Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The luxury of being on-time

Good morning all –

While in this post I am not going to speak much about what’s happening here in the Dominican, you can rest assured that all is going well. I spent the most recent weekend away in an apartment near Cabarete on the north coast. Here are a couple photos I took there. It’s quite beautiful:

Now, on to the topic. If you have ever travelled to a developing country, or talked to someone who has travelled to one, you may have heard a reference to a “slower pace” of life, or how things don’t revolve around time. That is, many will hear of how hectic the US lifestyle is, and how it seems people in the US are so clock-oriented that they stress themselves out.

This much is true: America, Europe and other developed areas of the world do tend to live a life where more things happen during the day (appointments, activities, etc). The pace of life in developing countries such as here in the Dominican Republic is slower. I want to share with you a thought I had about this difference between these two lifestyles.

Quite simply, I see the ability of being “on time”, or planning one’s day around a schedule, to be a luxury available only in developed countries. I finally came to that realization just recently. Let me describe.

Here in the Dominican, an easy example of this is transportation. When one doesn’t have a vehicle of their own – which would be a majority of people here – they must depend on public or semiprivate transportation. In the Dominican, that comes in the form of gua guas which I mentioned in a previous blog. They are overly packed contracted vehicles which run on set routes and pick up and drop off people at random. They do not leave until the driver feels he has a sufficient amount of people on board, and they will constantly be stopping along the road to pick up new people and drop others off as they arrive at their destinations. Needless to say, they go SLOW. The driver has no incentive to really go fast – his incentive is to go slow enough to get as many people on board as he can.

This past Sunday, I had to get from Cabarete back here to Samaná. That’s roughly 180km, which isn’t necessarily a long way. It would be a trip of less than two hours if I had my own vehicle. How long did it take me? 5 1/2 hours and 4 separate gua guas. I averaged a speed of around 32 km/h on this road. My whole Sunday disappeared. This sort of event prevents me from planning anything beyond “I’ll be back Sunday evening sometime”.

Another example is that entering into a bank, post office or other service will also not be timely. I spent nearly an hour in a bank in Haiti (which was air conditioned, organized and seemingly well-run), and that is just to be expected. Cars also break down more commonly as they are poorly maintained, causing delays. There are no efficient trains or public busses which run on a set schedule here or in many other developing countries.

In short, people here cannot afford to tightly pack their schedules with activities, errands and other plans. It isn’t possible for someone to say when they will arrive somewhere unless it is an incredibly close location. You cannot go to a meeting and return on a set schedule – life just doesn’t work like that, especially in more rural areas. Santo Domingo is an exception in the Dominican, as many times you can access nearby amenities with some certainty of when you will get there and return – then again, this city is more developed than the rest of the country.

So, I return to my main point: being on time is a luxury of developed countries (and more developed areas of countries like the Dominican). We can create such a tightly packed schedule in the United States, Europe and other places because we have the luxury of knowing how long it will take to get there, how long the scheduled event will last, and how long it will take to get back. Many people can afford to have their own vehicles, and when they don’t, the bus, train and other public transportation systems are fairly reliable and on-time. This makes the day much more predictable, and this allows us the luxury of planning an intricately busy day if we so desire.

Next time you find yourself commenting on how people in the US are so busy and don’t seem to stop, just realize this – schedules are a luxury. It helps you be more productive than you otherwise might be. Most people around the world don’t have the ability to make that schedule.

Just some food for thought.


1 comment:

Analin said...

Funny that you write about this, because this has definitely proven to be a challenge in my adjustment process in Seattle: being on time for class (in three weeks, I've been on time like 3 times - lame!). Doesn't help my case that I'm the only Latin American person in my classroom (the rest are from Korea, Japan, and Afghanistan pretty much) and are (almost) always on time. But to be honest with you, much as I appreciate punctuality and make (sometimes in vain) efforts to be punctual, I do think that lifestyle here (even here, West Coast and all) is way too hectic. People could use some Caribbean relax and enjoy themselves some more. And oh wow, those pictures are beautiful. Doesn't exactly surprise me...but I never ever get tired of the North Coast.