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African time is defined to be the perceived cultural tendency, in parts of Africa and the Caribbean toward a more relaxed attitude to time. It’s an attitude of not arriving or doing something at the right time. The question is, the right time for who?
I recently had frustrating business encounter with a furniture company. I specifically, to my best communication ability (with pictures) asked for a desk to be made. The owner of the company assured me it would take a week to complete this desk. It was time sensitive for me and a week was perfect. So, I confidently paid my half deposit right on the spot trusting it will be completed in a week.
I met with the owner on a Wednesday the 9th of September and confirmed that a week to complete the desk would be the following week Thursday on the 17th. I texted to ask on the progress of the desk and I was blue-ticked. I let it go and set it in my mind that maybe it won’t take an exact week so maybe I should give it a couple of more days after the expected finish date to check up on collection.
However, I went again the following Tuesday on the 16th to physically check the progress since he blue-ticked me when I texted. Upon my arrival, I found out that he hadn’t even started. He claimed that he did as he dubiously pointed at random pieces of wood, claiming that they were parts of the desk. I let it go and told him I will be back on the 19th (which was a Saturday, two days more than expected) to collect the desk.
Saturday came and it still wasn’t finished. At this point I made up my mind and demanded for a refund. He was indifferent to my demand and just accepted to give me a refund. Even the refund took a couple of more days than he said it would be. This was a clear lose-lose situation. African time!
Moments Of Silence
On the contrary, I have been working with people in the rural areas. The work we are doing is in a village that has a cemetery which accommodates deaths of people from about 5 villages over a 10km radius.
In our culture when a funeral is happening. Work in the village stops. For a couple of days, especially those places near the cemetery. With every funeral that happened we lost two days. About four funerals happened in a month (You can do the math to calculate how many days we lost.)
However, what I saw was Ubuntu. Where it is customary to mourn together. Where our time as a community stops for us to pay our respect. This is Ubuntu, a strong foundation in African cultures. I am because you are. A different look at African time.
These contrasting views have led me to conclude with a questioning thought. That maybe African time isn’t supposed to be an attitude for laziness or breaking trust and communication for a set date but acknowledging that sometimes things out of our control, which tend to be bigger than us interrupt our plans and we must make peace with it. African time could be another way of saying, something beyond me got in the way. Not just merely an ideal reason for showing up late.