On Time

There’s a Jamaican saying or proverb for just about everything. From “dawg a sweat but long ‘air cover im” [people may be hurting or struggling, but they try to disguise their pain] to “if yuh go a tumpafoot dance, yuh fi dance tumpafoot” [when in Rome, do as the Romans do]. There are few that induce eye rolling and cringing on my part: “tek time” and “soon come.”

Most Americans, for better or worse, were raised and socialized to be schedule-followers. The phrases “if you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late; if you’re late you’re left” and “if we’re 15 minutes late in the morning, we’ll be two hours behind schedule at the end of the day” come to mind. We’ve been conditioned to be achievers, to adhere to schedules to a fault. There’s an awful lot to get done in our lifetime, why waste it? My upbringing was no different. Making people wait is considered the height of rudeness.

Which brings me to Jamaica. “Tek time” is means we should take things slow, savor life and all of its pleasures. I apologize in advance for quoting Eat, Pray, Love, but it reminds me of that Italian phrase il bel far niente, the art of doing nothing. You know, eating gelato and having a cappuccino and people watching for an afternoon. Which is a good deal of fun, not to mention relaxing, if you’re a tourist. I have a hard time making this proverb a lifestyle. Not in my nature I guess.

They stressed this during training. If a meeting is scheduled to start at 10, don’t count on it starting until at least 10:30. Jamaican’s don’t think it is a disrespect of time to be late. We call it “island time” or “Jamaica time.” When someone says they’ll “soon come,” that can mean 15 minutes or 2 hours or 3 years. Ambiguity! But of course, we can’t expect the culture to change for us, we have to adapt to it. Which means being bored is part of the game. I’m getting an astounding amount of reading done here (anyone want to get me a Kindle for an early Christmas present?), as well as knitting.

If I continue to get frustrated by the Jamaican concept of time, I’m going to go stark raving mad. There are a hundred little (and big) things about Jamaica that irritate me, but I can’t let it get me down. Overall, the beauty of the island and richness of the culture, not to mention the important work Peace Corps is doing here, far exceeds these little irritations.

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About Elizabeth Riley

It's the wonders I'm after, even if I have to bleed for them.
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2 Responses to On Time

  1. One day Elizabeth those thousand things that irritate you now will be what endears Jamaica to you later – you doing great things!

  2. Deidre Harmon says:

    Basically….I want you to come home! However, keep up the good work, you are doing big things Elizabeth that will change the worldddddd!!!!

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