Time had generally been a straightforward concept to me. Growing up in the United States, everyone seems to preoccupied with meeting deadlines and focusing on time management. It wasn’t until I spent my first full summer in Bolivia with my family, that mastering the subtle art of time became an abstract affair.
Anxious for my first day of basketball practice in Cochabamba, I was eager to make a positive first impression on my new coach. In the United States as high schoolers, we would often race to be the first to arrive to practice and be the last to leave. Those types of traits are normaly looked upon very favorably.
For my first basketball practice in Bolivia, I was informed that it would start at 5 p.m., so I arrived at 4:15 p.m. just to be sure accounting for the possibility of heavy traffic or some other unforseen circumstance. Not a soul was to be found at that hour. One by one my new teammates would wander in, with my coach nonchalantly entering the coliseum at 5:40 p.m. I didn’t dare volunteer the information that I had arrived an hour and half too early. After awhile I would push my luck arriving later and later, just enough not be the last one to arrive.
Once I thought I had timed it just right and arrived at 5:10 p.m., but I found my entire team in the midst of a defensive drill. Practice time had not been moved, yet it seemed as if the entire team instinctively decided to show up on time this particular day. After that I could never figure out a pattern for when to show up on time and when to arrive behind schedule.
Going out with cousins or accepting dinner invitations from uncles would also prove to be a bit unnerving. An agreed upon pick-up time, would inevitably lead to two hours waiting impatiently by the window. I soon learned to tack on at least an extra hour to any set time that someone said that they would come by.
Common knowledge dictated that invitations set for for a certain time actually meant an hour to an hour and half later. The challenge was to magically know when was too late and when was too early. I never wanted to inconvenience anyone so that they would have to wait for just me to show up.
Even overnight long-distance buses would never depart on time. I would take my sweet time and arrive a few minutes after the stated time of departure. My mom would always strongly recommend I get to the bus terminal a little early just in case the bus would leave on time.
Now that I’m back in the United States after spending close to three years in Bolivia, I still cannot shake the habit of leaving too late leaving little time to arrive on time to catch a movie with my cousin. Fortunately for me, many of my Bolivian cousins here in the U.S. also haven’t left that habit behind either.