Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Time in the Shadow of the Sun

The European and the African have an entirely different concept of time. In the European worldview, time exists outside man, exists objectively, and has measurable and linear characteristics. According to Newton, time is absolute: “Absolute, true, mathematical time of itself and from its own nature, it flows equably and without relation to anything external.” The European feels himself to be time's slave, dependent on it, subject to it. To exist and function, he must observe its ironclad, inviolate laws, its inflexible principles and rules. He must heed deadlines, dates, days, and hours. He moves within the rigors of time and cannot exist outside them. They impose upon him their requirements and quotas. An unresolvable conflict exists between man and time, one that always ends with man's defeat – time annilhates him.

Africans apprehend time differently. For them, it is a much looser concept, more open, elastic, subjective. It is man who influences time, its shape, course, and rhythm (man acting, of course, with the consent of gods and ancestors). Time is even something that man can create outright, for time is made manifest through events, and whether an event takes place or not depends, after all, on man alone. If two armies do not engage in a battle, then that battle will not occur (in other words, time will not have revealed its presence, will not have come into being).

Time appears as a result of our actions, and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it. It is something that springs to life under our influence, but falls into a state of hibernation, even nonexistence, if we do not direct our energy toward it. It is a subservient, passive essence, and, most importantly, one dependent on man.

The absolute opposite of time as it is understood in the European worldview.

In practical terms, this means that if you go to a village where a meeting is scheduled for the afternoon but find no one at the appointed spot, asking, “When will the meeting take place?” makes no sense. You know the answer: “It will take place when people come.

I will stop quoting here ... I could quote the whole book – The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuśiński. It is perhaps the best book I have read about contemporary Africa.

I began work in the local education system. “When is term to start?” “Oh the Ministry hasn't announced it yet”, “In a few weeks time ...” etc etc. The ministry, with two weeks antecedence, would announce the beginning of term two weeks later after which the teachers would (or would not) turn up to find no pupils who would (or would not) turn up two weeks later.

Soon after I started my current employment with an international radio network which has a relay station here, I was encharged with the recruitment of local technicians. Jorge and Victor are probably te best in the country so we poached them. Sitting with Jorge over a beer one evening, he remarked to me “So what if the news doesn't go out at 00:00.00 and goes out at 00:00.48?”. I couldn't agree more.

There, somehow, exists a difference between European and African timeviews.

I recall as a child long interminable summers interspersed with long interminable school-terms ... the only reason we children would appear would be a previous notification from the school to our parents and the inevitable school-bell – it didn't really matter to us. School happened when school happened, when us children turned up

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