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Is African Time real?

Wait small, I am coming*

I was meeting a friend for dinner and I kept texting him: “Wait small, I am coming”. When I finally arrived at the restaurant, around 1 hour later, he said: “Hey, you’re becoming Ghanaian”. But what did he mean by that?

I knew exactly what he meant. Not only was he referring to my English turning into Ghanaian English, but he was also commenting on the fact that I was late. I simply shrugged and smiled: “I guess your right”.

African Time

I was familiar with the phrase “African time” before coming to Ghana, but I didn’t completely understand it. Africans are said to apprehend time differently. Different to Europeans, that is. They are said to have a much more relaxed attitude towards time. But wasn’t that just a generalization? Not all Africans or Ghanaians could be running late to a meeting or not show up on time for an appointment. I simply refused to believe that. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself before coming here. But now that I have been in Ghana for 5 months, I can say that the concept of time in Ghana is really something different – at least compared to in Denmark.

This is not to say that no one shows up on time, surely, many people do. But the thing is really that it is almost impossible to plan ahead of time. I often catch myself texting a friend or a colleague: “Sorry, I am stuck in traffic” or “The line taxi wouldn’t fill, so I’m running late”. It is just so difficult to plan to be on time. Even when I make sure to leave my house two hours ahead of time, I simply do not know if I will have the luck to get to my meeting on time, because there is a high chance of me having to wait for at least 30 minutes before the line taxi to the village of Antoa fills up. When I travel around Kumasi, there is no bus like there is in Denmark that leaves at a certain time. The trotros and line taxis, that are the easiest and cheapest way to get around, come whenever and they leave whenever they’re full.

We'll get there when we get there

As a result, my patience has also been tested several times. I truly learned to have patience when I waited 4 hours in the heat for the bus to Accra to fill. I was impatiently looking around and counting how many seats still needed to be filled, while none of my fellow passengers seemed to mind waiting. They simply sat silently and patiently waiting for the bus to start its engine. They all knew that the bus would eventually fill and that it certainly wouldn’t help getting frustrated, as that wouldn’t change anything, so instead they just sat, not even moving an inch, trying to find the most comfortable position to wait in.

As frustrating as it can be to wait, I have learned my lesson and now find myself patiently waiting along Ghanaians, and instead of getting frustrated, I now take out my book, call an old friend or simply relax. We will get there when we get there.

*This is a sentence that one hears all the time in Ghana, whether you are standing at a street food shop waiting for your food or sitting in a trotro waiting for the mate to give you back your change. I’ve heard it to such a wide extent that I am now also using it.

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