Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Rituals provide comfort in their familiarity and repetition. The big ones, Christmas or Passover or the high holidays come to mind quickly as meaningful markers of life, but the smaller, less noticed rituals are every bit as nourishing and form the fabric of our daily lives. Having now stepped off the work treadmill for a few weeks, it is easier to notice some of the rhythms and patterns of the day in a way I didn’t before.
An evening ritual is starting to unfold, beginning with a bath for Bodie and me. For some reason, Bodie fights if I want him to take a bath, so the ruse is that we are going to wash the “little guys”, two rubberized, pop-art looking figures with interchangeable heads, hands, feet and legs. We both know that “washing the little guys” is code for taking a bath, but somehow it is acceptable way of taking a bath – it is a job that needs to be done.
A brief segue – genetics is a powerful force, and seeing how our 2-year old is bound by certain rules helps me to accept some similar bounds in myself. My dad is constantly doing – working to fix something, to clean something, to take care of some task. He ascribes this need to be doing to his Germanic ancestry. (My mom, touting her Russian heritage, is more than content to sit back and watch him dervish away. Now Hillary and I, but that’s for another entry…) This constant doing is deeply coded into my dad’s make-up and is central to how he creates meaning in the day. I, too, am wired this way. Now, with very little to accomplish, I still draw up to do lists, but they are short. Yesterdays list was as follows:
To Do – March 8, 2008
1) buy diapers
2) Ummmm… put them away in the closet
3) Feed Dexter (this wasn’t really on the list, but I needed at least three tasks to make the day feel complete.)
And I feel some need to check these tasks off as a measure of the day. When I’m really desperate now, I’ll add “brush teeth” or “shower”, two slam dunk tasks. We’re starting to see a sad little glimmer of this in Bodie. He is happiest if he is watering plants, opening a gate, helping to carry a package, or washing the little guys. Some day we hope to take advantage of this and put him to meaningful use so he can earn his keep. He/my dad/I can’t help ourselves.
Back to the evening ritual - We go into the large bathtub off our bedroom and, using the handheld shower, Bodie sprays the little guys, while I try to surreptitiously spray him down, soap him up and rinse him off. My turn comes after Bodie is clean and the two little guys are well scrubbed. There are invariably a few clever songs, with lyrics like “we are washing the little guys, the little guys, the little guys.” While the idea of a daily bath may smack of a certain hygiene freakishness, by the end of each day, the kid is chafing as he walks, having become a ball of sweat with accumulated layers of dirt, mud, and small sticks.
After chasing a naked Bodie running down the hallway and corralling him into pajamas, we go outside to greet Sebastian, our night guard. The sun has just set, and, after the heat of the day, the evenings are cool and welcoming. A gentle breeze rustles the palm and papaya trees in the garden. Sebastian loves Bodie, and yells for him whenever he sees him come out the door. Sebastian, tall and rail thin, is as far as we can tell, the happiest man on the planet. He bustles with exuberant energy, is eager to talk in English or monosyllabic Swahili for our benefit, or talk about his four-year-old son, named Praygod (at least, that’s what we think his name is). Last week, after being knocked off his bicycle by a car, he threw himself on the ground to do push ups to demonstrate he was fine and ready to work.
Sebastian has made magical little bicycle men, one for Bodie and one for Praygod, out of sticks, wire and brightly colored fabric. Bodie spends hours wheeling his little bicycle man around, the little wire legs pumping up and down as the wheels go around.
Each evening Bodie races outside to sit on the steps with Sebastian. Sebastian sings, “are you ok Bodie?” and Bodie responds, “I’m ok! Are you ok Sebastian?” Over and over and over.
After putting Bodie to bed, Hillary and I make Sebastian a thermos of tea with two teaspoons of sugar, and bring it out to him along with two pieces of bread and a couple cookies. We stand under the stars in the garden and Sebastian tests us on words – pointing to the moon to see if we can name it (mwezi) or to the stars (nyota), or flowers, birds…
Like many ex-pats, we live behind tall walls, which can feel a bit isolating. As a consequence, we have assembled our own inter-wall community: Tom, the gardener, has gotten off work, Martha, his wife, is there as well. As we bid a goodnight to Sebastian, Tom and Martha come out, sit on the steps with him. We go inside and hear the sounds of their talking and laughter as we prepare dinner.