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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

No Hurry In LIFE

As I reflect on the life I live in the UK, I think of my everyday routine as a student in part-time employment. I consider myself to be very in tune with time. Time dictates what I do and when. In fact, I often find myself stressing over it. Most days, I wake up to an alarm I’ve pre-set the night before which corresponds with the schedule I must adhere to the following day. It’s in my nature to make sure I’m on time, or I face the consequences. Therefore, without much forewarning, we UK volunteers began to find ourselves arriving on time for business meetings or functions here in Sandema, only to wait for the other attendants to filter in over the course of about 2 hours.

When trying to comprehend this unusually casual approach to time-keeping, the word ‘future’ sprung to mind. This word exists in both cultures, but can be understood conceptually in very different ways. For us Westerners, time is mechanical; business demands that time must run at a constant speed for everyone. Our arrangements, payments, deliveries etc. are very precisely drawn onto our timelines. Conversely, some Ghanaians seem to believe in no such unshakeable future -which leads me to the concept of GMT (no, not Greenwich Mean Time) – ‘Ghana Man time’. Some Ghanaians express that they don’t like to speculate about the future, anything could happen in the course of getting from one place to another. For example, you may encounter a rain storm, or bump into a relative. By tradition, if you fail to greet someone you pass, that person has no obligation to warn you of any approaching dangers, and so you’re potentially putting yourself at risk. Basically, some Ghanaians tend to rest on emotional marks in time, and as far as the future is concerned, these marks are yet to be made. Subsequently, a Ghanaian may considers his/her influence over the future as small, so why waste time worrying about it? In fact, here in Sandema, everyone is constantly reminded there is no hurry in life – it’s signposted everywhere!

Our local 'No Hurry In Life' Supermarket. 
Each culture has a specific orientation towards time and a set of corresponding priorities for various proceedings within its cultural life. In a western society you may often hear the saying “time is money”. Western cultures emphasise promptness and regard the completion of tasks as most important, hence our stress over deadlines. Whereas some Ghanaians tend to take a more flexible approach to time as they consider relationships to be more important than jobs at hand. So if you bump into a friend or relative on the way to work, or have a family issue to deal with, it’s acceptable to attend to them over any other work related or social commitments.

In a way, this attitude is refreshing to me. I look back to my everyday life in the UK, and realise that in my race against the clock, I am barely able to live in the present and truly appreciate it. Coming to Ghana has highlighted the importance of greeting others and maintaining the relationships you form within your community. After all, it’s these relationships that keep you connected, and help you maintain a sense of belonging. For the duration of our stay here in Sandema, it is essential we adopt this attitude to ensure the work we do here can be sustained.

On the other hand, I have also been witness to the draining effect of GMT both emotionally and economically. GMT seemed a laughable concept at first, and to some Ghanaians, it still is. Unfortunately, the development of some local associations and committees is impacted by the lateness and overall lack of commitment shown by some of their members. Valuable contributions are delayed and development is halted. In the grander scheme of things, the impact of GMT is felt all over Ghana. The Chairman of the National Media Commission, Kwasi Gyan Apenteng, has described GMT as an “age-long problem” that needs addressing as a nation. After all, as a developing country, time and resources have been spent on improving the systems, structures etc. of Ghana. Therefore, time is an important resource that must be managed efficiently if any such development is to continue at the necessary pace.

Whether you see time as money, something to be controlled or something that will guide you from one point to another. I think we can all agree that time is one of the most precious commodities. What is the time? To be on time, to have time, or to make time. These are just few of many expressions we use that involve time. But when such variation in time perception exists across cultures, these expressions can all mean very different things. Witnessing these cultural differences first hand, I have learnt to manage my time more efficiently. Time management was always something I felt I had nailed down to a tee. Ghana has opened my eyes to how very wrong I was. It’s time I start living in the present, stop stressing over the future, and appreciate the past.

Written by Tia Molloy, UK Volunteer on the L.I.F.E Project, Sandema.

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