Before I moved to Uganda, I didn’t really “get” (what seemed like to this ignorant American anyways), the seeming disregard for ‘keeping time.’ What I have come to understand, at least in part, is that it is not so much a disregard for time as it is a cherishing of relationship. People and relationships are extremely important and play a key role in just about every decision made in life. Whoever is before you is priority!
For instance, it’s not so much that church starts promptly at 10 am as it is that it starts when the PEOPLE arrive … the drums may start “calling” everyone at 10 am, but if the people aren’t there until 10:30 or 11 am, then church doesn’t necessarily start until 10:30 or 11 am. This is especially true in the village, even today.
This also means that if you are on your way to somewhere and you happen to cross paths with a friend … well, you stop and greet that friend! Just because you only have 5 minutes left to get to your next appointment doesn’t mean that you don’t stop and greet! Remember – it’s the relationship that is key.
One cannot simply say ‘hi’ and move away without further conversation. After all, how is their family? How is “there?” So much more to know and appreciate about one another than a simple, “Hi.” It takes time to ask, listen and acknowledge. Then you give time for them to also ask, listen and acknowledge. One cannot simply do that in a few minutes if you see one another on your way to your next appointment! One must stop and cherish the other person or risk being rude.
It was also extremely helpful to give me a little perspective when a local friend pointed out something. “You know, it’s 3 o’clock until it’s 4 o’clock!” Think about that. It’s actually 3 o’clock until 3:59 is over … whoa! It’s 3 o’clock for 59 minutes! That was revolutionary and helped me to relax a bit on expecting on-the-dot timing. I was able to realize something new!
Once again, the western influence of ‘time keeping’ has had a large influence on the culture here, especially in towns and larger cities. You can see it as they adapt to on-the-dot time keeping for appointments’ sake. But the value of relationships carries on!!! And Ugandan culture is no where near what my own culture has taught me about keeping time. Definitely a lesson being learned here by me … and I hope that I can grasp it by putting it into a practice that becomes a habit.
While time is important, relationships are far more meaningful to cultivate. A new perspective could perhaps benefit us all. Slowing down enough to visit with a friend may be just what we need. And perhaps allowing this new perspective on time can help us not to be so stressed out with our schedules. Think about it.