29 January 2016

Africa Taught Me To Wait

*Note: I do not like to make sweeping generalizations about culture. But this post includes a few, I think. I try to keep them accurate to my story and experience.*

I got my first taste of 'African time' when I studied abroad in Tanzania. I learned quickly that most events happen when they happen, not necessarily at a scheduled time. Trips were changed at the last minute and our daily schedule changed regularly. But I learned to love living in the moment. It was strange, actually. As an oldest child I had always thrived on schedule and predictability. But somehow I learned to 'go with the flow'.

Fast forward a few years (7 to be exact) and I got another taste of 'African time' while living in Uganda. I only lived in Uganda for a year and a half and in the grand scheme of things, that's not very long. But I believe those 18 months changed me. A day hardly goes by that I don't think about Uganda, Africa, and the people I miss. And about how much I learned about myself and about culture. I'm realizing more and more that 'African time' is one of those things that changed me. During my first visit back to the US from Uganda, my mom ended up in the hospital for a few days. And we spent a lot of time just waiting: waiting for doctors, waiting for appointments, waiting for news. Even at that point my family noticed how much more patient I was to just be.

Fast forward three more years and I was back in Uganda last summer. My beloved East Africa. Before we started working at KEST last June, someone gave us some advice to make the most of our time:
  1. Slow down.
  2. Listen more, talk less.
  3. Focus on relationships.
Those three things guided decisions we made and conversations we had. And as we did so we found ourselves living on 'African time' every day. We discovered that slowing down and focusing on relationships made our short time in Uganda richer...richer because we focused on things bigger than our to-do lists and productivity.

A few months ago, I picked up friends from the airport. I arrived early and waited in the Cell Phone Lot. I actually waited about 30-40 minutes until they were ready for me to get them at the terminal. I was thoroughly content watching cars drive by, checking my email on my phone, daydreaming. I thought about our time-conscious culture in the US and I *should* be annoyed by the wait. Instead I noticed the sunny day and the blue sky.

In my job, I'm learning that living on African time means slowing down during each interaction with a student. Recently, a student was telling me about her frustrations about textbooks. In my head I literally thought, "Slow down. Look at her. Listen." Then I answered her question.

We live in a go, go, go culture and it's easy to focus on "productivity" over relationships.

But I also think that travel changes us and if we let it, we can take the good from more than one place and let those cultures shape us in new ways. I can either think: "Yay, Africa! I love it there!" And move on with my life. Or I can choose to think: what of East African culture do I value? How can I bring that into my daily life?

And by doing that, I make the world a little smaller and myself a better person.

The Taxi Park in Kampala. This especially symbolizes waiting to me.
You wait in a taxi bus until it is full. There is no schedule.

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