Joy in cold coffee and other such things

Posted on October 16, 2012

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Hello, I am a new mother living in Africa, and I accomplish nothing daily.

You don’t realize how much accomplishing things is your M.O. until you come to a season of life where you accomplish pretty much nothing on a daily basis.

I recently did the math: 4.5 hours a day just of nursing Valencia (40 minutes x 8 times per day). That’s somewhere between a part time and full time job.

I am by no means shocked by the amount of time and energy that this little person takes up, but knowing and experiencing are two very different ducks.

Even now, as I type this with one hand and hold a nursing baby with the other,  I marvel at the utter inefficiency of one-handed typing. I tried to make a sandwich yesterday. It took 30 minutes. I began this blog post 8 days ago, and I have only gotten this far.

In addition to this little one who is so dependent on me, everything takes longer here. Everything. Dishes are always washed by hand, clothes are line dried, vegetables have to be soaked for twenty minutes then rinsed. Sweeping and dusting have to be done multiple times a week since a thin layer of dust seems to constantly settle everywhere.

If you want to go anywhere further than the little outdoor market down the street you can expect to sit in traffic between 30 minutes and 3 hours. We joke here (though it is not really a joke) that you should never plan more than one thing per day because you never know how long that one thing will take, or who might stop by in the middle of it, or if the electricity will go out, or if your gardener will suddenly want to tell you the 20 year history of the neighborhood.

And so I have learned to make my daily to do list very short. Initially this was very hard for me—and sometimes still is. When my evaluation of the day is dependent on accomplishing things, I am destined to feel like a failure when, at the end of the day, the only thing I have crossed off my to do list was to put away the laundry from yesterday. Of course that is not taking into account that I am feeding a baby every 3 hours, holding her while she cried for 2 hours straight, talking to Elizabeth for 30 minutes when she stopped by to sell vegetables, and then walking to the vegetable stand on our street a few hours later when I realized I needed more tomatoes and garlic for dinner.

Freedom in inefficiency and getting nothing done

Ironically, this way of life is actually quite freeing. It is freeing to not be hurrying from one place to the next attempting to accomplish as much as possible in a day. It is freeing to wake up in the morning and to think, “All my grand plans for the next 16 hours will probably not transpire today, and that is OK. ” It is freeing to allow people to take precedence over tasks— to know that it’s OK if what should only be a 10 minute walk to the vegetable stand turns into 45 minutes because I am attempting to use my broken Swahili to talk with the ladies there, while we laugh together at my unending mistakes.

Even, in a strange way, it is freeing to eagerly sit down to a hot cup of locally grown and roasted french press coffee and a book, only to have the baby start crying because in the school field next door a church service has decided to make full use of their sound system.  Do things like this drive me totally crazy sometimes. Um, yes. Like a lot. But then there are these miraculous moments, that come like a fresh breeze, as the Spirit whispers, “Let go….of your comforts, your plans, your need to feel like you have accomplished lots of tasks. Let go of the illusion that you have control over your life.”

And when I do let go, (something I would certainly not do unless God was using circumstances to press into me) there is a crazy joy that emerges. Joy in accomplishing nothing. Joy in being stuck in traffic, while aggressive taxi-buses “cut” past you on the shoulder every 30 seconds. And yes, even joy in finally returning to the cup of coffee I had so eagerly anticipated, only to find it cold and stale.

Come…

If you find yourself enslaved to your to do list, worshiping at the alter of efficiency and productivity, please come to Africa. I promise God will use this place to pry your grip off of these things.      …. and we would love to host visitors in our guest room!

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