Thursday, 5 April 2018

Cold Fleece Blankets, Frost Bites, Sunburns and Other Life Lessons



My word, it is very cold in Nairobi lately….

As I slink into the warmth of my blankets I am at a place in life when I wonder, when did I actually start feeling this cold? Almost 25 years ago I managed to do more than getting by in boarding school in one of Kenya’s wet, cloudy and coldest towns Limuru with an altitude of over 2,500 metres…I mean it was pretty routine for daily cold bucket baths, zero visibility fog days, lots of schoolmates used to warmer climates ambling about with frost bitten toes and fingers…and those what-nots that did not bother me much…

Currently, I have a warm comforter in every room except the bathroom. We walk around wrapped with shukas, in warm woolly socks in the house….I have even taken to wrapping myself in a fleece blanket before sinking in the cold sheets in bed…. This is rather serious considering I have always had a strong resilience to cold. I was that person who could jump, dive or walk into in an icy swimming pool no matter what; or run into pouring rain and soak myself in it in bliss and joy…. I could take long cold showers after a few initial seconds of that shock dance you do when the first darts of icy water hit your body…Imagine that, I was that person…

But right now, this cold is biting, painful, totally amplified.  I have no idea how I lived before this moment when I am protected under layers of soft warmth….Sigh…things really do change!

But even as I reflect on this and the things that come with age I am astounded about how we situate our experiences over time….

I am sure the cold now is as it was ten, twenty or thirty years back….perhaps a bit of global warming funkiness yes…but cold is cold…the sensations that I feel now are so intense though that I am astounded at how it was not even a thing back then. What was it that occupied my senses ten, twenty years back to dull the sensation of the biting cold air I wonder?? But even that is going to far back…what was on my mind last week, last month, last year….on a warmer day that immersed my emotions and physical sensations to other concerns? What was my cold then? What was gnawing at me? What hurt me? What built me? What excited me? What was my blanket? What was my soft warmth? What was my safety net?

I just remembered one unusually hot week in the month of November in boarding school. We had just finished our end year exams and teachers were so busy marking exams we took advantage and went to the playing field to lay down and bask and worship that sun so brazenly we fell asleep on the grass for hours! Most of us developed a habit of sneaking out at the end of every class when the sun was out to recharge our bodies and spirits with some solar energy….we scampered back into class when the teacher of the next class made their way to us. So you can imagine the free reign post exam week…there was a heavy air of muted excitement as the school term ended and the long December holidays looming…muted because we all had our anxieties about our performance in the exams, if we dropped grades, if we would be promoted to the next class and the other usual concerns of girls in Kenyan high schools…Well we took to basking in the sun hoping that we could draw energies and dull the boredom of that particular season in boarding life.

This particular day my classmates and I were in blissful calm and we promptly threw our sweaters on the grass post-tea break and lay down and day dreamed and slept with the stinging rays of the sun beating our backs and calves and heads… we only woke up in a start when the lunch time bell gonged…whoaaa! Two and a half hours in that sun was enough to do some serious damage. Lets just say some of my classmates suffered serious sunburn, we were light headed and dehydrated. Initially it was pretty funny explaining to the sanatorium nurse that we had sun burn in Limuru…I mean how often that the sun even shine to burn anyone? But whooooaa if any of you know how sun burn goes, its pretty intense with sores that last for days…One classmate was actually so affected she had to let her folks back home know that she had severe burns. The dad incredulously over a wonky long distance call asked how possible it was for his daughter to have sunburn in a town in the wettest season… well, it happens.

Other than the painful lesson of learning for the first time as dark skinned girls living in a moderate climate region that sunburn is a real thing and a geography lesson about the increased risk of sunburn in high altitude and thin air…we also learnt a huge painful lesson about balance.

Too much cold can paralyse us and too much sun can burn us to a crisp.

Too much is losing sight of what is what, drowning in ourselves...when it all gets overwhelming for our minds, bodies and souls.

Balance is the real magic here we need to invoke.

How not to get stuck in this piercing numbing raw frigidity…

How to thaw and fire up our essence and be vibrant full zest without burning ourselves like a moth to a flame

This balance is like moving in a prance, this way and that…ducking, jerking, leaping, skipping to preserve ourselves from the extremities that life throws wantonly at us…

I am now acutely aware that the plush blanket I dove into, that a few minutes ago offered to thaw my shivery self, is now smothering and stifling me. It may seem unsettling, undecided and even unclear. But you know what, this is exactly what life is…unresolved and indefinite…let us learn to brace ourselves and take on the journey and ride…and if you can, try and appreciate it a bit with all its complexities….just breathe, dance to balance, hang on and…..LIVE…



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