aware and care about others. Also reminds me that we are more alike than different. Keep reminding us…

  8. rob said... 

    Reply

    July 9th, 2009 at 12:54 pm  

    So insightful. Thanks Mave’!

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