I just returned to Cameroon after 2 1/2 months of being in the States. Eager and a bit overwhelmed with all that has to be accomplished in the next few months, I began this week determined to manage my and other's time well.
I have a young girl, Mildred (not her real name, to protect her privacy), who assists me in my house with cleaning and basic food preparation and an office assistant, Mary, who usually arrive at our office around 7:45 each morning. Typically Mildred meets me at my house around 8 am and I quickly give her instructions for that day's house chores then hurry to meet Mary in the office so she is not sitting idle for too long. Monday came and went fairly successfully. On Tuesday morning 8 am came and went, then 8:30, finally at 8:40 Mildred arrived. I quickly scold her for showing up 40 minutes late and tell her she needs to plan her time better because when she shows up late, other people wait for me. I left the house in a huff, thinking to myself why does it have to be so difficult for her to show up on time?
I've known Mildred for a few months and every time I ask her about how she and her family are doing, her response is quick and short, "They are all doing fine." When I first hired her, I knew that her mom recently died, but that was all I knew about her family, despite my daily questions. After she arrived Wednesday morning at 7:50 am, she asked me what to do about someone who is sick, but refuses to take their medication. This was the first time that she has asked me anything beyond where the soap is located or what I wanted to eat for lunch. Seizing the opportunity to get to her know her better, I started asking more questions. Within a few minutes she told me her family's story. Her father is taking medicine, but refuses to show anyone what kind of medication he is taking. He also refuses to go to the doctor even Mildred has asked repeatedly and has involved other family members. Prone to alcoholism and abuse, she tells me that no one can reason with him, he just shouts and becomes very angry whenever anyone asks. I asked about her mother and she told me that her mom died of AIDS a year ago and she suspects that her father has HIV. She further explains that she has been late in the morning because she has to prepare her father's breakfast and her nine-month old son. I had no idea that she even had a son!
Being in Cameroon is always a humbling experience and this was a reminder of how easily I think that my time is more important than anyone else's. I quickly become impatient when others don't show up on time or how I think I can manipulate or manage time to meet my needs. It also reminds me to look beyond chronos, a chronological view of time to kairos, to the right and opportune moment. What the ancient Greeks called the moments that seemed ripe and intended. In his book, Turn My Mouring into Dancing, Henri Nouwen writes about these different views of time. He says, We see how the events of the year are not just a series of incidents and accidents, happy or unhappy, but the molding hands of God, who wants us to grow and mature....Time becomes not just something to get through or manipulate or manage, but the arena of God's work with us..We are part of a very impatient culture, however. We want many things and we want them quickly. And we feel that we should be able to take away the pains, heal the wounds, fill the holes, and create experiences of meaningfulness--now. We have plans and projects we are convinced we want, and then we become irritated when something happens to get in our way. But a view of time as kairos helps us to be patient in believing. If we are patient in this sense we can look at all events of each day--expected or unexpected--as holding a promise for us. Patience let us see the people we meet, the events of the day, and the unfolding history of our times all part of that slow process of growth. Today is my birthday and I find these words not just a a good reminder when dealing with culturally different views of time, but also as a reflection of God's orchestration of growth in the past and in the year to come.