“More than anything, one is struck by the light. Light everywhere. Brightness everywhere. Everywhere, the sun.”
– Ryszard Kapuściński, The Shadow of the Sun
It’s been impossible so far for me to sleep past 5:30 a.m. in this blindingly radiant land. The wild morning sun barges in, laughing at my impotent blinds, and lovingly pries my eyes open, slaps me in the face, and tells me to get my white ass out of bed and appreciate the impossibly gorgeous Land of a Thousand Hills, Rwanda. The sun hangs so flirtatiously low over the red soil here because she is in love with this continent, with these people she gave birth to. Her light protects them from the dangers of the unknown dark. She is strong because she goes to bed so early, before 6:00 p.m. She must be robust to compete with the gargantuan clouds that come out of nowhere for frequent surprise attacks that bombard this land with an onslaught of rain. But the sun, the sun always prevails.
As I submit to the will of the light that floods my room, I can hear the birds blithely singing their uninhibited paeans for the morning. My equally unrestrained and jolly Ugandan roommates are already up and bouncing around, beckoning me to the table for the hearty breakfast they’ve prepared, cracking jokes in the beautiful cadence of their melodious English, and laughing, always laughing. I can already hear the familiar sound of water boiling for tea, for bathing, and for cleaning. There’s lively music playing and people singing, laughing, and gossiping in the world outside.
The sun dictates Africa’s lifestyle, slowing it down during the hottest hours of the day. It turns shadows into precious real estate, and the shade of a mango or acacia tree becomes a cool, breezy meeting place. The days here start as soon as the almighty sun leaps out of bed and commands the people to follow suit. The streets erupt with life. Legendary Polish foreign correspondent Ryszard Kapuściński described the scene of a typical African morning as only he could:
“[It is] as if a decree had been issued commanding everyone to leave his home at 8 a.m. and remain in the street. In reality, there is another reason: apartments are small, cramped, stuffy. There is no ventilation, the atmosphere inside is heavy, the smells stale, there is no air to breathe. Besides, spending the day in the street enables one to participate in social life. The women talk nonstop, yell, gesticulate, laugh. Standing over a pot or a washbasin, they have an excellent vantage point. They can see their neighbors, passersby, the entire street; they can listen in on quarrels and gossip, observe accidents. All day long they are among others, in motion, and in the fresh air.”
Kapuściński was describing Accra, Ghana in 1958, but this embrace of the morning is a common theme throughout much of this pulsating continent, 90 per cent of which basks between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. The morning represents life. It symbolizes the hope for a new beginning in a land that yearns for one. No matter how many times the day falls to the darkness of night, the mighty African sun brings it back to life.