As promised, I have another post for you today. Yesterday I expanded upon my observations and experiences while at Nam Sai, a tilapia hatchery in Prachinburi, Thailand. Today, I want to briefly move away from fish and aquaculture and share some general thoughts about my year and how I’ve experienced time. Time has moved in very strange ways since I started my Watson year. It has sped up and slowed down in unexpected ways, and adjusting to these new rhythms of activity and life has been a learning experience all of its own. If it gets a little too preachy for you, feel free to just enjoy this Ellen Degenres stand-up set where she makes some awesome jokes about time!
Prior to my Watson year, I spent most of the last 17 years in a classroom setting. The last 4 were at a small liberal arts college where time could not have felt more uniform. There were rare occasions when time behaved weird – before a big test or waiting for some news from the outside world (e.g. a Watson decision – but for the most part I lived in a bubble where the rhythms of daily life were incredibly predictable. I don’t mean this is a negative way. It was awesome to have such a fine degree of “control”. I involved myself in so many different things on campus that I always had somewhere to be and time always clipped along at the same pace. I almost always had a firm grasp of when I should do things in relation to this pace.
Although I am only a little over a month into my Watson year, my experiences of time could not be further away from what I just described above. If time in college was like a blended tomato soup (uniform and predictable), time during my Watson year has been more akin to a thick stew (sometimes you get a beef chunk, sometimes its just a bit of thin broth OR maybe you get a bit of both and some soft carrots to add a completely new texture to the experience). Soup metaphors aside, time has been wildly unpredictable since I started on this journey. There has been significant down time; times when I’ve felt frustratingly unproductive, when time feels as if it has stopped completely. And there have been times when I can feel time speeding up, about to catapult me in a new direction, and I can only do so much to prepare for it before I must simply sit back and hope for the best.
Take my past week in Bangkok for example. I set up a few interviews in the city to help put my experiences at Nai Sai within a larger context and develop some ideas for where I might go next. The interviews were a fairly small fraction of the whole week and I actually needed to cancel one of them because I got food poisoning, so I ended up with a lot of free time. I’d just returned from the countryside expecting to get swept up in the fast pace of city life, but I found myself doing a lot of waiting. I waited for confirmation e-mails, for inspiration for a blog post, for my computer to finally upload all of my photos, and so on. I have been accustomed to “progress” so you can imagine how frustrating this week felt; especially because I did not have any further concrete plans for the future. I felt like there must be something I could be doing to speed up time, make it feel productive, move me in any direction. But, as I am re-learning every single day, sometimes all we can do is wait. And this does not make us lazy or unproductive but simply acknowledges that there are other agents in the world that work on different timescales and rhythms than us. I believe that the proper term for being okay with this is called patience. You could say that I am still learning to be patient.
Eventually, I sat down with an aquaculture officer at the UN FAO in Bangkok who gave me some really interesting insights into the infrastructure of aquaculture research in Thailand. The FAO has popped up throughout my Watson endeavors; their aquaculture info sheets for different countries were crucial in helping me write my proposal, they hosted one of the conferences I attended, and the aquaculture/fisheries officers I’ve met seem to be well connected to various other NGOs and governance groups throughout the world. Needless to say it was exciting to finally make it to one of their offices (and get to wear a guest badge in the process!)
At the end of our talk, the aquaculture officer shared two contacts from the Ministry of Marine Affairs in Indonesia with me. He suggested that it might be possible and worthwhile to visit the country to learn more about their rice-fish aquaculture programs, meant to promote rural food stability. Since then, time has accelerated to what feels like a breakneck pace. Over the course of 3 days I’ve exchanged several e-mails with these new connections who have been encouraging and supportive of a trip to Indonesia, booked a flight to Jakarta for next week, and am rapidly preparing myself for the impending journey! I know that I’ll be able to meet with some people in the ministry but there is also a possibility that I can meet non-governance stakeholders and conduct a few site visits. In many ways I feel as if time is once again throwing me into the unknown, which would have terrified me in college and still makes me nervous now. But I’ve also noticed that there are new sentiments in the mix; I feel more comfortable leaning into the acceleration. I am more excited and perhaps feeling better about just letting time pull me along, slow me down, and launch me forward.
This year so far has felt like an adventure at every turn. Even, and especially, in the moments when time feels like it has slowed to a standstill. I have had to abandon the idea that I can or should be infinitely productive, constantly moving forward. I have had to make a great deal of room for patience, silence, waiting, and really listening to myself. It has been wonderful, challenging, frustrating, exciting, and always unexpected. So I guess I’ll end today’s post by saying that I am immeasurably grateful that I get to learn in this way; that I’ve had all the experiences I’ve had and that there are so many more waiting for me in the next 11 months.