Our painful disrespect for time

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

Despite the religious nature of the Ghanaian, I am convinced that many of us will miss the opportunity to meet Christ if He was to appear today at a given hour.  Time is not of essence to us.  It is at variance with our nature.

For most of us, being punctual at an event is non-Ghanaian.  It does not exist in our vocabulary and so one would see people walking in late at functions and events and consider it as normal despite the fact that they were given a specified time.  

If you are the type who prefers to keep to time, you are described as a white man – “As for you, you are Oburoni”.   That is the extent we go, distancing ourselves from keeping to time because it is a foreign culture.

At a wedding that I attended the other day, the priest went ahead and began the wedding service when it was time to start even though the bride had not arrived.  

It was some thirty minutes into the service when the bride arrived with her entourage.  The priest insisted that they stayed outside until he had finished with his sermon.  She came in for the wedding vows and of course, for the signing of the register.  

Embarrassing as it was for the bridal team, the priest was typically Ghanaian and was sending a clear message to future brides of his church that as Ghanaians, we should learn to keep to time.

At a former work place, we sought to instil timeliness in people when fines were slapped on employees who turned up late for meetings.  This was insisted on and everyone conformed.  At the end of the year, monies realised were matched by the company and donated to an adopted institution for the deprived.  As for arriving late for work, it was automated and so whoever found excuses in coming to work late would find their pay cheques reduced accordingly, at the end of the month.  Lateness was simply not encouraged as a culture.

Thinking about the attitude to being punctual or not, I imagined how many volumes of books one could write on how poorly our sense of time has got to and how appreciating some urgencies when it comes to time has eroded with the years.  

It gets worse each day and devices such as mobile phones help us to perpetuate lies about why we cannot be on time.  Remember that rice advert on television?

I must have boiled up to dangerously high temperatures over the week-end, both on Friday and Saturday as my time got messed up first at the hairdresser’s salon and then on Saturday by my plumber.  While I was gunning for time, they dragged their feet, perhaps finding in me, an abnormal Ghanaian trait.

I spent fruitless four hours at the hairdresser’s salon on Friday despite my constant reminders to the girls that I could only spend two hours on my hair braiding.  Initially, as I walked in and realised they were busy on another customer, I insisted on coming back another time but as usual, they said they would do it for me within the time.  Of course they gave me two apprentice hair dressers, hence four hours of sitting at one place even though I was billed to be somewhere else attending to another business.  Time for me was not time for them.

Then was the case of my plumber on Saturday.  Two weeks earlier, we had agreed that he would come and fix a problem for me.  

We agreed on 8.00a.m. on Saturday to enable me get out of the house by 12.30 p.m. to honour an engagement elsewhere.  On Thursday, I gave him a reminder and he promised to be on time.  

Come Saturday 9 a.m, my plumber had not shown up.  I called him up at 9.15 and of course, the mobile phone was at hand to bail him out – he was on his way, he said.

At 10.15 a.m, when there was no sign of him, I called him up again reminding him that I had to leave the house to meet up with someone.

Meanwhile, I called up my friend who was waiting for me at the other end to tell her about my frustrations.  She burst out laughing.  She was also stuck in the house because a workman she was expecting that morning had still not shown up even though she had told him to be at her house by 8 a.m.  As we spoke at 10.15 a.m, the man had not arrived.

So why are we so lackadaisical with our time forgetting that time is money?  All over, at the work place, at home, at official and social functions, time is not of essence to us.  

The philosophy is that showing one’s face at an event is better than not going at all so time factor is irrelevant.  That is why we find comfort in the apologetic saying, “it is better late than never”.  

Surely, we say that to make excuses for ourselves at social functions but of course, where there is expected productivity; lateness is never an option, unfortunately.

People get to work late blaming it on the rain.  Some walk into meetings late when others are already seated and find it reasonable enough to lay the blame on the traffic situation in town.  It is even worse when senior persons supposed to chair meetings of some sort turn up late and thus delaying everyone.  

We present ourselves as not too serious a people when it comes to time keeping.  Yes, the endless traffic situation in town does not help us with keeping to time, but the conformists would argue that the traffic situation is never an excuse.

I do agree with that school of thought.  If it is the endless vehicular traffic that tends to delay our journeys around town then the simple solution is to always make allowance for that kind of delay in traffic so that one gets to work or attend to an appointment on time.

In reality, the true fact is that we no longer care for other people’s sensitivities.  We have become a people so egoistic in our approaches to the extent that we do not care if we are keeping others in waiting or whether our jobs will suffer with little input.  

But no, that kind of attitude can cost us productivity, it can cost us and others money, it can cost us our respect and it can cost us our relationships.  That is the way we should be thinking about the issue of time keeping.  It is indeed not good mannerism to keep others waiting.  It is that simple.

Article by Vicky Wireko

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