Over the weekend, we had the pleasure of meeting with a friend of ours who is from Haiti. He met with us before the first trip to Haiti in order to give us a crash course in Creole. It was great to share our heart for his country and gain some of his insight and perspective into life there. We talked about everything from culture, politics, economics, etc. We even got to practice our Creole! It was good to get a taste of Haiti while still in the middle of preparations.
One of the things that I came to realize yesterday was in the anticipation of this reunion. See, time is one of those things that tend to have different meanings across cultures. It is definitely the case in American and Haitian cultures. Anthropologists have categorized cultures into two groups – monochronic and polychronic. American society is very much defined as having monochronic time. This means that our system regards time as manageable, scheduled out, and a big focus of society. Some would also say it makes people much more task-focused. However, in polychronic societies, time is much more fluid and not the focus of life at all. These cultures tend to be more relationship-oriented. The clock is not binding, like it is here. When we were in Haiti the first time, we were told that things happened in “Haiti time.” When the bus was supposed to be there at 9am, it may actually be closer to 9:30 or even 10am. This is due to the fluidity of time and the focus on relationships, rather than time or tasks. In other situations, adhering strictly to time can even be perceived as a lack of relationship or respect. If you have a meeting at 2pm and you show up right at 2 or earlier, it can indicate that you’re only interested in business and there’s nothing more to that relationship. When the two cultures come into contact, sometimes it can be a frustrating experience.
So, back to my meeting the other night: Due to our previous time in Haiti, as well as some missions studies through seminary, I have had an understanding of time. But, this weekend, I had to answer an important question in regards to this: How am I going to personally deal with it? We had set a time to meet in the afternoon, so we made sure we were going to be ready when he arrived. We even accounted for it to occur a little later than we originally planned. As the time ticked on and I waited, I came to realize that my whole world didn’t have to stop just because I’m waiting on this one thing. I had to be able to continue doing whatever else in the meantime and be willing to drop it and switch focus as the situation dictated, not time. As I’m thinking through all of that, Cathi was already working on preparing dinner for the family, obviously not bothered at all by the fact that this meeting was not happening on time. She’s always had a better fluidity of time than I (that sounds a whole lot better than “she’s always late!”). But on this occasion, she definitely showed me the better alternative to how to live with a whole lot less frustration in Haiti, where our focus definitely will be on building relationships.