Latest column for the Capital Journal, which ran March 16.
Part of my job description is to live like my villagers. I eat their food, wear their clothes, ride their transportation and speak their language. I also have to adopt their values, or learn to manage them.
It never occurred to me that the countries we were raised in determine our values, ones that control our everyday lives, and that others might not see the small things the way we do. It wasn’t until I left America that I realized how American I really am.
There are small differences between the Basotho and Americans. In America, I go from one place to the next without looking up at the stranger I pass. In Lesotho, I greet every man, woman and child on my way to and from school.
Greetings are a simple adjustment, and a pleasant one. However, there are gaps in values that harder to adhere to and, for me, the toughest is time.
In America, almost every activity is given a start time and, often, an ending time. We don’t like things that take too much time and we aren’t fans of waiting. Late people are thought of as rude and we operate on the philosophy “Time is money.”
But in Lesotho, time has very little impact. It’s not uncommon to plan to meet someone at a certain time and they show up an hour late. To them, showing up at all is more important than the actual time.
Buses and taxis have no schedule and when they arrive and depart depends on the car’s fullness. You get in a taxi and may have to wait five minutes or an hour for the driver to be satisfied with the number of passengers. Even when he does leave, he may stop a dozen times to wait for additional customers walking along side roads. The other passengers don’t scream or threaten to find another vehicle; they just wait.
Meetings, events and church services don’t pay attention to run-time and can go as long as four hours. No one leaves upset or stands up to say, “This is a waste of time.” It’s just African time.
I am the only person who wears a watch in my village. I may think the meeting could be wrapped in an hour and there should be no excuse for students who come to school 15 minutes late but I am the foreigner and the only one with time standards. So, I must adapt.
I’ve learned to take a book with me and watch the scenery like a movie. Patience is not a virtue of mine, but I am trying. For 27 years, I lived by the clock, but now I have to relearn to live without it. It’s not easy, but, if I want to live without frustration, I must.