On day 19, I sat on a bus to Erfoud and scribbled the 200th page of my journal. While I was overcome by a sense of accomplishment, the milestone made me think about time. I find traveling solo to be a great opportunity to get some deep thinking done, especially when trapped on a bus for long hours. I often manage to sink so completely into a topic that I feel like I finally “get it.” My focused attention helps me reach conclusions I’d never find otherwise. Coincidentally, I was also in the throes of Ellen Bass’ poetry book, Like a Beggar, which happens to be ripe with time imagery. Here’s what I wrote on page 201 of my journal:
Ellen’s book is loaded with suggestions about time. Like the idea that time might only be witnessed directly by watching the second hands of a clock. But to truly attempt to watch the passage of time is futile. We watch a shadow as influenced by the sun but we never truly see it move. Time, if it exists beyond human construction, is purposeful in its slowness—it tracks at a pace that allows us to savor life more completely. In today’s world, we watch clocks and look in mirrors, we judge ourselves and never have enough time. We ought to relinquish our obsession of time and feel boredom again, be alone with ourselves again. That’s when the good stuff starts happening.
My notes are then interrupted by a conversation I had with a Moroccan man about my age who introduced himself as Hussein then offered me some of his sugar-fried chickpeas. Just that morning I had read something about the social offering of food and the dance between declining and insisting, which is always followed by the acceptance of a morsel or two. It’s like an ice-breaker. I laughed as I read it because what I found to be culturally fascinating was just a sign of good manners. And now on the bus I was experiencing it first-hand.
Hussein asked if I was from England. Or Germany. Or Ireland. Or Scotland. I finally just told him I was from the US and his head cocked. “The US, you know. America.” Then he nodded and gave me a thumb’s up. “Yes. Obama, good,” he said. I repeated his words, “Yes, Obama good.” Then he asked if he could practice his English with me. I agreed and Hussein started naming movies, actors, US presidents, and musical artists. I was surprised by his knowledge but maybe I shouldn’t have been. When he got to Tupac he started rapping Dear Mama. You can’t make this shit up.
We stopped at a rest stop where the driver cut the engine and shouted, “Ten minutes.” The doors popped open and everyone got off. We all took turns in the squat toilet then scattered in the café area. Some folks ordered tea, some got snacks. I bought some Oreos and chips and quick ate it all so I wouldn’t have to share it on the bus. About 35-minutes later, we left.
The driver blasted through ancient desert towns. Sometimes it felt like we were flying so I closed my eyes and pretended we were. Twice the driver got pulled over by military police. Twice we waited as he was issued speeding tickets, which he promptly tucked into a clip that was already stuffed with similar documents.
Before arriving in Erfoud, I remembered watching a video during which a physicist discussed the impossibility of time as we understand it. He said it was a human construct created specifically to make sense of things. He likened time to God. I remembered him saying that there was nothing about the present moment that can be measured. Her said that nothing that actually exists right now, that we can only anticipate the future, but as soon as it is witnessed, it becomes the past. Somehow it all made sense. But as soon as I stepped off the bus into a flurry of hawkers, I forgot everything.
Rest stop view from my CTM bus window