Coconuts, Crows and African Time

18 09 2012

Some things in Africa are simple adjustments, others surprises and of course some are almost beyond my  comprehension.  One thing that is puzzling here is time.  Time is basically kept in 24 hour increments.  Well  sort of. 24 hours really divided into sections like 1 hour after Sunrise 3 hours after Sunrise, after noon literally, afternoon figuratively and then after dark.  The day starts at sunrise.  Now that makes sense but as we all know that is not a constant.  The sun actually rises at a different time every single day.  So when you tell someone to meet you at say 10:AM in normal Western vernacular, you are actually telling them to meet you four hours after the sun comes up.  Plus don’t forget we count the hour the sun comes up as the first hour.  If you wear a watch, like I do, then when your watch says 10:AM it will seldom actually be the fourth hour after sunrise.  And of course no one that wears a watch and sets it by the sun rising.  Maybe  that explains why the call to prayer at the Mosque down the street is constantly starting 10 to 20 minutes off the hour. What it does not explain is the African explanation of time and distance.  It has been a common experience here to ask someone in the midst of a journey, how much longer to our destination.  Anyone with children knows this is an important travel question.  The answers I typically get are  “not long”,” 15 minutes” or “we are almost there”.  Now these answers have absolutely no bearing on where you are verses where you are going or  when you will arrive.  I have decided that what they actually are is something quite different.  To the African mind in the travel mode, you are asking for hope.   Hope that you will in fact arrive.  And in order to give you hope they give you an answer that will inspire hope and relieve you from immediate worry and stress.  And I must say for the first time or two someone told me I had just 15 minutes till my destination I was relieved of the stress of riding in a crowded matatu or dala dala, (bus) with the chickens crammed together in full body contact with more humans than I thought could get in a bus.  However, after two hours pass and you ask again and they still say 15 minutes the stress relieving effects are greatly diminished.  Then you begin to feel the frustration of impending insanity and a fear that not only is this trip taking too long but it will possibly never end.  I know this is irrational for me to feel this way, but in a strange sarcastic mindset I am reminded of that Greek tale of Sisypus pushing the  immense stone up the hill, working so hard but never actually completing his task. Distance is much the same.  For two days as I journeyed from Nairobi to Kitale then later from Kiminini to some village who’s name I have forgotten I was constantly told  when I asked the question of how much further,  30 kilometers.   Sometimes this is really great.  Because remember on a long trip, at some point you are in fact 30 kilometers away.  Then there are those wonderful occasions where someone tells you it is 30 kilometers to the destination and you find yourself there in 10 minutes in rush hour traffic.  But as you might already be guessing, those experiences are few and far between.  Once again, most people assume you want assurance, what your are really needing is hope, so they tell you 30 kilometers, even when you are clearly 90 kilometers away.  Such is reality in Africa. The crows, however, are  consistent in their presence ,but  a puzzle to me in their actions until the other day.  First  you need to understand they are the size of the typical American  eagle.  They are huge.  And I live in a home with a tin roof.  Frequently as the sunrises, these flying beast decide to get on the roof right over my head and vie for some territorial advantage.  They shove each other and caw at each other.  Their big  feet or talons slide and click on the tin roof making a sound like drunken tap dancers.  Occasionally these seemingly inebriated performance artist actually knock each other off their feet and their heavy bodies thump against the tin.  But yesterday they took things to a new level.  They began bowling over my head.  Yes bowling.  We eat coconuts here quite a bit.  Not coconuts by themselves, but rather rice, beans and many other foods cooked with coconut.  They are actually much better with some coconut in them.  It really adds flavor, changes the consistency and mouth feel.  Trust me it is great you should try it.  But we don’t get it in neat packages at Kroger.  No, someone somewhere climbs a tree and gets a coconut. The ladies here spends 20 minutes getting the husk off, ( did you know coconuts had a husk?), you see it takes work to get to the hard shell to even begin to get to the wonderful filling and juice or milk.  So when the process is complete you have two hard coconut shell halves.  Now we don’t have garbage pick up here.  I see burned spots in the yard so at some point we burn things to get rid of them.  So husk are simply lying around.  I had noticed coconut shells on the roofs of houses as I looked out the window at houses further down the hill.  I had assumed some mischievous children had thrown them up there.  Nope, it was the crows.  Yesterday I actually saw these crows flying around with coconut halves in their mouths.  Solving the, who is bowling on my roof mystery.  No strikes, no spares just rolling and fighting over the remnants of the white insides of these coconut halves.   Now I know why we have heavy bars on the windows.  I was at first worried that I was in a high crime area.  Now I understand.  The danger of sailing coconuts could come at any time.  I figure the next one will be here in about 15 minutes.  And it could be traveling at 30 kilometers an hour.  And that will happen at exactly 7:AM  or rather at saa moja asubuhi.  The first hour after Sunrise.  If you have a watch on then that will be 7:AM give or take the veritable changes in  the equinox.  You will know when it is here. Thirty minutes before the call to prayer will begin at the mosque, then right on the money the bowing begins.

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One response

18 09 2012
Alice

LOL! This is too funny! It seems that you are well on your way to assimilating into the culture. This is great. I love that you use the term “we” and not “they.” May the Lord bless your church and continue to bless and prosper your ministry. I had my niece read your blog. She said that at first she was not going to read it, and then she said, I was glad that I did. She found it extremely interesting and also entertaining. This was her first look into another culture. Thanks and may God richly bless you and your host family, also the people of Tanzania!

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