It is often said that we rarely regret what we have done only what we didn’t do. At least for me, this definitely holds true.
Along this vein, I’ve been thinking lately of places I didn’t visit that I wish I had. Most places, of course, I can still get to, but a few are places that will never be the same and I wish I’d gone then.
One is Massawa, Eritrea. In 2001, just after the end of the Eritrean-Ethiopian war, I spent a month working as a consultant in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. The country was still recovering and everything felt raw. My work was on HIV education and during my time there, I befriended a Ugandan man whom I’d met briefly years before at a conference on AIDS in Uganda. He was ex-military and was, by that point, working with the United Nations Peace Keepers on scaling up HIV awareness for the deployed troops.
About mid-way through my time there, he invited me to join him and a few other UN Peace Keeping folks for a weekend trip to Massawa. We’d travel on a UN helicopter and just stay over for a night or two. I didn’t know him well, although he seemed like a good guy, so I shrunk into my better-safe-than-sorry shell and skipped the trip. By the end of my time in Eritrea I’d heard countless stories about the beautiful setting of Massawa and that it was like no other place in the world.
When I returned to Eritrea in 2004 again at that time nearly impossible, to get to Massawa because the roads were out and the train didn’t go that far since conflicts were starting up again. Now, fourteen years later, that soldier is still a dear friend but I’d missed my chance and, to this day, I wish I’d gone that weekend so very long ago to see Massawa at that moment and capture a moment in history.
Another place I wish I’d visited is Timbuktu. Although my trip to Mali was a brief one – only a week – I so wish I’d taken vacation time before hand to visit Timbuktu and some of the other more remote places in Mali.
On that occasion, I didn’t think I should take the time from work or spend the money to go. It would always be there and, one day, I thought, I’d come back and attend the Festival in The Desert – an African music festival – in Essakane, near Timbuktu and it would all be fine. But I didn’t go back and now, sadly, that festival can no longer operate because of the ongoing fighting happening in Mali and neighboring countries. If you visit their website, instead of date, it says “Still in Exile.” In that instance, I didn’t go because of a sense of duty to my job. Truth is, nobody would have cared and the work still would have gotten done. I would have spent the money, but what a great adventure and investment it would have been.
The flip side of that are the places that people practically forced me to go that I also might have skipped: the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat, for example. In both cases, on my work trips to India and Cambodia, respectively, I was so tired from the travel that I suggested to colleagues that I just skip those trips, but they organized them anyway and I am forever grateful that they did. “No” was not an answer they would accept and I thank them for their stubbornness.
Currently, my list of countries to visit is actually very short, but Greenland is at the top. I want to go there for a couple of weeks to write and, with luck, see the northern lights. I don’t know when, or how I’ll make it happen, but I will.
Particularly when we remember the lives of individuals who have left us unexpectedly, I am reminded that I need to seize every happy moment I have, and accept and appreciate my many blessings.
Life is short – definitely too short to hold regrets!