Iowa Writes

ARLYN NORRIS
African Time


We jostle along the rugged road leading to Masaulwa church, one of the preaching points that make up the Kidugala parish. I am riding with Pastor Wallace Lupenza, who lives in Kidugala, a small village in southern Tanzania.

Wallace drives an ancient, pale blue Toyota sedan that's not well-suited to the deep ridges, potholes, and furrows that erosion and traffic have carved into the dirt roadbed. Every few moments he exclaims, "Ahhh" or Ohhh" as the car lurches and sometime scrapes its undercarriage against the African soil.

I don't realize it yet, but we have begun travel on what the Tanzanians themselves refer to as African time. African time has only a loose relationship to clock time. In African time, schedules are anything but rigid. Any itinerary provides only a rough approximation of how events might actually unfold. Activities start when everything is ready and they last as long as it seems necessary.

We jostle along the rugged road leading to Masaulwa church, one of the preaching points that make up the Kidugala parish. I am riding with Pastor Wallace Lupenza, who lives in Kidugala, a small village in southern Tanzania.

Wallace drives an ancient, pale blue Toyota sedan that's not well-suited to the deep ridges, potholes, and furrows that erosion and traffic have carved into the dirt roadbed. Every few moments he exclaims, "Ahhh" or Ohhh" as the car lurches and sometime scrapes its undercarriage against the African soil.

I don't realize it yet, but we have begun travel on what the Tanzanians themselves refer to as African time. African time has only a loose relationship to clock time. In African time, schedules are anything but rigid. Any itinerary provides only a rough approximation of how events might actually unfold. Activities start when everything is ready and they last as long as it seems necessary.

Since there is no set ending time, we stay at each of the little mud or brick churches until each choir has a chance to sing, until the evangelists and the congregational leaders have spoken words of greeting and given us gifts of welcome, until we had eaten with them, drinking their sodas, munching hard boiled eggs and slices of fresh-baked bread. No one knows how long this will take. When it seems that everything is finished, we set out for the next church and the cycle repeated itself.

At first, I sense some impatience in myself. I want to know what time we are supposed to arrive, how long will we stay, when will it be time for us to leave. I soon realize, though, that I am only creating stress for myself.

When I simply allow things to unfold at their own pace, I find that I can enter into these experiences in a deeper way and enjoy them more. I don't have to worry about whether we were keeping to some sort of preplanned schedule.

As I became more comfortable with receiving the day as an unfolding gift rather than trying to force it to fit my rigid expectations, I discovered things I wouldn't have otherwise noticed. When I am waiting for a meeting to start, I can enjoy colorful blooms on the trees in the churchyard. While our group watches for the car that will pick us up, we might use some chalk to write the few Swahili words that we have learned on some cement, attempting to connect with children that have gathered where we are waiting. This way of approaching the day isn't as efficient as it might be, but it can be much more vibrant.

African time places value on human relationships which take time to develop. Even though this way of approaching life can be messy, it allows relationships the time they need to unfold. They can't be rushed.

The experience of African time enables me to see human life as a balance between serendipity and planning. This has been an important discovery for an American male who often acts as if the biggest problem with serendipity is that you just can't plan for it.

The issue is one of control. African time helps me realize that there is so much in my life that's beyond my control. I certainly have some influence on the direction my life takes, yet I also need to rely on something else to lead me, to open doors for me and strengthen me for the tasks I have been given to do. I try my best to discern what my work is to be, but I know that there are forces beyond me that will have a significant impact on how things turn out.

From my limited perspective, I can't make out much more than this. Even though the road can be pretty rough at times, I just try to enjoy the ride whenever I can, letting go of my attempts to master the route or determine the destination, waiting to see where it will take me next.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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ARLYN NORRIS

Arlyn Norris is a pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Treynor, Iowa.  His writing can be found in Awake At Sunrise.

This page was first displayed
on March 21, 2014

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