The art of sitting

To sit seems like a simple enough action, yet onto its bare back we load an endless stream of connotations which at once make it far more complex than it was ever meant to be.

To sit is to be lazy, to be listless, to be quiet, to be serene, to be thougtful and moody and forgotten and pitied. All in one single, simple action.

I wish it was that same serenity that I saw among the young boys lounging in colorful plastic chairs outside the APHFTA building every morning. Or among the mothers clutching their children to their breasts under the shade of a lonely oak tree. I cannot help but notice the ubiquity of sitting that graces Dar es Salaam. Day after day I see so many of them–sitting and watching a city rumble past them.

I saw them again–the many street dwellers– as I stepped into our APHFTA jeep this morning for the short, bumpy ride to the Muzdalefah clinic in the outskirts of town.

We were going to set up the new computer system that was a gift from APHFTA to the clinic and to see the mMaisha program at work in the real-life environment that it was meant for. At the end of the day, a computer program installation and many beaming smiles later, we began the journey back to central Dar. Gazing out of the window, I could again see the many young men and women observing us with restless eyes–they saw our intrusive movement in this world where there was so little. I realized that we had brought more than a computer to this village–it was almost as if we had suggested an entirely different way of life. We had suggested movement.

“What do they do all day?” I heard myself ask suddenly. I did not remember the question even reaching my lips.


“Nothing,” replied Lushen (our internship leader) after a few minutes, “they don’t do anything at all.”

In that instance, an incredible sadness hit me. So much potential lay here, jumbled like lost gems amidst the vegetable carts and dusty plastic chairs. Like small Bonsai trees in small, confining pots they sat, with no idea of the world that lay beyond their village and the chance they had to let their roots spread far and wide so that they could experience it.

Gazing at them, I thought back to my life at Harvard. A rushingbusyschedulesrunning kind of life where sitting was associated with those who had no direction or had lost it, or were too lazy to find something else to do. It was a place where the idea of “sitting and doing nothing” was something yearned for but never fully achieved. Even when I sat, my mind was racing, and I realize that I had forgotten that in sitting too, there is a certain art and beauty. To sit and see and observe is something I rarely do because I have forgotten how.

As I looked at those young men and women I only wished that I could take an ounce of my rushing life and give it to them–give them a jolt that would make them stand up, stretch their limbs, and move beyond the one piece of Earth that had seen too much of them over the years. It would let them spread their branches and grow to realize all that I know they are capable of. And then, quietly I would step into the background and sit a while. To do nothing but serenely watch as a forest of Bonsais broke through their little ceramic pots and spread roots where they thought it impossible for roots to go. Yes, I would pick a brightly colored plastic chair. and just sit. and listen.


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