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6/4/09 "We left the top 35 minutes ago", and Other Ruminations on Time

Ask any of my American friends or family: I'm a watch-wearer.


About once a year, I drop 10 bucks at Target and get a plastic, waterproof digital watch that I never take off. I sleep in it, shower in it (pushing the band up and down to wash my arm, thank you very much, but still), and look at it a hundred times a day. I use the date feature whenever I need to know, y'know, the date. I use the stopwatch with students, when cooking, to time how long the subway takes to arrive...whatever. I've spent years looking for a pretty watch that has a built-in digital stopwatch and indiglo lamp and is waterproof, but not finding one, I settle for the 10 dollar Target watch. Which breaks after a year or so, when I replace it.

This has been the pattern...for at least a decade. Or two. Probably longer.

Which is why I laughed when I heard the line, "We left the top 35 minutes ago."

I'd been hiking with some American students, engaging in my favorite Goal 3 work of sharing my country and culture with non-PCV Americans. :) We'd talked about geology, environmental history, culture, traditions, language, and a thousand other things. We'd also walked a third or a half of the way up Jbel Toubkal, the tallest mountain in North Africa (and the fifth tallest in Africa), going up to the Shem Harmoush shrine. (I know that's not how it's spelled on maps, but that's what it sounds like to me.)

The climb up had been hard for many, but we cruised on the way down. About halfway down, I stopped - and urged others to stop with me - in hopes of regathering the group that had strung itself over a couple kilometers. One of the folks I sat and talked with looked at his watch, reassured me that we still had plenty of time (at least, I think that was his point), and then kept walking.

And I had to smile.

A year ago, I'd have known that without his telling me. I timed everything. I knew that it took 6.5 minutes to get from my front door to my subway station. I knew that I could make it in 5 minutes if I took a shortcut. When I got to Morocco, I timed taxi and tranzit rides. I always knew what time it was. Always. It was almost obsessive. Maybe not even "almost."

But Morocco worked its slow magic on me. I learned how to pace my day by the calls to prayer. I learned that "teatime" isn't found on any clock; it's to do with the angle of the sun in the sky. I learned that "We'll meet at 2" means "I'll see you sometime before 3. Probably." And I discovered that my obsessive attention to the time was ... useless.

So I looked at my watch less and less.

And then, like all 10 dollar Target watches, it died after about a year. I don't remember exactly when. (Irony, there.) I pulled it off and set it aside to give to my little host sister, who loved playing with the indiglo feature (which still worked, unlike the time).

I still have access to the time - my cell phone, like most phones, has a clock as its default display - but I rarely pull it out.

Things take as long as they take. The length of time something takes today is not necessarily the same as the time it'll take tomorrow. Boiling an egg? Depends on how high the flames are. Depends how much water you put in the pot. Walking across town? Depends how many people you run into. Depends how many of them are close friends that you have to stop and kiss cheeks with and chat with, and how many you can breeze by. Trip between Berberville and Souqtown? Depends how many people are riding, and where they want to get off. Depends how many women want to get on, since they will wait outside their front doors, regardless of where the informal-but-generally-agreed-upon "bus stops" are. If five women in the same village are riding a tranzit today, we'll probably stop five different times within a kilometer.

So timing a waste of time. I mean, it'll give you a general guideline, I guess. I know that the ride between Berberville and Souqtown takes about 2.5 hours in a private car (thank you, Peace Corps Zweenmobile!), but will take 3-4.5 hours in a tranzit. But there's a big difference between 3 and 4.5 hours. I suppose I could time each ride, and analyze driver speed and times of day and make lots of pretty graphs. A year ago, this might have sounded appealing. But now...

I understand why my Berber neighbors don't care about Daylight Savings Time. What difference does it make, an hour earlier, an hour later? Summer days are still long. Regardless of what a clock says, the schedule of the day is Bread-making Time, followed by Breakfast Time, then Filling the Water Time, then Cleaning Time and/or Fields Time, then Lunch Time, then Rest Time, then Fields Time, then Tea Time, then Dinner Time, then Bed Time. For women, anyway. For men, there's no filling the water or cleaning or bread-making, but there is Cafe Time (all morning or all afternoon or both, depending on your socioeconomic status) and Prayer Times. (There are women here who pray the five prayers of the day, but there are more who don't.)

I haven't lost the habit of looking at the clock when I go to bed and when I wake up. I'm not sure why I bother - if I'm awake I'm awake (though I admit that I'll probably try to fall back asleep if it's before 6). But other than that...I often go the whole day without looking at a clock.

But the water came on about an hour ago, at which point I filled up several containers of water to last for the day, and now it's Dishwashing Time. Catch y'all ... later. :)

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