Monday, January 9th, 2012
Why African Time is Best for Children
“Haraka, Haraka Haina Baraka.” (Rushing, rushing gives no blessings) –Kenyan Proverb
There are many jokes about African timekeeping. On one level it is true—the continent is full of buses that run behind and meetings that start late. Certainly African time is much softer than European or North American time. Part of this is historical; there is a unique African concept of ‘no time.’ With nearly all African cultures being communal—‘I exist because you do’—time also takes on a communal aspect. If you are on your own, then time does not exist. Or to put it another way, time starts at an event that involves more than one person. For example, if two people arrange to meet, time doesn’t actually begin until the meeting takes place, so in effect it is impossible to be late as long as the meeting actually happens! The emphasis is placed on the interaction between people rather than the abstract concept.
Even that abstract concept is opposite that of the rest of the world. As Kenya is equatorial, most of the year, the sun rises around six and sets around six. So 7 a.m. is actually referred to in Kiswahili as 1 o’clock. 8 a.m. is 2 o’clock and so on. It makes perfect sense. Most people get up around or shortly before sunrise, use the daylight hours and go to bed not long after dark. The first hour of the day is therefore marked by the first hour that something communal or useful could be done and is also in tune with nature. There are even specific words that do not exist in English for ‘the time just before dawn,’ ‘late afternoon/early evening’ and others.
So what does this all have to do with children?
Any harried parent can tell you that so much of the conflict that arises during the day is when children are being rushed from pillar to post, forced to follow a schedule that does not allow for their natural rhythm. African timing is so much more respectful of this natural rhythm. By taking the meaning away from the abstract concept of time and shifting it to the people and communal interactions, stress is greatly reduced. At my daughter’s kindergarten, for example, an hour is allowed for children to arrive at school in the morning. Children who get there early can play and those who need more sleep can come closer to the time the more structured day starts.
The days that run the smoothest in our home are definitely those when I am not rushed and when I actively build time into our daily schedule that allows my daughter to take her time. They are also the days that give space for the unexpected joys and pleasures that cannot be scheduled. The excitement of finding a ladybird on a leaf as we gently go about weeding the garden, the spontaneous tea and cake with friends whom we bump into at the local shopping centre. Having the time to sit and eat the watermelon that the green grocer generously gives my daughter as we pick up some fruit and veg. These are the moments that warm the heart and make the day special when we reflect on it at bedtime. They are certainly the moments I would rather my daughter remember than, “Hurry up, I’m running late!”
© 2012 – 2013, JC Niala. All rights reserved.
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