I always considered myself to be a punctual person. I’ve never missed a deadline in my life, and I normally show up on time. Well, at least I thought I did. But recently I’ve been realizing that perhaps my years spent living in Africa have altered my definition of what “on time” means.
The other day I attend a meeting that was scheduled for 10am. Or should I say, 10:00am. Because minutes matter. I showed up at 10:02, expecting to be the first one there. Instead, I was the last one there. Everyone was already seated and ready to go, and the meeting started immediately after I walked in.
Since then, I’ve adjusted my behavior: rather than leave my desk at the time the meeting is scheduled for, I start gearing up for the meeting when Outlook gives me the 5 minute advance reminder. Apparently in America, a 10am meeting means that the meeting starts at 10am, not that you show up at 10am.
Contrast that to Liberia, where a 10am meeting means that the foreign consultants show up at 10ish (or perhaps 10am sharp, if they just recently arrived and don’t know any better), the Liberian counterparts show up at 10:15ish, then everybody waits around a long time until the Minister (or other senior person) shows up at 10:30ish, and finally the meeting starts at 10:45ish after a bit of chit chat. Showing up “on time” often meant nothing more than wasting your time.
As for punctuality in Somaliland, I felt that the lateness units were more often days than hours. At the university where I worked, on the day semester was supposed to start, no students would show up for the first class. But, the following day, and the day after, they started trickling in. What’s a minute or two here, a day or two there really?