Time is strange. We can measure it, but we are never really quite sure what it is or where it is taking us.

Time is strange. Photo. By User:S Sepp (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

When I was in my early twenties, I lived for one year in the Northern Province of Sudan. We were surrounded by desert but our little village near the river Nile was green and beautiful.

I lived near the town of Dongola in the Northern Province of Sudan. Photo. OCHA [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Even so, it was a long bus trip to the capital in Khartoum; I often felt isolated and cut off from “civilization”, trapped with rather backward people. It was worrying when I asked about the bus schedules and discovered that the buses often did not actually arrive and leave at the times they were supposed to arrive and leave. I was even more concerned about the attitude of the locals; they didn’t seem to think that the looseness of the schedule was a serious problem. They even suggested that I was being silly and that I should just relax and enjoy myself more!

I was living in an amazing place but I just couldn’t relax and enjoy myself. Photo. By Photographer: B N Chagny [CC BY-SA 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Thinking back on my experience, I wasted a lot of time and made myself feel bad by telling myself that the locals should change; I thought they should be more like me and take things like schedules more seriously!

I simply could not understand why the locals were not more worried about the bus schedules. I’m sure I would have enjoyed myself more if I could have been more like the locals.  Photo. Church of the granite columns.

There are actually psychological studies that suggest that certain Arab cultures have a less structured sense of time than western cultures. It seems that some people find it difficult to accept a rigid schedule, for example. It seems that people in westernized countries (including Japan) tend to regard time as a commodity: time is money. It seems that Africans generally do not have this view of time.

It seems that Africans often have a different sense of time compared to westernized people. Photo. Todd Schaffer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In Swahili, there are two words that indicate time: sasa and zamani. The word sasa indicates present time and creates a sense of urgency. The word zamani indicates the past but with a strong sense of time as a connector of individual souls. Time has a stronger meaning as a cycle rather than a straight line.

For many Africans, it seems that time feels more like a cycle than a straight line. It also feels like something that connects you to other souls. Photo. Todd Schaffer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

People in rich countries tend to feel dissatisfied with lack of time and feel frustrated as a result. People who experience time pressure usually move faster than people who are not worried about lack of time. In one experiment, Japanese were found  to be the fastest walkers.

Who feels the most pressure from time? Photo. Todd Schaffer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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