I never thought I would say this, but I almost miss queuing to buy a stamp in the Francistown Post Office.
I’m a white guy.
You probably figured that out already if you glanced at the picture next to my by-line, but I thought I should mention it anyway before writing on today’s topic – the ability to wait – since it isn’t something normally associated with the members of my race who live in Africa.
I’ve been based in England for over a year and a half and a few days ago I spent well over an hour standing on line at immigration control to get into the United States with a bunch of very impatient travellers from lots of different countries. And you know what, I now no longer expect anyone – white, black, yellow or whatever – who lives in the ‘developed’ world to be willing to wait for anything. It does happen, but it’s not the norm.
Yeah, I know, going through immigration can be pretty tense even for the most laid-back traveller, but the desire many people appear to have to get to somewhere other than where they are at the moment seems to carry over into other aspects of western life. For example, I’m amazed by how fast most people walk in England.
I don’t fly down the road but I don’t walk really slowly either. Anyway, I get passed all the time by not terribly fit looking women and old farts who always seem to be on some important mission that doesn’t allow them to enjoy where they are or permit them the time to stop and talk or even say hello.
I don’t know, but it just doesn’t seem healthy.
Anyway, getting back to the post office thing… when I first came to live in Botswana 20 years ago dedicating an entire morning to buying a stamp or posting a package really got under my skin. Eventually, however, I just accepted it and even tried to see things from the post office workers’ point of view.
Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying I think it is okay to work at a snail’s pace just because you’re not going to lose your job if you do. I’m just saying there is always something to do while you wait. It might be trying to understand why other people act the way they do, or sorting out how you feel about someone or something, or maybe just trying to step back and see your thoughts or get in touch with the reasons you do the things you do.
I guess what I’m really saying is that most people in the West don’t have to wait for things very often but as far as I can see that hasn’t made them one bit happier than the people in Botswana who do. I suspect that’s because when we are not forced to wait we find it difficult to slow down on our own so we can make the most of what is happening in the present moment.