The western concept of time is not a standard that is held by all cultures equally. One idea of being late to a meeting is showing up five minutes past the hour. Before moving to Kenya, I had actually been written up for being two minutes late for a shift.
But I have learned that this idea is not universal. In Kenya, the concept of time is much more fluid.
A few weeks ago, I was at a wedding rehearsal for a Kenyan couple. I had caught a ride with the happy code after church, because I had no idea where we were going, and Adrienne had to take the car to get the boys home. The couple was supposed to meet with the wedding vendors at 1:00, then we were to have the rehearsal at 3:00. I was excited, as this was the first wedding I would be officiating in Kenya.
We arrived at the venue, an outdoor garden area that was open to the public on Sundays for people to have lunch. I grabbed a chair under an umbrella, and opened a book to read until the vendor meeting was over. Around two o’clock, I looked over to where the couple was sitting, and realized that only one vendor had shown up. The photographer, who lived around the corner, was there, but the DJ, the caterer, the beauticians, and the guy renting the tent and chairs were still MIA. The groom came over and told me that they were all on their way.
I kept reading, wondering what was going to happen when the friends and family showed up for the rehearsal to find the vendor’s meeting still going on. But I was still thinking like an American.
The first people to arrive for our three o’clock rehearsal didn’t show up until 3:30. We waited until four o’clock before we had enough people to start. Even then, as the rest of the wedding party (20 people, besides the bride and groom) continued to come, we had to start the procession over again and again, so everyone knew where they needed to stand.
It wasn’t just the wedding party that was late. The couple had arranged for an entire goat, weighing 13 kg (almost 29 lb) to be roasted by 2:00. By 3:00, the groom and best man were wondering what was going on. They went to the kitchen area and asked the cooks what was happening. The cooks told them that the food was coming. They asked for 45 minutes to have everything together.
An hour later, the best man and I went back, but we were given the same story, this time by the manager.Finally, around 4:30, the owner came over to tell us that the full goat, which had been purchased by the groom and brought in for the kitchen to cook, had been butchered and given to other guests. He offered to cook up some meat for us, but it would take some time. He said he had just found out what had happened, and would cover all the expenses for the food and drinks for the entire party (which by now had grown to about 40 people.
And so it was, at 6:00, we were finally served our lunch. The nyama choma (roast meat) came out lukewarm, and the ugali (imagine corn meal cooked to a dense, play dough like consistency) was stale. Having nothing to eat since seven o’clock that morning, it was the most delicious food I had eaten in a long time, even if I am still unsure what type of animal it came from.
(N.b.: As I am writing this, I am sitting at the wedding gardens, waiting for the second rehearsal. We were scheduled to meet at noon, yet I am still the only one here. It’s two o’clock. Better order the nyama choma now if I want to eat today…)