Thursday, March 16, 2006

“East Africa Time” (Thursday, 23 February)

On Thursday morning, we had our first experience of what we and our Lui friends came to call – with increasing hilarity (at least on our part) – “East Africa time.” I have a hunch that notions like “punching a time clock” are distinctly American. In a continent where things are much more fluid – and only a minority of folks own wristwatches – time and punctuality are much more flexible.

We had been told to be ready and waiting outside the Guest House at 7:30 a.m., in order to make it to the small, local airport for our charter flight to Lui. We were there. But we waited at least half an hour before our drivers arrived. Of course, we Americans were fretting about “the punctuality thing,” but our Kenyan and Sudanese drivers didn’t seem worried in the least. Once they got us loaded into their cars, they just remained in cell-phone contact with the folks who had arranged the flight, and all was well.

The phrase “East Africa time” became a sort of joke among us all. Each evening in Lui, we would debrief about the day’s events then talk with Bishop Bullen or others about the next day’s plan, and we would ask roughly what time we should be ready to depart or meet the next day. Our host would state a time – “7:00” or “7:30 sharp” or “right after breakfast.” As the days wore on, when they would pronounce that time, some of us would add, “East Africa time?” and they would chuckle (or guffaw) and say, “Of course!” Schedules depend on whether the vehicle will start, and whether the roads are passable, and when the sun rises, and, and, and …

Bottom line: When you go to Lui, prepare to be flexible. Being grateful for a lovingly prepared breakfast, and sharing conversation with a Lui friend are much more important than whether the LandRover arrives at “the appointed hour.”

Watch and wait, for ye know not the hour when the journey may actually begin! ;)

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