What I Do All Day Part 1: The Art of Visiting

What I Do All Day Part 1: The Art of Visiting

Somedays, I cannot wait for the time when I will have a job with a structured schedule and a clear job description.  One with supervisors and report forms and time cards.  I dream about my office job with a list of things to do and tasks to accomplish. I relish the thought of having my own office phone with voicemail and making call backs.  Fortunately, I’m don’t get lost in these thoughts too often, as I turn to the job I had right before I left, and remember the constant state of boredom I was in.

But I do miss structure and I miss being busy.

It will happen during some pockets of the day, I’ll have finished what I had to do for the day by 9 AM and then I don’t have anything scheduled until 2:30 PM.  That’s five hours of time to kill or time to be useful, somehow.  At the beginning of the my service, I didn’t know what to do, so I would sit at the clinic or I would go home and read.  But more recently, I find myself visiting various friends or strangers for hours at a time.  We call it ‘just sitting’.

I found myself just sitting yesterday in front of a shop, talking to the shop owner’s son.  Before I realized it, two hours had passed and all I had done was sit and chat.  But I felt proud of myself.  Visiting is a really strong and important part of the Botswana culture.  And it’s a great way to get to know people and learn how they live. But the thing is, during my time here, no one has invited me over to come and chat.  Invitations… it’s very American.  So I’ve had to get over some of my insecurities and Americanisms and walk into people’s home and work places and sit.

It’s part of the job.  A simple task, like faxing a letter, can take me two hours.  On my way to the police station, where the village fax is housed, I stop to make small chat with every third person I see.  When i’m in the police station, I sit and tell all the officer about my weekend and they let me walk around the station like I were actually a cop.   Actually, I have a case of nail polish that I bring once a week to the police station, and me and the female police officers paint our fingernails.

just sitting, painting nails

And to be perfectly honest, these visits, take most of my week and while I am doing work- like following up, talking to interested community members, sharing idea, organizing a meeting- we are mostly just sitting.

3 thoughts on “What I Do All Day Part 1: The Art of Visiting

  1. I love this. What a fantastic way to really get to know a country and its’ people. These are the memories that will stick with you most. I think this is a perfectly legitimate way to spend your time!

  2. Sydney, this is the kind of lifestyle I love! I’ll never forget when I was roommates with Angel, who witnessed how difficult it is for me to function on a structured schedule and she told me about polychronistic societies (in African villages, for example), vs. monochronistic societies such as America and Britain, where, especially after the industrial revolution, the productivity of a citizen’s day revolved around the factory workschedule, which became the traditional 9-5 or 8-5 workday.

    The example Angel shared was exactly what you’re saying. She said in an African village, one might wake up in the morning with maybe one or two things to accomplish that day, like to go to the bank, and to make dinner. The walk to the bank would take a couple hours as you visit people on the way. Someone might invite you in for lunch and you join them and chat. Eventually you make it to the bank–not at any specific time, just whenever you get there–and you make your way home, maybe stopping for your dinner ingredients. And it takes all day to do that one thing: going to the bank. But, imagine how much quality visiting you’d miss if you went to the bank, head down, as if that were more important than the people you could meet on the way?

    I LOVE and embrace that in polychronistic societies. There were many times when I missed classes in school because a present conversation seemed more important, or a song idea that had to be written down. It’s why I’m usually late to everything, because I don’t function well on a clock. I think I would be very comfortable with the lack of structure you describe. It’s just too bad Sam got me a watch for Christmas. I’m actually on time to things sometimes now.

  3. Sydney, I love you. I was really happy to read these because I often wonder what you’re up to on a day to day basis. I wish I could come visit you. This is one that that overwhelms me about NYC – I wish things were just a little slower. Monochronic vs. polychronic, right? Isn’t that what Dave Shuler taught? I miss Dave Shuler.

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