I did it. I packed my bag; water, iPod, headphones, water colour pencils, journal, purse and sunglasses. I signed out at the gangway, made my way down the gangway's rattly stairs, unlocked my newly owned bike (thanks to the sad farewell of a good friend) and was on my way, all on my own. (Not recommended by Mercy Ships but justified in my mind by the fact that I was travelling to a place frequented by shippers, on a well known road and my destination was known by a friend.)
Often I feel when I'm on my own, that I just want to get to my destination quickly, but I am learning to enjoy the journey because that's half the experience. With that thought in mind I cycled through town enjoying the scenes on the side of the road; a little boy running in bare feet with a large toy car (probably once battery controlled) tied to a string, racing along behind him. There was a huge church service set up on a sandy field with hundreds of people attending; some were huddled under the shade of the palm trees, trying to keep out of the burning midday sun. Other people sit on concrete seats in the shade, sipping the milk from a freshly opened coconut or licking a cold cone of ice cream scooped from Gastronomie by a man wearing a mouth shield so that he doesn't breathe into the ice cream fridge. Palm trees line the street and beyond that the white sand and blue sea in combination with almost cloudless blue skies, make the perfect picture. There are people on bicycles, tuk-tuks, cars, trucks and pousse-pousse drivers all moving towards a destination. I weave in and out of moving traffic, overtaking the slower pousse-pousses and often being overtaken by a motor bike at the same time. Little hands grab the metal bars from the inside of the pousse-pousse, holding on from the laps of their parents. Pousse-pousse riders are trickling sweat as I cycle past them and their heavy load of people. I listen to the sounds of traffic coming up behind me trying to guess the type of vehicle. Courtesy beeps come from them as they warn me they are coming past and to stay out of the way. Fruit stalls line the streets with bananas, avocados and just newly in season, lychees.
And then I have arrived. For the first time in my life I have chosen to go out on my own for a sit down meal. I am expecting to see people I know walk past and see me alone and for once in my life, feel totally okay with it. Within five minutes of sitting down, two friends arrive, say hello, ask me if I came on my own and one replies that she comes here on her own often too. I feel like I could invite them to sit down, but then that would defeat the whole purpose of me coming out here. You see if you've been on the ship you know exactly what I mean when I say living on the ship in community is tiring. The thing is, you're always in public. The majority of the crew share cabins, depending on your length of service or job, you may share with 2-10 people. The majority of cabins are 6 berths and while this creates great friendships and tight community, it's tiring to be among people all the time. The second you pull your berth curtain you're in public, having to be dressed appropriately and respond to greetings and questions.
So now I sit here, on my own, on a busy Sunday afternoon in a restaurant on the beach, eating my favourite lunch in Tamatave, people watching, hearing the French language float around me, much like the coals on my table, blowing smoke into the wind to keep to flies away. Unfortunately that smoke is irritating my lungs which have been struggling for the past few weeks, a sickness I have not been able to shake.
It's hard to know whether I should admit it publicly or not (too late now). I'm tired. For no explainable reason I feel tired and so I am seeking ways to renew life and find a freshness of spirit and a new sparkle. Part of the restoration process has involved getting off the ship a little more often, cycling through town, enjoying fresh air and sunshine, creating and crafting, walking through the streets of Tamatave, going out for ice cream, reading more books and allowing myself to dream about what God wants me to do in the future.
There is no happy bow to tie these thoughts up except for me to remember that life is a journey and no matter how I am feeling, I will endeavor to enjoy the ride.