Many people look at my job with longing. Splitting my time between Africa and America, I regularly travel to “exotic” locations. Living this split life, however, seems to multiply my identity. On one side, I live out of a carry-on suitcase: city girl, bush woman, scientist, or photographer. On the other side, I live in a tiny cottage: crafter, cook, adventurer, or homebody. But while I love my job, traveling for a living doesn’t make it easy to maintain community.
Through my split life, I’ve learned that being part of a community is a choice. It means that I choose the people and relationships—their mess and their beauty—knowing that they will choose me and my flaws in return. The heartbeat of community isn’t just the usual perks of friendships—spontaneous smiles and late night conversations. It’s in being purposeful about our relationships.
These are some of the ways I’ve learned to facilitate and maintain community while traveling:
I live by my calendar. I plan weeks—and often months—in advance. I do not schedule every hour or evening, but I plot my weekends like a master planner. And I make sure to schedule in time for variety. Some plans are large scale—there are the camping trips and big adventures. But just as important are small joys: mornings to read, special treats for lunch, gifts wrapped for others when I am absent, or a surprise hour with a friend. Planning allows me to actually see and do things with my community.
Conversations with loved ones always make me smile; they close the distance, and allow me to maintain a presence. More than once, long distance phone calls and online chatting have redeemed my day, or a friend’s day. For this reason, I make a special effort to communicate with those closest to me. This is easier in America; in Africa, I rely on iChat, Google Chat, and Skype. I am thankful for internet that is increasingly reliable, and cell phone coverage almost everywhere.
I often let friends borrow my tiny cottage. When I travel, my home will find new use as a writing retreat or a place to escape to. I always smile at the little evidences I find left behind: a pencil on a dresser, a shirt in the closet, or different food in the pantry. I know that I never have to think—much less worry—about the house details when I leave. Someone is always willing to water my houseplants or do the chore I ran out of time for. And I always come home to lactose-free milk in the fridge, clean sheets on my bed, and, sometimes, a mowed lawn. These little tokens show me that I was gone, but not forgotten.
For me, caring for community means being intentional about creatively covering the distance. I am grateful that I have friends who choose to step into my divided life with me. How are you being intentional about creating community?