|By Sarah Fiske|
It’s almost time for me to go back home, and unlike with many things here, that can’t happen late.
I got an email kindly reminding me I was due (overdue) for writing a blog post and my first thought was, “let me see how quickly I can write this thing.” It is crunch time in my second internship - a research project on CAFTA-DR (DR, Central American, US Free Trade Agreement), and I feel like I am just getting my footing on it. I chuckled at my thought because I’m never able to write these things quickly, but also because here [in the DR] things just don’t happen quickly. It’s a cultural thing and I’m catching the bug. So, I thought I’d write a little post about time.
I can get caught in this fast-paced New England mindset sometimes where everything is go, go, go. Before I finish one thing I am already planning on how I’ll get to the next thing; at home [in Rhode Island] I often pack a day more full than my average week here in DR. I don’t hesitate to eat on the go, and sometimes run from one place to another. Here, things don’t work like that. In fact, I rarely see anyone seemingly in a hurry, except maybe to the corner store ("colmado") to grab an item while cooking. People stop and chat from place to place, and I’ve sat behind so many non-aggressive drivers allowing cars to cut them off through multiple light cycles (though they are quick to honk at a green light). Obviously there are exceptions, but overall the pace of life is just slower here.
Honestly, it can drive me crazy, but frustration doesn’t solve any problems so I choose to just accept it. That’s one step in the right direction, but I can go further. Rather than simply not being bothered by the different flow of time here, I need to learn how to appreciate it. Cultures evolve for reasons. Dominicans weren’t thrown into this cultural view of time and said “these are the rules, do your best.” No, these norms evolved based on the ideals, values and interests of the people in the nation. So, what were these values? What interests does it serve?
There are many answers to that question – and this is an oversimplification of one key factor, but I think it has key truth.
To answer this, I thought about what a successful day for me would look like in the stereotypical cultural frameworks. In the US cultural mindset I might say, “I hurried to work this morning so I could manage to squeeze in a short lunch date. After work I went to a class at the gym where in 30 minutes I sweat more than most people in a week (thanks Crossfit, for your short, but killer workouts) and, even with a grocery run, I made it home with enough time to change, toss a load of laundry in to the wash, and grab my crock pot dinner to eat in the car on the way to my church group.” My successful day is action packed, a little rushed and schedule-oriented, but accomplishes tangible objectives.
A stereotypical successful day for me in the Dominican cultural framework might look a little different. I might say, “I got off to a slower start at work because my coworker was having some difficult situations at home; we got to talking and I offered her some advice and encouragement. Later, I had some extra time for lunch and enjoyed a big meal with my coworkers. After work I stopped in to visit my aunt and she made me fresh fruit juice and a small soup for dinner; two hours later I left with mangos for my mom and plantains for me. I finished the day meeting a few friends for a jog in the park.” My ideal day is relationship oriented and has enough room to allow time to flow more freely, but has little I can check off the to-do list.
|Two guys playing dominos - a common pass time here. There is a lot more just spending time with people. Photo from World Race Blog|
So what is the take home? We live in an increasingly globalized world; one where many countries, especially developing countries, are criticized for certain aspects of their culture like time. I’ve met a lot of Dominicans who talk about this negative side of their culture but not about where it comes from. My message is: Know the nature of the problem. Dominicans, treasure your culture and the way people are cared for. Understand that is a big factor in the time “problem”. Be critical, but think critically both of others and yourself. I don’t encourage stagnancy, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You can’t have it all; what do you want as your treasure?
Lastly, your challenge: Do the same thing for US culture. Select a “negative” and see what the complimentary positives or treasures are. I’d do it, but this blog post is probably already past our short, instant gratification period aka: American culture’s current attention span, hint hint ;).
And lastly just for fun a few of my pictures:
|"Stand up" paddle boarding (the waves made the stand up part harder) in Cabarete|
|The Presidential Palace in Santo Domingo with storm clouds in the background|
|Mate - an Argentine tea tradition - in the park with other interns|