Approaching two months in Liberia and I’m starting to feel like this is real life. Which differs slightly from something like having an experience as part of my life, or away from “regular” life. My previous 19 trips to West Africa were an important part of my life, but life and home for me is increasingly becoming wherever my family is. I think this transition a result of having established anchor relationships within the community, having settled into a daily routine, and of course, having my family here. As a routine guy I’ve discovered how important routine apparently is for me to get high marks on my happy meter. People and schedules. Oh, and food. That makes a big difference too. Knowing what we will eat and when, and where we get it. Sorted.
Take a fair warning that this post is more or less about my daily schedule, which most will not find useful. I expect my readership will go down from three to one as a result (thanks for reading, Mom 🙂 A day in the life of Andy seven weeks in. Or just look at the photos on our flickr album.
The sun rises around 630am and sets around 645pm. The various roosters in the village, including our own, begin their announcements around 430am and continue to around 7am. The Imam, Abdoulaye Sarnor, with whom I have been fortunate to build an anchor friendship, begins singing his beautiful Arabic calls to prayer between 515-6am. So while sleep is not reliable starting around 5am, I usually manage to work through the sounds of the life for another hour or so, hitting my knees for prayer around the time the Muslims are wrapping their worship at 6am. Bedtime is around 930-10pm, so on the books I’m consistently getting the recommended dosage of sleep; far more than I have anytime since before 2nd grade (when I started to wake myself up to practice the violin before the school bus pickup, and have continued the habit of jump starting my day with personal time I can control early in the morning). However, sleep is not as restful as it was in our air conditioned home with a super cush mattress and body pillow and alarm system: Throughout any given night I’ll be awakened a few times due to drench-the-sheets sweating, or to hours-long thunderous applause for the lightning show, or to check the plumbing, or to address hip pain from sleeping on a 4″ foam pad, or from itchy bug bites, or to the sound of flip-flops shuffling on the footpath outside my window on the front steps and the screen door opening – thinking it to be one of of the kids coming to our room for comfort I used to quickly get up to check and to call out… but now I don’t because mysteriosly nobody has ever been there. 3am sharp. Hmmm. Anyway, despite the extra hours of sleep the body still seems heavy and exhaused when I lift myself off the rattan bed.
Then I’m off for quick run. I used to detest running; it seemed like such a chore that was boring and associated with pain. The Erik Allebest tells me if you keep at it and log enough miles per run something happens with the body and endorphins and what, to the point running becomes empowering and enjoyable. While I’m not even close to approaching that kind of ecstacy, I do surprise myself now by looking forward to a quick morning jog. My route is along a sandy footpath through tropical greens surrounded by lively critters also in the midst of their morning routines, graced by the pink and orange sunrise, often cooled by a light rain, greeted by friendly mothers and grandmothers carefully sweeping their dirt: “Yah hall-o Ahn-dee, Haw ‘da mawn’in?”, “Fine, thank you. And you?”, “Oh, thank God.” Yoga stretching helps to wake up a sleepy body and makes the second half more enjoyable. I consider myself lucky when Kayla or Simon or Charlie join me. I used to alternate between jogging and jumping over a rope, until the moment my rope got sliced in two by the sharp end of a stray nail in the roof of the palavar house (after which I continued for a few days by swinging the two halves and jumping in time, until the morning Ivy made fun of me, chiding “I used to think you were really good because you never missed. But now I know you’re just a cheater.” Ha!) Drenched in sweat from the run I put on some gloves and do isometric strength training mixed with lifting DIY coffee-can/cement/metal pipe dumb bells, and pull ups and leg lifts from the rafters of the Sanitation Station. Sixteen ounces of protien drink (reffered to as my “tea”) and a bucket bath later, I’m feeling awake and strong and ready for the day’s work, which will often include a whole lot more of lifting and sawing and pounding and maneuvering.
