Africans Don’t Know What Time Is
And woe to those who do and care.
I am sitting in yet another “go slow” amazed that Ghanaian businessmen can waste so much time. When I was told we were going to the freight forwarder’s office, I groaned, knowing the traffic jam that surrounds his office.
When I complained that it would take us at least an hour each way, he countered with the correct but inaccurate, “What’s the problem? It is two kilometers from here.” While that is the true distance, the complete gridlock on those two kilometers will waste most our day.
And yet here we sit, inching along at 1 kilometer an hour, my life flashing before my eyes. The big boss man, he is stoic, looking out the window lost in thought, or at least calm. His complete disregard for time is not unique.
In Nigeria, tardiness was so rampant and egregious, I started betting people on the length of their delay. The bet would go something like this:
Me: Where are you? We were to meet now.
I did that enough times to win about $150 in Nigeria. I need to start this practice in Ghana too. I could finance most of my personal travel that way. Betting Africans that they don’t know what time is.
Of course, I’ve spent enough time waiting for people that I developed a theory on the lack of time management. Simply, Africans don’t know time because they never had too. They don’t usually have jobs that require close clock-watching, and so don’t even use watches or clocks to measure time. They only need a general approximation of what time it is, so an hour is a flexible unit of measurement that is felt rather than defined.
And maybe they live better lives because of it.