One of the purest, simple pleasures for me is leading the bath and bed routine for my toddler daughter. I said I lead it, but I’m the one being led. I call it routine, but of course, it’s anything but routine. Bath is a splashy, wet event with yellow duckies, mermaids, floating cows, and a favorite squirty-toy Starro. Choosing between the Dora and Boots or lavender “surfer girl” pajamas she’ll wear that night becomes a guessing game. Reading a couple of books or just making up stories before turning her foreign lullabies on softly, turning the lights off and saying our “good-nights” to each other is the capstone of my day.
It’s hard for me to imagine a more satisfying feeling than this, when, at days end, knowing I’ve gotten through another day at the association, with all its challenges, interruptions, and minor blips, and get to conduct this simple (sometimes not), but sweet end-of-day routine. I sit down in a quiet, softly lit room, put my feet up and sigh a big, deep sigh. Job well done. I have a sense of accomplishment, having achieved something concrete. I have a sense of pride even – pride in myself as well as my daughter. Soon I can hear my daughter sleeping, breathing deeply, through the sound monitor. All is well; all is at peace. That whole routine was pretty much quality time spent together. And now, while she sleeps, more quality time together begins.
A colleague of mine asked about how this could be quality time, when my daughter is asleep. Wouldn’t quality of time best occur during her waking hours?
Here’s the thing. Another real job kicks in once she is asleep, and has great meaning for me. Once I hear her breathing deeply, and I know she is asleep, I become the night watchman. And there is nothing in this world that is going to interfere or impede my daughter’s deep, peaceful, sweet-dream filled sleep without having to answer to me. Nothing is going to disturb my daughter without going through me. Nothing. I become the night watchman.
In Kenya, and all around East and West Africa, night watchmen are a big deal – particularly in the cities, towns, and residential compounds. There would be watchman in every storefront after store hours, usually with a portable bedroll, or at least a thin blanket to wrap themselves up in and ward off the chill night air. Some bring their radios to listen to throughout the long, lonely nights. Most all are armed with a panga, a Swahili word for a crudely fashioned machete-like tool used to cut through rainforest undergrowth and used for agricultural purposes, like cutting sugar cane or splitting open coconuts. In many tropical countries, the panga is a common and ubiquitous tool, and side arm. It is used as a side arm for their protection, and the protection of their charge.
With my imaginary panga in hand, my job is to make sure all the doors are locked, keeping away any boogeyman that might scare her. I pull the blinds, making sure no ghost can startle her. The lights are out, she rests peacefully. My job continues. I am the night watchman. And I’m on duty.