I like routine. Someone told me I’d be a liability living cross-culturally because of that but I’m not wedded to it. Things come up: kids get sick, sometimes friends are in need, I’m asked to teach at something at the last minute, we’re informed that we’re hosting a dinner, etc. But routines are the scaffolding that supports our family’s flourishing, from our evening bath/boys-wrestling-time/dinner/reading-time/Bible-story/prayers/bed, to the centring effect of a weekly routine.
In our normal life, on Monday morning I shop and cook for the rest of the week, Tuesday I mop our house, Wednesday is language study, Thursday Arthur’s day off, and on Friday I do some reading/writing. I don’t spend the whole morning doing those things (especially not with the 1yo climbing up my leg!) but I try to do some of the assigned thing each day; even if it’s only half an hour of language study, I like having a concrete day for it, if only so the urgent things don’t squeeze out the important.
I’m realising in this time in Australia when routine is more elusive, how well our Dar routine works for me. The ‘boring’ and necessary things to keep our home running get done at the beginning of the week, and the things I consider more optional later on. It turns out that the mundane tasks of the week are actually pretty important for my mental health: the creativity of cooking, and the mental space of mopping give my brain a chance to process in the background. I might write on Fridays, but I think on Tuesdays, which means I write better on Fridays.
So though it sounds odd to say, I’m missing my Tuesday mopping day. I feel claustrophobic in Australia in a way I don’t in Dar es Salaam. Though the humidity clings to my skin there, the predictability of life makes me feel more relaxed.
Structure takes our family’s temperature down too. In the afternoons Elliot’s back from school, and he knows that on Monday we bake, Tuesday we go out (see: Tuesday morning mopping), Wednesday is gymnastics, Thursday time with Arthur after mishkaki for lunch, and Friday we do a craft or science experiment. Again, none of those activities take the whole afternoon; we’re also strong believers in the benefits of free play and the more heavy play there is, the calmer our home is too. But Elliot also finds this sense of routine calming. We have a chart which acts as a visual prompt for him and he enjoys referring to it at the start and end of each day.
We are only half able to do this at the moment in Australia. There are some consistency: kindy Monday and Wednesday, seeing Gran and Grandpa on Tuesday mornings, or going to Mardie and Pop’s house for family burgers on Friday nights. But it’s a shadow of the regularity we have in Dar. What we can put in place is still in the wrong environment. Even the daily routines don’t work as well.
And so at the moment in Australia our family temperature never quite comes down to normal. Even in a week when there are no hospital trips, we hover at a slightly more stressed level than ordinary because we don’t have a ‘normal’; even though we’ve tried to build in some structure, we’re still not home. We have to be willing to roll with that, and have grace for one another. One thing that pulls us together is a longing for home, even as we feel the necessity of being in Australia.
This is a new experience for me, this sense that we have a ‘home’. We haven’t returned to the same place in Tanzania before, and whenever we come back to Australia it involves setting up again. Even before we went to Tanzania we were back and forth between Adelaide and Melbourne. But when we return to Dar it will be to somewhere familiar, to a house we know, and habits we’ve grown into, and a neighbourhood in which we have a place. There’s something very healthy about that.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.