Week 39: La Hora Dominicana

10 minutes early is on time, on time is late… and… well, being late was not even to be fathomed and you must be a horrible, inconsiderate, butthole of a human if you show up late without warning and/or severe apologizing.

This rule of timeliness had been engrained in me since before birth, if that is possible.

I grew up in an Air Force family and had been taught that being late is a flagrant sign of disrespect for the time of others- especially in the work place. Time is one thing that we can never get back, after all. So growing up, I always made a valiant effort to be early to events or when the event called for it, I would be “fashionably late” which was like 2 to 10 minutes late for me… I really have an amazing ability to be able to arrive at exactly the minute I say I will- a really cool party trick, if you ask me. Seriously, you can ask my friends. Just the thought of being late makes me super anxious, and if I think I am going to be late, I will surely call or text or both to let you know that “I am so very sorry for keeping you waiting, but I am on my way.”

Because of this upbringing, I find myself particularly perturbed by people who are perpetually late. (See what I did there?) I find myself thinking that they obviously think their time is much more important than my own… and that is obviously hella rude. If you were ever late for a meeting with me, without remorse, let it be know I was certainly judging you.

And then I moved to the Dominican Republic.

Yes, yes… I know. OH THE IRONY

The DR is a Caribbean country that operates on, well, Caribbean time. And when you are on vacation, sipping mojitos on a beach, I can certainly deal with the lack of timely awareness. That is okay… you are on vacation, trying to evade the totalitarian control of the tick-tick-ticking of the clock. I am all for that. Until you are no longer on vacation and trying to get s*%^ done. Then I am not.

We were warned during training that if someone says 6 o’clock, it probably means 6:30ish. But maybe it means 7:00 or 8:00… hard to say. In America, where 6 o’clock means 6 o’clock, I had a hard time accepting this culture difference. Because for me, it had no logical reasoning. If you really wanted to meet at 7:00pm, why don’t you just say 7… instead of 6….? And then everyone would know what time to show up opposed to having people trickle in for an hour because no one is actually sure when the meeting was to begin.

THIS MAKES NO SENSEEEEEE, I often have screamed inside.

When I first arrived to my site, I was trying to navigate this new perspective of time, but my timeliness was so deeply engrained into my DNA, I found it hard to not arrive basically on time. I often would try to specify by asking, so 6 o’clock Dominican time or 6 o’clock American time… I needed to make sure I understood the expectation. Yet, like stubborn fool I am, I would still show up to meetings 15 minutes past what I was told- and even that pained me deeply- only to show up to an empty and locked building- surprise, surprise. Yet, I would do this, again and again, thinking that the one time I show up an hour late, people will have arrived and I will be the tardy delinquent. I COULD NOT LET THAT HAPPEN! So I kept showing up basically on time to then be waiting around for… too long. But, you know, I can’t say I wasn’t warned.

However, being in country for nearly a year (WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN?) I will say that the longer I am living here, the less I find myself consumed by the need to be on-time. I find myself much less aware of the hour, often losing track of the days. Spending time with your  neighbors and talking with your kids often trumps the need to be prompt to the thing you have that can wait a few more minutes… The morning bleeds intothe afternoon which bleeds into the evening. I find myself breaking up the day by hunger pains and vecino visits and trips to my CTC or school when it feels right, opposed to the minutes of the hour. In my most recent Spanish class, we would show up as much as 45 minutes late, after being lost in conversation with my fellow friends and volunteers. And I didn’t even feel that badly about it…Slowly but surely the Dominican hour is rubbing off on me if I like it or not. 

(Is this what integration feels like ?! Am I finally doing it?! 11.5 months into service …)

Recently, we celebrated Family Day at my local Community Technology Center or our CTC. I spent over 2 hours with a co-worker designing the schedule for the day. I could feel my former Event Manager self really getting excited by creating a run-of-show plan. We planned every activity from 9:00am to 4:00pm, and I am not going to lie, it felt really good. Every minute of the day was thought out and we even noted who was responsible for what activity and it was designed in a beautiful table and…I digress…

The day arrived and, of course,  I arrive a little before 9:00am to see that we are still very much setting up and very much not ready to begin… though the itinerary had a 9:00 start time, but its okay. We planned for this. We figured people would arrive between 9 and 10… However, we don’t begin activities until 10:30am and our lunch is served an hour and half past what the itinerary said. And of course, living in one of the rainiest provinces during the rainy season, it rained… a lot… which for those of you unfamiliar to Dominican culture, rain tends to put an end to any and all plans. But we worked around it. I’m always impressed by the resourcefulness I see so often in this culture. My counterparts created a great event, much of what was created on the spot, and no one would have known. And even though we created our beautifully crafted, run-of-show game plan and even though we basically did not stick to it at all, I realized how little it mattered. We were there to celebrate the family, the importance of learning, growing and having fun together. We played tug-of-war and musical chairs; we had impromtu dance performances and ate incredible Dominican food… We laughed a lot, and we lost track of time. It was a great day. People enjoyed themselves and I certainly did, even if things didn’t happen exactly as they were planned.

And thus, yes, I arrive to the moral of the story. Im learning… la vida es asíQue será será… often most of the most memorable moments happen in the unplanned, in the improvised, in the spontaneous… I’m learning to leave my cellphone (my clock) behind more often and I’m learning to let myself get taken up by the natural ebbs and flow of the day- which honestly is a great metaphor for my service, but I’ll save that for another post. That is what I keep telling myself, at least, when Ive been waiting for 20 people to show up to my 4 o’clock meeting and it is almost 5…. yes, the beauty in life can be found somewhere here.

*However, if I invite you to do something, please still note, I am talking about the American hour. Be on time 😉



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