It wasn’t until I came to Moçambique that I really thought about motherhood. Seeing moms tie their babies on their backs and walk for miles in the unforgiving sun to go out to their farms. Watching newborns being roughly passed from sibling to sibling without the usual caution I’m used to in the States. Listening to women teach their young daughters the intricacies of properly cooking a traditional meal. And smiling radiantly as a mother who has never set foot inside a classroom sends her 6 year old to school for the first time. Life here is hard. And being a mother is even harder. In a world where you don’t know where your next meal will come from, or if you’ll even be able to scrounge up enough to feed the many hungry mouths depending on you, just trying to survive thickens the air of daily life. And sometimes after seeing the hundredth extended, malnourished belly, and hearing another tale of a pre-pubescent girl given a “better life” by being married off, life can seem pretty grim. But then the singing starts. And the dancing follows. And soon the mothers are slowly lifting the dark clouds of despair with their rhythm. The pain and suffering still remains, but they remind us of the hope that shines through. Because that’s what mothers do- they nurture, they console, they teach, they listen, and they ensure that the world keeps turning.

From my host mom during training who patiently and lovingly welcomed me into her home and into her life, to my adoptive mom in Mopeia, Genita, who didn’t let me give up when I was overcome with loneliness and feeling like an outsider, to the throngs of powerful women that I work with every day caring for the sick and implementing programs to create a better future- I am so thankful for Mozambican mothers. They have changed my life in ways that I will never be able to articulate, and they are responsible for the wonderful people that I call friends and the beautiful place that I’ve called home for the past two and a half years.

While thinking about Mozambican mothers and their contribution to society, I had an epiphany about my own mom. Not that I didn’t love and appreciate her before, but thinking about all the sacrifices that mothers make here made me truly realize all that my mom has done for me. She worked hours on end to provide for me. She encouraged me to volunteer, play sports, study, and travel because she had the foresight to know how much it would benefit me in the future (and for this I am forever grateful). She continues to be an example of the kind of woman that I hope to become. Her grace and charisma are radiant, and she leaves a lasting positive impression on everyone she meets. Through my painfully shy childhood, my awkward teenage years, going off to college and deciding rather impulsively to ditch biology and business classes for primate social behavior and matriarchal societies, and then moving halfway across the world- she has always loved and supported me unconditionally. I know that I haven’t made it easy. But I am so thankful for all that she has done, and continues to do.

So as Mother’s Day approaches, I first want to make amends. Mom- I am sorry that I keep you in a constant state of worry wondering whether I’m alive and well. I’m sorry that I don’t check in as often as I should. I’m sorry that when I do check in I tend to describe to you in detail my often long list of current ailments. But I want you to know how thankful I am for the gifts you have given me. You gave me the strength to follow my dreams and the courage to continue on. You’ve taught me the value of being a strong woman, the importance of family, and the art of keeping your head held high in the face of adversity. You remind me of the classic beauty and style of my grandmother, and you give me hope that I will one day have the wisdom to pass on your charm to another generation. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank you in a way worthy of all that you’ve done, but here’s a start. Thank you for being my mom.

 Happy Mother’s Day to my many Mozambican mamás and to Lisa, the woman I am lucky enough to call mom.