It is definitely a sweatshirt morning. It’s chilly out and I can see the sun starting to peek out from behind the mountains outside the kitchen window. I woke up on my own at 6:30, and I am the only one awake. I am sitting at the kitchen table sipping the coffee I just finished making. It was my attempt at a latte, actually. I made my instant coffee extra strong and steamed some real milk (not the powdered kind) in another pan on the stove. I poured the frothy milk over my make-shift espresso in a ceramic Christmas mug and it made that beautiful caramel and cream-colored swirl on the top like you see on the lattes that you order “for here” at coffee shops. I added about half a teaspoon of sugar and tasted it. I’m impressed, actually, because it tastes almost exactly like the skim latte I’d sip while doing my homework at Espresso Expose on campus last fall – the only difference is the tacky Christmas mug.
It always surprises me how much I enjoy waking up before everyone else and being the only one awake in a silent house. I like looking outside and seeing the first little bit of sunshine; There’s something satisfying about it. It’s quiet and peaceful here, and when I curl up on the couch of the deserted living room to read or flick on the lights in the kitchen before attempting to make an instant-coffee skim latte, I almost feel like I’m doing it in secret. Like I’m sneaking the pleasures of a relaxing morning read or a hot cup of coffee. It makes them more enjoyable somehow.
I get up to make another cup of coffee – a full teaspoon of sugar this time. I find myself working quietly, carefully transferring the small metal pan off of the burner and gently resting the spoon on the countertop. I think I’m unconsciously matching the silence of the house, as if one noise would give me away and put my morning adventure to an end.
I lift my coffee cup to my face and steam fills my glasses. Breathing it in wakes me up and when I step outside to get a feel for how cold it really is, the breeze reaches my neck and face and it makes me feel alive. It’s definitely a day for sweatshirts.
When I return to my abandoned kitchen haven I stop in the doorway. Everything is still quiet and still – my book is sitting patiently on the table top, waiting to be picked up again. A crooked hand-sewn bookmark made of brown and blue fabric peeks out from amongst its pages as if suggesting that something good is about to happen and I should keep reading. I love that bookmark. I bought it in Uganda at a women’s group where they displayed and sold hand-made crafts made by the women in the village. I remember now that the group also offered classes to the women, teaching them how to make woven baskets, drums, baby mobiles…and don’t forget bookmarks. We had spent the night at the women’s group – it was sort-of an eco-project where they would house guests overnight in mud huts and cook them breakfast in the morning in order to fund their projects – and before leaving in the morning I spent some time admiring their crafts. I chose a baby mobile with stuffed African animals made from colorful fabrics, a beautiful hand-woven basket in olive-green, and five bookmarks – one for me, three more for my mom, dad, and sister, and one for my grandma. They were all beautiful and unique, but I sought out the slightly imperfect ones with scribbly names handwritten on the small white price tags. I knew that those were the first attempts of the young girls in the village, some only 11 or 12 years old, and that they personally would receive the small amount that I paid for them. I also knew that they had been sitting there for some time, overlooked by other visitors, because there was a thin layer of dust accumulating on their crooked edges. I felt good picking out those five, knowing that my choice would bring far more excitement and pride than if I’d chosen the straight-stiched, unfaded bookmarks placed strategically at the front of the display table.
It feels good to write about Africa. Reliving just those few hours of my time there brings back a flood of memories. It’s a flood full of unforgettable faces and incredible stories of lives so different from my own – ones that I’ll never be able to completely retell, but that maybe I can slowly tease apart, one by one, and share with the world. But regardless of whether they end up in a journal, on my blog, or remain in my head, I’ll always hold onto them, and they’ll never stop being a part of me – of my memory, my conscience, and undoubtedly my passion for people.