I don’t know about you, but for me the mention of any particular month of the year immediately brings pictures, feelings, memories and smells to mind. Having grown up in the Northern Hemisphere, whenever I hear the word March, I see bright yellow daffodils, feel the relief of sunnier days and the excitement of the summer that’s just round the corner. I hear October and I see browns, reds and yellows, hear the crunch of leaves on the ground and the feeling of snug knitted jerseys against my skin.
This is now my ninth year living in the tropics, and I’m amazed that I still miss those annual markers which are somehow deep under my skin, and leave me feeling somewhat lost without. Since first landing in SE Asia, I have lived without many of the rhythms that my life was previously structured around. The rhythm of the school day (I know that home schooling has a rhythm of its own, but it has taken me a while to find it!), the rhythm of the weekend (due to the type of work we are involved with here, weekdays and weekends are not inherently different), the rhythm of summer, Christmas and Easter holidays.
For years I felt psychologically and physically flat because of the loss of these rhythms, but I didn’t realize that at the time. Bruce Miller in his book “Your Life in Rhythm” writes, “Life is not static, linear, or uniform. It moves, oscillates, vibrates, pulsates.” In other words, it has rhythms! I felt I was staring into a flat, monotonous future devoid of markers that, I was only beginning to realize, gave me handholds on life and enabled times of celebration, rest and work. So, what to do? A few examples… Rhythms of out nothing: daily homeschool routine, Saturday morning pancakes, fortnightly date time with my hubby, Friday evening take-away. Rhythms from the host culture around us: rest time in the hottest part of the day, Sunday early morning sport, Friday half day (due to Friday prayers), fruit seasons (let’s really enjoy and celebrate the rambutan, mango and durian seasons!), the wet and dry season, the fasting month.
Fasting month is upon us. This normally would fill me with dread, but this year I am determined to take the different rhythms that Ramadan offers. To turn it into one of those handholds on the year which can provide us with meaningful times of reflection, rest and celebration. Don’t get me wrong, I cannot with a clear conscience enter into the spirit of Ramadhan, I do not believe that fasting can ever earn us brownie points with our Maker. But I can use this month as a time of extra prayer and reflection, a time to spring clean the whole house (because all other activities outside the house seem to stop!), a time to have friends over for meals in the evening, and a time when the children get excited about new clothes, fireworks and envelopes with money soon to come as fasting month ends.
These are not my “natural” rhythms, but they are rhythms none-the-less.
Also, We need to work hard at keeping those rhythms important to us from our passport culture, particularly of birthdays, anniversaries (which are not celebrated in the same way here), Advent and Lent. These annual traditions will need modified in our different contexts. I do believe it’s important to decide which annual rhythms we want to keep special, and which ones we would like to drop.
We have actually found that some of these traditions/rhythms have become more focused and special for being out of our passport culture. Christmas is no longer mostly about sparkly lights, candy canes and school nativity plays. As a family we are forced to hone in on its real meaning in the absence of the other cultural stuff that comes with it. Birthdays have become more about a genuine celebration of the gift of another year of life, because the kind of presents I would normally buy I can’t find here. Also, in our host country a long and healthy life is not a given.
Embracing rhythms in life when we are away from our “home” culture involves intentionality and hard work. But, I do believe that we are psychologically, spiritually and physically better off when we do.
How have you embraced your host culture’s rhythms? What have you kept and what have you left of your passport country’s rhythms?