I have fallen into routine. I think most people do eventually. Occasionally, I turn on autopilot. For example, early in the morning, I am able to slide on flip-flops, make my way outside in the dark, find a bush with no snakes, squat, pee, and sneak back into my room without even running into the guard. That was not a quickly acquired skill. That took practice.
I can also glide through police stops with minimal effort these days. I understand the pull over signal now. I can have the license, registration, emergency reflectors, and fire extinguisher all laid out accordingly before the police officer even makes it to my window. In an area where police stops are more moneymaking systems than safety precautions, you just need to know what questions they will ask and what answers they are looking for. These days, I can get pulled over by the cops and still make it wherever I’m going sort-of on time.
Now, when the power goes out, I know how to navigate to the office, find the generator key, shimmy underneath the bicycle lock that keeps the generator closed, and turn on the machine, all with only the light of the stars (and ok, maybe my cell phone.)
I can wash my laundry by hand while simultaneously watching reruns of the OC. Scrubbing my clothes no longer takes all of my focus.
My Swahili is usually fairly coherent, even before coffee in the mornings.
I can herd goats off the property and continue my phone conversation.
I know who sells the best chipati (Tanzania’s tortilla equivalent) and how much I should pay for one. I can go through the motions of most activities that used to take the more brainpower than I thought I could muster in a single day.
I think in America, we often fear monotony, and routine seems comparable to have given up on adventure. But after about a year in East Africa, routine and autopilot has me feeling pretty proud. It’s a mile marker, really, of just how far I have come, or the things I have learned and perfected to a point where my hands can complete a task without the immense focus of my mind. It doesn’t mean I think these things are boring. It means I’m an adaptable human.
About a year ago, if you had asked me how far I am from where I want to be, I would have told you I wanted to be “mid October 2016.” Because it is here in this place where I feel comfortable and confident, something that seemed like a wishful thought when I was thrown into the new and wild and extraordinary just a few months ago. But now, in the midst of my comfort I can tell you that where I want to be is a place where I don’t forget the small beautiful things, (even when I’m on autopilot.)
I hope I don’t forget the way the guard asks “Did God help you?” after every activity I complete. He asks when we greet each other first thing in the morning, “Did you sleep peacefully? Did God help you?” He asks after I finish a run around the dust and rocks and setting sun, “Did you have a good run? Did God help you?” After coming back from the car ride “Did you have a good safari? Did God help you?” What a lovely thing to consider, God helping through the seemingly normal daily tasks. He doesn’t ask “Did God help you?” after completing something extraordinary (such as figuring out how to jumpstart the van by myself. That right there would be a miracle.) He says it for the usual. The mundane. God helped me sleep last night. He helped me remember to check the oats for bugs before adding water this morning. I hope I want to always see the usual as some God inspired gift.
I hope I always remember the sound of kids singing in the morning before school and after they eat their breakfast. I hope I don’t ever forget the hip shaking of the preschoolers, and the perfect sounds they create together. I hope their songs still get stuck in my head when I’m fifty.
I will never get tired of the way the students stand up and yell whenever you enter the classroom, “GOOD MORNING MADAME, HOW ARE YOU?” I want to be asked how I am that loudly every single day.
I want to always appreciate how perfectly orange the sun is in evenings, how you can make out a perfect grapefruit dipping below the horizon every single night.
I want to remember the stars like they are in Sanya Station, and the smell in the mornings when it rains and the curly eyelashes of the babies and how the sugar sinks to the bottom of your cup of chai and how fun it actually is to eat meat with your hands.
I want everyone to know what it feels like to carry water on their heads, and I want to always know what it feels like to go to sleep with drumbeats in your ears and in your bones and both sad and happy songs in your heart.
In spite of finding comfort, in spite of discovering ease, I want to continue to be enthralled by these things. No matter how long I’m Africa. No matter how long I have been away from it.
But as I see home on the horizon and start thinking about American things that make my heart flutter, I hope the exact same thing. I hope I never stop appreciating how wonderful it is to be able to drive home to see my mom on a weekend. How satisfying it is to call my sisters in the same time zone. I hope I never stop being enthralled by the amount of options in the cereal aisle, the overwhelming convenience of Target. I hope the Rocky Mountains never stop being magic, no matter how long I live in Colorado. I hope kissing someone I love is just as sweet when my lips remember how it goes. I hope the thought of lying on the carpet of my best friend’s apartment always gives me this much joy.
I suppose wherever we all end up, whether it be New York City or the Serengeti, we find routine. It’s human nature, its what we do. My only hope and prayer and wish is that wherever we end up, we see the sweet stuff in the midst of that routine. In the same snow peaked mountains, in the same brown eyes, in the same sunrise out the same window in the morning. The same stuff is the good stuff. I hope we don’t forget that.