For the last month, we have been waking up to the sounds of life foreign to us.
Roosters crowing, dogs barking, people we don’t know coughing, sneezing, showering, the day beginning. This is what you hear when you live in such close proximity to others.
We have stayed in a number of different accommodations from hostels, hotels, homestays and bungalows. In every situation, we have shared our space with others outside of our family.
We have also shared close quarters between the four of us. We have shared bedrooms and bathrooms, and in some cases the kids have had to share a bed, with a big pile of pillows running down the center. Our family had to quickly transition from the luxury of plenty of personal space to nearly none.
The change hasn’t been without its bumps, but for the most part, we have adjusted well and moments of stress between us seem to pass more and more quickly. In fact, I think we are getting along better now than ever. I am beginning to wonder if all that personal space we had back home wasn’t as much a luxury as a hindrance.
This new awareness has been gradually coming into focus for me. We honestly weren’t sure how we would handle living in such close quarters with each other and other strangers. We are so accustomed to having our own rooms that we can escape to or places we can go to get away and “hide.” That is just not possible when you are sharing a 12X12 room with your family. Everything is out in the open and those around you get to see you “from all sides” as Riley puts it.
While this is a new awareness and experience for me, close quarters and limited personal space are part of life for many others in the world. The other day we rented motorbikes and rode around the island with a local. He pointed out the beautiful views and told us about the customs of the island. Much of the customs were around family and relationships. It was fascinating.
As we rode around the island, taking in all the sights and smells, I couldn’t help but notice the homes. They were not grand homes by any means. Many along the shoreline were about 10X10 structures made of cinderblock with bamboo curtains serving as doors to the ocean. Talk about no personal space! Others were a little larger and more “permanent” looking, but still small in comparison to US standards.
The families seem to use their homes for sleeping and cooking. They have created other spaces for people to gather, like in the temples or on the covered platforms that sit along the road. These platforms or “detached porches,” are where the young and old hang out, talk, play games and build relationships. This is a culture of people used to living in close quarters, and the more I observe how they live, the more I want to emulate it.
I am coming to see that a lot of personal space gives us a place to hide, check out, avoid difficult situations. I’ve taken this easy way out many times. You, too? When you don’t have a place to hide, you must learn to manage your emotions and talk it through because if you don’t, it will affect everyone. I believe our family has done a pretty good job of talking things out in the past, but through this experience, we are all becoming even better at it.
Lots of personal space also makes it easy to detach from your outside community. With TVs, DVD players, and game consoles in bedrooms, we disengage inside our bubble. Life outside goes by. Our family has fallen into this trap, but I think when we return, it will be a much different picture.
Close quarters require you to be thoughtful of others who share space with you. You need to keep your space tidy, clean up after yourself (for example, in a community kitchen), keep your voice down, and be responsible for your own actions. It also requires teamwork and personal accountability. Everyone has a job to do to make things run smoothly. Teamwork becomes essential to survival.
Finally, when it comes to finding personal quiet time, we are all figuring it out. Back home, my favorite time was early in the morning, with a cup of hot coffee and my notepad, snuggled up on the couch before the kids were up. John loves the mid-afternoons when he could go out into the garage and wash the cars or work on “stuff.” Riley loves the late evenings where he learns some of his best songs on the guitar. Allison loves the mid-mornings where she can get ready for the day at a slower pace without the rush.
This trip is forcing us to adjust. John and I are finding our best time of the day to get work done and have quiet time is around 5 or 6 am. While I don’t have a comfy couch to cuddle up on, I have been finding some pretty comfortable places with great views, so it is working out great.
Close quarters have turned out to be a gift. And there is something kind of magical about hearing a community of international travelers go through their morning prep.
I wish the rooster would sleep in once in awhile, though.