March 2010 Reflection

There is something to be said for the act of traveling. When people talk about their “travels,” they are usually referring to times spent in destinations and the memories that come home afterwards. In January, I did not take a 12-hour bus ride along the Upper Atlas Mountains of Morocco, on what was supposed to be a road but would have been more accurately described as the bare mountainside, for the joy of a drive. No, I took the bus to get from Erfud to Nador. That’s it. But when I reflect on my brief stint in Morocco, one of the most salient memories I have is of this bus ride. Fear for one’s life embosses a moment into the brain. As the other seventy-five passengers and I were slammed against glass and flung into the aisle, where the unlucky passengers without seats stood, I was forced to accept that life was not going to become any better for another ten hours unless I embraced the thrill of the ride.

The Moroccan ballads blaring for the entirety of the bus ride, the curves, the sweat, the stale smell of body, and the fidgety teenager sitting next to me all returned to my mind as I ascended to the granite peak of Purple Mountain in County Kerry in March. I am not sure why. To gaze upon the shimmering lakes of Killarney while contemplating loud music, nausea, horrid scents, and an obnoxious bus companion was like eating smoked salmon and black licorice at the same time. They don’t go together very well, and the latter is best to avoid if possible. During this conflict for space in my consciousness — Kerry landscape vs. Moroccan bus adventure — I wondered if these two moments cohabited my thoughts because they were dramatically different in purpose and context yet so similar in itinerary. I subjected myself to the bus out of necessity; I needed to be in Nador the next morning to catch a flight. But I trekked to the summit of Purple Mountain out of desire to see Ireland from a different angle; I wanted to see something new. Although my reasons for traveling in these two situations were different, they both involved a destination as my goal, a disproportionate amount of time traveling to that destination, and a fleeting moment once there. Why does one travel for 6- to 12-hours to reach a place where little time will be spent? It sounds crazy to do such a thing in Middle-of-Nowhere Morocco, but it’s standard fare for a day-trek.

Even when I am not exploring Ireland or another country, this behavior seems to recur at my desk in Cork. I sit here for countless hours each week, working on research projects to attempt to generate knowledge about Irish health issues and about more general epidemiological topics. The use of the scientific method is akin to the act of traveling. One begins with a hypothesis and arrives at a conclusion by way of the method, similar to how one originates in location A and goes to location B by way of a bus or one’s feet. The method can be thought of as a mode of transportation, with which one may take many possible routes, just as a bus driver can take one of many roads or a trekker can take one of many paths. The value of science resides not just in the knowledge it generates but also in the process with which one achieves that knowledge, and the value of traversing rivers and climbing rocks to get to the top of a mountain is not just in reaching the mountaintop but also in the climb itself. So it seems that I should embrace my bus ride from Erfud to Nador. Perhaps I should find value in the blaring Moroccan ballads, the curves, the sweat, the stale smell of body, and the fidgety teenager sitting next to me — well, maybe not him — and consider the bus ride to be my destination.

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