The Barabaig men jumped high to the rhythm of dusty chants and vivid yelps. Wrapped in Massai-red blankets and holding spears, they reached high to impress the women standing across from them.
They jumped without bent knees, displaying virility and skill and energy, reaching out to a woman in attempts to find a soul mate. The women, with scars decorating the curves of their eyes and cheekbones, watched and discussed the men as they flew.
At a courtship ritual on a flat plain in northern Tanzania, I photographed the movement, the intention, the time. I was sixteen, probably the same age as the women. At the end of the ceremony, an elder banged one of the tribe’s heavy brass bangle onto my wrist, and I vowed never to remove it.
It stayed on my wrist, sometimes turning the skin green, for five years. I eventually took it off on the behest of an ex-boyfriend. I now wear it when I want to connect, need a little extra strength, or simply when I feel it.
Suddenly, a few days ago, I knew I wanted the tribe’s design tattooed on my back on the right side of my spine. I wanted it there to always give me strength, a reminder to lead with my heart, and as a memorium to my adventurousness before I would turn 30 in a few short weeks.
I made an appointment, went to a consult, researched the artist and was drawn to his work. But I didn’t feel a connection with him. I tried to justify it, that maybe I shouldn’t need a relationship with the artist since this was my tattoo, but still something was just a little off. Whatever it was, it was in me.
So I listened, and canceled the appointment.
Then another tattoo artist came into my life – one who appreciates the cultural and human connection, knowing that a tattoo is part of a healing and growing process.
But, it still didn’t feel right.
Even though I want the tattoo, the timing is off. And although I want to rush it, I know that it just needs to marinate in my heart for a beat longer. Even though I am growing older and feel that I need this now, I know there is still time. I don’t know why, but I trust that I can’t force this. It’s just not right yet. Some things need to sit. And that’s ok, because there is a time for everything.
Driving by the tattoo studio on the day of my canceled appointment, a few hours after I would have had a freshly minted record on my back, I knew that the tattoo would have been beautiful, that he would have made it beautiful.
But I can’t force my own internal dusty rhythms and vivid yelps. I have to trust that when a decision or action needs to be made, it will happen through patience and space, without force.
It will happen effortlessly, in its own time.