Where One or Two Are Gathered
Jariel wakes me up, as she does most mornings. She and I have been sharing a bed, since we are currently short on bedroom space. This will change once our apartment's previous renters finish moving their things out of the third bedroom. In the meantime, though, I've enjoyed having an alarm clock that smiles sweetly at me and asks, "I get up now?"
I get up, make it into the bathroom before anyone else, and get ready for the day. On the way to the kitchen to get Jariel her 'm-milk', I glance in at Jon and Dino, one of the guys from the media team at Peniel, our partner church here in Beira. They pulled an all-nighter to finish a video of the Peniel youth conference that ended yesterday, and they're sitting exactly where I left them when I went to bed last night. They're even laughing over the same video clip of Pastor Mario cheering over the outcome of the conference attendees' futboll (soccer) match. It's a little surreal, and makes me feel like no time has actually elapsed and none of us ever went to bed.
I give Jariel her milk, and survey the still-wet clothing draped over the kitchen chairs. The downpour during church last night soaked all of us, but I felt the most sorry for Dino, as he had to ride his motorbike through the downpour. There is still a soggy towel on the floor beneath the window where the rain blew in. We were more concerned with salvaging the wet electronics in front of the broken dining room window than with mopping up the kitchen counter and linoleum. Obviously, there will have to be some kitchen clean up today.
More people begin emerging from their beds: Kyran first, then Mirriam and McKayla, two girls who stayed with us during the youth conference. Finally Carla. Jon and Dino even surface from their project long enough to wander through the kitchen, wish us a good morning, and let us know that the video's almost finished.
There will be a lot of people around for breakfast. Fortunately, I bought a dozen eggs on Friday and we haven't used them yet. There are four loaves of bread left from yesterday's bakery run. Toast and scrambled eggs it is, then.
Mirriam offers to slice the bread for me. I get started on the eggs, interrupting myself every now and then to clear the clothing off of the chairs, wash up the dishes that are splattered brown from the mixed rain and dust, move a miscellany of objects from the kitchen table to make room for the breakfast things. Breakfast is something I understand, and in a place where so many things are new and unknown, it's comforting to step into the familiar pattern of providing simple food for hungry people. These logistics are well-traveled territory: Calculate the amount of eggs we're likely to need, figure out when I should start cooking things so that the toast doesn't get cold.
Halfway through the breakfast prep, Jon calls us all into the living room to watch the completed video. It's good. We all give our hearty approval and, looking at the guys' tired faces, I'm intensely glad for their sakes that the project turned out well.
The eggs are done. Enough of the toast has been finished for everyone to get started with their meal. There is the usual anxiety over getting everyone rounded up while the food is still hot. There is a crowding of seven people and their chairs around a table that is not quite big enough. Then the kids pray and everyone gets started with their meal.
I stand at the stove, making another round of coffee and toasting the rest of the bread in the frying pan. The sight of everyone eating in cheerful and harmonious proximity is, to me, even better than settling down with a plate of my own. I observe, with an inward glow of satisfaction, that I have calculated the portions almost perfectly. There won't be too much toast (even though it looked like too much when it was all mounded on the plate), and there are enough eggs for each of the guys to have an extra helping. I'm uncertain why, but I hold the unshakeable conviction that men should always have seconds, and I have to say that this belief has been bolstered by the fact that they almost never refuse the extra helping when it's offered to them.
Everyone lingers around the table, even Jon, who has been talking about going to bed for the past five minutes, and Mirriam, who is planning to go to the nine-o-clock church service. Sipping coffee, munching a final piece of toast, chatting in a mixture of Portuguese and English. Dino quizzes us about the pronunciation of various English words. My respect for anyone who can work on a video project all night and be curious about anything the next morning is pretty high. I wish I had that kind of stamina.
Our breakfast party finally breaks up, everyone going their separate ways. McKayla clears the table. I get started on the dishes. My mind is filled with the warm memories of other peaceful and lingering morning meals: Home-made doughnuts and coffee, overflowing plates balanced precariously on laps around a campfire, tea and toast and a sunrise, hearty second helpings of sausage and eggs, special Easter and Christmas morning pastries...with family, with friends, with people who became friends by the time the last plate was clean, the last glass drained.
How good and how pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity.
Somehow, there is nothing quite like a shared meal to bring people closer together.
And it is comforting to know that, regardless of where you go in the world, these simple things don't really change.