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We went through cultural training before moving to Peru and one of the things that I struggled with the most was talking about

TIME.

Before moving to Peru, I revolved around:

  • a pocket calendar
  • a planner
  • a wall calendar
  • sticky notes for my to do list
  • calendar on my computer
  • reminders on my phone
  • wrist watch
  • wall clock in every important room in the house
  • alarm clock
  • cell phone clock

I moved to Peru armed with a new wrist watch, a desk calendar, a wall calendar, a day planner, and a pocket calendar. Within a week, my watch broke; within a month I forgot I owned a wall calendar; within a few months, the pocket calendar was mostly for birthday reminders.

At first I thought the breaking of my watch was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. Looking back, I think it was one of the best. I was no longer dependent on it. I was FREE! =) It was… liberating.

Most of the time when we have visitors, they think that Peruvians view time like this:

This, however, is not true. I repeat: this is not true. Now, repeat after me: NOT TRUE.

This is where our cultural training came in very handy. I don’t remember all the technical terms for stuff, but basically, there are different ways to view time. Americans/Europeans view time as the rule – very strict, must be obeyed, almost “slave to the clock.” Things are very punctual – it’s something pounded into you since you’re a child. My dad is an extremely punctual person – always has been. If we were five minutes early, he considered us late. He’s a pastor, so we got to church at least a solid hour before anything started – any later and we were “rushing” and “super late.” The mentality rubbed off on my brother and by high school, he was every bit as punctual as my father. I, however, just didn’t get that gene.

My husband’s family leans much more to the South American/African side of the spectrum. Life in South Dakota is much more laid back and particularly in his family, plans are met with the attitude of these guys:

Remember these guys – from Disney’s “The Jungle Book”? Their conversation consisted of, “Whatcha wanna do?” “I dunno. Whatcha wanna do?” “I dunno. Whatcha wanna do?”

I kid you not – we have had this conversation with Brian’s family… every Sunday afternoon, every special day (eg – Mother’s Day)… Decisions are made after hours of discussion and debating and distractions and more debating and then a giant compromise and then we’re off and gone for hours longer than was “planned.”

Brian hasn’t worn a watch in years. Living without a day planner, a schedule, a time frame – was way easier on him than on me. Even though I am not Miss Punctual, what I am is Mrs. Planner. I like to know what’s happening and when and how and where. Without that, I feel L.O.S.T.

But, like I was saying – time here is important. But, it is viewed differently.

Time = Relationships.

Here, a relationship will always take precedence over being on time. Are you having a conversation that will make you late for church? So be it. Are you talking with the mechanic after he’s done his work and you need to get home? So be it. Is the pastor late for the service? Then it’ll start late. Did something come up and you’ll be late getting to an appointment? Okay. Time is all about relationships. 

There are certain things that run on time, though. Our Bible school, for instance, is on time. Stores open on time. Certain appointments are on time. There is a lee-way, almost like a grace period, where you are not considered “late” – about 15 minutes, depending on the occasion. So, for example, the first service at our church Sunday morning starts about 15 minutes late sometimes, but the second service starts on time. People, however, will show up any time during the service – including during the announcements… which are at the end.

Then, some things we just know will be late: doctor’s appointments, weddings, anything in government. You just automatically know – this is going to run late – and you deal with it.

But, I think it’s more the lack of planning that gets me. I can deal with it being late – because really, if everybody is late, then it’s not really late; the schedule was wrong. But, when plans are finalized, when things change last minute, when you’re not informed, when you’re just supposed to know what’s going on without being told – THAT gets to me. I like to know and I live in a country where no one knows!

So, how do I handle it?
  1. Don’t ask too many unanswerable questions. If I know they’re not going to know the answer yet, I don’t even bother asking the question.
  2. Don’t get too involved in things that are unplanned. If I can avoid it, I don’t get too involved because I know the lack of planning and the not knowing will just give me unneeded stress.
  3. Do as much planning as is acceptable and possible on my own. If I can get a jump-start on planning and get things done on my own, I will. And then I feel like I at least got things rolling (kind of like, I’d rather take the detour even though it’s longer because I don’t like just sitting in traffic not going anywhere).
  4. Take a deep breath — and just let it go. Relax. Vent to my husband and my mom and then… let it go. If it’s not planned and I’m not the one responsible for it not being planned, then it ultimately does not affect me too much and it’ll be okay.

The hard part now is keeping the balance between the two cultures when we travel back and forth. We need to go with the flow here, but we need to be on time and well-planned THERE. That is hard when you don’t do it for two years at a time! Balance. I think that’ll be my next “Down” so watch for it!

For now… I’ll end my thoughts on Peruvian time… just another “Down” in the

Ups, Downs, and All Arounds of Living in Peru.

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