“How can you let the sun get up before you! A good woman wakes up before sunrise”.
As a girl in Africa you join the 5 am club involuntarily because part of your grooming is that the day starts before light comes with the sun rise. Only, this teaching has nothing to do with the increased productivity and spiritual benefits of getting a few hours in before everyone else.
The girls and women woke up before every body else to start off the household chores so that when everyone else woke up everything is ready. You would get up and sweep the yard, fetch water from the well, light the fire and heat bath water. You would take a bath yourself, sometimes in cold water so that you are not presenting your dirty self to people so early in the morning. You would also go to the field early while the sun is not yet to high in the sky otherwise you burn and tire in the heat.
As a grown up urbanite raised in this culture it is easy to struggle with morning panic. You wake up, before your alarm goes off because your body clock is still set to your mama’s early morning lectures. Soon as you open your eyes you are immediately assaulted by anxieties about things to be done, heart already racing your feet hit the floor and carry you into the same old routine.
It’s so bad that even on days you don’t really have stuff to do it just feels like you have to get up and do something -anything.
The obsession that the Western world has with morning routines though aligned with our African cultures on the need to wake up early is worlds apart in terms of how to invest those morning hours.
Three key ways in which we differ are:
1. Where the early morning routines of the West are about waking up slowly, African ones are about getting as much done as possible before everyone else is up. The idea of waking up to meditate, journal, have a leisurely cup of coffee, exercise, trade affirmations with yourself in the mirror and read is quite foreign.
2. Also, African mornings for women culturally are about serving others so they can wake up to partake of the convenience you have created for them. It’s so ingrained in our ways that most marriage rites involve the bride going through this early morning serving ritual for her in-laws to prove that she has been raised right. Western morning rituals seem to be more about the self and what edifies you. Where family exists they ideally come after you have done something for the self even if it is just to wake up and drink water.
3. Bettering the self: We typically did not spend time in exercise. The discipline of actively managing ones weight through physical exercise is not present in our cultures. This could be because we led very active lifestyle and ate organic – there just was little room to have weight issues. This have changed a while lot though it is a really good idea to invest waking hours into this.
Many women on the continent go through the African style morning routine stoically and don’t give it much thought. It’s the way it is and the morning panic is just another requirement for one to be a good woman, wife and mother. You serve, you rush, you tire. Repeat.
Pouring first into your own cup holds an appeal one can’t ignore, though, if you really think about it. Especially in this “modern” day where many African women are in demanding careers while still shouldering the bulk of the work of trending to house and home. It can easily be 26 hours of non-stop working. Mornings matter.
How can we reframe the way we think about mornings and adapt who and what we serve before the sun comes up?
1. Meditation/prayer: There is definitely something about centering yourself in the divine early in the morning. Whether it’s too make sense of bad dreams from the night before or to make sense of dreams for your future and pray for guidance, starting your day on a spiritual note is a good idea. Taking time to actually kneel and pray, no rush, is a good way to start the morning slower.
2. Serving yourself: Too often as women we give of our time and effort to everyone but ourselves. Turning this on its head means starting with you. Let that first cup of tea be one that you actually drink while it’s still hot. Take that first hot bath. Read, reflect, dream, learn, enjoy – let the first sensation of joy felt in your house be yours. Give yourself that gift before gifting it to others.
3. Reduce the morning to-list. Redistribute the work that comes with the morning. This could be getting the kids to make their own beds. Outsourcing, if you have live in house help let them take on some of the early morning things. Letting adults do their own preparations because yes men can spread beds, iron, run baths, find socks etc. It could be mechanising some things even or de-prioritising them because let’s face it perfection is time consuming.
4. Wake up slow: This one should have been first actually. Do not jump out of bed the second you open your eyes. Take a few seconds, minutes even to breathe and take in the morning. Give thanks for being awake and alive again this day. Stretch, feel your toes. Greet your partner if you have one, gaze at a sleeping child. Come alive before you even check your phone. Think good thoughts before your to-do list. Then, only then, get up and go serve yourself before serving anybody else.
May your every morning be a burst of sunshine…