Three weeks.

In that time, you could get 7.5% of the way through an average pregnancy. Watch 589 episodes of HBO’s latest sex-and-swords bonanza “Game of Thrones.” (Since they’ve only made 20 episodes so far, you’d basically be watching Seasons 1 and 2 over and over twenty-nine and a half times in succession.) You can listen to Regina Spektor’s latest album, “What We Saw From the Cheap Seats,” 853 times. When you’re looking at it this way, or trying to do the mental math on whether you’re going to need to buy sugar again before you leave, it seems like an awfully long time. But compared to the 25+ months I’ve been here to get to this point … it’s quite short. When you consider all the things I have left to do in this time (from writing up my official Description of Service to disassembling my furniture for sale) it seems like no time at all. Somehow, both of these things – it feeling like an eternity, yet rushing by with frightening speed – are true simultaneously. It’s just One Of Those Things, you know?

If I’d majored in philosophy or something similarly useless and paramasturbatory, I’d come up with some high-sounding description like The Dichotomy of Being, or the Objective Existence of Dual Self-Realities. Since I majored in psychology, which is cheerfully useless (except for those intending to study more psychology and eventually get expensive graduate degrees) but equally cheerful in its to slice to the heart of the issue (sometimes), I’ll call it what it is:


The other day, I made one final visit to one of my favorite schools that I’ve been working with for two years. On paper, it was to check up on the status of their Life Skills and Health Class programs, pass along some materials, and answer any questions my co-facilitators about how to proceed. I did all that, and was overjoyed to find that things were going pretty marvelously, with my head co-facilitator Eliza having trained several other faculty an expanded the program of her own volition. But more than that … it was to say goodbye. I’ll probably run into some of these folks in town, and have an oft-rescheduled appointment to go to church with Eliza, but this was the official-unofficial Last Visit. It was happy and chatty and full of praise. But when I left, I had a lump in my throat I hadn’t expected, and sudden departure – an abstract made as real as I’d thought possible by charging over a thousand dollars in airfare to my beleaguered Visa for my return trip – was suddenly a very, very tangible thing.

I wasn’t quite prepared for what that was going to feel like.

A friend who owed me a favor had graciously offered to give me a ride on the back of his bicycle, saving me 17km in a round-trip walk. It meant hopping off and trudging up the steeper hills on foot, but overall, it was a nice gesture. After he dropped me back in the center of town, I was slightly at a loss. In theory, I was supposed to return to my clinic. They didn’t have anything in particular for me to do that day; indeed, they rarely did at this point. But it was my base, and I belonged there. Still … I found myself drawn instead to an expat-populated beach bar on the opposite end of the district, where the resorts are. It was silent, and all but abandoned, since a combination of terrible weather, terrorism, and the usual lulls of low season had driven away most of the tourists. Generally, such a location is above my pay grade, but I had sudden need of some quiet time alone, and the view from the terrace is unbeatable. I ordered a tall glass of pulpy mango juice and seated myself in a chair that faced the Indian Ocean.

I sat there in silence, feeling totally un-guilty that I was eschewing a To Do list the length of a centipede monster in favor of sitting under a palm tree sipping juice. But what had seemed like so much time suddenly felt like none at all, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d never get this specific view again after I left my post. For over three hours, my eyes stayed glued to the ocean, entranced. From angry remnants of stormclouds, it cleared quickly to a tepid, watery, empty blue. After some time this once again yielded to the deep, monochromatic slate that cued another impending volley of hard rain. Finally, all sunk to inky blue as an equatorial twilight slid into place with characteristic swiftness.

At this point, my reverie was interrupted by the arrival of a friend, who stopped by after work to have a gin and tonic. We giggled over vegetable soup and talked about the life of the volunteer. She’s a fairly new arrival, only in her second term teaching. The contrast between us is stark, but her wobbly-baby-fawn-standing-up-for-the-first-time experiences are familiar. A lifetime ago, I was there. Or maybe it was yesterday.

It all goes by so fast.