No matter where you live, every day is a bit different but there are some daily rituals, habits or activities which occur and create the fabric of our lives. From the days of waking my kids for school and getting myself ready for work, I have become an early riser. Currently I wake up around 5. I have not had to use an alarm clock since I have arrived and I get some time to gather my thoughts in the quiet. Even though it is July and summertime in America, South Africa is in the southern hemisphere and it is wintertime here. I woke up to 8°C (47°F) this morning, so I like to stay snuggled in my blankets, since my house is quite close to the temperature outside. Slightly after 5:20 I hear the first call to prayers from the mosque down the street. In the mornings I usually read, plan my day and maybe practice my Zulu.
I have begun a ritual since coming to South Africa of greeting each day while looking at the sunrise. My current house faces the east and I look out my front windows around 6 to see the first fingers of light appearing behind the mountains. Some days there have been a few clouds on the horizon and their lower edges were highlighted in brilliant orange, but most days there are clear skies. Depending on my timing, there is a spectrum from orange to pink to purple to the few remaining stars. I pause to appreciate the opportunity to begin my day with a glorious sight hoping it will keep me focused on the positives ahead and reminding me to look up and out so I don’t miss what we each take for granted. The street is quiet, although there may be some goats or cows nibbling at the gate or grazing in the field across the street.
I am continuing the ritual of morning walks. For me it is a way to wake up and get energized, organizing my day and turning over challenges. I frequently see more animals than humans, but it has also become a way to meet people in my community. They are chance meetings and very brief, but they have given me wonderful insights and new connections. One woman I met is volunteering at the primary (elementary) school in the computer center while she studies and prepares for university to get her teaching certificate. Another morning I met a gentleman who used to work in Johannesburg but has returned here in retirement to be closer to family. He has a small retail business to supplement his pension. He had many opinions and ideas on what the area needed, mainly focusing on helping the youth get better jobs to help their families and the community. During the week these walks last an hour to an hour and a half. On the weekends I love to go on “big walks”, wandering and exploring for 3-4 hours. I just choose a road and start walking with no particular destination. I try to go with an open heart and mind. There are inspiring things just waiting to be discovered.
I have collected a lot of nature while here: rock (lots of these), feathers, seed pods and small remnants that hold stories untold (what others could deem as trash, string, a piece of rusted metal that may be from the former century…) I hold these in my hands trying to see what they are trying to tell me. Why did they catch my attention? A certain energy is held within them. They become part of the collages which are the main decorations in my simple home. I hope they continue to inspire me with the messages they carry within.
After my walk it’s time for breakfast. Usually it’s something simple like cornflakes (Some of the familiar Kellogg’s cereals that I grew up with are here) or muffins (There are some great mixes here and are easy just like home in the US). I have temporarily given up my huge (3 cup) glass of chocolate milk warmed in the microwave and am trying to embrace a chicory/ coffee latte as a local substitute for Starbucks (not even close but so far don’t feel too deprived). Breakfast is enjoyed on my veranda/ glassed-in front porch where I watch the world begin its day as it travels down the main road.
Across the road from my house is a large open field with waist high grass. Although it appears everyone is wading through, there are numerous well-worn paths made by those who have walked this way over the years. Children in school uniforms, most wearing jackets and backpacks, men and women coming into town for work or shopping. Most are on foot and have a relaxed but determined pace. There an increase in the vehicular traffic: cars, vans, and pickups. Most are filled with people as few own cars or even have a driver’s license here. There are a few standing by the road trying to get a ride, signaling drivers and hoping they can fit in one more passenger. My pace continues to be relaxed as I am living at my organization’s site and my “commute” is merely across the yard. No one to feed, dress or hurry. Just taking the time to watch the day unfold and think about where are they going? Where did they come from? What are they hoping to find? Some are carrying things to deliver or sell, others travel empty handed.
Eventually my morning meal has been consumed and it is time to move on to see what my day will bring. My day begins not with a long hot shower, but with a quick warm bucket bath. Water is heated in an electric kettle with additional cold water added to get to a comfortable level. Not really a full wash, just a refresher hitting the areas which need attention. My feet are always coated with the fine dust from the roads which has penetrated my socks and shoes and need extra rinsing.
Most women here wear shirts at or below their knees. A few of the 20 year olds occasionally wear pants or jeans, so I save my pants for the days when I will be more on site than out and about since I am no longer of this demographic. No one would object or say anything, but I am trying to be respectful and understand how they live every day. Married women always wear scarves over their hair. It’s also become fashionable for others as well or perhaps just their solution to a bad hear day. Some who can afford it, weave in hair extensions with elaborate braids and designs. On this fashion choice I have decided to maintain my American look: uncovered and maybe finger combed. Few here have gray hair, at least from those I have seen who are not covered. A blouse and Chacos sandals complete my look. I’m ready to begin my day.
End of Part One.
More to come.