Monday, April 16, 2012

Bolivian time

All is well in Bolivia, including my digestive system (for those of you interested!).  Today was a not-so-interesting day that reminded me of a common topic here that I haven't yet discussed: Bolivian time (BT).  You may be thinking to yourself, "Does that mean that time is somehow different in Bolivia than it is here in the U.S.?"  The answer is yes, absolutely.  That is, the people perceive time differently.  It actually does still go by at the same rate.

I was thinking of this and other deep thoughts today as I sat in the front of an ambulance, watching the people and cars on the street in front of the hospital...waiting.  I was scheduled to go with the ambulance to the women's prison and then to a school later in the day to do check ups and administer medicines.  I'm told to be at the ambulances at 8:00am so we can leave around 8:15 to 8:30.  At 9:30am, we left the hospital.  This was no big deal because, hey, we were starting the day!  Yay!  However, somehow I missed that we had to drop off some important paperwork at the boy's orphanage instead, then return to the hospital for medicine supplies before actually going to the prison.  No big deal, right? 

It depends...  Bolivian time (BT) set in and a few minutes waiting became an hour.  We left the orphanage and went back to get the medicines at 10:45am.  I sat again in the ambulance outside of the hospital waiting on the doctor I'm working with to return.  [Insert Bolivian time]  At 12:30pm he returned with medicines, saying that not only could we not go to the prison because of time spent with the errand of the paperwork at the orphanage, but that we didn't have the needed medicines to go to the school this afternoon.  Bummer!  Someone must have gotten stuck in BT and not picked up the right meds! 

As a "gringo" (or foreigner) here, I and the rest of our team from the U.S. have been forced to accept this new way of seeing the world.   Phrases now have different meanings.   "I'm on my way" may mean, "I'll be there in the next 2 hours."   "Yes, we will meet you at the entrance at 7pm" means "Yes, we will meet you at the entrance at some point tonight."  Even scheduled professional events such as the one I attended with my friend last Saturday night (Selected songs and dances from the TV show Glee) do not start on time. Not even close. ("Show starts at 7:30pm" = doors open at 8:10pm and show starts at 8:25pm.)   Some things start on time despite BT: the movies (more or less) and restaurant reservations...I think.  Also, the church services start pretty close to on time, which I think is important.  (We should at least be on time for God!) 

I suppose at times, BT can be a breath of fresh air, especially when you don't want to rush around and have no time schedule in particular.  Plus, it's important to appreciate other cultures unlike our own.  Because of Bolivian time, people here are (and must be) more patient....well, unless you're in a taxi in a traffic jam.  

There were redeeming qualities of my time spent in the ambulance, stuck in Bolivian time: 1. a chocolate croissant, 2. a lot of great conversation with the driver and a new friend, 3. practicing my Spanish, 4. sunshine (when stepping out of the ambulance), 5. lunch (that's now 2 food items), 6. getting home early to finish my presentation for Wednesday (yay!), and last but not least, 7. a lesson in patience.  Thankfully, during my hours of sitting, my mind wanted to become frustrated and sad because I missed my chance to see things on my last Monday with the ambulances, but I tried to renew my mind.  This verse popped into my head: "The fruits of the Spirit are love (for those in BT), joy (despite frustration), peace (when you want to be angry), patience (enough said!), kindness (to those who made me enter BT), goodness (always), faithfulness (when I'm disappointed), gentleness (when I'd rather be harsh) and self-control (to keep my mouth shut if I have nothing good to say!).  Against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22.


  1. sounds like JT (Jenny Time)...and a few others we know!! Had to laugh the whole way through; and your turning the situation into a positive is A-W-E-S-0-M-E! Could be a lesson for my social work students in discovering resiliencies & strengths in other people and in yourself.

  2. Great post Bek! It is great to see you implemeting in a practical way LOVE!

  3. Lovely life application. BT sounds like it runs the same way time does on the west side of Florence -according to Danny. Much love!