By Barbie Perks —
African time is a very real thing! In South Africa, when people were often late for appointments, I used to put it down to transport difficulties and didn’t give it much thought further. However, here in Tanzania, we have discovered that the locals work with a different time system, and as this illustration shows, there is a 6 hour difference to the Western time system.
This is because we are so close to the equator, that there is little or no difference between the hours of sunrise and sunset, all year round. We have 12 hours of sun, and 12 hours of darkness.
The first hour of the morning equates to the Western (or English) hour of 7am. The day is further broken down into early morning, morning, noon/afternoon, late afternoon and evening, and all hours of darkness are night. The first hour of the night is the Western 7pm.
This explains why the dealer was so insistent on finding out whether I meant English time or African time when I was arranging to collect appliances when we moved into our home. It also accounted for an expected meeting at 10am resulting in a no-show until the customer arrived at 4pm for his meeting! So, when dealing with locals, we are learning to specify which hour we mean, so that all agree on a time, and not be left wondering what’s going on☺
In Genesis 1, we are told that God created light and separated the light from the darkness, and called the light ‘day’ and the darkness ‘night’. On the very first day of creation, God created the concept of time – morning and evening. The contrast of light and darkness is a theme throughout Scripture, often connected with the deeds of the righteous and the deeds of the evil.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16 that believers are the light of the world, and to let our light shine before men so they can give glory to God in heaven. Do you remember an old Sunday School chorus:
“Jesus bids me shine like a pure clear light,
like a little candle burning in the night.
In this world of darkness, so we must shine,
you in your small corner and I in mine”?
In 1 Peter 2:9 we read that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light! This verse is also one that has been set to music and was a favourite chorus a couple of years ago.
Psalm 90 is a psalm full of references to time – to God who is everlasting, who existed before creation, to man who is dust and will return to dust. God is not bound by our concept of time – a thousand years are like yesterday to him, or even last night. Our lifespan is like a day to him. The 70 or 80 years we live are quick to pass away even though they seem long to us. The verse that speaks to me today as I reflect on the time differences I’m experiencing in Tanzania is verse 12 – Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom!
As we meditate on time today, may we praise the Lord for the days he has granted us, to walk this earth and share his love with those around us. May he grant us wisdom to use our time graciously and mercifully, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days (Ps 90:14)