I nearly had the title "On AFRICAN Timekeeping", which wouldn't have been fair for I hardly know any of Africa other than a few countries. Having now spent almost 12 months (7 last year and almost 4 this year) in Ghana during these two years, I think I can safely write a few lines on punctuality here. In fact having been on the receiving end of the lax attitude re: timekeeping most of the time (for 99% of the time I'd say - 1% of the time I admit I might have also become the perpetrator!), I feel obliged to write something on it 🙂
Being a Nepali, I am not new to having a different sense of timekeeping (as we so fondly call "Nepali Time" for a similarly lax attitude to punctuality in Nepal), but having lived in the "west" for better part of the last decade, I have become a bit impatient person when it comes to timekeeping, meaning I like to be on time and expect others to do the same. Coming to Ghana, and moreover living here for all these months has made me lower my expectations considerably when it comes to expecting others to be punctual, and occasionally I have arrived late (not on purpose though), however, almost always to find myself being earlier than others again!
Ghana Telecom "...linking people everywhere" but without the phone. How can u let others know you're going to be late...oh yea, by using their mobile network instead!
Last year when I was new to the place, and when Ghana was known to me as an example of political stability and economic progress in the region (mainly through my readings and from the news!), I thought things were different. I would turn up for a meeting at agreed time of ten in the morning, only to wait for the person I was going to meet till two in the afternoon! Even then if the person turned up at two, he would utter a few words of apology, that too in not so apologetic tone (rather in a way that I should be grateful that they showed up despite their "busy schedule" - leaving me to wonder if my time here has no value at all!). After a while I started calling the person before going for any scheduled meeting, to make sure either the person was already there or would arrive shortly. However, they would dupe me into coming telling me they were "on the way", which is almost as common an excuse as "sorry I got stuck on traffic". I would wait and wait, call and wait again, and every time I called, they would still be "on the way coming". Sometimes a journey of 20 minutes would take two hours because every time I called, they would say "I'm on the way coming", and I would have no option but to wait as they were "on the way coming"!
Now in my second year, my first year's experience has come in handy. Firstly, I try to set appointments as favourable to me as is possible, for example at my house, or office or at times when I know people usually are on time - such as for lunch or dinner, or even breakfast occasionally! I don't make an appointment and waste time before and after that waiting for people to turn up - either I call and only when they have turned up that I go to the meeting (I've myself "turned into a Ghanaian" according to some of my friends!), or that I set a series of tentative assignments/appointments so that if one appointment fails to materialise, I'd have other things to work on. And when people say "I'm on my way coming", I understand that they might be two hours in coming so I make sure I have something else to do till then!
Before I wrap up this piece in a timely fashion, I thought I should share a couple of experiences. Recently I happened to be attending two functions (separate dates n venues of course) - both to be graced by the Regional Minister as the "Chief Guest". The first function was a "one-day workshop" supposed to be starting at 8am and end by 6pm. Because of certain issues with the arranged transport (which, if I go into detail, is sure to make a new entry altogether!), I couldn't go until mid-day! When I finally got to the venue, the workshop hadn't started, in fact they were waiting all that time for the chief guest (regional minister) to arrive! Finally they received the news that the minister wouldn't be coming (till then they must have had some "hope") and the program started - after a few minutes of opening speeches and so on, the organisers brought in refreshments (cold drinks n biscuits) and there was local cultural show (drumming n dancing), which lasted for about half an hour (will put video in YouTube when I'm back in York!). Then the program resumed with the "replacement" guest of honour. I was thinking the program will probably last till late in the evening so during the boring session in between, I sneaked out for lunch. When I returned at the venue at 4pm, the workshop had apparently ended and the participants were departing! I was just shocked how the workshop that was supposed to start at 8am and end at 6pm, could start at noon and end at 4pm!
The second function was the inauguration ceremony of a shea-butter processing centre, again the guest of honour was supposed to be the regional minister, and the function was supposed to start at 10am. When I arrived at the venue with a couple of other friends (bideshi too), very few people were there and it was already 10! After a while we were getting the vibes that the guest of honour might be the reason behind the delay, which was confirmed a bit later as we started the function about an hour and half late (not too bad I thought!), the regional minister didn't show up (was supposed to be "on his way"), and the person who was supposed to be representing him and delivering his "written speech" made a hash of it, skipping pages, talking about things that had no concern to shea industry and so on. Anyway, with usual refreshments in the middle and some "cultural show", the ceremony ended before time, which again surprised me! So, at least they finish things on time if they cannot start them on time I thought. While on my way back (a friend was giving a ride up to town) we saw a convoy of vehicles rushing towards the venue, preceded by policemen on motorbikes, which indicated that the regional minister was going to the function, after it had officially ended of course. And he wasn't much late, by only about 4 hours!. And the most important thing, I'm sure, is that he made time to come to the function, despite his very busy schedule!