I’ve been reading a thin little book over the past several months, a few pages at a time. I’m no where near halfway through it yet; I’m not in a hurry. I’m enjoying the author’s poetic prose, his observations, his musings and the images he conjures up. I really don’t want to finish it. I tell myself I’m savoring it, willing it to last. I want it to linger in my mind like a fine chocolate melting in my mouth. Even though I’ve never dallied over a piece of chocolate in my life. Likewise I tell myself I want to take my time in getting to know this village I now find myself in. I want to relish it and appreciate it, biting off little pieces everyday and seeing things as new for as long as I can. I’m going to be here for two years after all.
I am living on a mountain top, or rather in a little valley near the top of a chain of mountains, in a part of the world I never imagined I’d find myself. It is a small village off the beaten path and it has the potential of being an idyllic spot for a recluse or for someone in a witness protection program. There is only one road that winds through the mountains here, only one way to escape. I have only been in this village for a few short weeks and already I find there is little to do. There are no festivals, no markets, no movies. I haven’t even noticed any school soccer games going on; I would appreciate the diversion. I walk through and around town but after 10 minutes I’m back to where I started and I’m left needing to think of something else to do.
My mind frequently wonders of such things: things I need to do, things I should do, things that will either make me a part of this community or keep me apart from it. There’s a pretty little public park and a Buddhist temple (wat) a short walk from where I’m staying and I often escape there. A small mountain river is dammed up creating a languid canal that separates the park from the wat. It is filled with carp, but people don’t come to catch them. The fish are revered and fed daily by pilgrims and residents alike. My first day here my counterpart bought a plate of cut-up watermelon from a canal side vendor and we stood along the railing at the water’s edge tossing the juicy red flesh to the greedy carp.
When I visit the park now I don’t feed the fish, I go to immerse myself in the mood of this quiet, unattended sanctuary. When I retreat there I walk past concrete tables and benches and take note of the weedy spaces between them. I stare, less frequently each day now, at the headless plastic Buddha wedged into the remains of a long-gone palm frond where it once was attached to the plant’s stem. I recharge myself on one of those benches, one with a strategic view of the picturesque wooden footbridge that spans the chocolate milk brown canal. And each day I visit I wonder why no one else uses this park, but then if they did it wouldn’t be the same and I likely wouldn’t be sitting there now.
As I think about this village and my place in it I return to my little book. It is time to read a few more pages. The book is not a mystery or a crime novel. It doesn’t relate sweeping tales of daring do or of personal conquests. It is a book of disquiet and is labeled as a fictional diary, although it’s often said to be autobiographical. Like the canal I sit by each day, the pages of this book slowly flow through the narrator’s world and his moods, his overarching feelings of tedium and torpor, the very things I’m feeling at that moment. In my aloneness—or is it my apartness—I spend a few minutes with this friend I’ve lazily gotten to know and empathize with his sense of place.
Perhaps I need to feel the disquiet now—and for a little while longer—to reflect on all that is new and uncertain. Or is it possible that something in me doesn’t want to devour this book of unease in its totality. Maybe I instinctively know that I shouldn’t dwell there, but rather live in the here and now instead? As the author of this disquieting diary reminds me, “Life is whatever we make it. The traveller is the journey. What we see is not what we see but who we are.”