"Don't you get bored?" one of my students asked me one day. "There isn't much to do around here."
"No," I replied. "I don't have time to be bored." Which is the truth. I seem to use up all the hours of the day in work, visits from students and others, domestic duties, chatting on Skype with my family back home, and an assortment of activities and events that punctuate the week. I brought a Kindle (electronic reader) filled with 49 books I intended to read in my spare time, and I've finished just two in the 8+ months since my arrival.
That got me to thinking where my time goes, and how time is a bit different here in Zambia compared to time in Tucson.
Many things do not start on time. If you are invited to a Kitchen Party that is supposed to start at 1 pm, plan to go at about 3 and you'll find the dancing is just starting. I was walking to the church for a wedding scheduled for 9 am, when the bride's mother passed me going the other direction in a truck with the sound system for the reception. She stopped and advised me to go back home, since the wedding couldn't start without her and she was not yet bathed or dressed for the event. That wedding actually got underway at 10:30! And most of my classes start 15 minutes late, but I keep them an extra 15 minutes so it all works out.
On the other hand, church starts promptly at 8:30 am, and you'd better be there on time if you want a songbook and a good seat. I haven't quite figured out which things are flexible time and which are exact. Some long-distance busses post a schedule which they keep to (more or less, within an hour or so) and others post a schedule but don't leave until the bus is full. You have to ask to learn the usual practice of each bus company--and be willing to be surprised even then. The "wait till the bus is full" policy seems to predominate. With the cost of fuel here, it makes sense.
Back to the question of where my time goes. There are the teaching hours, preparation for classes, and grading papers--that takes half of every day, including weekends most of the time. I use the Internet, the library, and books I brought to prepare handouts for the students, and it takes time to get those printed since there is only one good printer and one copy machine easily available. This term I'm teaching human behavior, community intervention, and social services in developing countries. The last is a course I took over mid-semester when the instructor began her maternity leave. It has been fun, but demanding. The comparable social services and policy course I taught for years was based on the situation in America, and developing countries face some different issues and have different systems. So I'm learning together with the students.
Where else does my time go? I cook for myself daily and offer cooking lessons a few times a week. Cooking everything from scratch takes a bit longer than when you have packaged and frozen things to work with and blenders and mixers and diswashers to help. My cakes and cookies are in high demand, not to mention the peanut butter and jam sandwiches and water or juice drink I provide for kids and other hungry people. For financial reasons, my supply limit is one loaf of bread a day, 3 kilos of peanut butter a week and two huge cans of jam, as well as three bottles of juice concentrate. When it runs out, I offer cookies if I have any, and I always keep jugs of boiled water in the fridge for the kids who play soccer and basketball nearby.
Then there are the regular activities--chapel every morning, Saturday night Movie Nights (or Game Nights when there is no functioning projector), Bible study Thursday evenings and singing on Wednesday nights, Sunday services, and going to the market Saturday mornings. About once a week I invite someone to dinner or have an invitation to dinner.
Finally there is the uniquely African habit of "dropping in" to visit. Nearly every day, several times a day, someone or some group will stop by my home. Sometimes they come with a purpose. Students deliver their papers or ask for clarification of an assignment. At least once a week I have someone, usually a student but not necessarily from Social Work, who comes for informal counseling over a broken relationship or a conflict situation. Of course there are the people who want to tell me their story and who are asking for money to pay school fees or to feed their family or to start a small project. I always listen, at least, even when I cannot help. And then there are the people, especially teenagers/young adults, who just come to sit and ask how my day has been. We usually talk about their school or whatever they are involved in, but sometimes we just sit and eat cookies.
And so goes my week. At one point I thought I would have time on my hands, time to read (I started the project of again reading the entire Bible, but have only made it through Samuel, so far), time to write poetry, time to practice yoga. Walking is my main exercise, and there is plenty of that, and I've created spaces for reflection, meditation and prayer in the early mornings. But time seems to be in short supply, at least extra time, empty time.
And has anyone else noticed that the older we get, the faster time seems to go?