The (Attempted) Making of a (Sort-of) Morning Person

IMG_6443It’s 10 am on a Wednesday morning. So far, I have …..
-cooked breakfast (shaking it out of a box is not an option here)
-baked gingersnaps, roasted ground nuts, made a pan of granola and baked some left over tortillas into corn chips
– did laundry- a batch of clothes, and much more difficult, our comforter
-swept and washed most of the bedroom floor (wasn’t up to the whole move-the-furniture routine this morning)
-swept and washed the screen porch floors and the outside veranda -using the water from my laundry
-turned my compost pile (more correctly- added to it, and cleaned up the mess the chickens had made of the top layers)
-watered my flower beds with left over kitchen water
-searched for some different recipes for my white beans that soaked over night.
-am working on this blog

If this does not seem impressive to you, you either…

  1. Are a horribly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed morning person
  2. Don’t know me at all
  3. Have small children at home who have you up at the crack of dawn all the time

Generally, for my whole adult life, I have not been a morning person. I managed thru university, but arranged some strange schedules to minimize the 8 am classes. I have never developed a taste for coffee, so rarely looked to caffeine for assistance. In my first two years teaching, I was very glad that I did not drive often for our car pool arrangement, because the early hours of our departure combined with the late arrival of the sun during Alberta winters made it questionable whether I would have the cognative abilities to make the split second decisions required behind the wheel on Hwy 2. I could function by the time I got to school 45 minutes later.

During my child-bearing years, my late-night energy cycle meant I was able to get a lot of housework done that was impossible with small children underfoot, and then stumbled around comatose during the wee hour baby feedings. (I was pretty much sleep-deprived for the 8 years that I was pregnant or had children under 2 years of age, so I don’t think being a morning person would have made a difference anyhow.)   I managed to get my four children dressed and off to school on time for 16 years, but if you showed up at my house around then (or even an hour or two later), you would almost certainly meet me in my bathrobe.

Occasionally I have tried to force myself into the proverbial world of the “early to bed, early to rise”, usually without long-term success.  Instead, when jobs required early mornings, I learned to function with less sleep. And, since I am now past menopause, it has, in fact, become worse.  (Anyone who tries to tell a menopausal woman that she just needs to ‘stick to a schedule’ in order to change her sleep schedule, is tempting fate, especially if that same women has not slept well for the last 2 weeks)

Moving to Cameroon, I was determined to try it again. SInce the sun goes down at 6 and comes up at 6 for pretty much the whole year, and we didn’t have power at night for much of the first 4 months, I was convinced my circadian rhythm would adjust and I could move seamlessly into the cycle of those all around me, including my husband.

Anecdotally speaking, I think I must have been doing better, because I was able to be at class in Ndu at 7:30am, actually awake and ready to teach. But, while I love the skylight in our bedroom there, especially during the gloomier rainy season, if I have not been able to sleep til 1 or 2 am, having the sun streaming into my face from overhead at 5:45 does not launch me out of bed in a merry mood.

However, while I was in Nigeria recently, with no power in the house, and limited life to my solar powered lamp, I successfully went to bed before 9 pm, woke up usually only briefly once or twice, and got up regularly at 5:30 am for devotions. I think another factor in this achievement was the high level of physical activity I was doing, since I was walking back and forth across the village sometimes 4-5 times in a day, and working with the contractor at the renovation site, and physical exhaustion is a great sleep aid.

Since they say you can create a new habit if you do something for 29 days, or something like that, I was optimistic on my return to Banyo that this cycle could continue. Alas, it was not to be. And although I have experimented with melatonin, physical activity and exercise, camomile tea and less screen time before bed, I am rarely able to sleep before 10 pm again (or 11 or 12 or 1am) , or, I wake up after a couple of hours and stay awake for 3 or more hours.

So, I am just grateful right now that I don’t have a schedule that requires me to stick to a routine. Instead, I try to make a list (physical or mental) of what I need to do in the morning. If I have to go to market, the list is ready, the shopping bags are in place, etc.  If I have a good sleep, I attack the morning with vigor. If I have almost no sleep, such as a couple of days ago, I do the bare minimum and stumble around in a fog for a day. If I have had a half decent sleep, such as this morning, then the list means I don’t have to think about what needs to be done. I just get up and get started, remembering that doing all these things early is WAY better than during the 31 degree heat of the afternoon.

