I’ve come to expect, in my kinetic memory, borne of a lifetime in the new world, that each step up will measure the same, that each step down will come on time. There is a standard building code in the west – and the more you climb stairs, the more you stop thinking about the distance. I’ve learned to run the stairs on autopilot, not thinking or looking where I am going.
But here where structures are all different, no stride is predictable. One riser may be 11 inches, the next 15, then 14, then who knows? As you climb, if you’re not very very careful, the front edge of your shoe will catch, and you will stumble upwards, reaching to steady yourself and juggle whatever packages you are carrying. Maybe you are on the slick stone between the 3rd and 4th floor. Maybe there is laundry hanging in the hallway. Maybe a bright pink plastic bucket becomes your focal point as the world around you slows to a crawl and you regain balance and equanimity.
On the way down, as your footdrop seeks a stair and finds none, you may feel that sense of hanging in space, of floating. It will cause you to lean backwards and use your cane of trust. Man, what would a fire fighter do, or a 1st responder of any kind, in these conditions? Do all people move slowly here? Or do they walk the same stairs until they remember: hi hi lo lo mid hi lo? Until their own stairway is rote?
For certain, my friend, you will be slowed in the beginning: until your eyes adjust, until your perception adjusts, until you learn to navigate uncertain distances more fluidly. Until you learn to pay attention.
– musings in North Africa