Yesterday I did something very culturally Kenyan without realizing it at the time. I had two appointments, one at 10:30 for coffee and another for lunch. At the coffee appointment I was chatting away, catching up on life with a friend so the time was creeping up on me. I looked at my watch at 11:55 and wondered what time the lunch was for. The person I was with asked me for what time the lunch was scheduled. I glanced at my calendar while she finished what she was saying.
Here is where my brain flipped into Kenyan mode without me even being conscious of it. I noted that my lunch was to be at noon and that I was already late. Inside my thoughts seamlessly told me, it’s more important to finish this conversation. Don’t cut it off, let us finish naturally. Then I vaguely hoped the other person would still be there and understand even though I’d already been late to other appointments this trip.
Another twenty minutes passed before the conversation came to a natural pause that I could break into. That’s when I started to think about what I had done. I was nearly certain I didn’t have her phone number, but now I was bent on getting to the other location as quickly as I could. By the time I reached the restaurant, it was now 25 minutes later than the planned time. When I didn’t find my friend there I was sure she’d come and gone, but I hoped she was really late too.
I checked in my phone to find her mobile number. I called; no answer. I left a voice mail. In a way I was relieved, perhaps she’d left her phone at home and I wouldn’t have been able to tell her I was late anyway. I knew she didn’t live far, so I called someone else to get her home number then called her there too. There was no answer.
After trying the cell again I just decided to wait a bit longer. I didn’t know what else to do. Eventually we did find each other and were able to have a nice visit over lunch.
It dawned on me as I sat there that this was a very Kenyan approach to events. In fact it’s was the culture learning books refer to as event-oriented culture. It’s kind of the idea that the current relationship is the most important at the moment and the next thing (person) will wait. This is the opposite of being time-oriented, where getting to the next event on time is the higher value. A little scary. I'd say it was good if I were actually in Kenya.