“Island time.” That’s a little phrase every island seems to use to brag of their slowed-down pace and their nonchalant disregard for the clock and its obnoxiously consistent ticking. It’s an anthem almost, as if clear waters and sunny beaches weren’t enough to draw the jealous attention of vacationing business men and newly graduated back-packers. Indeed Island time is good for a little while. Two weeks with a long awaited visit home just at the other end has been a bit much of this proud “island time” however, but I will say that it’s given me time to think. The internet here runs on “island speed” or “ice age speed” or whatever you want to call it, and it’s expensive at that, so I had few of my usual go-to entertainments in this surplus of island time.
It’s odd the things I think about. The past. The new world around me. The old world I left. Projects. Stories. Regrets. Hopes. Joys. And other things…
How long it’s been since I’ve sent a text message or operated a car, for example.
How surprisingly quickly I’ve worn through these flip-flops my friend gave me in Thailand.
What it will be like to wake up to a Monday in a working world where monday isn’t just another day. It’s the start of a work-week.
How there’s hardly a scrap of clothing left in my bag free of stains or holes and fit for public.
I think of myself more than half a year ago, frowning down at a garden of cracked and spotted tomatoes that struggled to grow in their little plot of land below the parking lot back in the little green town-house I left, wishing so strongly that I could fast-forward to the moment I would be sitting in an airport. Ready to see the world. I remember struggling to care about those hopeless tomatoes.
I remember a feeling of longing that happens maybe rarely in a person’s life, and only wraps itself around the deepest passions, like a strong current of water swirling around too small a space.
In a softer, gentler way, I also remember yearning for something that would remind me of home around the time I reached Thailand. Just after the half-way mark of our non-stop international travel. I remember putting simple things like peanut-butter, tomato soup, and the kitchen table in my parents house up on a pedestal where they felt too far out of reach.
The other day I saw a man walk up to the pay-phone (a very popular spot here on the island) with an attendant from the Telecom store by his side. She ran through some simple instructions for him, then left him to make his call. “Ok Ok.” He said, though his accent was thick, and he seemed to know few other words in English. When she left, he picked up the phone and talked into it, as if he expected she’d pushed all the necessary buttons, worked her techie magic and summoned the voice of his friend into the phone. “Ni Ni! Ni!” He said, and I wondered if this was a word I didn’t know in his native tongue or the name of a friend. There was nothing. No response. He hung up the phone tentatively, and examined the paper on which the attendant had written a string of digits. It was clear he didn’t know what the digits meant.
I wondered what the old man would do, whether I should help him or what I would even say to help him. He sat in the little aluminum chair by the pay-phone and stared out at the ocean across the street. At first his brow was furrowed and I pitied him for his obvious confusion at operating this frustrating machine. A machine that’s old enough to be nearly extinct in most cities back home. I glanced at him again and saw that the frustration was gone. He was just sitting. Waiting for the energy to try again perhaps, or weighing how important the call really was. Or perhaps he was just sitting. Resting. Infected by the island-time of Rarotonga, perhaps he was just thinking about the most remote and irrelevant things. He sat there for a long while before shuffling back inside the Telecom to summon the attendant once more.
This time she pressed the necessary buttons for him. She worked her techie magic and his friend was summoned to the phone. “Ni! Ni!” he said again.
His conversation lasted barely more than three sentences, before he hung up the phone and made his slow way down the sidewalk again.
Somehow I thought of the old man today as I was writing. On islands and in travel, there are moments to reach for home and moments to sit with the water throwing silvery sparkles into your eyes. That man seemed so urgent when he arrived at the phone, but not so urgent that he couldn’t allow himself to succumb to island-time. To just think.