A person who is hearing the phrase “African time” for the first time would probably think it has something to do with time difference between countries or continents. But in reality, it has nothing to do with that. African time is more of the time when each guest decides to show up at an occasion.
When I was younger and back home in my native country, Nigeria, I did not understand why we could not be at an occasion at the specified time. There was always a preferably unspoken rule about being at the occasion at least two hours after the specified time. Of what use was this? I could not possibly figure it out at my fragile age. My father was naturally a late comer at every single even, church inclusive, so it was really hard figuring out if he was trying to follow the concept of African time, or if he was just running late. We used to go to church so late that by the time we were arriving, the priest was saying “you may now go home in peace” and we would stand outside and interact with the rest of the congregation and talk about how wonderful and “spiritually moving” the service was. Most times, my father preferred to claim he was allegedly running late though he deliberately started getting ready late. At times that we seemed to have gotten ready on time, and by on time, I mean about an hour late instead of two at least, he would sit outside and watch the chickens interact; anything to blow off that extra hour. Once upon a time, that used to get me extremely agitated, but now, I am the proud queen of African time.
When I came to the United States, I was amazed at how prompt people came for occasions, and when I say people, I mean the Americans. Apparently, you can take the Nigerians out of Nigeria, but you can not take the Nigeria out of them, and the concept of acting like the Romans when you get to Rome obviously did not strike a nerve with our way with time because be it Nigeria or America, we will be late. When Americans say they were running late, it actually means they were running late, not that they are just trying to blow off that extra time. If there were Americans at any Nigerian event, their faces were always swollen by the time I got there. Unfortunately, they were not and still are not used to the art of African time. These unfortunate naive victims of African time would show up even before the scheduled time. “Who does such a thing?” has always been a permanent question on my mind. I guess the Americans do. The ironic thing about the African time is that often, the hosts of the occasion ensure that they inscribe “NO AFRICAN TIME” on the invitations in bold print and upper case letters, but the hosts themselves show up two hours later or even more. Yeah, right! If anything, the inscription only serves to remind us to endeavor beyond reason to come late. A classic case is that of my beautiful aunt, Chinelo who went two hours late for her own wedding. How late was she? Not that late; some guests were still on their four hour journey from New York, and yes, they intended to witness the whole wedding. Everyone wants to make a grand entry into the occasion in such a way that at least seventy-five percent of the crowd would notice. I can definitely acknowledge to loving the attention I always get when I walk in. Being a Nigerian, I can definitely read what is on the mind of the other Nigerians, especially the women; often they are thinking something (as I would have been thinking if I was sitting down and watching someone else make a grand entry) “what is she feeling like? I wish I had not come this early”. To them, or rather us since I am one of them, coming early is a sign that you are just over zealous about the occasion, or worse, just hungry. Of course, no one wants to be labeled the popular “hungry lion” for showing up on time. It is funny that the first question on the mind of a Nigerian when he/she gets an invitation is “what time is it? 2pm? We’ll be there at about 4:30pm then”. This question precedes the all too famous “is it free?” question. Yes, apparently we are known for loving free things. That would explain why we cannot get enough free condoms at the public library. “Free condoms? I better get some for when I start having sex (even if it’s not in this decade.)” A mentality we possess? Most definitely without a doubt.
In spite of how intoxicatingly irritating this habit of ours is, I can declare right now that I do not intend to stop anytime soon. What’s the fun in arriving early for an occasion? Especially one that you’ve had to spend hours of makeup for in front of the mirror. Sure, the men do not have to go through the make-up session, but they do have to walk in with the one wearing the make-up. He too wants to be noticed as the man who is walking besides the beautiful well made up lady. The simple trick is to set your time about two hours ahead of when you actually want to start the event. For example, if you want your occasion to start at 2pm, then do yourself a favor and set the time at 12pm. Of course, you do not want to set it too early because it will make it so obvious and your guests would know it is only a hoax to get them there on time, so for punishment, your event gets to start at 4pm. Another thing is never to calculate your occasion time starting from the time you have so dearly printed on the invitation cards. Basically, if you want your occasion to start by two and end by ten, which is eight hours, the last thing you want to do is rent a hall out for eight hours because if you do so, then at the end, you would be paying the landlord for spending some four extra hours that obviously were not included in the plan. By 9pm, you would have guests still coming in and asking “how come it started so early?”, and of course they would want to get their groove on before leaving. You cannot possibly be callous enough to throw them out at ten. If you do, say goodbye to guests and gifts at any other Nigerian social gathering you may be planning in the future. Do not under any circumstance forget to have more seats than guests you actually invited because your guests would bring their guests who will bring their guests who will bring their guests, so you would be needing a lot of extra food, drinks, seats, tables and the likes. A Nigerian gathering is not one that you can accurately plan for. If you invite 500 guests, then do yourself a massive favor and plan for 1000 guests or even more, depending on how popular and likeable you are.
However, the most important factor remains the timing. Time as they is money, so if you would not want to be paying any extra money for unforeseen circumstances that were evidently not included in your already tight budget, then make sure you include “African Time” as one of your guests because she will be there. For all you Americans and/or foreigners who are ignorant to the concept of African time, I can only hope that this little piece of information serves you some good in the future. When a Nigerian invites you for an occasion that starts at 2pm and you have to work till 3pm, do not feel bad and call off work because you will live to regret it. Join the club of “believers in African time” by going to work, coming home, and taking a shower, and maybe even a little nap too before heading out for the occasion because chances are, you might still be among the first guests to arrive. Isn’t African time beautiful?