This past year I have had an over scheduled existence. In my quest to be independent I took on more responsibility that I could handle and as a result took on a ridiculous amount of work and projects. I had always wanted to live close to the beach and even though I now did, I had yet to set one foot in that sand. That is until yesterday when a surprise visit from a friend I had not seen in awhile had us out and about. As we ambled along the broad-walk catching up and enjoying the cool evening breeze I wished that it hadn’t taken me so long to do so.
Taking your dreams and passions as her own. Rejoicing with you in every success and mourning every failure. Holding up your heavy head, pushing you forward step by step. Offering her hand to crash as you labor in pain and grit your teeth in frustration. Gently wiping your brow when it is done. Staying close by but in the shadows when on you the spotlight shines.
When I was young I remember asking my grandmother why she was chewing on a stick. She explained to me that nature had given us this chewing stick to clean our teeth. This stick is known as Mswaki in Swahili. To this very day many people especially in the rural areas still prefer it over toothbrushes. They cut twigs from a shrub that usually grows in the wild. Chewing on these twigs releases juices that are believed to contain a natural antibacterial mouth wash and if swallowed can also aid in digestion. With all these qualities I now understand why the idea of buying a toothbrush, toothpaste and mouth wash must have sounded ridiculous to my grandmother.
If there is one thing I dreaded about my entire pre-university school experience it was the yearly school report. Every December just before my favorite holiday season I had this hanging over my head. I was anxious for weeks. We were expected to deliver a sealed envelope to our parents. We would hold them up to the light trying to see if we could read our fate. The contents of the report would determine whether you spent your vacation outside playing or indoors reading. Academic excellent was very priced possession in my household as it is in many. I was a mediocre performer so I was never confident about the outcome. My parents constantly assured me that I had the potential to do better, but I often fell short of their expectations. My one saving grace was that I excelled at art so it was not a total disaster. Fortunately my parents did not believe that good grades alone would determine my success in life. Even now as an adult it still surprises me how parental approval can cause me to question if I am really on the right course.
It was my first week in the equivalent of first grade during swim class. We were all decked out in our blue bathing suits or trunks and white swim caps marching in single file towards the pool. I don’t remember if I was excited or not but I remember how inviting the blue water looked in the afternoon sun. Then the coach yelled for everyone to jump in the water. I remember hesitating, oblivious to all the splashing and joyous screams around me. It was just me and the water. I kept running and stopping right at the edge. I was scarred because I did know how deep it was. The coach was yelling for me to get in and the other kids joined in. Finally he came over and just when I thought he was going to help me somehow he shoved me right in. I remembering being underwater unable to breath, screaming and swallowing water as I did. Then crying, my arms flailing as I broke the surface of the water. Then I heard he coach yelling ‘put your feet down, stand’. He keep yelling as he stood a edge of the pool watching me. I thought is he seriously going to watch me drown? When I realized he wasn’t going to get in and help me I followed his instructions and found my footing in the shallow water.
The longer you are on this planet the more you discover about yourself. Moments of introspection cause you to wonder when you started liking or hating certain things. Affinities to somethings even surprise us. I have come to believe that we are built up of layers. Some of these are hidden only to be revealed in the right atmosphere, or maybe a certain age or life event. Often those around us struggle to understand the reason for this change in us. The most important thing we can do is to appreciate our personal journey and embrace the person we are at this moment. Who knows what other layers are yet to be uncovered.
One of my favorite childhood memories was visiting my grandmother who lived about an hour away. She was very hospitable and loved to take care of people. Often we would find her surrounded by snot nosed neighborhood children who came to pick fruit from the many trees that lined her compound. She was always so excited to see us and would almost immediately busy herself in her cozy, smoky kitchen making us chai over a three stone wood fire. She would ask us to watch over the heating mixture of water and fresh milk while she spread generous layers of Blue Band* on extra thick slices of white bread. I still remember the look on her face as we sat around her fire eating bread and sipping hot chai from her chipped tin cups, it was priceless.