Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Africa & Me

So, I think I'm slowly becoming more African. Symptoms? Read below:

A lessening dependence on time. Time has become a much more fluid concept to me since moving to Africa. In part, lessening my attachment to time - deadlines, being on time, keeping a schedule, planning ahead- is a survival mechanism. Let's just say if I had a few pula for every minute since moving to Botswana I've spent waiting for a meeting, for an appointment, for a friend, for information, for a customer service rep (and the list goes on), I'd be all set for an early retirement! I'm exaggerating a little, but you get my point. In keeping with African culture, I've toned down my level of punctuality and respect for deadlines quite a bit considering I have only lived in Botswana for six months, and this has been key to not going insane. Because, let's face it, what does it really matter if a meeting starts a few minutes late? There's nothing going on the rest of the afternoon anyway. Why does it matter if my flight is delayed? I'm just going on vacation, and don't have plans other than to lie by the hotel pool anyway. So just chill and deal with it.

I still have some learning to do, and I need to work on staying consistently resistant to time constraints, because sometimes I forget all that I have learned in my six months in Africa and regress back to my American standards of time. For example, last night I was VERY STRESSED because I was running late to a film festival I was invited to attend through work. We're talking pounding heart, flushed cheeks, shaking hands, erratic crazy driving through the congested streets to get there on time, get there on time! no matter what the cost. I was mortified to be forty minutes late. As I burst through the doors into the film festival, frantic apology for being late on the tip of my tongue, I realized that the event hadn't even started yet! Everyone else was just sitting back chatting and relaxing, waiting for the festival to begin on its own time. They probably wondered why the tall white person was so sweaty and red-faced, with her nostrils flaring and eyes darting erratically from side to side (are they like that all the time?).

A miraculously even temper (particularly when faced with African attitude about scheduling). There was a time, not so long ago, when said film festival starting late would have irked me to no end. We Americans like to stick to our schedules, and so when I first came to Botswana, the whole "we'll get to it when we get to it" mentality would drive me nuts several times a day! Although I still experience minor tremors of irritation when things are unduly delayed, I feel that I have become much more tolerant during my months here.

Another timely example to demonstrate my point came today at work. I was supposed to attend a very important, much discussed conference this morning. The venue, a 45 minute drive outside Gaborone, was set months ago and I double-confirmed with the organizers recently to make sure I was going to the right place. So, this morning, I set out to begin the long drive bright and early to make sure I got there in plenty of time for the start of the conference.... only to arrive a respectable ten minutes early and discover that, actually, the venue had been moved to the Gaborone city center, practically around the corner from my office! The conference organizers did not notify any attendees, and most people (except those who had been smart enough to confirm the venue the day before) just showed up at the original location! We all then had to truck ourselves 45 minutes back to town and the conference finally got started once we all arrived at the correct venue.

Now, in my first couple of months in Botswana this would have ruined my day; this morning, I just laughed, rolled my eyes, and hopped into the car to head back to Gaborone. My local staff colleague who was attending the conference with me asked if this sort of thing happened as much in the United States as it does in Botswana. I told him NO! - that if something like this happened in the U.S. there would probably be an outrage, probably some type of violent riot or something. He said that poor organization does bother people in Botswana probably as much as it bothers people in the U.S.; the difference is that people in Botswana have the attitude that "this is just the way it is here" and therefore they just grin and bear it, rather than protesting and insisting that things be done better.

I enjoy just doing nothing. My last post, A Lazy Weekend in Gaborone, touches on this subject as well. I don't know if it's the oppressive heat, the slow pace of life here, the above-mentioned local attitude that time is not of the essence, or a combination of all of these, but lately what I want to do most of the time is a whole lot of nothing! Previously, in my pre-Africa life, I was one of those people who always had to be doing some sort of productive activity during my free time - studying Chinese, tidying up the apartment, catching up with a friend. Well, no more! That silly idea has gone right out the window. Sometimes I feel like those Batswana village residents who just want to sit under a tree in the shade and ruminate with a cup of tea. Except for a few small details: I like to lie in my pool with a Diet Coke and read my book!

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