Posts Tagged ‘time’

Nigeria is suffering from an epidemic that it doesn’t have a vaccine. To date, no known researchers are trying to find a cure, but the outbreak is rampant and unavoidable. Surprisingly, the ailment has a comprehensive Wikipedia page, legitimizing it as an acknowledged phenomenon. The case is known as African Time or more specifically, Nigerian Time. No one has reported any deaths resulting directly from African Time, but thousands of people report headaches, delays, missed opportunities and schedule changes daily.

African Time is the tendency to a relaxed, indifferent attitude towards time and starting events or arriving at meetings/classes/parties at their scheduled times. It is the acceptance that nothing will start at the absolute time indicated on the schedule. It is holding a University class for 10 a.m. and the professor repeatedly showing up at 10:15. It is going to see a play at the theater that says 7 p.m. on the ticket, and characters take the stage at 7:30. You will never see an event in Nigeria that starts at 9:15 or 5:45, none of those odd number times. Events are scheduled on the hour because it is simply understood that the chance of people arriving exactly 15 minutes past nine is miniscule. People indicate start times on posters or invitations a full hour before they intend to really start anticipating people will be that late. You frequently see “6 p.m. prompt” on invitations- a valiant effort to curb the tardiness. Ironically, Nigerians love watches. Boys are always walking through traffic selling sleek knock-off watches, but apparently the time pieces don’t serve such a practical purpose. Not every institution or person runs on this leisurely clock, but it is clearly visible everyday and sometimes inevitable because of society here.

Africans are not always to blame for showing up 30 minutes late to the group meeting. Sometimes there are good excuses out of a person’s control: public transportation is one of them. The chaotic route of mini-busses (danfos) and motorbikes (okadas) that constitutes public transportation does not operate on a schedule. You cannot go to http://www.Danfo.com and see a to-the-minute schedule of when a certain danfo will be arriving at a given bus stop. You go to the bus stop, or the side of the road and wait until you see one of those dilapidated white busses zip by. (For the speed racer way the bus, taxi and okada drivers drive you should think Nigerians would be on time for everything. One of the ironies of African Time.) Traffic poses another problem. Unexpected stand still traffic jams caused by trucks that break down in the middle of the road are frequent. I have learned that the term ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) does not work here because anything could happen on the way and we don’t have the luxury of continual traffic updates to keep us privy to road blocks. Then there is the problem of constantly losing electricity that puts a damper on plans overall.

In the U.S. and many other countries, we live our lives by the hands on the clock. They tell us when we are busy and when we are free, when we need to be somewhere and when we can leave. In Nigeria, time adapts to the situation. If Yoruba class is scheduled for 3 p.m. and there is a massive rain fall at 2:50 p.m., you can be sure no students will show up on time. The tricky thing about African Time is you know it will be late, but you don’t know exactly how late. 10 minutes? 20? 40? It can be a very problematic guessing game sometimes.

The U.S. has it’s mini-version of African Time, we call it being “fashionably late,” but it applies strictly to parties. It’s common knowledge that it is not cool to be the first one at a party. But if you showed up to a meeting at your workplace 20 minutes after it stared and said, “I am just running fashionably late,” your co-workers would look at you like a crazy person. In Nigeria, if you arrive at the meeting 20 minutes after the scheduled start time, it is likely it still won’t have started.

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One month? Really?!

Exactly one month ago I left home. At the end of each month I (I think college students in general) tend to reflect on the past month and say something like “Woah, that went fast. It’s October already?” When September came to a close and it was time to celebrate 50 years of Nigerian independence from Britain on October 1, I did not have the familiar shocked exclamation at how fast the month went. On the contrary, it feels like I’ve been here for maybe three months.

The pace of life here has been super slow here compared to the U.S. I don’t have papers to write, hundreds of pages to read or big parties to go to on the weekends. At night I pass the time talking to my host family, reading the Wole Soyinka book I’m currently enthralled in, or reviewing new Yoruba vocabulary words. Most of the time we do not have electricity at night, more impetus to relax. Plus, students don’t go out much at night here. As far as I know, no bar or club exists on campus. The closest thing is a restaurant called Spices that serves beer and Suya, a Nigerian delicacy I will explain in a later post. I go to bed between 9 and 11 pm every night. It’s wonderful! It feels liberating to have no serious obligations or stress hanging over my head for the first time in years.

Even though we have seen a lot and as first time visitors in Nigeria, we have experienced new things, time still feels like its gone slow. It seems I measure time by the measurable achievements I’ve made over a given time. In Madison, one month feels like a week because we are constantly checking things off a checklist, meeting deadlines and making plans. In Nigeria one month feels like three months that constant pressure to accomplish things is not there. Except for the driving culture (cars speed everywhere and honk constantly), urgency is a foreign concept. Nigerians are not disappointed if plans don’t turn out because it’s expected. Transitioning from the fast-pace life I lived in Madison to the easy going, slow life here is a much welcome change. I think it will change when University classes start in November but until then I will bask in the slowness of life.

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