March 12, 2010


It is Friday morning, 4.45am. I wake to the gentle scraping of sand being raked into neat submission as one of the younger boys begins his daily chore near my window. He does not have to work at 4.45am but I guess he is a very early riser. Not owning a watch, he gets out of bed when he wakes, gathers his equipment and walks alone across the sand in the pre-dawn stillness.

At this time of year it is not yet cool in the early morning but bearably warm. As he works, he waits for the sun to light up the ordered rows of rake-marks that will be scuffed away in just an hour or two. 300 pairs of feet do a lot of scuffing in the sand.

This is the most peaceful time of the day here at Zimpeto, before all those feet carry their sleepy owners out of their dorms and onto the playground, hungrily awaiting their breakfast of bread and tea in the refertorio. It is at this time of day that faith rises in me, everything looks clearer and I know that anything is possible. The stresses of yesterday were laid to rest before sleep last night and today’s busyness has not yet stirred me into action. The knocking at the door will begin at 6.00 with the younger boys wanting balls pumped up and bandaids for their grazes. So I figure I have about an hour to sip my coffee, get quiet on the inside and listen – just listen.

Around here, listening to the still small voice within is hard to do because there is always noise. I live with 300 kids so of course there is always noise, except when they are eating or when they’re asleep. You know that dinnertime hush that falls on a family as they dig in to their meal together after a long, active day? Here, at 7am and at 12 and again at 5pm, I physically feel the hush descend for just a few minutes and my whole body sighs from the inside out.

First comes the siren, the loud, intrusive and very successful means of getting 300 kids to the table at once. Then some yelling or singing, clapping and all those voices yelling “Ahhh-men” in unison.

And then... nothing. No sound at all. Silence. Breathe out. Be still. Get quiet on the inside and listen. And rest for just a moment as the hush settles like a thick, cool fog that you hope will last forever.

The fog only lasts for 15 minutes though and then it is gone, blown away by the whirlwind of 600 feet and 300 voices and the babies in the sand and the boys on the slide and the band practising with the sound turned up high and the banging at the door as Aurelio brings his ball full of holes back to be pumped up for the third time today. Sigh, focus, get to work.

All the children go into their dorms at 9pm when silence descends once again but, by that time, I am just-about ready for bed myself. Refer above to the raking under the window at 4.45am.

So my quiet time, my thinking time, my praying and processing and just-being-still time has to be early. It is my favourite time of the day. It is my time to ponder the big questions of life as well as the little soul-issues scratching at my heart until I dig a bit deeper and find resolution. If not resolution, then I settle for acceptance, for peace with the status quo for today. Perhaps tomorrow morning, in the stillness of the dark pre-dawn hours, I will come to resolution. How good it is to know that there is tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow.

This is why the gentle sound of sand being raked before dawn each day is not a disturbance but a gift I look forward to as I fall asleep at night. I sometimes wonder who it is giving me such a gift and if I could ever explain in a way that he would understand. I am so thankful that, every morning, he crawls out of bed in the darkness, finds his rake as he rubs the sleep from his eyes and goes to work on the sand under my window.

Who would have thought that a little boy tidying the sand before dawn would change me every day. So, thank you to my little friend for a gift you do not know you are giving and for which you ask nothing in return. It is a free gift indeed.

Catch you tomorrow, same time, same place.