Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Elephant is a rope: Nigerian Standard Time

What is life like in Nigeria? In the next three posts I will be explaining the same event our family went to, but from different perspectives. [Since one doesn't really require any pictures, it gets to go first. Click to be reminded of what the elephant analogy is.]

Nigerians are very sensitive about the phrase "Nigerian Standard Time," at least when used by outsiders. They will stand up and yell about it at AUN. When not in public, of course, they shrug their shoulders and invoke it constantly. (Funniest when spoke with a Jewish dialect:) "This is Nigeria! What do you expect?" Things kind of happen when they happen and you just have to get used to it. There are two flights to the capitol and they leave no earlier than their posted time, but often 2-3 hours later. Students stroll into class 15-30 minutes late unless you lock doors or impose sanctions. AUN drivers give you grief if you ask them to wait 2 minutes to go get one more thing, but don't apologize for sometimes being half an hour late.

If you need something done on time, you need to be very clear and even then get used to it. It is a very strange thing to be telling people what their business is and I really hope this doesn't become a habit. I feel bad doing it, but it is sometimes the only way ... like today.

We heard about a fun children's party in town and today we took our family to it. We were told it started at noon. We got there 1:15 to give it plenty of time to get started. They decided it would start at 2 instead. By 2:15 the guy with tickets hadn't even shown up yet and we bugged someone to go wake him up from wherever he was. He had walked past us several times, but was not obviously doing anything about the party or ready to accept customers.

The party was only partly set up. Prince got to play on it for a few minutes. When an organizer passed, I asked him when the rest would be up and running. He said it required more electricity than he had right then, so sometime around 3. I told him how long we had waited and how long we were willing to wait. "Okay, they'll be up at 3" he repeated, which I knew meant 3:15-3:30. I said, "No. It will be up before 3 or we will leave." Thankfully, a group of ten much older kids showed up and the crowding convinced them to finish the job. The rest was set up by 2:45.

The fact that Nigerians and Americans clearly use different words to talk about things that happen in the future, things that regularly happen at a certain time, and things that are happening now doesn't help.