Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Mzungu Time

I'm getting pretty frustrated sometimes. People know I'm not the most patient person in the world. I knew coming here that things go at a slower pace, so I was bracing myself, but even so it can be frustrating. In Tanzania, they think it is hilarious that I wear a watch. No one wears watches here because they just don't tell time with that much precision. They use the sun. They use things like when the cows come home, when the roosters crow, etc. They will point to the sky and say things like "when the sun gets to there we will meet." They say that I am on "mzungu time" ("mzungu" is a word meaning white person, but it isn't derogatory. For example, sometimes when you're going down the street in a car, little children will run along the side yelling "Mzungu! Mzungu!" ). When the people here talk about meeting for something, if they are serious, they will actually use the phrase "mzungu time." They will say things like "tomorrow Richard is teaching, so class will start at 8am mzungu time." That means class will actually start at that time and you need to actually be there.

However most people mostly just break the day up into morning, afternoon, and evening and use that as a general window. You can setup an important meeting with someone at 8am, and you will sit there for three and a half ours hours waiting for them. They will come strolling in at 11:30am as if it were nothing. When you ask about it...they actually get frustrated at you! They will say things like "I made it here. It is still morning time, so what are you worried about?"

I don't want to be judgmental, but I have to say, it is a wonder things get done around here at all sometimes. I mean, how does a business meeting in Dar Es Salaam ever actually take place?


tales_from_the_crib said...

wow...i may be a baby, but i definitely run on mzungu time. if my nap or milk is fifteen minutes late you will hear about will the neighbors...that would drive me nuts! at least you aren't there forever...this is prolly another of those culture shock things you wrote about, huh?

Mario said...

In the Philippines, things would get done "by and by" ... I think that equates to the English translation from the Dutch conversion of the Spanish slang translation for the Tagalog or Ilocano word for "eventually". Can you find the equivalent Swahili word for me? ... Just remember Therese's story about "Patience burro, patience." !'s 10:00 a.m. Mzungu time here, so I'd better get back to it!