I’m preparing for another visit to Nicaragua next week, the first since last August. I’m excited to be going again, but the length of time between visits has caused me to forget my usual routines for getting ready and the result is that I’m already feeling like I’m behind. To further compress things, I was supposed to be headed to Minnesota earlier this week, but a winter storm and prudence dictated that, after I shoveled out the driveway, I stay “hunkered down” for the next 24 hours. I’ll need to re-schedule that meeting for the second time! On top of that, we’re working on some WPF transitions, preparing for the retirement of our office manager, hiring a Nica consultant following another retirement, and interviewing several new Board candidates. Where’s the time going to come from?
In addition to the immediate travel logistics, there are family matters, as well. Our twin daughters’ birthday is rapidly approaching and we need to pick a date for celebrating. Another daughter is participating in a body-building competition and we’ll absolutely be in attendance for it. We have income taxes to complete and file, a dentist appointment is just ahead, there’s a fix to some flooring that needs to be made, we’ve got to schedule the furnace guy for a mechanical issue, and Katie’s sister is about to move from our house into her own place. Time’s up!
One of the maxims about growing older is the reality that time seems to speed up. For many, some of the same old routines take longer, there seem to be more things to accomplish than ever before, and the need for rest each night tends to move up ever so slightly. The result is a feeling that things are moving faster. There’s nothing new in any of this: it’s simply the cycle of life as it moves inexorably from start to finish, except for those to whom it is happening, of course. There just never seems to be enough time and the window of availability just keeps getting smaller every day.
In preparing for my travels, I naturally re-orient myself to Nicaragua as I prepare to adjust from a U.S. lifestyle to a Central American one. I think about how things will be different next week, from the language to the food to the evening accommodations, from an environment of material excess to one of a perpetual search for basic needs. And I couldn’t help but reflect on another notable difference: the passage of time.
Our anxieties about time are a product of a society that needs to run with precision. It doesn’t provide much allowance for delays and its tolerance for being late is thin. A case in point is my inability to drive 160 miles to the Twin Cities for a long-planned meeting, due to ice and snow. My luncheon partner was fully understanding and my decision was absolutely the right one to make, but all day long I suffered with guilt and a sense of letting people down. You may attribute those feelings to an overly-sensitive psyche, but it’s the product of a culture which expects timely completion of plans, no matter what the circumstances. Snow? Drive through it. 12-hour days to finish a project? Just do it, as Nike ads admonish us.
In contrast, my meetings within the rural sectors of Nicaragua next week will not have such expectations. Sessions to be held with governing bodies of the cooperatives may or may not begin at 2:00 P.M. as scheduled. It may take some participants longer to arrive at a central meeting location, as they travel long distances- often by foot- from their farms in order to attend. Where available, transportation is unreliable. The demand of the farm is sometimes a priority that just can’t be denied, even against the obligation to attend a meeting on behalf of the coop. A weather event might wash away a bridge. There are not many clocks. And sometimes it is the North Americans who arrive late, having encountered other delays in the day or on the roads. 2:00 in Nica means, “as close to 2:00 as you can make it.”
Does casualness with regard to time irritate people in Nica the way it most certainly does in the U.S.? Not in an apparent way. Rural peasants evince an acceptance of the informality of time that is part of their lives; people subject to systemic indigence learn to cultivate a tolerance to all sorts of inconvenience and oppression. Of course, there are some sectors of society for whom time is a tyrant, but in the rural sectors where our work is accomplished, there is neither luxury nor tyranny of the clock.
In the countryside, matters are attended to as people are able. The demands of small farm production and subsistence living conspire to direct peasants in their work, not according to the clock, but according to what circumstances allow. It’s not that time is disrespected, but that it, too, must fall victim to the injustice of poverty. Poverty is not selective of its prey.
Time. I’m not sure whether there is greater health in the Nicaraguan’s acceptance of its limitations or in the tight expectations of it in U.S. life. Maybe the truth is somewhere in between. What I do know is that having the choice of one circumstance over the other is a far greater advantage than having to tolerate one which is imposed. Nicaraguans seek a reality that provides the choice. And it’s about time they have it….