As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia, days are marked by time. The minute sunlight reckons the day worthy to begin. The mosque’s calls to prayer: early morning, morning, noon, afternoon, evening. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Coffee, coffee, coffee.
Weekly rituals, I know too. Like players on a chessboard, the faithful mark their way through town and through time. Fridays come, and Muslim women pass to mosque. On Sunday mornings, Orthodox devout make way to church. For both, the choreography is the same: stand, bow, kneel, be amazed. This is the way, I’ve learned, that life passes.
Circled days on the calendar separate the norm by their menu. Holidays in Ethiopia mean doro wat and bottled Coca-cola, music videos of shoulder-shakers celebrating before a waterfall. Then there’s foreign holidays that justify beers with other dirty misplaced English speakers.
Time is always in reference to whom. To our time, which starts when the sun rises and ends when it rests? Or yours? When this is finished, or that is ready. Depending of course, on who comes across along the way.
There’s a Peace Corps schedule that ticks away. My time here is temporary. Pre-service training, in-service training, mid-service training, close of service conference. They’ve even got an emotional calendar to predict my mood based on sentences of loneliness.
Time is all I have to give; it is all I have to make sense of a place that, at its best and worst, swallows me whole. In a culture where timeliness is foreign currency, measurements are all I have to remind myself that this, too, will pass. It’s a promise—after due time I will be home. But it’s also a precursor to the ache I know I’ll feel when I leave this place. That old cliché, time slips like sand. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.