I wrote this entire blog post in my mind before I typed it up here. I had time to do that. In fact this wasn’t the only thing that I wrote in my brain this past week, I also wrote three chapters of a novel I am authoring (in my head) and attempted to mentally translate lyrics from Adele songs into Swahili. The literal translation doesn’t flow as well as it does in English, but like I said, I had time. It was mostly car sitting time, or car shifting time as I tend to call it. I spent a lot of time shifting from position to position trying to get comfortable. And not just comfortable in my body. Comfortable in my mind, too.
I followed the three inspiring women who worked at the school this year on a little “Christmas vacation trip” as the month of December is the summer holiday here in Tanzania, which obviously means no school and classes. We decided to visit the Ngorogoro Crater, understood to be the birthplace of human kind and a sort of Garden of Eden surrounded by mountains and striped with zebras and elephants and antelope. After, we made the decision to drive up to Lake Victoria which lies on the border of Tanzania and Kenya in order to cool down and get a few days of swim in before coming back to our dusty Maasailand home. A good friend of one of the girls was to drive us. I was excited to explore.
I had spent time in Africa before, and I was aware of “Africa Time.” I know it takes longer to do things due to power outages and limited Internet, donkeys and goats in the road and an overall slower pace of life. But making the transition from busy corporate Denver to rural Africa, I think I had accepted Africa Time more as a fact than a state of mind I needed to find myself in. Silly, I know. You can’t say with authority, “Yeah I know this may take awhile, TIA!”* while simultaneously being flustered when projects don’t go as planned (for example, when the finance/office manager position transitions into a goat herder position. Fairly frequently.)
The thing is, everything did get accomplished at the end of our trip. We saw the crater and watched zebras and wildebeest waltz casually by the jeep. We swam in the lake and borrowed a fisherman’s boat for an afternoon of paddling around. But that may not be what I remember the most from the trip when I reflect in the future. I think what I will remember is realizing, for the first time in the month that I have been here in Africa, that my mentality has to change in order to transition fully. A broken down car and more hours than expected by the side of the road caught me off guard. Late nights in a strange town with no power as we waited for a repair had me restless. And there is nothing quite like Tanzanian police dressed in their swaggy white uniforms hassling a car full of people for minor things when all you want is to just. Be. There. Already. I won’t lie my mentality needed shifting. I wanted to change the things that weren’t even slightly in my control. And that’s even more ridiculous than Adele’s songs in Swahili.
A handsome dreadlocked man in Denver once told me that the secret to getting through challenges was to look for the breeze. “There will always some sort of breeze,” he told me. “You can’t always see it. The trees may not be swaying or you may not be able to hear the wind. But if you concentrate you can find it, and that can cool you down.”
Initially, I think we were talking about how to survive a run in the Alabama heat, but the conversation twisted into how to survive other hard things: like moving to rural Africa in the middle of the summer. For life in general you need to find a breeze, or something to cool you down when you get hot and salty. I suppose more often than not the breeze won’t feel like wind, but take another form. Like a sunset. A good memory. Cold water, hot coffee, smiling baby, rain, text message, sweet bananas. Perhaps forming a blog posting in your brain. They are all breezes.
And it’s that focus that is the only thing we can control. Not the length of car rides or the road conditions (because I can assure you that an African speed bump is scarier and steeper than any roller coaster you will ever experience). Not the weather outside or the police’s intentions for the day. Not the traffic on I-70 or the ski slope lines or what your friends say on Facebook or at the bar, but where your mind goes when your head gets hot and your heart gets flustered. There are breezes out there. You may not be able to see them right away but if you close your eyes and focus you can feel it.
So how far am I from where I want to be today, back home at the school with a year of Africa ahead of me? About a 8 mph gust. It’s going to be a hot one.
*TIA stands for This Is Africa! And is usually used for explaining away the situation. Like… arriving late. Or forgetting shoes. Or calling the barber shop a saloon instead of salon.