So, after finishing this blog, which was interrupted by numerous visits, trips to the kitchen for another ginger snap, and a short meeting with my language helper, I am going to check if my laundry outside is dry, make lunch, and work on my language learning stuff until I get tired. Oh – and decide on how to cook the beans and get them started  And then…..I plan to take a nap -when it’s 30 degrees outside and too hot to do anything inside.   And I continue to be glad that I don’t have a 9-5 job.

Lessons from the back of a motorbike.

Recently, while returning from Nigeria to Cameroon by motorcycle, I had 5 or so hours to contemplate a whole host of things. Some of them were serious, or spiritual. Some of them involved rehashing the renovation process for the clinic and the modifications we need to make to the plans before continuing.
And of course, many were just a bit silly.  Understandable, I guess when one is jostled around for that long.

So, after 2 trips in and out of Nigeria and multiple two-hour trips from Madina to Gembu by motorcycle (aka ‘machine’) here are some of my observations:
Things I have learned to do as a motorcycle passenger on a good road….

  • Add credit to my phone; buy a data plan
  • Check my facebook messages and emails.
  • Text and write short messages. Or long ones, if I am patient and wait for the smooth sections of road.

Things I can do on a long haul backroad trip

  • Take selfies, landscape photos and shoot bits of video.
  • Eat a sandwich without removing my full visor helmet.
    Also drink from a water bottle.
  • Stretch my cramped knees 3 different ways that do not concern the driver.    (I now usually now warn them before starting out that I am likely to do this)
  • Readjust my position without bothering the driver by timing it for when we hit a bump so I can come down where I want to.

Other things I have learned about motorcycle travel here:

  • Dressing for long dry season trips is like dressing for a Canadian fall day. You start out with jacket, gloves, sweater, scarf to fend off the cold and the wind in the morning, but you’re stripping layers as the day warms up.
  • A full visor helmet really makes a difference for dust inhalation.
  • I prefer the dust hassles of dry season to the mud hazards of rainy season.img_20180706_093313
  • Keep your toes tucked in close to the bike when on narrow trails. Bad knees or not!
  • A newer Honda 350 has better suspension and more power than most of the older ‘achaba’ bikes on the road.  But the seats are narrower and harder to stay centrered on.  I am apparently now built for comfort, not for speed,
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  • My softsided suitcase/backpack will accommodate my pillow in the back where the straps are hidden. Properly packed behind me, this sometimes becomes a passable backrest – until everything shifts after a couple of hours.
  • You will more frequently encounter a “troubled bridge over water’ here than ‘a bridge over troubled water’.
  • A ‘cattle gate’ up in this area consists of a 2×6 plank over a ditch wherever there is a break in the fence for the bike path. If you’re lucky, there are 2 or more planks.  If you’re not lucky, it’s roughly a 2×4, and the drivers barely slow down to negotiate these. (Hence, no photos)
  • The driver doesn’t get to admire the scenery- but boy, it can be spectacular!

And a few general travel observations:

  • Customs guys are genuinely surprised when you don’t argue about opening your bags to show them your stuff. I could have avoided it with a small bribe, but since he’s getting paid to do the job, why should I pay him to NOT do it? Besides, it gets me off the bike for 15 minutes!!
  • Since I’m one of only a handful of white people in the area, my driver expects me to remember him when I randomly encounter him along a subsequent trip. Same for motor taxi drivers. (Some of the latter ARE quite unforgettable.)
  • Scorched earth policy has a totally different meaning here than in other parts of the world
  • I can never upload pictures to my blog when I want to…..Maybe I’ll be able to add some from this most recent trip later.

Most importantly, I think, when I have a good driver, that I  actually somewhat prefer the motorbike trip to getting bumped around in the truck for twice as long to get somewhere. EXCEPT that then you have no presonal vehicle on the other end, so you get to keep taking motorcycles and other ‘public transport’ for the duration of your visit

And so the experiences continue.