I’m visiting home for a few weeks at the end of April. It is strange thinking that I have been in Africa for nearly six months at this point. I suppose like anything it life, the days are, at times, tediously long, but the weeks are short. The months fly by so quickly that I quite honestly looked up at the sky on my lengthy walk to the shower (my personal time to look for shooting stars and wish for things like cheese to be stocked at the grocery store this week and gender equality) and noticed the moon was full again. Never before have I had to do a moon double take, swearing that just yesterday I stood in awe at how huge and orange the full moons in Africa seem.
But from what I am told that is how life works: it gets faster the older you get. Maybe the speed we live is directly tied to responsibilities. Maybe there is no choice to slow it down, no escape route. Maybe this is true even if you move all the way to rural Africa and call that your home.
Regardless of the speed of life light, the speed of forming a Swahili sentence and the speed of anything in African time, I have taken a moment to write down a few of the biggest thing I have learned these past six months. I’m not sure which was more important: the fact I learned lessons that may never apply to my life when I am back in a first world country, or the idea I was willing to learn them. What I do know is six months in Africa has taught me most when I was willing to learn. So, whether you, too, plan to pack up and move to Maasailand, you are happy in your Denver apartment, or are dying for an adventure that has not yet manifested: here are my top twenty five lessons learned six months into making my home in rural Africa:
- When peeing outside, choose soil that is sandy, not hard packed. This will prevent back splash.
- ALL of those donations people make to Africa actually do end up in Africa! This explains why the gardener came to work the other day in gently used tap shoes. This also explains why my favorite guard tends to wear sketchers shape-ups at his post at night.
- Nuns can (and do) ride motorcycles.
- “Kaka” is Swahili for brother, and does not have the same meaning as “caca” in Spanish. Because of this it is perfectly acceptable to call boys and young men Kaka in Tanzania, but not in Mexico.
- Never, ever underestimate the extreme power of letters, notes, snacks, coffee, stickers, nail polish, and (YES!) coconut oil received in the mail. Lord bless the postal service, seeing a letter or package in the mailbox (a bumpy thirty minute drive) has given me wings more than Red Bull ever has.
- My cat in Colorado isn’t actually fat. It just looks fat compared to the skinny cats I see in Africa (explained by my mama who swears she isn’t giving Macy Gray any extra snacks).
- Rainy season in Kilimanjaro is like waking up from a nap. The weather gets cooler, the grass peeks through the dust, the animals move a little faster, the babies laugh a little louder. I’ve been more energized by rain on our roof then any cup of instant coffee.
- Crying for a speeding ticket won’t help you, but keeping a fire extinguished in your car will.
- If you carry around bubble gum on just one run, you will have cheerleaders for every run after that.
- People on their cell phone all the time isn’t just an American thing. It’s a universal thing.
- You can be hungry, hot, and frustrated, but still be kind.
- It’s ok if you don’t speak Swahili/don’t know the way/aren’t a very good driver/ don’t really understand. So long as you try.
- If you don’t think about it that hard, it’s not that bad (This goes for what you are eating, where you are sleeping, what just touched your foot, or how long its been since you’ve washed that shirt.)
- If you are ever having a bad day, find a few grade six students and have them explain American politics to you.
- It’s better to wear a skirt that’s a little too long than a little too short.
- Bring a gift when you are invited to dinner (for example, a jar of peanut butter) and expect a gift in return (for example, a newborn bunny.)
- If you add garlic salt to it, it should taste fine.
- Puppies and babies can make most things better.
- But both will pee on you.
- Sleeping with a fan on drowns out the scary noises.
- Shake out your towel before you dry off.
- A sense of humor doesn’t depend on your race, nationality, age or country. It depends on your personality.
- Reggae music will make you friends in Africa. Drake will not.
- A cursed pencil is a legitimate reason for failing an exam.
- You can be scared and do it anyway. You can be uncomfortable, homesick, nervous and uncertain and still succeed. You can tell yourself and others “I’ve never done this before, I don’t know the language, this isn’t the right outfit and nobody ever taught me,” and come back with diva-like results that shock everyone (but especially yourself). And I learned that when someone asks you how you managed the challenges and changes and tears that inevitably come with Africa, you won’t know what to say. All you can explain is, “It was important. So I did it.”