When travelling to any country in Africa, you will encounter a huge difference regarding the perception of time – or how many call it you will get to know the ‘African time’.
Of course as a German I grew up with the very true cliché that being on time is a crucial behaviour if not a well-kept value. I like to think about myself as a relaxed person but sometimes I catch myself getting nervous if I realise I will be five minutes late for a meeting or appointment. A habit infused to me by my culture but that I learned to let go immediately when I lived and travelled to the African continent.
To get this out of the way: I do not blame Africans for being lazy or sloppy. The contrary is true! I rarely met people working so hard to make a living. However, even if people are having a tough live with little money and difficult living conditions they keep relaxed and do not panic when something does not go as planned.
No train? No worries..
Of course sometimes there is no choice whether to be on time or not when you look at factors like infrastructure and public transport in many (if not all) African countries. How can you be on time with a high probability that your transport is late, broken or overcrowded?
One exemplary experience I had was when I once waited for 3 hours to pick up some health workers from a train station in the Western Cape region of South Africa. The ladies got up at 4am to travel from the townships they live in to meet me at a train station to. But as it is, their train was delayed due to an accident on the tracks and they had to wait patiently in an overcrowded carrier knowing that their slightly nervous colleague from Germany is waiting to pick them up. When they arrived I expected a grumpy and at least complaining attitude but was surprised when I was greeted with smiling faces, laughter and exited chatting. After all they had made it to their destination – so why worry?
African time in Germany? Yes, please!
Now since that and other experiences I always have to smile to myself when I am waiting at a German train station and a train happens to be delayed. In the exact moment the delay is announced, you can feel a wave of annoyance rolling over the platform even if the train is delayed for as little as 5 minutes.
I have not been abroad for a longer period and have been living in Germany for two years now. So sometimes I catch myself rolling my eyes when my train is delayed for as little as five minutes, as well. You know, you tend to go with the flow.
But in such moments I try to remind myself of the ‘African time’ and suddenly a delayed train is not worth worrying about – even in Germany.