I don’t know that I’ll ever adjust to time here, feeling I have it figured out and then realizing, no. In Kenya, you can plan for meetings that never happen or happen an hour later, in stereotypical but true fashion. And no one really denies this. It can be common to arrive 30 minutes to an hour late, but at other times, the one time you rely on this non-law, the person you are supposed to meet calls you early.
This morning, for example, someone told me that he would be coming in “five minutes”; having waited the previous evening for someone who kept telling me they were “just around the corner” for about an hour, sitting outside fumbling with my phone, I went inside to have a cup of coffee, thinking, yes, this is smart! It will be at least ten minutes. But alas, my friend arrived within probably three minutes, which is to say that I really haven’t figured it out, except to just arrive on time or only a few minutes late, and maybe bring a book with me.
One slightly malleable rule may be that for anyone working in grassroots politics here or in the NGO world, things move a little faster. In Uganda, I experienced this as well. If you want something done, you often do it in that moment–which is at times startling to me, since I move slowly; I prefer to make appointments, make plans to do other things and make other plans so it’s all done in a certain way. Getting a call to meet someone important, someone’s boss or a government official, in town “right now,” having not prepared myself, can bring me to frustrated tears, if the circumstances are right and other non-perfect things are accumulating, internal fist shaking, ugly face making as I metaphorically gather my skirt and run. But the proactive, in-the-moment attitude here is helpful too since it’s true that you might not know when you’ll see a certain person again or be able to reach a certain place. You “just adjust.”
I felt this again today too; as I followed my friend who was taking me around to different government offices to “make myself known” within county government, he took the stairs two at a time, reminding me of a man I met yesterday, who agreed to meet me for an interview. He was one of those people who seems to fly from place to place; he too was on time, calling me at 10:02 when I had not arrived at our designated meeting spot by 10:00, having been misdirected by a security guard. Graciously, he guided me to a café where we talked about his work with civil society, painting a sweeping macro picture for me, and almost as quickly he flew out again. Today I saw him again, running to another place.
These people who fly around, who work at the micro level but tend to think and talk macro, taking the stairs two at a time, remind me I’m not really like that, though I admire it. But I feel my goal is to take a backseat to it, watch it unfold, observe it, and write it. My skill is doing things slowly; there is a process, and it’s careful, of putting on a band-aid or packing my bags or stretching my hip, feeling the nuance there. The irony to this is that I never seem to give myself enough time to do things in the full way I want to do them. I keep thinking it’s a thing that will change, though maybe it’s changing slowly, as I try to both fly through things and give myself enough time to do them thoroughly.
But at night, by the time the day seems stacked, I know I won’t do certain things unless I do them without thinking, without much of a process, so I tend to rush into them that way, washing the dishes, boiling an egg, calling someone I am anxious about calling. I barrel into it almost, and then have to sit in the action once it has unfolded, a dam gate opened. But in most moments, from day to day, I usually feel a little behind, leaving the room last, entering last, though I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing, just a thing I notice and have to tamper with from time to time, trying to find a source of energy that compels me do things without thinking as hard, which a lot of the time is love.