Waiting as part of travel

Weyto, Ethiopia

Weyto, Ethiopia

The waiting, sings Tom Petty, is the hardest part. It is also part of travel.

The picture above was taken on the outskirts of Weyto, Ethiopia. The two travelers and I (they were from Israel and Denmark) had just hitched a ride in a Land Cruiser belonging to a condom distributor (it was in the midst of a mutli-day promotional campaign through the country’s southern tribal regions). For about ninety minutes we trundled along with this ride, then we were back on the side of the road, sitting a few meters from a giant termite mound, watching a highway that doesn’t get all that much traffic. Eventually a government-owned truck gave us a lift (for a fee) and soon enough we were standing at our destination, Key Afar. But the process had taken a while: the day before we had waited on the side of the road for several hours but never even got the first ride.

Western culture says waiting is inefficient and a waste, and I suppose it sometimes is. But some things just take time. Discernment and forgiveness, for example, and getting around on a modest budget in southern Ethiopia.

It’s no secret that waiting isn’t always easy. Just ask a kid craving for Christmas morning so he can rip into the presents, or any American studying Arabic or Chinese in hopes of becoming fluent. But waiting is often the prerequisite for many a meaningful blessing—in life and on the road.

How about you? What kinds of “waiting” have you done in your journeys? How was it, and how do you look back on it now?

Posted by | Comments (5)  | August 17, 2010
Category: Africa, Images from the road

5 Responses to “Waiting as part of travel”

  1. Luke Says:

    To be honest, the trips which have sounded slow, or tedious, or boring to people when I tell them my tales from the road, have nearly always been the most interesting and rewarding for me in the moment. Things like the 2 day boat from Thailand into Laos (spending most of the time sitting in the insanely loud engine compartment to the rear of the boat, drinking what may have actually been embalming fluid whilst playing poker and watching the world side by), or the tiny little local buses to get from “city” to “city” around China, etc.

    I think that waiting is also an essential part of backpacking – it forces us to slow down, lets us tear off the blinkers which we have had to fashion to prevent the speed with which “Western” life passes us from causing stimulation overload. If we could pursue travel like we pursue other aspects of our life back home, we would probably not gain as much from it – it would be like trying to remember what happened last week in your 9-5 Zombie job, just part of the noise of a modern life.

  2. Natalia Says:

    On a recent trip to Switzerland (yes, efficient, clockwork Switzerland) it was really interesting to see the differences in how I and my accompanying six year old coped with waiting.
    I fretted every time I misjudged the timetable and we ended up waiting for our next connection (in one case, that meant two hours of waiting around). Yet he – the kid, the supposedly impatient one – just took it in his stride, as part of the experience of ‘travel’. It was a real lesson for me. Humbling, if I am being honest. And it taught me that waiting is just part of the process, and stressing about it proves absolutely nothing.

  3. Sage Says:

    I can handle waiting most anyplace, with the exception of an airport.

  4. Rebecca Says:

    Most people don’t like waiting because it means they’ll be alone with themselves and their thoughts or because they want to get from point A to point B now! Waiting can be a blessing in disguise. You never know who you’ll meet while you wait. Single people who complain about being single could meet their ‘mate’ while they wait. Think about that when you’re waiting in an airport, on the side of the road, or at the bus stop.

  5. Michael Says:

    I’ll be honest – waiting irks me. Not all waiting, as it seems to me that there are different kinds of waiting. However, waiting for 7 hours for a 200-km ride from Rostock to Berlin(and not getting it in the end) in rain while standing at the entrance to a gas station… That is the kind of waiting that irks me. When you are constantly reminded that about 1/10 of the cars could stop and give you a ride straight to Berlin, but they don’t…
    Other kinds of waiting aren’t so bad. When you’re not in a high-stress situation, waiting can be a pleasent time to reflect on whatever is on your mind, write or read something, grab a bite to eat. Most waits can be turned into a nice respite.