“No hurry in Africa”

“No hurry in Africa” is a commonplace; a view expressed to demonstrate the difference between the way of life on that continent and that in Europe. There is though a changing ethos in Uganda, which is moving along from the days when truly the clock was of secondary importance to the rising and the setting of the sun.

Nowadays many things operate to a timetable which is more or less adhered to. A concert  or a film at the cinema for example will start at the hour which is ordained on the ticket (sometimes more promptly even than here in France). Departure with your tour company , if you are going on safari, occurs at the hour printed on your itinerary.

 Our driver is not quite ready yet!

Our driver is not quite ready yet!

But there is still enough of the “plenty of time” attitude which is at the same time both refreshing and frustrating. It is relaxing not to have to be consulting your watch every five minutes. Most of the time, I go with the flow and accept the minor inconveniences that result from a laid-back approach to time-keeping. Ugandans have a talent for waiting which I have never fully gained.

It is nevertheless part of the British mentality to make a real effort to be there at the appointed hour. On one Kampala occasion (I was the driver), we made an appointment to be at our friends’ house for nine o’clock in the morning ready for an early departure for the villages where our projects are centred. We wanted an earlyish start because I prefer to be back in town before the rapid descent into the Ugandan darkness. I was finding night driving around the city increasingly difficult to negotiate, with its lack of street lighting and with so many vehicles only putting on their headlights when it is 120% necessary. That is to ignore the dangers of bodies darting out into the carriageway to cross haphazardly between vehicles.

The traffic, as always in Kampala, was horrific. I have been told that I drive like an Ugandan; one of the things that means is that you do not leave even the tiniest of spaces between your vehicle and the one in front; which is an invitation for the gap to be filled many times over, delaying your journey even more. So I was delighted, after such a rush across town, when we arrived no more than ten minutes after the appointed hour. That was truly early in Ugandan terms. We were ready to be off.

But then ten o’clock came and went without any sign of our departure. It was only after eleven o’clock that  – becoming rather frustrated – I approached George and, pointing determinedly at my watch, commented, “Aren’t we rather late?” A quick look at the time was followed by a relaxed, “Not really, no.” Ah well; sit back and wait; another example of how time trembles and modifies itself to meet the needs of human beings.

One of the first things that I had to learn very quickly is that the word “Now” has a completely different meaning from what it signifies in UK. In the beginning, you have to  puzzle when somebody tells you, “I am coming now”, and nobody arrives. For many Ugandans, that word signifies “soon”, or at least in a while. It is important, if you want something done immediately, to use the word twice; it is now-now that means immediately. That is logical is it not?

Earth roads in a storm do not speed things up!

Earth roads in a storm do not speed things up!

The truth is that, even in the capital, there is a mix of time cultures. The mindset of traditional village life when the rhythm of the day was all powerful has still not entirely disappeared. Yet people aspire to the routine of a 21st century, business-like society, when “time is money.” Things are not helped by the madness on the city roads which almost slows movement down to the pace that you can attain on foot; the traditional mode of transport. Of course, the perpetual city “jams” give everybody a ready-made excuse. An hour late? It was the traffic. It is quite possibly the truth; or maybe not. You can never know for certain. We have met one person who missed his flight from Entebbe to Paris because he had plenty of time to get to the airport. Unfortunately for him, he had not.

You cannot always accept delays with equanimity. It was our final day in Uganda and we had an afternoon departure from Kampala to be ready in time for our flight that night. I do indeed hate being late. However, there was work to be done, so we agreed on a venue and I made appointments with three different people to rendezvous there. Meetings were planned for midday, 1.00 pm and 2.00 pm. Nobody will be surprised to learn that all three arrived at the same time; at 3.00 pm. But at least we caught our flight.

Keith Mills

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8 thoughts on ““No hurry in Africa”

  1. Kasede Michael

    Dear Keith
    Thanks for the no hurry in Africa. We really need to do something about this attitude. It is costing our communities billions of shillings a year through work not done or work not completed. The adults seem to continuously pass this horrible vice to the young people.
    Once again thank you for the article.

    Webale nyo

    Kasede Michael

    Reply
  2. victoriarestoration1964

    Dear Keith,  thank you for message about there is no hurry in Africa, am back from Bubebbere, am sorry for not replying soon. am glad about thr passing of our children in PLE only Cliare failed, she will go for hair dressing or tailoring, I will talk to her, Nakaweesi Agnes is also pleading to go for hair dressing or tailoring but has no money, the need 500,000 to train her for one year but she cannot raise it. About the up keep for the water project at Bubebbere, we shall be using Diesel oil for 10,000 shillings per month and aso do service the pump every 4 months.Our Little angels school will be responsible for those charges. Berna

    Reply
  3. Pingback: A first-hand view of the villages where we are working | Forever Friends of Uganda

  4. Pingback: Heart-breaking reality : Danny’s Story Part Two | Forever Friends of Uganda

  5. Pingback: Keith’s Story | Forever Friends of Uganda

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