Published October 2nd, 2015
I was full of excitement this morning, heading back to Fairchild Gardens in Coral Gables and my special spot, the Vine Pergola. I've been away for over a month, halfway around the world in my other home, East Africa. It felt amazing to walk through the Pergola again, a gentle grounding, and as always, full of magic.
Conversations I had with friends in Tanzania came to mind as I walked, many with expatriate Americans living in East Africa. They had asked me how I truly survive in the United States..."Doesn't it move too fast?" "What about all the gun violence? Aren't you scared?" "Aren't people crazy there?" "Why don't Americans rest and take holidays?" "Why are Americans always touching their phones? Even when they are driving?"
I admitted that it wasn't always easy. In fact, when I landed in Atlanta, two people ran into me as I was walking to my gate for my flight to Miami. I was not used to watching out for people who were staring at their phones as they were walking, rather than looking where they were going. I waited a few days before driving out onto the streets again, and only turned American news on the television to watch the story of the Pope's first visit to the States.
But I have been going back and forth between Africa and the United States for over 15 years. I have my series of rituals I perform on both continents that keep me centered, and, I hold a piece of my American self with me when I am in Africa and a piece of my African self with me when I am in the States. In fact, it is the navigation between such diverse cultural waters that keeps me mindful and aware, as if watching life play out like a movie, with Tanya simply playing different roles depending where she is. I've been this way since I was a child, living inside an Italian-Russian home located in the United States. I've always been conscious of choices made and their meanings, given the scene of the movie playing out at the moment. My time moving back and forth between two continents has helped me perfect the dance.
Things do move too fast in the States. Even the mosquitos in Florida move faster than those in Zanzibar! I can easily catch and crush one in Tanzania, but those in Miami evade me, speedy little buggers. Seriously, people do look a bit nutty to me in America the first few days I am back in-country. Very few people look at each other and greet each other, most looking at their phones instead. People eat super quickly, often while standing or sitting at their desk, working. And, in some cases, the lack of people / human-interaction feels bizarre: for example, at the fuel pump at petrol stations, at the Home Depot store check-out where machines have replaced people. I know this is all supposed to be progress and development, but in my experience, I feel sadness. People look very lonely, as if they are longing for real people to talk to. It is very noticeable to me, especially my first few days back in the States.
My action during this time of transition from place to place, culture to culture? I work very hard to keep my sense of peace and gratitude. I meditate every morning as usual, followed by my yoga practice that grounds me wherever I am. I honor invitations and make dates with my tribe in Miami to catch up in-person, rather than on the phone or email. I take my lunch break during my workday and eat healthy, energizing food, often dishes I missed in East Africa, appreciating every bite of things I craved (e.g. proper Peruvian-style ceviche). I stay very conscious of not getting swept away by the nuttiness, the created sense of urgency that prevails in so much of America these days. Just because you can check your email at midnight and respond, does not mean it is always absolutely necessary. "Be the change you want to see in the world" starts at that split second choice, to do or not to do. I take a breath, reflect, and remember the patience, calm and compassion so many people have in East Africa, and choose accordingly.
And, perhaps most importantly, I immerse myself in Mother Nature, on both continents, as much as possible. I am blessed to live in South Florida, in Coconut Grove, surrounded by lush forests and tropical botanical gardens and of course, the ocean and beaches. Here at Fairchild Gardens today, it is warm and breezy, a bit cooler than when I left for Africa (28C, 82F). New flowers have bloomed in spectacular shades of purple, lizards in all sizes play around me, and the birds, oh the birds, singing and sailing above. I greeted everyone I met on the trails with a big smile, and they greeted me in return. And Vine Pergola, her comforting pillars, trellis and abundant vines welcomes me home, reminding me how it is the simple things that keep us happy and fulfilled: nature, time, and each other. Enjoy your weekend my friends, and take some time to smell the roses :)