“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
You never experience darkness in America, not even at night. There are lights everywhere. You never have electricity cuts that force the entire family to gather in one room to save candles. You never have time intentionally slowed down by having to watch a pot slowly come to the boil over a fire. You never get to experience the full moon in all its glory. There aren’t as many stars in the sky. Then again, you never look up at the sky. You’re constantly surrounded by artificial light, even during the day. Once you step into a building, you’re going to have artificial lights. You never experience darkness in America.
When I was a child, I used to spend some of my school holidays with my grandmother in Chivi. She had no electricity. In the distance, you could see one or two lights from the closest town. Otherwise, it was darkness. I say darkness, but it wasn’t really. When there was no moon, it was quite dark, but when the moon was full, it was so bright you could move around as if it was day. On nights like those, we would stay up longer than usual, sitting by the kitchen steps, talking. On a clear night, you would look up at the sky and see millions of stars stretching out in every direction.
I never appreciated those trips to Chivi when I was a child. I missed electricity too much, yet now when I’m homesick, I often think of those days. When life is going too fast, the only way to slow it down is to switch everything off, lie on my floor and stare at the ceiling remembering the stars of the Chivi night sky. It’s a little strange that a place I didn’t like as a child is now what I think of when I want to go home. My eight year old self would hardly believe this, but I wish I could have those days with my grandmother back. I wish we could be sitting under the stars again, eating dinner. I wish I could remember what it was that she said to me under those stars. Sometimes I hear her say, “One day you’ll miss this.” She would have been right, but I know she didn’t say that. Ambuya wasn’t sentimental.
It’s not just my grandmother I miss. It’s the quiet, room to think. I miss the darkness and the silence that came with it. You never experience darkness in America, but sometimes it’s just what you need.