A Culture of Gift Giving

A Culture of Gift Giving

There are many new customs and practices to learn when moving across the world. For example, the art of greeting and handshaking.

Philippians 4:11-13

“And I am not saying this because I feel neglected, for I’ve learned to be satisfied with what I have.  I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have more than enough.  I have learned this secret so that at anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little.  I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me.” 

There are many new customs and practices to learn when moving across the world.  For example, the art of greeting and handshaking.  The Zimbabwe handshake consists of three separate motions which should be easy to learn but I haven’t quite got it perfected yet.  Then there is a use of names; last names are commonly used to refer to people or to address them.  Unlike our culture where the use of first names is the norm, the familiar first name is never used except for children or servants.  Fortunately Zimbabweans are a forgiving people and seem to tolerate my social ineptitudes.  

Giving and receiving gifts in Zimbabwe is refined to an art form, an art form that I have not mastered.  Don and I recently returned from our annual leave to the States.  We brought small gifts to our friends and personal employees, but our suitcases would not have been large enough to give a gift to everyone here on the mission.  Nonetheless, many people asked what gift we brought for them.

We receive gifts almost daily from friends and neighbors.  Sometimes a loaf of bread, garden vegetables, bananas, pineapples, occasionally a live chicken and once a live turkey.  (Don’t worry I hire the neighbor boy to butcher them.)  It is unheard of to visit anyone’s home without bringing a gift.  It is rare, however, to get a gift for Christmas or a birthday.  Weddings include gifts of cash or kitchen items.  I am learning to expect a gift and accept it with grace and without guilt.   But I am still struggling with how to give gifts.  Is a loaf of bread adequate?  A ball point?  Sugar?  Rice?  Garden produce always seems appropriate but I struggle to give the first fruit of the harvest as Jesus taught.

Upon our return from the States, we gave a small gift to our language teacher, Tsitsi Mhlanga.   We brought aspirin for her mother who suffers from arthritis and finds relief with aspirin.  She was very grateful and appreciative.  On her next visit to our home, Tsitsi brought us a live chicken in appreciation for the aspirin.  Her mother had insisted on this gesture, and had borrowed the chicken from a neighbor with a promise to pay it back when her chicks were grown.  I was horrified that I was given literally the food from their table.  She gave the first fruit even before the harvest! 

So where does the give giving end?  Do I send another gift in thank you for the chicken?  Do I just let grandma have the “one ups” on me, even though she can ill afford?  Such are the trials of learning to navigate a new culture!  

It seems the folks here are content with what they have, but there is injustice.  They have known wealth.  Rhodesia/Zimbabwe is rich in fertile land and historically was the “bread basket” of Africa.  They also have known extreme poverty.  The power of Christ is at work here in Zimbabwe giving them strength to endure.  It’s a lesson I am making efforts to learn.

Don and Maryjane Westra, Zimbabwe 

Donald and Maryjane Westra are missionaries with the United Church of Christ in Zimbabwe. Donald serves as staff to the Micro-Enterprise and Strategic Planning/Management Program at Mt. Selinda.  Maryjane serves as a health and child care consultant at Mt. Selinda.