I need to be quiet.
Because I live my life in surging gusts. Rattle through my days like a late train, clanging its way from city to city, where each stop is an absorption of more, of faster, a freighting that cannot hold emptiness and pockets stillness on a gasp of sputtering fumes.
I need to be quiet because I move in a sweep of noise. Glorious and rhapsodic at times, a bel canto flourish in the stream of the every day. But I have just returned from Tanzania, from a month of hugging orphaned babies and kissing the hungry faces of children who may never have a home of their own. And I do not know how to embrace this clamor that was mine.
It has barely been three days, hardly time to adjust, to have sat back and found some perspective, some way of re-entering the familiar when little about who I am feels the same. Still I feel the pull of my life. Today, I returned to work, though I sat in the parking lot for long minutes feeling anxious and adrift, wondering how to carry my stories, my newness and still protect this tender budding.
I think of all these next few weeks could hold, appointments and weddings, a surfeit of dates with friends, the pitch into summer fun that I always relish at this time of year. Throughout it all, I will be pressed for tales of my travels, for glimpses of a life too dear and rich to fully recreate. My heart will be probed, though it doesn’t seem to know where to rest or how, teetering still between a country more than 7,000 miles away and this point of return.
And so I need to be quiet. Not because Arusha wrapped me in silence. Not when mornings and evenings were spent amid the din of haggling dala dala conductors and sailing pikipikis, and the in between was stitched with cries of “Teacher, Teacher, me,” sweet gales of rambunctious laughter and the bawling that was often little more than a plea for attention cut loose from a habituated neglect.
No, my journey brought its own bellow and bark. From the constant besieging to buy something as soon as I set foot in town to the lure of safaris and other excursions, I inhabited a different kind of busyness. And in a house full of volunteers, lulls in activity and interaction were rare. But even so, there was a simplicity to my days, a languidness I imagine birthed the expression “pole pole” (“slowly slowly”), which peppered many a local’s conversation with foreigners — and many a souvenir.
There was room, to pare back, to unspool, to catch each moment as it rubbed against you and settled itself into a shifting internal landscape.
I want that room now. Yearn to keep it from being crammed with the bigness of life on these shores.
I want to be quiet because if I am not, I am afraid the noise will drown out Clara’s soft hiccupping sighs and Costancia’s gurgling joy. It will pull its weight over Carolina’s insistent “More, more” when she aced her every math problem and Erik’s “Teacher, that!” when he recognized a color or shape. I am afraid it will dull the murmur of Kiswahili songs and the bright playground chant of “Mama’s in the kitchen, cooking chapatis. How many do you want?” And if I cannot hear Anuari’s giggle against my ear, or Angel’s cooing voice as she settles into my lap, if Beatrice’s tender words fail to rain in the mind and Glory’s impish sash isn’t tugging my lips into a smile, then the noise may also swallow the ache in my heart.
For I’ve woken up with it every morning for the last three days, knowing, too, there hasn’t been sufficient time and distance to gentle it, and yet dreading that day, as if to let those pangs slip away would be to love those children less. I struggle to speak of none of it and all of it, as if to keep my words will glaze my memories, course them through my blood, a current of joy and hope and sadness tunneling every cell.
I know I cannot stay suspended here.
But without the means to communicate with these children or see their faces, with all the familiar pieces of the life I’ve led before bobbing around me, I worry that what’s been changed, what is even now being reshaped, will somehow desert me.
But if I am quiet, perhaps I can solder that connection before it is churned into fragments of story and impression. I can lean into Jessica asking “Teacher, you go?” though the words break my heart. And I can feel that heart stretching still and splintering even more, while I wait for some whisper from the world remade, telling me what comes next.
Note: I did plan to blog about my journey while in Tanzania, but time and inspiration (at least in the form I desired) were not on my side. Stay tuned over the next several weeks as I will not in fact be keeping my words to myself and writing about my experiences in Arusha and at the orphanages Save Africa and Cradle of Love.