A popular adage in the Peace Corps is that the days last forever while the months fly by.
Why? Well, time moves quickly when you’re busy and slowly when you’re not. And think about all of the things you do on a typical day. You sleep, on average, six to eight hours. You are probably gainfully employed, which means you spend an additional eight to ten hours wearing uncomfortable clothes and interacting with people you’d rather not. And you likely have some sort of commute, so tack on another couple of hours for the 45-minute drive to work each way in maddeningly slow traffic, plus parking and walking from the parking lot and stopping to buy coffee after realizing that your travel mug is still sitting on the counter back home. Finally, subtract the half-hour or hour or two hours you spend lounging in front of your MacBook Pro after you get home from work in order to decompress from the frenetic pace of your busy and challenging day by scrolling through your newsfeed and viewing photo albums posted on Facebook by people who you haven’t spoken with in three years. Perhaps with a glass of Pinot. Definitely, with a glass of Pinot.
This leaves you with roughly two to six hours per day to squeeze in everything else — that is to say, life: stopping by Safeway to pick up pale asparagus under artificially bright lighting, eating nondescript portions of fettuccine, hiding the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, grudgingly scrubbing down the saucepan still stubbornly coated with the congealed remnants of mushroom marinara, setting an extra-large load of darks to gentle tumble, helping your son with his U.S. History homework while thinking to yourself that you don’t remember half of this stuff from your own childhood so how important could it be, asking your overworked and underpaid partner about her equally busy and challenging day. And weekends are even worse, that fleetingly short two-day reward for successfully running the gauntlet of the American workweek during which you feel compelled to utilize every second for the express purpose of carefully measured recreation and even more carefully documented leisure.
Now think about the things I do in a typical day. It’s a good bet that I’ll cook something. Then I’ll probably read something. Then I might hang out with some kids. Maybe I’ll get fancy and change the order. Anything else I do is subject to myriad factors, key among them right now, halfway through my service, being whether or not I want to.
So it’s no great surprise that time takes on a new meaning for me here in my new life. The very concept of time itself is redefined, assigned new sets of values. On any given day, I have 16 to 18 hours to do pretty much whatever I want. I can sit down with my counterpart checking his books to make sure that he’s properly accounting for all of his business expenses. I can engage in a throwing contest with a handful of boys and a larger handful of unripe, baseball-sized oranges. I can proofread and revise an article written by a volunteer in Northwest Province, then email it to the design editors for inclusion in the upcoming edition of our Peace Corps Zambia newsletter. I can spend two hours cooking food for lunch. I can go for a trek into the bush with three amused but intrigued boys in tow, flailing after butterflies with a piece of mosquito net stretched over a piece of bent wire and depositing them into an empty Nutella jar. I can walk over to the school to pump water and get teased by the feisty women and girls raucously thronged around the borehole. I can bike out to the ponds to visit Sebastian, check progress on the new pond he’s digging, and end up chatting with him for an hour about which would win in a fight, a crocodile or a python. I can do all of these things before nine in the morning.
Or I can spend the entire day sitting in my living room staring at the wall. Some days seem to go on and on with no sign of turning to night.
But time is moving. And never is this more apparent than with a quick glance at the calendar. I’ve already been here for fifteen months. I just returned to site from my intake’s Midterm Conference in Lusaka, which marked the midway point of our service. I was about to remark on how much more time I have left here in Zambia when I realized that the past year has vanished more quickly than a ten-year-old when it’s time to do chores. Unbelievably, it’s already been a year! Unbelievably, it’s only been a year. Weird.
So here’s to long days, short months, and the relativity of time. Let’s see where time takes me in the next (and last) 12 months of my service.