Abisola Sofolahan: When African Time Goes Too Far

by Duchess Magazine
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“Hi Siri, I have a Naija party starting at 4pm, what time should I leave home?” Siri responds.

“You. should. leave. at. 6pm. if. you. want. to. help. with. set. up. Expect. the. party. to. start. at. 8pm.”

Can just we have a moment of silence for all the party jollof I have missed because events started so unrealistically late that I left before food was served?

Let me gist you. I recently attended a friend’s PhD graduation dinner at an exotic Brazilian steakhouse. It was one of those bougie restaurants you need to make reservations like six years in advance to get the private room. So you can imagine my excitement when I got the invitation. The dinner was on a busy Saturday packed with errands for my husband and me. We had accomplished everything but picking up my husband’s car from the mechanic.

Simplenaijagirl: “Oko mi, ma binu, if I drive you to pick up your car from Oga Sunday, then I’ll be a solid 45 minutes late for the dinner, and I’ll be that one awkward person placing an order when everyone else is already eating.”

Hubby: “No wahala. Let’s ask Iya Peju, our neighbor, to watch the kids. I’ll get an Uber to take me to Oga Sunday.”

Simplenaijagirl: “Eeeya, pele. I’ll be back home in three hours tops.”

I got done decking up; hair and makeup were on point, and I wore a cute little black dress and sparkly heels. I was feeling myself like kilode? I patted myself on the shoulder when I pulled up to the parking lot at 5:59 PM. Just in time, I thought! So, I did my catwalk into the restaurant and started talking to the greeter.

Simplenaijagirl: “I’m here for Ruth Jegede’s PhD graduation dinner.”

Greeter: “Oh, hi, Dr. Ruth! It’s nice to meet you. Come with me.”

Simplenaijagirl: “No no, I’m not Ruth. I’m her friend,” I said with a confused look on my face.

Greeter: “Oh, sorry about the mix up. Let me show you to the room for Ruth’s dinner.”

He walked me there and the room was empty. I arrived before the celebrant! “Chai, and I made oko mi spend money on Uber. Plus, he’ll still have to give iya Peju something for watching the kids. Issokay, I’m sure Ruth will be here soon and it’ll all be worth it.”

Guest after guest arrived, but none of them was Ruth. It was now 8:06 PM, and there were 14 ladies in the room with hungry bellies, sweating out our makeup.

At 8:13 PM, Ruth finally arrived. All hail the Queen of Africa. What does your time matter when it is the Queen’s PhD graduation? “I’m so sorry, guys, my tailor made me late.” It was after that wack apology I decided it was time to go home.

It’s not just Ruth. Most of us Africans are guilty, and it stems from that sense of entitlement; in this case, the entitlement to people’s time. Here’s the breaking news – your friends are not obligated to give you their time. It’s rude and arrogant to keep people waiting when they come celebrate with you. I said what I said because I want to get us angry enough to stop it. Ruth was nice enough to apologize, which is unusual. Most people ride under the “African time” expectation. It’s a bad cultural habit; the unspoken rule of “D’uh, arrive two hours late to avoid waiting.” But it keeps progressively getting worse. Nowadays, arriving two hours makes you an automatic recruit in the set-up crew. Just be ready for, “One-two, testing-testing, aunty can you hear the mic over there?”

Ruth was also nice enough to understand my leaving early. Many would be offended that I decided to leave “early” and not continue wasting my time. Let me put it in context – in the 2 hours 13 minutes that I sat waiting for Ruth, Bill Gates would have made $3 million, and Zuckerberg, over $2 million. Let’s even bring it home, our uncle, Dangote, would have made almost half a million dollars!

I have been a victim enough times to understand these two categories of people:

1. The bad party planners
They have good intentions of starting “on time,” but don’t realize how long it will take to set up the 1,000 roundtables at their event. They also happened to assign the same person to pick up the food, be the DJ, and the photographer.

2. The professional African-timers
The venue is set up and ready to go an hour before “start time.” Food is ready and music is jamming, but they have no intention of starting until after the “end time” they indicated on the invitation. Ask them why? It’s African time now, d’uh?

As you’d guess, I’ve had to develop some coping strategies because my time is too valuable for me to sit in a hall for hours watching people arrange silverware on tables. No, ma’am, nobody got time for that. So here are four tricks I use.

1. Text to confirm the actual start time beforehand. Say something like, “I have a few stops to make. Can you please confirm the actual start time so I can be there right on time?”

2. Try to be productive if you are kept waiting. And no, social media does not count. I do most of my blog writing on the cloud, so I just pull out my phone and write away. Try reading a book, listening to podcasts, or responding to emails.

3. Get up and leave. It is actually okay to do so. Set a time limit to spend at the event regardless of the actual start time. Once the time is up, give the host a hug, take a picture with them, and say something like, “I actually have another commitment right now. I was hoping this would have started a while ago. Congrats again, you look stunning!” It doesn’t matter that the commitment is with your bed or Netflix.

4. Make stops on your way. If you know you are attending the event of a chronic late-starter, and you are one of those people who still end up being early despite planning to be late, then make stops on your way. Visit your friend that lives along the way, fix your heels that broke last Sunday at church, or stop by the petrol station to fill up your tank.

Dear Nigerians, here is my plea: consistently start your events on time, irrespective of how many guests are present. It shows you have integrity. Over time, people will learn to show up early for your events.

What has been your experience? Please share your best “African-time” stories below.

Photo CreditDreamstime

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