with the first rain came a blanket of buzzing bugs in all forms. small ones that fit through your mosquito net and circle your headlamp casting tiny orbits on the pages of your book. larger ones who have bodies like an ant's, but longer, and who can stand on their back legs and survey the huge landscape of the dining table for sugar lodes; lucy's homologues. praying mantises made from sharp green seesaw angles fold and unfold themselves on our kitchen counter. and on the first night, an insect that seemed a fragile, colorless cousin of the dragonfly. they lay waiting in their dry coffins for the water to wash them free. when it did, after thoughtless months, they took to the night air and carpeted abyei. in the morning, all that remained from their short, glorious season was their wings. they littered the ground like fall leaves and blew and swirled with the wind.
most of us in the project have contracts for six months. some are shorter, none are longer. though mine is only a few months through, it feels like many. my team member, reto, and I have decided on a slogan for this project: "for those who think life is too short… come to abyei! it feels like it lasts forever!"
I think in some way, we all distract ourselves to avoid the true experience of time because it is uncomfortable. I think that is why many of us dread going to the dentist. it is not because of anticipated pain, there is little of that. I think it is because we are never more vividly awake, never more focused on the present, never experience a longer minute, then when someone has their hands in our mouth.
in the same way, we find it better to rent a movie than to sit quietly outside for two hours. if we could, I suspect we would amuse ourselves from sunrise to sundown, Christmas day to Christmas day, beginning to end. I am no exception.
i think some of the reason the time feels differently here is that there are few distractions. it is something I looked forward to when I read in the job profile: "must have interest in living in remote locations". there is no morning paper to read while we eat our breakfast. after dinner, there are no concerts to go to, nor a walk to go on. we sit quietly, and the moments stretch. it is uncomfortable, and only after time, do they bring with them peace.
the rest of the reason is the tumult of daily experience. one's emotions are cast through their full register. the delight of receiving a package and a letter from home is followed immediately by the anticipation of your Thursday night meal being carpet-pulled from beneath you when you get called to the hospital to see a woman who has been raped. the world never lets go, and we are tossed about by its circumstances.
like the first rain. with no protection, we feel more acutely its true weight.
when people say life is short, I disagree. it is long. it seems like forever. it seems like a million years ago, not ten, that I stood uncomfortably on the lawn outside calgary's medical school, waiting to make small talk with my new classmates. a hundred since I worked in Cambodia, tracing a maze of ox-cart paths to find new villages, not five. and it has been at least a decade since I threw my dusty backpack down in compound one, having hitched a ride from the landing strip with the UN, forgotten, and wondered where the hell everyone was.
short? no. too short? perhaps. I'll figure that out later.
I wonder if those bugs, the dragonfly cousins, sat with the dawn dew weighing heavily on their wings, grounding them, and marveled at the majesty of their long life, how the night lasted, and lasted, and lasted, until it seemed like the dawn would never come.