Americans always seem busy. They seem to constantly have somewhere to go or something to do. Their lives seem consumed by constant movement — whether that movement is productive or not. This starkly contrasts with the Tanzanian mentality of fluid time. People here often show up to meetings late, a gesture that is neither rude nor unexpected. They do not view time the way that Americans do, and they do not place a lot of clout on timeliness. It is something that is both frustrating and refreshing.
The pace of life is leisurely, and people seem to have more personal connections with each other. … The relationships here seem more personal as a result of such gestures. … It is incredibly refreshing to see human connection unmarred by haste and the pursuit of money.
This lateness, colloquially known as “African time,” is deeply ingrained in the culture in Shirati. No one seems like they are in a rush, and everyone takes the time to engage with others in their daily lives. There have been many people who have taken the time out of their day to help us with little things such as finding buildings and hanging up flyers. It makes these strangers feel a little less strange and the community feel a little more like home. The pace of life is leisurely, and people seem to have more personal connections with each other. Everyone stops to say hi to each other on the street. Once, one of the locals we made friends with stopped his car on the side of the road to greet us when we were walking by. The relationships here seem more personal as a result of such gestures. Friends are abundant if you try to make them, and people are extremely present when speaking to you. It is incredibly refreshing to see human connection unmarred by haste and the pursuit of money.
There is, however, a flip-side to this phenomenon. Meetings never start on time, drivers are never prompt, and things never get done on schedule. It proves incredibly frustrating at times, and there have been moments when I have wondered if my project would get done on time. It is discouraging when important meetings get changed at the last minute, and no one seems to think it is a problem. However, the culture here makes it impossible to stick to a stringent timeline, so I have learned that it is best to be flexible and trust that everything will work out. Usually, everything does work out. I have learned that there is nothing wrong with being a little late. In fact, it taught me to be flexible and take the time to enjoy human interaction rather than just focus on getting the project done. It has helped me appreciate the people here more and understand the culture better. While I would like it if things progressed in a timelier fashion, I think I like “African time.”