Lessons From A Smelly Chappa

Editor’s Note: Kari recently returned from Mozambique, where she was a Peace Corps Volunteer. Here is a part of her story.

I’m journeying the 150 km to the city via chappa, Mozambique’s most common form of public transportation. Chappa rides are a time when I am “soaked in humanity” – more literally than I would like. Crammed into a small van, I am drenched in the sights, sounds and smells of my fellow human beings. There are wide-eyed babies, silly children, women adorned in capulana and men dressed in their best suits. We are all different but all united in a common destination and perhaps a common desire to be anywhere else.

Against all reason, I love these wildly uncomfortable chappa rides. They give me time to unwind, to be silent and to think.

On this ride, I find myself admiring the beauty of the Mozambican countryside, a green and lush land that continues to sustain its people despite the terrible atrocities it has seen and endured.

Trying to shake this last thought I turn my gaze inside the chappa and contemplate the beauty of the men and women around me. Their beauty does not come from makeup, products or things. It is a natural, God-given beauty, elegant and dignified. I know that behind many of these faces there are years of hard work, pain, persecution and difficulties I could never truly understand.

I’ve done it again and now I’m feeling overly contemplative and a bit sad. It must show on my face because a woman catches my eye and flashes a toothless smile. Which I instantly return, reminded of the lightheartedness and resiliency I’ve seen in Mozambique. God can use even these smelly and uncomfortable chappa rides to remind me of beauty and redemption, and the common humanity in which I find myself immersed.

As I reflect on this journal entry, I remember the colleagues, students, neighbors and friends I lived in community with for two years. I think of my neighbor and closest friend in Mozambique, Zinha. Her 17 years have carried too much heaviness for a lifetime and in just two years I saw plenty of her tears, grief and frustrations. However, this is not how Zinha defines herself. I was constantly inspired by the way she pursues joy and friendship and the way she brings others into her joy.

Whether Zinha was coming over to laugh about our day, or a stranger on public transport was sharing a quick smile to cheer me up, my time in Mozambique was marked by a radical commitment to communal resiliency in the midst of difficulty. Many Mozambicans I interacted with on a daily basis, like Zinha, know what it is to face extreme hardship, sadness and injustice. They know it, recognize it in others and respond to it by being bringers of joy and hope into their own life and into the lives of others through accompaniment, inclusion, light conversation, food, laughter, dancing and quick smiles to a stranger on a chappa.

In a discussion about this communal sharing of joy and hope we had witnessed in our respective communities, a PCV friend noted that the word for hope in Portuguese “esperar” means both to hope and to wait. Although Portuguese is not the first language of many Mozambicans, I think it describes in some ways how I saw hope lived out. It was not passive waiting, but a conscious decision to live in the present, maintain good relationships, support each other and know the rest would work itself out.

I found this way of responding to injustice refreshing but at sometimes frustrating. In my own cultural context I was taught hope was a call to action. The same Peace Corps Volunteer friend, shared with me this definition of hope by Rebecca Solnit,

…hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.

In my cultural context, it feels relatively easy to be informed and to take action. There are a plethora of videos, lectures and articles to learn from as well as forums, marches, rallies, surveys, petitions and organizations to be a part of. Social pressure plays a role as well, some of my friends in the US have expressed that politicians, governmental organizations, and the church should all be doing more to call out and act out against the social injustices of today.  Ironically, as I transition back to the States and somewhat back into this cultural context, I find this way of responding to injustice empowering but somewhat exhausting.

I’m still processing and reconciling these two strikingly different recipes for hope. Each has its strengths and weaknesses and its time and place. I don’t think there is a right way to do hope and joy. They can be present in doing, in being informed and in fighting for what I believe in just as they can be present in small talk with a friend, dinner under the stars with neighbors or a toothless smile from a stranger.

Kari Smith

P.S. If people are interested in helping the community I lived and worked in for 2 years, they can donate to a “Go Fund Me” we set up with the primary goal of helping the missionaries who run the boys boarding house renovate a space to be used as a library. So far we have been able to raise enough money to support a young man in his first year of university in the capital of Mozambique and to buy school books. More details can be found by following the link below or I can be contacted at karismith93@gmail.com.



  1. Reply
    Emily Rogers says

    Thank you, Kari, for your Peace Corps service and sharing a bit of your experience with us!

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