“Why don’t you have clocks in your house; this is driving me crazy–what time is it?!” The remark of a recent visitor rebounded in my head as I looked around the post office and glanced at my bare wrist, wistfully wishing for a clock. Of course, there were no clocks to be found. I had been standing in front of the post office counter for what seemed like a decade (who knows, exactly how long?), still waiting for change.
At first, like my visitor, I was really bothered by the slow pace of life and the lack of clock-time awareness in Tanzania. Because I didn’t know what time it was, time seemed to pass so slowly, and I constantly felt like I was living in a time warp. Those first days and months in Africa often seemed to stretch eternally. The clock may be missing from our post office not because people don’t care what time it is, but because they often will judge time by event instead of hour. So, for example, church starts when people gather for church, not at a specific time. Also, whereas in the states, time is money; here, time is only what it is–time, and there is an abundance of it. Not everyone is rich, but everyone has time.
For example, late last night, after a long day of caring for a newborn baby with Ross away, I slumped exhausted in the kitchen, preparing myself mentally to begin making dinner from scratch, and my housekeeper, Mariam, surprised me with food. She was on her way out the door, but she had put a little plate of piping hot ugali and mchuzi out for me to eat. Food was a welcome sight, as I had been so busy bouncing baby that I had not stopped for lunch. She sat down next to me in the dining room and said, “Eat. Ugali makes strong milk.” A going-out bag was in her hand, and I knew she was on her way to run an errand.
“But, aren’t you on your way out? Go ahead and go, and I’ll eat by myself.”
“No,” she said, “I have time. I’ll sit here while you eat.” In America, I doubt that even if my own mother had an errand to do, she would just sit and watch me eat so that I would have company.
And so, I am beginning to think of the abundance of time in my African life as a special luxury and a gift to give others. In my African life, I can rock my newborn baby for another few minutes, appreciate those long hours of afternoon that never seem that they will end, and savor the peace I have in Christ while waiting in the post office line.