My sense of time is really warped living in Rwanda. The days go by slowly and seem to be 30 hours long instead of only 24. Somehow the weeks manage to go by quickly, and every weekend I’m surprised that my day off has arrived already. Even though the weeks go by quickly, it feels like I’ve been here six months instead of just six weeks.
The pace of life here is so different from that of America. Time is relative here. You wake up when the sun rises, you slowly plod through the day’s chores, at night you light a fire in your charcoal stove and cook the evening meal, then you crawl in bed around ten and prepare to do it again the next day.
There is no sense of urgency in Rwanda. If the church service starts at 9am, it’s finally time to leave the house at 9. You never really set times to meet up with people, you just let yourself into their house whenever you get around to visiting. No one apologizes for being late; it’s basically expected. If one task doesn’t get done today, it’s ok. There’s always tomorrow.
Yesterday was Umuganda, the required work day for all Rwandans. We PC Trainees were to meet our language teachers at 9:00 to go together to the workplace, so we finally headed that way around 9:20. Our task for the day was to dig trenches across the mountain side to catch runoff water now that we have entered the rainy season in order to prevent erosion.
With shovels and hoes in hands, we PCTs were ready to buckle down and get to work. We came in with the American mindset that you when you start a task, you work hard until the job is done. We quickly realized based on the stares of our counterparts that this is not the Rwandan way.
We asked one of our language teachers why people were starting so much. She replied, “I think you are tired and should take a break. Life is already complicated, why make it harder? You see how many hills there are in Rwanda? We cannot do all the hills today. So relax, it will get done when it gets done.”
I do not mean to give the impression that Rwandans are lazy people. Quite the contrary, they are very hard working and diligent and in the end, the job always gets done. Nonetheless, it has been an adjustment to get used to the pace of life around here.
When I walk through my village, one of my American friends always makes fun of how American I walk. I walk quickly and with the purpose of getting wherever I’m going, but compared to the locals, I look like I’m practically sprinting. I’ve been trying to consciously remind myself to walk slower and enjoy the scenery and chatting to people rather than focusing solely on getting to my destination.
The time warp that is living in Rwanda is further complicated by our Peace Corps schedule. We have classes every day, which we are expected to arrive to on time according to American custom. But when outside of PC you live on Rwandan Time, things can get tricky. Sometimes I have to leave for class in the morning, but my host mom doesn’t give me my breakfast until a few minutes before I leave and I have to wolf down my bread and tea. When walking from place to place, I have to remember to factor in the number of greetings I’ll have to make along the road, which can add several minutes onto any walk.
Although Rwandan Time can sometimes be frustrating, it is for the most part pretty refreshing not to have life run by a clock. It forces me to slow down, be mindful, and enjoy the ride.