Monday, December 21, 2009

Bamoguli, keep time!

You can hear the frenzied hum from the banana plantation several hundred yards away. The whirling of the machines as bare feet pump the iron pedals rhythmically up and down. Radio Best F.M. cranking, the drone of morning chatter, and the occasional burst of laughter.

I check my watch. Ssawa satu. Translation: 9 A.M.

The girls are on time. More than that, they're early! This moment took 2 weeks in the making. I stop and relish it for a minute.

For nearly all the girls this is their first real job. And for those who have had the occasional odd job, it certainly wasn't the Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm variety. Afri-Pads may be a rural, un-electrified, 20 x 30 foot village workshop, but as the girls say, "Afri-Pads is serious". What they mean is, we mean business!

I'll go out on a limb here to say that, while I'm not a big proponent of stereotypes, the bad rap Africans have gotten about taking their sweet time and "No hurry in Africa" is not such a stretch from reality here in Uganda. In fact, they helpfully remind you - in case you could possibly forget! - "You know Ugandans, eh, we don't mind about time. But you Bazungu (white people), you really know how to keep time."

And so it came to be that teaching the girls to "keep time" became one of Afri-Pads' first challenges. The Afri-Pads girls have no problem working until 5 o'clock. In fact, most of them are inclined to work later and it usually takes me poking my head out of the office at 20 minutes past 5 p.m. and some prodding words ("Yamiria bannyabo!" - Translation: Stand up ladies!) to push them towards the door.

And now the "BUT" ...

While the departure time is all good, it's the arrival part that the girls struggle with. For better or worse, when I tell the girls that the workday starts at 9 a.m., my words are loosely interpreted as:

"How 'bout you aim to roll into the workshop sometime before 11 a.m., but if it's noon when you get here, no big deal. Pardon? What if it's raining? Who walks in the rain? That's ridiculous! If it's raining, just sit tight. You'll get here when you get here. Oh! And if you have something better to do today, no sweat. The work can wait 'til tomorrow."

Fun fact: there are a million and one reasons to be late. I've been busy proving that for 27 years. But while the excuses here are different (i.e. "My goat ate it's rope and ran away."), there is still no excuse to be late to work. Yes, Afri-Pads is a village workshop - and that's something I'm proud of - but we're also a business with big ideas and ambitious goals. After all, 60,000 menstrual kits aren't going to make themselves in 2010!

So at the end of the day, it's not a question of one culture "knowing" how to keep time better than another. Anyone can be punctual if they want to be. It simply boils down to wanting to be on time and making the effort to do so. And while it took a few weeks for the girls to understand why "keeping time" is so important at Afri-Pads, it's clear they've decided it's worth the effort.

1 comment:

  1. Keep up the great work. How many are there working at this moment?

    I tell everyone I know about you guys. All the best in 2010!

    #1 Fan