Wednesday, June 04, 2008

African Time

There are lots of jokes among travellers and expatriates about the concept of African Time.

Attitudes to time here are relaxed. Most people we call in for odd-jobs, plumbers and electricians etc, tell us confidently "They are coming". When we ask when they are coming, they reassure us they are coming now. They can arrive between 5 minutes and five hours later, depending on your luck, the time of day, the weather, and whatever else is going on in their lives.

We had a new employee starting the other day. He was asked to be here at 8am. At 11.17 he turned up in the office.

Then, the other day, whilst browsing an English-Lugandan phrase book, I discovered one possible explanation for this relaxed attitude to time-keeping.

They tell time differently here.

I'm not kidding. It's not just a question of lax time-keeping, it's an entirely different approach to dividing the day into hours.

A Lugandan will divide the day into two portions of twelve hours, just like we do. Except they don't start counting in the middle of the night. Their twelve hour sections represent night and day (the luxury of living on the equator where sunrise and sunset happen at the same time every day). So, a Lugandan will wake up with daybreak at seven o'clock in the morning (as we would express it) but they will call it one o'clock, as it's the first hour of daylight. So midday, in our terminology, becomes six o'clock Ugandan-style. Twelve o'clock, for a Lugandan, is six p.m. in our world, the twilight hour at the end of the day. Then at seven p.m. (our time), a Lugandan starts counting the next twelve hours of darkness.

What a head-f***! No wonder we all confuse eachother and noone is on time anywhere.

1 comment:

Dr Jude said...

Namibia has several concepts of "now": there is "now", and there is "just now" and then there is "now now". The latter seems to be the most swift, although it can still be a while before things happen.