Thursday, November 23, 2017

Mambui's Teacup


by Danetta Kellar

The pattern was Old Country Roses by Royal Albert. 

My delicate, fine bone china teacup and saucer were the most lovely items I possessed in the little mud house. We had left our finery behind a year before to move to the remote bush of East Africa to work with the Aduruma tribe.

A friend had brought the teacup and saucer back to me from a trip home to England, and I treasured it. 

Every morning I savored strong, hot tea in my lovely cup as I read the Bible before the village woke up for the day’s chores. Somehow holding that beautiful cup made the day seem beautiful.

Today, I was having a special guest for tea. 

I carefully laid a white scrap of lace across the rough-hewn wood table and set the teacup and saucer just so. My guest, my dear friend Caroline, was coming from a neighboring village. It would take her less than thirty minutes by foot to reach me and I wanted everything to be ready. We had so much to talk about. And all in English for a change! The local tribal language filled my mind and mouth waking and sleeping; I could not seem to escape it. Today would be a welcome reprieve with a friend from my own culture.

I set the water to boil on our propane-powered camp stove and placed tea bags in my cheap teapot. Pouring the steaming water into the pot, I set it on the table to steep while I finished the last preparations. 

With a tug on the jammed doors, I opened the old pie safe, its legs sitting in empty tuna cans filled halfway with oil to keep the ants from climbing up. Inside, I stored my dry goods. Opening the sugar jar, I gasped. The ants had made it in anyway.

Grabbing a few coins from my change purse high on a ledge, I hurried next door to the small duka. Under it’s thatched roof were all the necessities a villager could want: sugar, maize meal, flour, and kerosene. Matches, too, when it wasn’t rainy season. I quickly bought a small bag of sugar and returned to my house to check on the tea. The screen door banged shut behind me as I stopped in my tracks. 

Sitting at my table, grinning from ear to ear, was a guest I had not invited. 

A ragged gray cloth was tied firmly around his waist, his emaciated chest bare. In his hand, he held my precious china tea cup, in which he had poured himself tea. Delight crinkling the corners of his eyes, he stared me straight in the face and said with confidence, “Give me sugar.”

Mambui was homeless. 

We helped him out when he needed his clothes washed or a dry place to sleep. Mambui was an enigma, the only homeless man we knew of for miles among the Aduruma people. Rumor had it that his wife and children had died from disease and he had gone mad.

He certainly didn’t look mad sitting there enjoying my tea. He looked pleased with himself and very intelligent.

Gulping silently I retrieved the plastic jar I used for a sugar bowl and filled it up. Spoonful by spoonful, he loaded his cup of tea. Until there was no sugar left.

About that time my friend arrived at the door with a bright “Hodi! May I come in?”

Of course you can, I thought. Come join the tea party. With no sugar and a half-naked homeless man.

Caroline smiled when she saw Mambui and pulled up a chair beside him. I followed her sweet and gracious lead and sat down too, pouring tea into the remaining two ugly plastic mugs.

Mambui continued smiling, his pinky lifted daintily in the air as he sipped from the Old Country Roses, looking as if he had been trained in the courts of Britain to drink tea with the Queen.

After a few minutes I remembered the cake I’d made earlier. This tea party must go on, no matter how plans may have changed.

We sipped our milky tea sans sugar and ate chocolate cake as we talked about family and faith. Mambui nodded his head at the most important parts and finally stood, thanking me for the tea and cake. As he left, he patted me on the head as if in benediction. And I actually felt like I had been blessed.

That evening as I washed the treasured Royal Albert by golden kerosene light, turning it over in my hands slowly and thoughtfully, I resolved to never forget the sight of Mambui, a homeless tribal man who could not read or write, who felt welcome enough to walk into my home and take the finest seat at my table. 

He had no inkling that I may not have wanted him there on that particular afternoon, or that perhaps the fine teacup was not for him. 

Oh that I could approach my Father’s house so confidently. 

Me in my rags, half-naked and thirsty, without a place to rest my head except inside the comfort and welcome of God's dwelling. Pulling out the best chair, knowing in my heart that He loves me so much that He would set the prettiest place just for me, ready when I might come through the door.

There is a table made ready for you and for me this Thanksgiving. The door is unlocked, and the table is set. Come, and sit awhile, before the hustle and bustle begins. 

The Lord has prepared a place for us because He delights in us.

That tea party with Mambui is one of my best memories. As I set my table this Thanksgiving Day, I will think of him. Human hearts are more exquisite and lovely than the finest china, and the way we welcome each other can transform our lives. 

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