“Time is not money. Time is people.”
This was one of the first Senegalese phrases I heard upon arrival, from Waly, during orientation. Instantly I loved it. Over the past two weeks I’ve really been able to see the motto materialize. Every day I see a new instance of someone living out their belief that time is people.
One way that you can see this emphasis on people is through the cultural norm of greeting – every one, always. When you enter a house, yours or other, you greet everyone there. On the street, if you see someone you know, or “know”, you greet them. The exchange, once you’re fluent enough in Wolof, isn’t a simple, “Oh hi”. It’s an extended, long exchange of asking about another’s life and family. Even very young children will come and greet you, sometimes with words and always with a handshake.
My favorite part of all this greeting stuff is that if you see someone you know while walking somewhere, you stop and chat with them briefly, even if it means you’ll be a few minutes late. It’s not a big deal if you’re late to class if it was because you stopped and talked with someone. When I go places, I try to leave early so that I’m available to give people the time of day they deserve. However, even if I’m running late, c’est pas grave, I’ll stop and talk. People are the most important. Time is people.
This motto is lived out in several other ways. People are never in too much of a hurry to stop and help you, even with the smallest of things. When you leave someone’s house they’ll walk you to the door, sometimes a couple blocks, sometimes home. It’s not a safety thing, it’s cultural. If they don’t walk you out, you should think that something happened and they did not enjoy your visit. Waly also explained to us the acronym “W.A.I.T”, West African Internal Time. Have patience; just wait. People here wait very well.
You’re a person? They have time. I have time.
Learning Wolof: Question: Lu bees? Answer: Yaa bees. What’s new? You’re new. (Commonly the third or fourth line exchanged in a greeting.)