July 19, 2008

How It Flies

I am in full-on countdown mode to my departure from Mthatha (for a little while) in August. When I realize how close August is and I check the date on this post, I am dumbfounded at how quickly time has passed and I think it illuminates something about the different rhythm of life here and its general lack of structure.

When I was in school, there was a particular rhythm marked by the term structure. Each term also has its own rhythm beginning slowly in each of the classes, leading into papers and mid-terms, before culminating in the mad dash to and through exams and into Christmas or summer.

When I worked in Alaska, the academic structure to my life was gone but there was a discernible rhythm nonetheless, marked by seasons of the year that had greater or fewer news stories to cover. Dog-sled race season in the winter was intense, compounded by the regular meetings of the legislature. After the slow summer months, the fall had its own unique events to cover and anticipate or feel relief at the conclusion of depending on one’s perspective.

Throughout my life, there’s been a constant rhythm of northern hemisphere seasons, more or less intense depending on my location but dependable nonetheless. The changing of the weather is another sort of rhythm I have come to depend on.

What I’ve realized is that yet more thing I’ve been cut off from in my decision to move here is that steady rhythm of life that has helped me mark the passage of time. For one thing, the seasons are all messed up here and they are marked by different weather patterns anyway - for instance, winter is marked by its lack of precipitation rather than its presence in white, fluffy form. So that has really thrown me for a loop. I also don’t have an academic rhythm to latch into. What I’ve realized is that there is no seasonal rhythm to work in Itipini. The days of the weeks have a rhythm - dependably busy on Tuesdays and dependably slow on Thursdays, for instance - but there is no obvious connection between the flow of weeks and months. February is more or less like September and November like April.

A volunteer who was here in January for a few weeks has returned for a few weeks more and as we were catching up and recalling events from that time, it was startling to realize they were six months ago. It was also startling to talk to my parents last weekend as they were enjoying a hot summer weekend at a family cottage on a lake while I was freezing through another cold winter night. (That sentence was a blatant plea for sympathy, sorry.) I hadn’t really realized people might be enjoying a summer somewhere.

I am sure if I stayed in South Africa for several years, I might get into the rhythm of life here, particularly the seasonal rhythm. But I think one of the great gifts in life is having something to look forward to - whether it is the end of the term or the end of the Iditarod - and I wonder what people have here. They seasons can’t be that great - it’s freezing in the winter with no insulation or heating and it’s boiling in the summer without air conditioning. Maybe a couple weeks in the spring or fall are pleasant. As for work - if there’s work - I imagine it is just one day after another, each day hoping and praying there will be enough money to get something to eat or buy some new clothes. There’s no vacation to anticipate, no promotion, no goal to save money for because there’s not even enough money for daily needs. I have only been bereft of my usual rhythm for a year and it’s throwing me for a loop. What sort of dependable rhythm do people have here and does it provide enough to anticipate as mine did for me?

So anyway, time flies. Who knew? I must be having fun.