Thursday, February 16, 2012

Timing is...everything?

I'm a pretty punctual person. I get anxious when I'm running late and it's a rare occasion when I'm late to an appointment. The director of my clinical affiliations in grad school used to say, "to be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is unacceptable." This statement still haunts me, ha. I never really think about how my perception of time turns me into a ball of stress. Until I lived and worked on Ethiopian time.

Ethiopian time is very different from our American time. No, literally, the time is different. I'm not just talking about time zone, either (which is EAT - Eastern Africa Time - and 10 hours ahead of my internal Mountain Standard Time clock). It is currently 2004 in Ethiopia (they're on the Julian calendar) and many Ethiopians go by a 12 hour clock with 1:00 - 12:00 being dawn until dusk. This means that when I think of it being 6:00 a.m. when I'm in Ethiopia, it's considered 12:00 to a lot of the locals. Therefore, it's pretty important when you're discussing plans to clarify "Ethiopian time" or "ferengi" (foreigner) time, otherwise, you'll find yourself six hours early...or worse, six hours late.

As with some other foreign countries, Ethiopia has another attitude towards time: it just doesn't matter all that much. Meet you at 10:00 a.m. (fereng time)? Great, I'll probably really see you closer to 12. You'll swing by my place on the way? See you an hour late. Know what that means for me? I get to sit and enjoy my macchiato (or two...or three) even longer :) It really was hard for me to try and let go of my normal uptight self and there were a few times I found myself frustrated about the lack of regard for timing. Nick had his first experience with this concept when we were meeting Yemamu at 8:30. When Our friend showed up at 10 ish we said, "We thought you would be here at 8:30!" His response came with a huge smile, "Yes 8:30! I am here!"

In another instance, we had a CT scan appointment for one of the babies named Adissa at the orphanage. We scheduled the appointment, pre-paid and were clearly instructed multiple times to NOT BE LATE. Do NOT be late. You will miss your appointment if you are late. Finally, someone who gets me! The morning started off badly when the person meeting us was running pretty late. We had hired a van driver in order to avoid delays on the public taxi system. Let's just say our mode of transportation left much to be desired:

[caption id="attachment_1655" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="yes, that is the van door. yes, you use a string (requiring multiple attempts) to both open and close said sliding door. safety at it's finest"][/caption]

We arrived to the orphanage late. We had high expectations for the day: I was taking Addisa for her CT scan with our friend Yemamu while another therapist, Keely, was headed with Misfin, Alex and one other friend to take a few other kids to the hospital. Being late to begin with made the fact that the orphanage had no diapers even more of a big deal. Now, I don't have children yet, but I think it's time consuming to get my dog ready to leave the house. So gathering necessary items for four children, including bottles with formula, change of clothes, blankets, coats (yes, some children wear coats in the middle of the summer in Ethiopia) and one of the important things: diapers. Plenty of them. What do you do in that situation? When you are already running late, may likely miss the CT scan appointment and therefore leaving us helpless to figure out what is going on with Addisa? You take some onesies, you wrap them around a child's bottom, secure them as best as possible and pray for no explosions. Yep, we did that.

What can I say? We made it to the CT scan. An hour and a half late. And you know what? Nobody said a word about it. Nothing. No mention of being an hour and a half late. We got right in. My front office calls patients for me when they are 10 minutes late. But you know what? Life happens, and sometimes we're late. And I appreciate a culture that understands and accepts that.

[caption id="attachment_1656" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="van ride with elshaday, addisa and yordi. bottles, but no diapers."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1658" align="aligncenter" width="225" caption="Addisa after anesthesia"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1657" align="aligncenter" width="225" caption="I was like a nervous parent waiting for Addisa during her CT scan"][/caption]

Whatever time it is in your neck of the woods now, it's a good time to go donate to the Kulenkamp family to help them bring their babes home.


  1. oh, kelly, i'm just like you. i wish i could chill about time. no joke about extra stress!

  2. Unfortunately there are SOME Ethiopian people who will make you wait for ever if you are on time but will be GONE FOR THE DAY if you are late! It can be very frustrating and expensive if one must change one's airline ticket because of this.