It is January 2021, the sun is shining and the birds are singing. I enjoy a baobab juice while waiting for my appointment. Since I am back, I concentrate more on other projects as my Three Little Birds restaurant is still closed. The first weeks back in The Gambia I really needed to adapt to the weather. I could only walk a couple of meters and I was already sweating heavily. I learned to take a siesta every day and was still tired when the sun went down. It took me a couple of weeks to really adjust to the weather again. I tried to be more patience and relaxed. A couple of detox weeks from the rush life in The Netherlands.
As a young girl born and raised in The Netherlands, I have been taught from a really young age to show up on time and to deliver (also on time!). If we had to be somewhere at 5 a’ clock my mom made sure that we were all ready and waiting at the door at least fifteen minutes before 5 a’ clock. When the school bell rang, you made sure you were already in the classroom or run to the classroom to be earlier than the teacher. If you are 5 minutes too late for your doctor’s appointment, someone will already have taken your spot. But you will still have to pay for the doctor’s time. When you meet up with a friend at a restaurant, you make sure you come on time. The secret rule is that when you are more than 5 minutes too late, you should call.
The Gambia taught me that there are also different clocks. Yes, we all know there are different time frames in the world. If it is early afternoon in Washington, it is early evening in Gambia. But Gambia has also developed their own clock. It is called: Gambia Maybe Time (GMT). People will show up when they are ready. If you make an appointment, it is absolutely normal that the person shows up a couple of hours later or doesn’t show up at all. If you call them to ask, mostly they will tell you:
After living here for a longer time now, I started to understand the difference. If I ran out of my house in The Netherlands, mostly I jumped into my car or waited for the bus that always arrives perfectly on time. There are not many people who have (or take) the time for a talk with you. Most of them are on their phones or checking the last paperwork for their next appointment. The bus, tram, train and plane always arrive on time and everybody walks in without any troubles or delay. In The Gambia, mostly before I can leave my house I have a couple of smiling faces on my compound asking me in ten different ways how my morning is. Then while I walk out, I talk a bit with my neighbour and make my way to the highway. The sun is hot, I don’t want to sweat so I walk easy. While waiting for a local taxi, only taxies stop who want to give me a town trip. Town trip is a private taxi who brings you actually from A to B. I prefer to go by local taxi. A local taxi (looks like a regular taxi) stops only at fixed stops and the rest you walk. On the local taxi you meet new people and catch up a little of the language. It all takes much longer in comparison to my life in The Netherlands. I always run against time in The Gambia, because I still want to come on time. Even though I know that my appointment will most likely be too late.
While waiting for my appointment, I can get frustrated. I was taught as a young child that when you don’t come on time, you don’t respect the people and their time. It is important to be on time if you want to sustain the relationship with the person you are meeting.
I tried to explain this a couple of times to different of my closest Gambian contacts. Mostly I can feel that they don’t really understand my frustrations. I started observing people around me more. I will just share a couple of experiences from the last week with you.
Everything takes much more time here in The Gambia. On the road, in the shop or on the market you should really take the time. For appointments to set up new companies, house viewings or going to the hairdresser it isn’t any different. Yes, I can get frustrated. But when I get frustrated now, I know it has to do with me. I may not be in the good mood, I am in a hurry or I plan too much in a day. You know the song: English man in New York…? Yeah. I am a Dutch girl in The Gambia. When you learn to adapt and learn to be more patient (and adapt), you get so much more back! Because here people always take the time to help you, to listen to you, to talk to you or to make fun about something. And yes, if you want them to have this time for you, then learn to give such time to another person. Also, when you are in a hurry or have too many things to do, just slow down and learn to enjoy!