Rephrased passage from Ryszard Kapuściński’s book “The Shadow of the Sun” regarding the African concept of time:

In Kapuściński’s account of his experiences in Africa, he explores the striking cultural contrast when it comes to the perception of time between Europeans and Africans. When a foreigner unfamiliar with Africa boards a bus and anxiously inquires about its departure time, they may face a bewildering response from the driver. The driver, steeped in the African worldview, might respond with amazement, “When? It will leave when we have enough passengers to fill it.”

This contrast arises from fundamentally different understandings of time. In the European perspective, time is regarded as an objective, measurable, and linear entity, an absolute force that governs life. Europeans often feel enslaved by time, bound by its strict rules and deadlines. They must adhere to its relentless march. This conflict between humanity and time inevitably ends in favor of time, as it inexorably consumes human existence.

Africans, on the other hand, embrace a more flexible, subjective view of time. In their worldview, people have the power to shape time’s course and rhythm, with the blessings of gods and ancestors. Time is a result of human actions, and events, or the lack thereof, dictate its presence. If two armies don’t engage in battle, time remains dormant, unrealized.

Time, for Africans, emerges and recedes under their influence, a passive entity entirely dependent on human agency. This perspective stands in stark contrast to the European concept of time.

Practically, this means that in an African village where an afternoon meeting is scheduled, finding no one at the designated spot renders the question, “When will the meeting take place?” meaningless. The answer is evident: “It will occur when people gather.” Consequently, an African passenger on a bus occupies a vacant seat and enters a state frequently experienced in their life—a patient and tranquil wait.

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