Today was an oddball day that is becoming less and less odd as we realize that Africa does indeed have it’s own rhythm. As an American I get out of bed and know there are things that “hafta” get done. We Americans are all about our lists and checking boxes and multitasking. We live and die by the clock and for most of us that have spent time in the “workplace” we get really antsy when time slips by. Sometimes we even get sick with stress when we have too many days where we feel like things “slip”.
By American standards, today “slipped” by. I didn’t really accomplish anything I set out to do. But by African standards, today was a good day. I did some work, ate (thrice) and I spent time with people.
I accomplished a few small things, but they weren’t on “the list”. They appeared today and were dealt with today. I sat down to work with Vito on the app, and after getting up for the fifth time to deal with some small thing I decided to just get up and plunge head on into the small things that were threatening to kill me and my American sensibilities. These were not important things, but they were things none the less and they wouldn’t have gone away on their own. I helped organize the building of our puppy pen. I didn’t actually work on it mind you, I Middle Managed the process. I provided some guidance to the students in the leather workshop. I dug into the comments on the website.
I also tasked and supervised a carpenter with the final touches of the dozen chairs we had made for the dining room at the bed and breakfast. This was one of those painful jobs because it’s a DOZEN CHAIRS. I mean first of all we’re .. (how can I say this without sounding whiny or revealing a lack of faith?) .. kinda broke. But when we were provided with this place and provided the money to move in and get it ready, we had the money for these chairs. Each one cost fifteen bucks for the wood, then we had to get material bringing each chair up to $23. Pretty reasonable, especially considering how awesome they are and how well they match the British colonial period antiques we modeled them after. But then at final assembly I find out they’re just a bit off and they jab into my backside when I sit in them and I realize I just paid just shy of $300 for my very own fleet of Judas cradles. So it kinda sucked to have to bring in a carpenter to fix these things when really we don’t have the money to fix them but without chairs, we can’t take guests into the BnB. So I hand the carpenter some money and try not to think about what bill won’t be paid.
So not only were these kinda meaningless tasks, but the chair thing just kinda put me in a rotten mood.
But thankfully that wasn’t how I spent the majority of my day. I spent the majority of the day hanging out with people. Relationships are so important here, and there are several types of relationships (in terms of how they operate), the two most significant are relationships with nationals and relationships with other expats. It’s not uncommon for expats to cluster together (a holdover from colonial times no doubt) but most expats are so busy with projects, missions and businesses that they rarely take the time to get together. The stars and schedules must align and everything must be right in the Universe. It’s a bit like the US in that way, but here it’s so critical to share experiences, to commiserate, support each other, and take time to feel “normal” again.
So when our good friends the Coggins (who look after our classroom in the north, see here and here) came down from Gulu on their way to take (our new friend) Liz to the airport, we were happy to hang out with them for a while. We talked about projects, our kids and life. Lisa is the amazing artist and craftsman who got us started with journals and whom we infected with the “leather bug” so we talked a bit about leather and crafts. We shared a few laughs and were refreshed by their visit. It was nice.
Later, we spent a wonderful evening with some good friends who have been in Uganda for decades and among other things run the best, oldest and original rafting company in Uganda. It was so nice hanging out with them, and we had a great time. It was so refreshing and fun, and really made us feel “normal” again. It was also quite interesting because they have such a deep knowledge of how things work in Uganda and they run in different “circles” than many of the folks we see on a regular basis and help make connections that keep us from feeling so isolated.
So at the end of the day I was both exhausted and refreshed, strangely. My task list was still there, but nothing had exploded as a result of letting the list lie. I still laugh at myself for thinking that it might.
I’m starting to see why the old saying is so true: “Westerners have all the watches, but Africans have all the time.”