Personal quiet time spent investing in my spiritual life – prayer, meditation, and study of scripture and other inspired texts – has unexpectedly suffered in Liberia. I’d anticipated having more down time as I looked forward to a slower-paced life. Unfortunately that has not been the case. Just as it was stateside, there is still a great deal of demand on my time, including the pressing need for Jones family time and Heartwood family time. Apparently my “busy” life is a matter of paradigm: Life is short and there is so much to do! I struggle with the idea of relaxation and leisure, so I’m constantly engaged in something active, especially with regard to pushing forward the humanitarian work I’ve started. With regard to personal time, the difference between then and now is that previously I was able to wake up early, before the rest of the family got moving, giving me a quiet house and total control over my schedule to prioritize my spiritual life and need for solitude. Now I’ll often settle for reciting memorized verses as I’m spending many hours on the motorcycle commuting to Monrovia throughout the week, and trying with limited yield to squeeze in a few minutes here or there for study. The problem I have with this arrangement is personal quiet time has yet to become part of routine. That’s piece is going to have to change soon. Maybe I’ll have to respond to Abdoulaye’s “Good morning, good morning, good morning to all Muslims! Wake up and leave your beds to come to the house of Allah to give your daily absolutions” as a personal invitation to sacrifice coveted sleep for something more restful and useful.
Breakfast is enjoyed as a family before Simon and Ruby leave for school around 7am. We used to eat hot cereal with the occassional sconey donut with the rest of the Heartwood family, but we wanted more variety and Kayla wanted to prepare food for the family. So now we eat eggs, hash browns, pancakes, pan-fried toast, or hearty oatmeal, with lots of fruit. It is a lot of work for Kayla in the kitchen, but it is work she values, and certainly we all appreciate the fruits of her labors. Whether it is a morally correct choice to enjoy more variety in the diet than the rest of our dear family here is a matter for another blog post. It is no small dilemma that I continue to struggle with, which deserves a blog post of its own.
Then my work day begins. In SLC my official work hours were from around 830am-530pm, based at my office on 500 N. For the first month I had to go to Monrovia and beyond almost every week day, first by motorcycle taxi / keke / taxi (up to 2.5 hours one way), then after I invested in a TVS commuter motorcycle in mid-Sept I could commute by myself much far less time (30-45 minutes one way). I’d leave around 830-9am and often not return home until 6-7pm (deneding on if I was able to stop off at the internet cafe to handle urgent matters). Thanks to completion of the first phase of vehicle registration and having received the first container, my commute dropped to thrice weekly. But now, with the completion of our 65’ metal internet tower this weekend, I will be able to work more from home, and only have to travel about once a week or so. I have been spending about 30% of my work day commuting, 25% on DIY projects around the compound, 25% on AHP administration, 10% on the social enterprise, and 10% on Heartwood family and community work. Given the difficulty in accessing internet and the huge proportion of time required getting from point A to point B, and the urgency of some of the DIY projects and AHP work I’ve had to do, I have seriously neglected my responsibilities with the business (props to Troy), and with Kayla and the Jones brigade (props to each of them). November will see a significant shift in how my time is spent, which I anticipate with a smile.
After trying to capture a moment of peace with the western sky at sundown we eat dinner, I’ll take another bucket bath about 12 hours after the last, have nightly devotional with the Family for 30-45 minutes, make some notes about what I did, and make plans for what I’m going to do, squeeze in a little time in conversation or play with the kids, do some parenting for the younger (and older) Heartwood children, have Jones family prayer, and then prepare for bed by around 10pm.
Sundays are what they are meant to be – a day of rest from labors to focus on family, community, and church work. We leave for church around 8am for arrival by 9am, and arrive home around 2pm. At church we actively serve in our callings, and enjoy our association with members of the Banjor Branch of the Bushrod Island Stake. As soon as the keyboard is repaired I’ll be accompanying the hymns, and I have been busy putting the Young Men program in order by making sure ordinations and confirmations are completed, helping to organize quorums, teaching, etc… We usually invite friends from the community to join us, some of whom have been jumping in the back of Gavin the Grey to catch a ride to church. After lunch I usually make time to teach a guitar class (courtesy of a guitar donated by an expat who was returning to the US), do interviews with the orphan children, work with Rufus on organization of the Home, read scripture, write blogs, do the hard work of disciplining children who need a little love, have meets and greets with community members, are otherwise make deposits into the human relationships savings bank.