Porch Time

I will never be exactly here again. Have you ever thought: “I will never forget this”? A lesson learned. An experience at work. A funny joke. A feeling. The name of the dish in a region you visited. And then you can’t recall it. This time is different though. It will never escape me.

For memories to stick with me they must be imprinted with an image or a song, some other stimulus or sensation accompanying the event.

My Porch in Chogoria has hosted some of my most meaningful moments during the last four months. These were headlined by much desired quiet time for contemplation – about my place in life and the current navigation along my professional and personal Path. My Porch also convened pleasant discussions regarding unpleasant realities of work here. And a few heart-wrenching conversations. And provided the setting for texting back to Texas, in silence except for the wind-blown trees or the slowly dropping rain or the high-pitched laughter from my neighbor above that forces a smile. My Porch has adapted to serve as brainstorming incubator, peaceful meditation station, and banter bench, depending on what the occasion required.

I had an upper-level resident during medical school who used to take me on “social rounds” late at night in the hospital. Things would be quiet, patients would be tucked in, and we had a chance to breathe. Instead of sleeping, we would go visit our favorite night nurses and the women keeping the cafeteria afloat during the midnight hours. In my residency years, we made sure to catch the July 4th fireworks from the top floor of our hospital. While in my last couple weeks in Chogoria, I’ve visited the lab technician to let him show off the GeneXpert machine. I have had more time to talk with the Palliative Care staff who contributed to my last lecture on end of life care, and the clinic nurses as, thanks to added consultant manpower, I have been mostly in the outpatient clinic precepting residents and Medical Officer interns during my final month. I visited my friend and neighbor, the new dentist from Nairobi, for a quick consult in the Dental Unit. And I finally went out to a village primary school for the day with the public health team of Village HopeCore International, a local NGO that brings microenterprise and various health services to most of the county. Social rounds ought to be employed in every setting as they build the links that make teamwork feel like fun.
My time here, like every place I go, has been colored by the relationships formed. It started with the welcome by Leonard and then a note on my door from Mrs. Ritchie within the first hour of arrival. Dr. Ritchie, the program director, and Mrs. Ritchie have hosted me for meals and short bits of guidance. The Webbers and Brothertons have provided me the home away from home, complete with younger siblings, family meals, and deep manversations when necessary. Anne, a new friend and the managing director of HopeCore, helped me acquire comforts like a fan and a water filter, and the NGO and expat crew built in small social evenings at the right intervals. The residents, Drs. Boaz and Yulu, characterized simply by their continual acts of selfless service enhanced by refreshing enthusiasm, have made the work rewarding and an absolute pleasure.

A groggy patient mistook me for an angel, and my interns have told me I look tired, energetic, or dehydrated, depending on the morning. The Safari café selling chapati still comments on the color of my skin and the Lenana waiters know I like my take away coffee black. The newspaper salesman finds me some mornings and I pay with exact change, then I hand off the paper to my clinic nurses so they can be up on current events too. The people in the villages along the tarmac road stare, laugh, and wave during my runs along the hills (my final run I was joined by the rugby-playing carwash owner), and the motorbike drivers still smile in disbelief when I decline the ride.

Community can be built even during a short time and is found where it is sought. It is these connections that give an experience its true value.

Proper Porch Time is required then, to sort through all the daily occurrences here in Chogoria. Coffee amidst the still morning on the Porch fuels inspiration and energy. Home-cooked dinners over sunset allow the days’ events to be processed, the emotions to bubble up, and the lessons to seep in. The Porch is a place of familiar comfort. Porch Time is carved out of the day, with a meal designed like a banquet specifically for this Time, structured to center myself or arranged to bring people together. You do not need an invitation to the Porch, because you are already welcome. Karibu.

Occasionally, there are welcomed disruptions from the few neighbors walking past, shouting a short greeting of “Hello, Daktari” or “Good evening to you” that jerk me out of the daydream and back onto my Porch in Chogoria. “May I approach the sacred Porch?” my neighbor Hawa, the dentist, asked on my last night, opening chat to deepen a new friendship just before my departure.

Perhaps I learned its significance from Swing Time, coined by my parents and their neighbors-turned-life-long-friends, in the front yard of our family home they lived in from when I was 12 years-old until age 29. The sacred Time spent in this safe place is meant to be focused, not on work, but rather on dedicated time to digest life and celebrate it with those you trust and love most. This special Time has been transported to other geographic locations, and thus can be reproduced with the right attitude and mental space. It is in fact the most important Time, as it clears the way to carefully consider your current place, show gratitude for it, and interpret what meaningful result it will yield.

Will I remember this? Complete with the unique smells and competing sounds of singing school girls and birds, the memories will flood back in, perhaps triggered by a song heard or an image seen, without consciously requesting it. I’ll be right back on my Porch – giving thanks for this incredibly formative four months.

A conflicting deep emotion emerges from the collision of a sentimental heart saying goodbye and the searching soul eagerly anticipating moving on. There is always that next step. And it is here and it is exciting! But when the emotion becomes too much, or the list of tasks grows too long, or the slower pace frustratingly turns to boredom, or the steps need reflection, I will clean off my chair, adjust my table, prepare a meal, brew the coffee, and sit out on my Porch.


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