Africa Time – Learning to Move Slowly

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As Wharton/Lauder students, from the moment we stepped onto Locust Walk in August, we have been over-scheduled and over-committed. Between classes, hockey practice, Pub, and keeping up with twenty different GroupMes, the pace of our lives has reached new highs. But since being in East Africa for this year’s Culture Quest, our team of seven has learned to juggle new frustrations, deal with a new kind of time and to walk at a new, much slower, pace.

There is a saying that goes, “humans make plans, and God just laughs.” Well we have learned that as we make plans, Africa also laughs. A few takeaways from Team 2:

Patience is a virtue
Driving through Rwanda to Uganda, we’d ask Ibra, our driver, how much further to the next town. He’d reply “1 hour!” An hour later we’d ask how close, and he’d reply “about 1 hour!” At first mind-numbingly frustrating, the disregard for time came to be expected and even somewhat appreciated. We learned to tack on a couple of hours to any estimation of time and let go of expectations. Now we don’t bother asking – we’ll get there when we get there (and hope to survive the pot holes and larger-than-life speed bumps).

Culture QuestGood things come to those who wait
In Africa, Rwanda in particular, ordering food takes time. A long time. Twice we sat down together as a team for a meal, and twice the food took over an hour to arrive. The second instance in Gisenyi however, as hunger pangs set in and we threatened to leave, a band appeared. A drummer, two guitarists, a keyboard player and vocalist began playing out of nowhere – and they were great! We ordered another round of beers and our food eventually came, but by then we’d forgotten our frustrations and were enjoying the music. Sometimes the wait is worth it.

Unplug once in a while
With no data plan and no wifi most of the time, we’ve been forced to look up from our cell phones and take in what is around us. Long rides in the van mean watching the beautiful and diverse scenery pass by out the window, waving hello to the kids smiling and shouting wuzunga! (foreigner), and chatting together. It’s been a refreshing reprieve from the pace and stress of our normal lives.

The countries of East Africa have everything to offer adventurous travelers – gorilla trekking, volcano hiking, river rafting, and safaris. As we’ve tried to fit it all in in a short ten days’ time with tight schedules and expectations of efficiency, we’ve been stymied by insane traffic, impassable roads, wrong turns, and marathon restaurant visits. However, our distress is usually met by a shrug and good-natured laugh from the locals. This is Africa they say. Things move a little slower. We may still be learning, but we are doing it with good friends over a cold Ugandan beer. We’ll get there when we get there.

Mary Margaret Diehl, Class of 2017, Chinese Program.