Most people in South Africa, to crudely generalize, are late. It happens both in the cities and in the rural areas. This is my experience so far and others may have a different point of view, but this is my blog, my world and so far, rarely things run on time. I hear this actually happens a lot in other African countries too. People are late to pick me up, the buses aren’t on time, and shows don’t start at the scheduled time. There are plenty of times in the village when I will show up for a meeting at the scheduled time and no one is even there yet.
This exact thing happened at a the August staff meeting. Ten o’clock I’m at the centre along with the other volunteers and we’re ready to begin. Unfortunately, only one of the 4 staff members is actually present, hindering the process. Slowly 2 more show up and then actually disappear after a few more minutes. At 10:45 I’m told that the chickens for the catering are frozen. Every meeting has catering, it’s a cultural thing, I think. If there is no lunch provided you’ll find yourself surrounded by disgruntled people and lots of complaining. It turns out the last missing staff members is out buying chickens, only to show up and inform us that the shop was out of them.
At 11:30, when all staff members are finally present and accounted for and catering mishaps are sorted out, I’m so fuming mad that it took a lot of the patience and deep breathing I’ve learned over this last year to not completely lash out. I’m running the meeting so the first thing I do is point to the poster of the ground rules on the wall – the ones they came up with as a group. The first one is ‘Be on Time.’ I was so upset that they didn’t even pretend to take the 10 o’clock start seriously and that they were completely unprepared for the catering (the meeting had been planned for a month). They wasted my time, as well as the other volunteers – it’s completely disrespectful – they were the ones that came up with the rule in the first place! I said my piece (and barred my teeth just a little bit) but we moved on to the real issues at hand. After the meeting I said something about trying to be on time for the next meeting, knowing full well that probably will just remain wishful thinking.
Come September, it’s the week of the staff meeting and I send out a reminder SMS like I always do and wonder if this month will be any different – I had doubts but was still hopeful. Susan, one of the staff members, lives next door to me, and we left early for the meeting. We got into the taxi and inside are two more staff members. This is amazing, it’s barely 9 am and 3 of the 4 staff members are on the way to the meeting which is scheduled to start at 10. We get to the centre and the other volunteers are there. Soon the last member shows up and I can’t actually believe my eyes – all of the staff is present, sitting in the room, ready to go and it’s only 9:15.
I’ve done something; I’ve gotten through to them somehow. I’m so excited I can’t contain myself. I suggest that we start the meeting early – we’re all present, it makes logical sense. But only in my head evidently (and the other volunteers). My suggestion is met with a resounding NO. The meeting isn’t scheduled to start till 10 so that means we can’t start early.
We proceed to sit, mostly in silence for almost 45 minutes. Just a few minutes before 10 they agree it’s ok to finally start.
Only in Africa.