Culture Clash — Resolved!
Date of original journal entry — January 5, 2011
I’m sitting on the cement slab which surrounds the water tank tower, grooming a very disgruntled dog. Mercy hates to be brushed and groomed. No pedicure for this pup, please! I’m not here so much for the dogs, it’s just a good use of the time while I wait, and is something I can stop at any point. Mercy would hope for sooner rather than later. He’s such a baby sometimes. Goodness doesn’t mind his grooming because, well, it’s attention and he’s happy with that. No, I’m not here for the dogs, I’m here because this is the perfect vantage point to keep watch down the hill to our class room. Will they come?
After several months of having the ladies’ Bible study, I had recently decided that we just needed to cancel it altogether. They were not showing up at all, or coming really late instead of the agreed time. Then, by the time they did show up, I would be involved in something else that I couldn’t easily just drop. But, each time I go around to their houses and talk with them, urging punctuality, they assure me that they want the study, and that they will most certainly come next week — on time. “No Mummy, don’t stop the study. We need it. We’ll try. Be patient.”
Tribal cultures are so very different from our familiar Western manner of living. One thing I learned through this little clash is that the women in Sierra Leone will definitely not do something alone. I would encourage each lady that, when they were all prepared to just come, rather than waiting for everyone else. Wrong! That is what they are accustomed to doing, so that is what they need to do. This is why sometimes they don’t come at all; by the time the whole group is ready, they are sure it’s too late. The men don’t have this distinction in the way they operate so I found myself not fully understanding the situation. The women stick together in a very different way.
When we first started our class, I had asked them for a time they wanted come, making a few suggestions based on what worked for me. After some deliberation they thought they could make it by 5 o’clock. Wrong again! They were bending to me on that point and randomly chose the time. Time is meaningless to the remote village woman. Daily rhythms, seasonal patterns, and moon phases are their manner of “time telling,” not a clock, calendar, or wrist watch. In fact, we arrived at Monday for our study simply because they all know Sunday is church day so having the ladies’ class the very next afternoon was easy for them. I should have picked up on this part of the discussion and realized that time would be a challenge for them. But I didn’t.
On we went, continuing to beat our respective heads against our own cultural expectations. They tried to accommodate me, and I just stayed frustrated, not knowing what to do. That is, I stayed frustrated until God got my up tight, time conscious, Western attention.
Praying over this loggerhead late one afternoon, in my cool, quiet spot under the acacia tree, the Lord gave me a brilliant resolution in two simple words: Their Time. The next morning, I excitedly collected the ladies at Mabinty’s house in town. “Oh, yes Mummy Lolla, that can work! We will come. Thank you for not stopping the Bible study!!”
Today, several successful weeks into our experiment, I’m grooming Mercy, and watching down the hill.
Now, their time is ANY time between 4 and 7 pm. I do small tasks around the house and yard, things which I can easily stop at any point. It works so well for all of us; we all love the arrangement! It totally takes the pressure off them and me. Now they are never late, always on time — ANY time. Their Time!
But you know what? The very funny thing is that they are almost always nearly dead on 5:30, they just don’t know it! The rhythms of the day simply flow them along to me as I happily watch for them. Everybody is happy. Well, everyone except Mercy, who now gets his regular grooming.
Post Script: This ladies’ Bible study took place before smart phones were widely in use, and I didn’t often carry around my big camera. Sadly, I never ended up with any photos from our class. We did have so much fun. But I honestly believe that they taught me far more than I ever instructed them.