“How long will it take to get there?”, I ask.
Our new friend and Addis road warrior, Ishy, gently shrugs his shoulders, tilts his head slightly and says “30 minutes.” We’ve heard that before. Time is different here and life moves at a different pace. Yes, there are clocks with numbers and hands that tick off hours, minutes and seconds. But here they mean something different and speak to a different sense of urgency. Every where we go takes 30 minutes. Some 30 minutes were an hour and some 30 minutes were longer, but we always arrive where we’re going and it’s always alright. We are in Addis and it’s all good.
I’m reminded of the Jimmy Buffett song where he buys a watch from a man on the street. The watch has no hands and his friends think he got ripped off. But he soon realizes the watch is never wrong; he tells his doubting friends to breathe in, breathe out, move on.
Something like that happens here. Time is not something to be a slave to, but rather an indication of what is, what was, and what may be coming next. Through it all I’m reminded we’re not in control; it’s God’s time and God’s place and we’re blessed to be here. Period.
This is not to say punctuality is not important or that we shouldn’t strive to keep our commitments. For me it’s a reminder to keep everything in perspective. Most of what I think is critical at the time won’t even be a memory in two months or two weeks or even two minutes.
Let me share an example that, for me, speaks perfectly to this – the coffee ceremony.
Every day after lunch at Safari Academy, the dishes are set aside and we have the coffee ceremony. A coffee ceremony is a centuries old tradition in Ethiopian culture. It centers around the elaborate preparation of a really great cup of coffee. At it’s core is the entire process: roasting beans over a charcoal fire, grinding the beans into a fine powder, boiling water over that same charcoal fire, rinsing the cups, boiling more water, adding the coffee, boiling again, testing the consistency of the mixture, letting it sit and then finally pouring the finished coffee into small cups, adding sugar and then enjoying. For our ceremonies, we have a gracious lady, Qelemua, who takes time out of her busy day to prepare our coffee ceremony, it’s done with love and smiles and nary a word.
The first coffee ceremony left me a bit skeptical of the process. Come on now, really? Surely we could fire up Mr. Coffee, or better yet Mr. Keurig. Both are simple, fast and relatively yummy. Besides, we have things to do; we need to get back to class on time ready to proclaim the importance of pronouns and conjunctions. Who wants to light a charcoal grill anytime they want java. Yeah, I admit to having more than a passing fancy with coffee. Alright, if I’m honest it’s a full on love affair. I love coffee and I’m used to my cup of black gold when I want it; no fuss, no muss, and no waiting, place your order, pay the money, or push the button and get your cup.
Not so with the coffee ceremony. At first it seemed like a lot of work and, even more concerning, very slow. Not to mention the cups were so small! No grande, no venti, no insulated mega tanker mug to last 200 miles, just a little teacup looking thing with no handle. After much discontentment and concern, it finally dawned on me that the coffee ceremony wasn’t about coffee after all, it was about time. Time with friends, time with family, time with coworkers. Time to chill and get to know the people you’re with, not with passing courtesies, but to really get to know them. Dig deep, share, learn and, yes, love.
All this is not to say that our time isn’t important and can be wasted with careless disregard. Nothing could be further from the truth. Time is to be treasured and what we do with our time is valuable. But, until my coffee ceremony revelation, busy and slow seemed mutually exclusive. Sure it’s REALLY good coffee, but more than that it’s time to be; be with friends, be with co-workers, and be with family. And talk.
So, as I prepare to leave this place. I pray that I take these memories, the many new friends I’ve met and the shared experience with me forever and always remember to breathe in, breath out, move on.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia