Life here is slow paced. Though no one sleeps past 6 a.m. and for the women the work hours seem to extend until past sundown, busy is not the lifestyle of Comoros. The typical business day ends around 2 or 3 p.m. My host father once after settled onto the porch, glass of juice in hand and sighed contentedly, “The day is almost finished.” It was 3:30 in the afternoon.
A Comorian woman told one of my fellow volunteers that an American with no work to do is like a chicken running around with its head cut off. This has been made evident by the strike we are currently undergoing. Because the government has refused to give the teachers a previously agreed to cost of living increase in wages, the schools have been closed since the end of the last trimester in March.
So with school out of session we all feel the need to find ways to fill our time, projects to work on, English clubs to teach, hiking every inch of the island, finding new recipes to try. My family watches, slightly bemused at my need to be busy. With Ramadan starting on Friday the likelihood of us returning to school is diminishing more every day. I’m receiving a lesson in how to enjoy spending idle time with my family. I’m also discovering the value of this idle time. My language skills are improving, I feel closer with them than ever, and it gives me a chance to notice things I never would if I was dashing off to work on something more important.
Beyond the extra family time, the strike has gifted me the time for a little island exploration. I decided to hike the highest ridge that separates my villages from the next village over. A fellow volunteer came along and after a failed attempt to find a path up on our own, I sought the help of my host sister. I asked for directions and got a tour guide instead.
The hike was short, about an hour, but the view at the top was beyond breathtaking. The top of the ridge is too dry and hot to grow trees so the view is unobstructed, allowing you to see almost the length of the island. We also discovered a cove and secret beach on the far side of the ridge, one our guide promised to take us to on another day.
That day came about a week later. Joined by two other volunteers, three women from my English club, and our original guide, we set out early in the morning, armed with plenty of water, a few snacks, and not enough sun block.
The hike there was fun. Only one of the volunteers spoke the local language well, and none of the Comorians spoke conversational English, so much of the conversation was pointing to things and asking each other for the words in our respective languages, or sticking to the phrases we did know like, “Are you tired?”
Everything seems to be in season at the moment, and the women picked fruit as we walked, offering it to us to eat on the trail or stuff in our bags to eat later. There were oranges and coconuts, and a lot of fruit I was unable to identify. No one went hungry that day.
We reached the beach after a couple hours of hiking. Hot and sweaty, the water was irresistibly inviting. Though every single woman who was with us insisted they did not know how to swim everyone ended up in the water. Turns out they could swim a little more than they let on.
An hour or so splashing around the ocean and we were all ready for some beach lounging and snacks. Everyone brought something to pass around, bread, popcorn, peanuts, and fruit. We passed snacks back and forth, drank coconut water, talked and joked, listened to music, a very typical day at the beach.
The hike back home was much tougher. The women all piled fruit, jugs of sea-water, and firewood on their heads to haul back home. I’m forever impressed by the strength of the women here. I was exhausted when we finally reached my family’s house, but we were all rewarded with icy fruit juice. Juice is a way of life here, and cheap because fruit is so readily available. My friends and I collapsed on my family’s porch, downing cups of juice and eating the plate of homemade doughnuts my sister had made us. My sister always seems to know just what is needed.
In addition to wonderful days of hiking and relaxing with family, I’ve visited other villages, taught a session a new friend’s English club, helped with a massive trash cleanup in my regional capitol, started work on opening a library in my village, and learned new things about my own village.
I’ll be happy when it’s time to return to my students, but the extra time I’ve been afforded has been pretty fantastic. Learning that you don’t need to be busy ever moment is an important lesson. Time has a way of filling itself up, but the time you take to slow down a little has value.