No hurry in Africa. No time to waste.
Africans are not the best timekeepers.
Yeah... I said it!
I was recently quite annoyed with a good friend mine who we had scheduled to meet with and head on for an important festival pitch. The subsequent meeting was a funding pitch to a very high profile county government official. I was quite fired up for this one. I was up two hours before my regular wake and I was careful to rehearse my "punch lines", select my wardrobe and breathe in the much needed air of confidence.
So I sat patiently waiting for my colleague to join me at the agreed rendezvous point. Thirty minutes in, the man was nowhere in sight! Then one hour... then two!!
Really!?👿 What!!! I swore to myself to punch him on sight!
He soon walked in and as his calm and composed nature would prevail, He easily explained that he had had an unexpected personal emergency. "The nerve of this...(place unprintable words here)!!!". I swear you should have seen his face. Smiling nonchalantly as if the world was not about to end because of this tardy recklessness. I didn't punch him. Anyways we headed out for the meeting but as you might imagine, it didn't really carry the same energy as I had intended it to bring. Just mildly successful. I can imagine the positive energy that a little prompt attention would have brought especially since I had every intention to channel it that way. Any well can run dry after a long season of drought, you know.
I find the expression "African time" as an obscene and misplaced excuse for this behaviour. When the name "African" is attached, it doesn't existentially give it a justified definition. It just adds a naughty ring to it. Lateness is probably a personal trait that may be attributed to anyone in Gondwanaland but its the way Africans themselves 'accept' and welcome this expression that worries me. Arabs don't want to be called terrorists by other Arabs but Africans freely use the N word on each other, ha! The irony of life.
There's a lot of balance to seek in the fabric of our social cultures but methinks we have to remain fair in our judgements of culture and character. I know many Africans who would never be late to brush their teeth and yet they presumably fall in the category of 'African timers' by default; not because they have never been late, even for valid reasons but because they are Africans. Saara will tell you that non-africans also get this tag by right of association. Fair or funny? I guess my problem is with the "African" tag, and it is all our fault.
What's so hard about keeping time!? It's an invaluable act of self-discipline that cannot be overemphasised. Here we still have leaders who still believe they gain mileage when they are fashionably late for public meetings. And yes, the sheep follow the shepherd faithfully.
--- Ozzy ---
(except for the GIF that is totally on Saara who could not stop laughing at it...)
... Recently there was a situation, where a lady got furious with me because of waiting for 2 minutes. She ended up shouting at me for the next 5 minutes…
… I notice myself running down or up the staircase at the metro station to catch the train that goes every 2,5 minutes…
… I start worrying about being late and send a “sorry I might be a bit late” message even before I am actually late…
… I get annoyed when a bus that is said to come 9.05 actually arrives 9.07…
Yeah... how about that?
If this sounds familiar you are probably living in Finland, or another time and efficiency oriented society. I am very often troubled about time. The pressure the concept of time can give us. The anxiety time can create and the frustration and anger time can evoke.
How troubling it is that we let ourselves to be pressured by something we in the end have no control over. Time is not something we can own or possess. Even the thought of “saving” or “wasting” time is absurd. Just the other day I was rolling my eyes in the metro to a woman who decided to multitask and do tricep push ups against the seat in the metro while being on a hands free phone call. Excellent efficiency and imagine all the time saved!
I am no better. Multitasker, over achiever and master of efficiency who very easily finds herself doing more than one thing at a time and thinking how to optimise the efficiency in everything. Cooking while emptying the dishwasher in between doing the laundry and when the rice is boiling, answering work emails while listening to a podcast with earphones. Occasionally I catch myself in these moments and take a step back, remind myself of the “African time” mood I already once adopted and consciously slow down.
Being punctual, following schedules and respecting set appointments and deadlines are key elements for our society to function. But I do think, it has gone too far and “time” has gotten a value it should not have. We have pretty much gone to the other extreme from the situation Ozzy is describing. And true, I am guilty of using this expression in a funny sense describing someone being late or taking their time without worry of set times or limits.“You are being a bit african with your time” I might have said to someone, most often probably to my husband who actually is “african” but which should not have anything to do with time, punctuality or efficiency.
When I first moved to Tanzania I struggled with “African time”. It took me forever to realise that set times are not really “set” and that “time” does not actually even mean the time we see in the clock. I might say that time is too abstract to put into a material framework. That’s a bit deep, I totally understand if you lost me there. Maybe a quote will help...
I once read this quote in a book by a Finnish artist traveling with a motorbike in western Africa. This is my free translation of the quote:
“Nobody reads, and everyone would have time to read. Nobody meditates or does yoga. Everyone just is. All that time that Europeans and Americans would want for their hobbies has escaped here. But here it just runs to nothing.” (Anna Retulainen, Matka moottoripyörällä Benin, Togo 2013)
I’ll just leave you with that thought and go do some yoga.
I only have 20 minutes before I need to pick up the laundry from the dryer. And dear god being late to pick up your laundry from the laundry room after your shift is over is kind of not acceptable here in Finland.
--- Saara ---
(am still laughing at that penguin...)