I used to be a morning person. Before kids came along, I was up by 6:00a.m., ready to rock my work day or tackle projects I didn’t finish the day before. Being self-employed also meant I didn’t have to get up to punch a clock, so those mornings were all mine.
Since the kiddos arrived, however, my mornings – and most of my days – are not mine at all. Even after my little guys started sleeping through the night, I have to convince my body to move and coax my feet to the floor each day.
Except the mornings I go running.
On those days, I seem to defy gravity, hopping out of bed with ease, my body invigorated by the chill, comforted by the privacy of darkness. I was thinking recently about how sacred my mornings are, when I run through the quiet streets before most of my neighbors are awake. I was reminded of another morning, many years before kids, in April of 1995, in Africa.
The beautiful little town of Knysna is wedged between breathtaking lagoons and the lush Knysna forest on the coast of South Africa. Though I stayed in the hostel there, I noticed there were many larger hotels and up-scale shops along the bay. During mid-day the stores were busy, their wares spilled out onto the sidewalk creating a marketplace where tourists roamed for the perfect trinket. There was an antique railroad, museums and bay boat rides to fill a visitor’s day.
I arrived in Knysna with three other travelers; two cousins from Germany and one from Norway. Though I backpacked in South Africa alone for a month, I rented a car with this entertaining trio and we traveled the Garden Route up the southeastern coast for a week.
Our days were, well, hilarious. We took turns trying to drive a stick shift car from town to town on the opposite side of the road that we were used to while cracking jokes in broken English, German and Norwegian. We packed the days with hiking Knysna’s humid trails, swimming in the icy Indian Ocean and visiting crocodile and ostrich farms. Though I loved the company, by the second day, I ached to be alone.
So on that third morning, I snuck out of the hostel and roamed into town watching the mist from the ocean creep back out to sea while the hot African sun arched its light on storefronts and cafes. I grabbed a cup of strong, black coffee at the only coffee shop open and found a spot to watch Knysna wake up.
There were people sweeping the sidewalks, taking out the trash, washing store windows, and setting up tables and chairs outside of restaurants.
They waved at each other, laughing and shouting in Xhosa or Zulu as they worked.
It was their morning. Or was it?
Apartheid was “over” in South Africa by 1995, but much of that life continued as before, especially when it came to employment. All the manual labor, service work and cleaning jobs that I saw in my travels were still done exclusively by blacks, as they were called. I was the only white person on the street at that hour.
Eventually the shops opened and customers meandered in. Things got quieter on the street, the language turned to Afrikaans or English. The people who were cleaning and setting up went inside, the white shop owners wandered among the outdoor tables, inspecting the morning’s work.
I sat with my coffee for an hour, writing in my journal, and hoping that I was witnessing a morning routine, that, in time, would change.
I wish I had been a runner then. I had taken it up when I lived in Germany a few years before, but the habit didn’t stick until years after I had traveled in Africa.
Seventeen years later I’m fortunate to have a husband that takes turns with morning kid duty so I can run. A small village, like Knysna, or even a larger city, can feel so intimate after I have run up and down her streets, through neighborhoods, or down alleyways in those early hours before dawn, when the morning is all mine.