The trouble with time machines

As of right now, I have 99 days left as a volunteer. Wow. What happened?! Two years ago, I was excitedly packing my bags for this giant Peace Corps marathon, and now I’m rounding the last corner with the finish line in sight. There were many times when I thought this day would never come, when I longed for the light at the end of the tunnel, but now that I’m here… damn. I wish I could just rewind. This is a blog post about regret.

I have a confession to make. For the past 8 months, I have not been living in Mozambique. You’re shocked, you must be. How could I pull off such a scam?! Well, I built a time machine, and I took trips to the future. Let me tell you, it was awesome. My future was so perfect – full of romance, opportunity, happiness, Whole Foods, driving a car again, speaking English to everyone, flushing clean toilets… It was addictive. At first I was just taking trips once or twice a day, but after awhile that wasn’t enough. I started sleeping in my time machine, eating meals in my time machine, and before I knew it I was stuck. I couldn’t get out. Sometimes I would sit in my time machine and gaze out the window at my present life. I’d put my hand up to the glass and think about rejoining reality. On occasion, my friends would visit and tell me to get out, that this was bad for my health. But my time machine made me feel great, and it was so much more comfortable, so I stayed.

Last month, my time machine broke down for the first time. I didn’t know what to do. I was stranded in Mozambique and it was dirty, and dark, and scary, and I panicked. All I wanted to do was get back in and visit the future again. I made the necessary repairs, but it wouldn’t run like it used to. Sometimes it would take me to the bright, sunny, easy future that I loved, and other times it would take me to this lonely, uncertain future. I couldn’t figure out what happened. I started taking trips less frequently, trying to avoid the uncertain future, but I still couldn’t stop.

Then one day, I got in my time machine, set the clock forward to 2016, pressed go, and the strangest thing happened. Instead of the usual shaking, whizzing, and whirling of time travel, all was still, and a simple message popped up on the screen. “No.” I got so angry. How could this stupid time machine deny me the future it had created for me, the future I had come to expect? What was I supposed to do now? Where would I go? Why did it have to stop working now, when I only needed it for three more months? I was outraged. But the time machine didn’t care. I stared at the screen, at that “no,” for an embarrassingly long amount of time. And then I got out of the time machine and planned a trip to Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls.

The journey to Victoria Falls was rough. My roommate and I traveled by whatever means we could: hitchhiking, chapas, buses, trains. We slept on people’s floors, in budget hotels, in rattling 1950’s train cars, and colorful hostels. We got sunburnt waiting on the side of the road, peed in holes, and ate cheap street food. We were dirty and exhausted. I missed my time machine.

After 3.5 days we finally made it to Victoria Falls, and I was dumbstruck by its beauty. I stood in front of the falls as they dumped a hundred truckloads of water over their sheer cliffs per second, thundering into the canyon below, shaking the earth beneath my feet, casting billions of water molecules into the air that kissed my cheeks and spread rainbows in every direction. This one moment in the present was more beautiful than any of the future scenes conjured up by my time machine. The colors were brighter, the sounds were clearer, but there was something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I felt alive again. It was stupendous! It was phenomenal! It was stupefying and awe-inspiring and… real. It was real.

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We had a blast in Victoria Falls. We hiked around the national park, ate at fancy restaurants with live music, and toasted glasses of nice wine. We went on a white water rafting trip where our boat flipped us all into the Zambezi on class five rapids. In the calmer areas we swam in the fresh cool waters, the crocodiles lazily watching as they sunned themselves on the Zambian banks. The river felt like velvet on my skin, and I realized it’s been over two years since I’ve swum in fresh water. We climbed the slippery, steep rock faces of the gorge to jump from 20 feet up, suspended in time before landing with a splash. After a treacherous hike back up to dry land, we ate food fresh off the grill, sat on logs under a thatched roof, met people from all over the world, cracked open some ice cold beer, and made new friends. Then I got food poisoning and my wallet got stolen, so that kind of sucked. However, it was a great trip. And it wasn’t in my time machine.

As we crossed the border back into Mozambique, I realized how grateful I was to be back, how much I had missed it – not just for the past few days in Zimbabwe, but for the past eight months. This country is amazing, and being placed here for my Peace Corps service was a blessing. I took it for granted. Things got hard, and I chose to escape rather than to push through. I’ve let my projects fall to the wayside, I’ve let my teaching get lazy, I’ve let my frustrations guide my actions, and I’ve let myself down. This year, I haven’t been the volunteer that I know I am capable of. And it’s about time I get back to work. I want to make these last 99 days count, so I’ve decided to kiss my time machine goodbye.

Dreams and plans are nice, but they aren’t real. The present moment is all you ever truly have. Don’t let today’s beauty go unappreciated because you think tomorrow’s beauty will be greater.

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8 comments

  1. Very heartfelt blog entry.

    Sometimes, it takes being away from something (whether it be a place or a thing) to realize how much we treasure it. Maybe, it’s an example of “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” syndrome. I feel the same way about being in Japan. I loved living in the country but there were definitely moments when it drove me crazy (I lived in the Land of the Rising Sun from October 2003 – November 2004 and from July 2008 to August 2010). However, not having been in the country since August 2010, I have realized how much I missed it and I would kill to return there for the perfect opportunity.

    But as you said, being away from Mozambique (I didn’t know you were out of the country – I thought your recent Instagram images were taken in that country) made you realize how much you treasure being in the country. Better yet, the feelings you expressed in the next-to-laugh paragraph will inspire you when tough times arise.

    Also, it was great to read your blog entry and I hope you end your time in Mozambique marvelously.

    Dumb question: Is the time machine you mentioned a car?

    • Hey Rashaad! Thanks for your comment. Absence definitely does seem to make the heart grow fonder sometimes. However, I actually have been here in Mozambique, with the exception of the few days in Zimbabwe last week. The absence I wrote about was more of a metaphorical thing. I wanted this post to be about escapism and how living in the fantasies you create for your future can keep you from living in the present. I’ve been doing a lot of that this year.

      Good guess about the car (I wish!), but the time machine is just symbolic for this distraction, this constant focus on and pining for the future.

      On another note, when I received your email in early August, I was traveling and planned to check it out when I had greater internet access! Sorry it has taken me so long to respond. Looking forward to reading your blog about your time in the UK! Hope all is well with you :)

  2. Beautifully said. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. i remember you and I sitting on my sofa that night no one else showed up for our cell meeting. We talked about our top-notch fantasy lives! We talked then, too, about how its hard to be present sometimes when we have such vivid imaginings about what else could be. I loved reading this post this morning. I should read it every morning!

    Look how lovely reality is. We miss you in Philly, but I am so glad that you’re in Mozambique. xo

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