July 4, 2017
Thirty one years ago, my sister Meghan was born. From that day on, she became my family’s own “firecracker”, fondly yet appropriately named. I remember my mom leaving for the hospital—from our yearly family Independence Day BBQ at our aunt and uncle’s house—before the firework show, so we all got to stay while mom and dad left to deliver the newest addition to our family. She must have been born quickly, coming into the world with the explosive energy she has since embodied with her life. She, indeed, has always been a firecracker—quick with her emotions, clear on what she wants, strongly determined and fiercely loving.
A little over a month ago, Meg married Madala in Chimoio, Mozambique. She is now Meghan Mquemba, citizen of the U.S. of A, and of Mozambique, Africa. The day of her wedding I was bursting, as any big sister (who often acted as second mother) would, witnessing the dreams of my little sister come true. Not necessarily the dream of being married, of the wedding itself—but of so thoroughly becoming part of the culture she loves, of marrying the man who gets her in a way no other man ever has.
Let’s rewind. Meghan has wanted to live in Africa (more accurately, be African?) since she was tiny. As a little girl, she insisted she wanted a black baby doll. Her first more mature doll was the American Girl doll Addy—of slave heritage. I remember finding her, pre-teenaged, sitting in front of the TV, watching BET, because she preferred it to anything else. Once, she saw Beyonce (early days of Destiny’s Child) and simply said, “she’s gonna be HUGE.” Of course, she’s been a fan ever since. In college, her focus was international studies and service, spending a summer working with refugees in Dallas from various African nations, like Berundi and Sierra Leone.
When given options post-college for where she would serve in the Peace Corps, no one was surprised when Meghan chose Africa—Mozambique specifically. Moving to Mozambique was, for Meghan, like a fish returning to water. How is this possible, for an Irish girl from Chicago who had never before set foot on the African continent? I’m not sure, all I know is that it’s true. Every time I would talk to Meghan during those first months in Namaacha, outside of the capital of Mozambique, she would gush over this or that thing she was getting to do, this or that person she was meeting. She was effervescent, bubbling over with the excitement, possibility and reality of it all. Even the sheer difficulty—learning a new language, living in a country of 7o% extreme poverty, having no running water or flushing toilets—just seemed to inspire her to do more, be more, live bigger.
A little over a year later, I got to visit her in Chimoio, the city where the Peace Corps eventually placed her. Witnessing her in action was a great gift. Megs was more herself than I’d ever seen her—working from dawn until dusk, at a demanding non-profit job while also juggling the regular everyday tasks of Mozambican life, getting water from the well, hours of cooking, washing clothes by hand and living in constant relationship with neighbors. Everywhere we went, Meg had a stream of small children following her, yelling, “Tia Meghan! Mona Meghan!” Aunt Meghan! Sister Meghan! They would insist on carrying her bags, her groceries, anything she would let them carry, and she would invite them in for snacks, coloring, games, just time with her. A year after moving there, she spoke the language fluently, peppering it with local mannerisms and sounds that blended her into the hum of life. Her single-minded purpose of cultural immersion was astounding to me, and amazing. I saw an energy in her, a life, that I had not yet witnessed. Frankly, it made me a believer—in her call to live in Mozambique, to serve the people there, and in true vocation in general. It was apparent she was doing just that—living her truest, deepest calling in life.
Seven years later, this past May 20-21st, we all celebrated her wedding day in Chimoio, reaffirming all this once again for me. My youngest sister Caity always called Meghan her “African Queen” and this is what she was for two days—honored, loved, ushered into the community of the Mquemba family. Over and over again, we were all reminded—two people from across the world finding each other is a thing of God, of Spirit, of Mystery and trust and hope. Their wedding and those two days of celebration became a symbol of the unity of life—two hearts, two lives and in essence, two cultures, coming together as one. Mozambican weddings are filled with the symbolism of this—song, dance and celebration all signifying the joy of unity. Meg and Madala were heralded by song and dance everywhere they went. They were wrapped in capulana, a traditional, colorful cloth symbolizing their union. Both their parents were held up as models of union and of love, acknowledged for their role in raising two lives and hearts that found each other and will, in their union, produce more life. Joy was at the center, and gratitude, and more, bigger, fuller life.
In the goodness of it all I couldn’t help but be swept away by the rightness of it all, for Meghan. All her life, she has known she is destined for something different. Naturally, she was drawn to other cultures, other ways of living and being. She has always known she is meant for service, to use her gifts to the benefit of others, to expand life and love. No matter how many times she heard that such an endeavor was strange, foolish, or even dangerous, she has remained true to the life and call within her. That wedding weekend of celebration, we witnessed, I think, the fruits of her faithfulness—expansive, inclusive love that wrapped its arms around two communities, cultures, and ways of life. A love that births hope that so much is possible.
Born our firecracker, I am grateful for the explosions of light her life inevitably shares. Thank you my sister, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!