Friday, August 14, 2009

The Power of O Gbona Vivi

In one of my former lives, I taught English for the Peace Corps in the West African country of Togo. I rented two rooms in a compound from a sweet older gentleman named Leon Mebounou. M. Mebounou considered himself my in loco parentis. It worried him that I was a young, single woman far away from my home and unsupervised by my family. When the male Peace Corps volunteer in my village began spending a lot of time visiting me, he arranged for a little engagement ceremony for us, just to be on the safe side.
M. Mebounou and I had long, wonderful talks. One day he told me, "You Americans rush around too much. We have a proverb: O gbona vivi. It means you only breathe one breath at a time. Relax and take things little by little. When you get back to America, tell them this."
I've been pretty faithful to my mission to deliver this message to people I've met over the years. I even wrote a song about it. But it popped into my head again the other day when I was raking grass, and I thought about how useful it has been in my life.
It was useful when I looked at all the grass I had left to rake. I realized that I only had to rake this little section, and this little section, and this little section . . . I didn't have to rake the whole yard at once.
It's useful when I start up the hill that begins the route of my morning walk. I only have to walk to that daisy, and then to that stick, and then to that beer can. I don't have to make it to the top all at once.
And it was amazingly useful when I was working on my novel. Me, who had never written anything longer than 1000 words! But I could do it, thirty minutes at a time--this 200 words, and then this 200 words, and then this 200 words. . . .
Akpe nto, M. Mebounou!


  1. I LOVE this story!!! It's publishable, should you so choose...

  2. Thank you for this lovely post. Just so you know, this is exactly what I needed to hear at exactly this point in the life of a novel I'm trying to finish. It's a flagging point. The point at which the breaths are too many and too shallow and the thing is going nowhere. Now I'm stopping, breathing, then logging off to go do the next 200 words.

  3. What a lovely phrase to remember. I am working on my novel 500 words at a time ... scene by scene by scene. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Pura Vida---it's all good. I bought a tiled wall hanging that says that and have it in my office. It not only reminds me of Costa Rica, but also to chill out and to remember no matter what there is a lot of good stuff in my life.