Jet lag has never been an issue for me. Perhaps because I travel frequently. Perhaps because I thrive on caffeine. Perhaps because I can sleep virtually anywhere. People I know claim that five or six hours of sleep is more than sufficient for them. I think they’re liars. I’m a believer in the restorative powers of eight full, uninterrupted hours of tranquility. Sure, I can function on less, but not happily, and not for long stretches without my productivity and functionality becoming greatly compromised
I’m used to arriving in Uganda with a to-do list that mirrors a greedy child’s wish list to Santa in length. But in March, as I powered up my 2021 mantra for Project Have Hope, to thrive not just survive, my must-accomplish list resembled the cliff notes for Moby Dick.
After arriving at my house a little past midnight from the airport, I promptly settled in and started dividing up the 175 pounds of stash I hauled with me. The mound of Amazon-ordered items I muled for ex-pats and others pushed to one side. The second hand clothes and shoes for the Quarter separated into one oversized duffel bag. Gifts and letters for sponsored women and children into another duffel bag. Repairs and materials for new designs into another smaller bag. With everything organized so I could get a jump start in the morning, I laid down around 2am with my mini clipboard beside me, strategizing how I’d accomplish three days worth of work in 8 hours. At 5am, I was still wide awake, eager to get started already. Around 7am, I gave up and got up. I downed a Coke Zero from my fridge in hopes that that would suffice.
The following night was a repeat. And then the night after, the same. In six days, I’d managed about 10 hours of sleep. My days were full, but my list seemed to be growing. One morning, as I sat on the back of the boda heading to town, I saw my reflection in the side view mirror. The dark circles beneath my eyes so pronounced that I did a double take. They resembled the two black eyes I sported after I was mugged in 2010, but this time, it was self-inflicted. I reached the Friday market to meet with several artisans. As I stopped to admire the designs in one of the stalls, the shop keeper looked at me, “You always look tired, but today is even worse.” I smiled. Seriously, what’s the appropriate way to respond when someone tells you that you look like shit and you know that you feel worse than you look? I moved on.
After days of not sleeping, I felt drugged. Awake. Unable to sleep. But also unable to function properly. As I sat on my couch working, I could hear the thunder, then see the first light rain rolling off the tiles of my roof. The once sunny mid-day sky, turned grey and the rain became heavier, like my eyelids. I pushed back from my laptop and laid down with my head propped up, looking at the view from my veranda. I closed my eyes and took in the fresh smell of falling rain – that smell that invites you to think of newness and strips clean the mind – then the sound overtook me. First, soft and melodious, it lulled to me like mothers in the Quarter who rock their babies on their back while seated. Instinctively, I felt myself rocking.
As the rain got heavier and with my eyes closed, it sounded like the ocean’s waves racing to shore. I took slow, deep breaths, almost as methodical as the falling rain drops. Still heaving, the rain sounded like low, beating drums, maintaining their percussional duty with the thunder interjecting like clanging cymbals. For an instance, I’m taken back to my childhood and the metronome that sat pristinely on my childhood friend’s piano. I sank into the couch and wondered if finally, the sleep I desperately sought, would come. It didn’t.