Growing up in America, I learned that time means money. Work hard, at all times, to get the job done so that you can move onto the next thing. Then, do it all over again. However, as a kid I was unaware that my thoughts and actions were being formed in that way; it was just natural. Society, culture, and trends in the US impacted how I grew up in a way that made me hold importance in working my absolute hardest to get the outcome I wanted. Weather that was in school, in sports, at work, in relationships- work as hard as you can, as fast as you can. Now, I thought I finally challenged that thought process and way of living in university. Especially after my study abroad trip, I was certain I had finally settled into this way of working hard with both validity and compassion. I began taking breaks when I needed to, recognizing when I needed to ask for help, and let go of being outcome driven and shift to being driven by the growth in the process. I was excited by my new way of living and felt at peace with it.
Well, then I started living and interning in Cape Town. Before I came, I learned what “African Time” was, and I actually loved the idea of it. The idea of going about life in a more holistic, natural, and empathetic way was inviting. African time can best be described in examples: Church may be set to start at 9am, but it may actually start at 9am, 9:30am, or even 10:30am. The reason it might start late? Because maybe the pastor was running late after helping his neighbor, or maybe the congregation were all connecting on a deep level and it would be best to not be interrupted, or maybe they needed more time to set up to make the service more special. Whatever the reason is, everyone understands that it is starting late for a good reason.
Learning about African time was eye opening, and it excited me because of how empathy is deeply rooted in it. Living in and experiencing African time though, that was what was truly eye opening. Again, I thought I had gone through this big change of lifestyle in university once I recognized how to challenge the lifestyle I learned growing up in the US. But little did I know that I needed to continue to challenge my thought processes and way of living in regards to “working hard.”
My first day of interning I spent the day helping the staff deep clean the school. Due to COVID, the government pushed back learners’ return to school until Feb 15th. While I was cleaning I felt I was back to the days when I worked at a summer camp. So I went into auto pilot; cleaning as fast as I could, making sure I cleaned everything to its fullest extent, and asked for the next task that needed to be done the moment I stopped. The staff was very thankful for the work I was doing and kept telling me to take a break and to rest. To which I would respond, “No it is ok, what else can I do?” Until eventually they practically forced me to rest. At first, I felt useless. Maybe I wasn’t doing a good job and that’s why I was being forced to rest?
What I soon realized was that no, I was not useless, I was just working in an American, capitalist mindset. At the school, they recognize hard work and believe one should take time to rest to be able to get more, quality, work done later. Along with that, it is important to connect with each other while working and help others out with their task, not just focus on your own. Once I finally took a step back and noticed this, I realized I needed to let go of my past thoughts on work ethic and adapt African time. Because at the end of the day, it is best to help another fully fulfill their task and then tomorrow they may even help you with yours. It is best to take rest, to take things as they come, and to live in the moment. It’s beautiful. African time is something that might have taken a moment to get used to, but I deeply appreciate it. You can see African time in conversations; the way each person is truly present, and how they take time to connect. You see it in the way people make plans; leaving space for things to start whenever everyone is ready as opposed to at the specifically set, rigid time.
I might be thinking “too deeply” into a simple, everyday thing, but I truly have found beauty in this commonality. It makes me realize how many of my conversations with people in the US have been transactional. Yes, conversations with my friends and family have always been authentic and intentional, but my conversations with cashiers at the store, with a coworker during lunch break, with acquaintances at an event- they tend to be rooted in, what can I do for you and you do for me? Most of the time, I wouldn’t even notice that being the root of the conversation, it was just natural. I have noticed that many of my relationships in the States tended to be transactional, even if the transaction was love or kindness. We in the States are simply accustomed to it. But here in South Africa, it’s different. Almost every single person I speak to, shares love and community without expecting it in return. They give you their time, without expecting it in return. Of course, everyone hopes to get what they put out returned to them, but the difference, in my experience, is that here in South Africa people don’t innately expect it from you.
To make a long, drowned out thought short- be kind, be empathetic, be understanding. African time has taught me to slow down, and make time for what is really important: connection with people. And from now on I will continue to challenge my go-go-go and outcome based attitude. I will refocus my purpose and thoughts on time. I will center my time around what I truly love, connecting with people.