I can’t believe I’ve been here almost five months.
Then again, sometimes I feel like I’ve been here forever, and so has everyone I meet here, like we’re all locked in some twilight-zone representation of the world, one that only changes at a glacial pace and will continue on doing so forever through its peaks of sadness and cheer.
Time here is at once ephemeral and permanent. It is strange from the smallest sense of the word to the largest sense of the word – from one second to a thousand years.
One second here can last forever, and lock into your consciousness for good – packed so densely with emotion that you’ll never forget it.
When a baby is struggling to breathe and you are sitting with her in a hospital with no resources, and a cold, dark winter night is all around you and seems like it is closing in fast to take hold of both you and the little one in your arms, seconds seem to last an eternity. They tick away in your head and you count them slowly, happy for each one and scared for the next. Each new second is your connection to the future, but might also be that sad thing they call a “Time of Death” for the helpless little baby in your arms. You hold on tighter.
Sometimes, for just one second, when I’m just waking up or am about to fall asleep, I will forget where I am. And then there is the next second, when I remember, and my mind and my body again go through the physical shock and awe and confusion and wonder and shivering adjustment of realizing that I am in Mokhotlong, at the edge of the world, or the peak of the world, and that I am staying here.
Just one second is time enough here for vast changes to occur. Things happen in a flash and you’re left to wonder why and how.
On the other end of the spectrum, a thousand years can seem trivial here. It’s easy to get the feeling that the impact of a thousand years wouldn’t be that great here, wouldn’t change all that much, because the last thousand years haven’t changed much here either. In certain villages, I feel like I could fall asleep, wake up a thousand years ago or a thousand years from now, and be absolutely none the wiser.
When I set out on outreach, and hike to a rural village and find nothing but a few stone rondavals with thatched roofing on the edge of a cliff, and all around me there is the enormous blueness of the panorama sky so big I wonder if its grounded and I’m the one floating above, I think of 2,000 years ago and wonder if people were living the same way back then. And then I think, yes, they were, and the feeling is strange. Thousands of years seem to flap away in the wind and I think, for just a split second, that I could be in Biblical times. The cell phone feels strange in my pocket, like a useless rock. No reception anyway. I’d be better off yelling from mountain to mountain like the locals, whose voices seem to carry so well and whose hearing seems mystical and far beyond my own.
Thousands of years vanish here to nothing.
I shudder at the brevity of time here when a baby is taken away, too soon, because some wretched little virus or bacteria steals him away with no apologies.
I try to comprehend the enormity of time, in terms of history and how far back I can see into the past, when I look at the simple villages in the middle of no where.
Time here is something you want to change for people, something you want to make more malleable in their lives. You want to give them the tools to manipulate time, the tools that are so prevalent elsewhere in the world. They shouldn’t have to walk for hours to get water, you think. They shouldn’t have to walk for half a day to get medical support.
Time: In a way, it’s what TTL deals in.
We reverse the horrors of months without enough food in a matter of weeks. We deliver support to families in hours in our outreach cars, covering distances that some of the family members may never travel in their lives.
Time, in a way, is what TTL gives people here. More time to live. More time to care about a child’s development and growth instead of worrying about where the next tin of formula is going to come from.
Time is what we all base our lives around. How we operate within it and the tools we have to use it efficiently shape our standards of living.
To be able to help change time for people, to give more of it to young babies, is a powerful thing. It’s a feeling I can grasp in one second, and a concept I feel I could mull over for thousands of years.
Time. It’s a strange thing here.
The TTLF Fellow is a representative of the North American organisation Touching Tiny Lives Foundation. Based for one year in Mokhotlong, Lesotho, the TTLF Fellow serves in an administrative support capacity for the Basotho charity Touching Tiny Lives (TTL).