In Uganda there is a common phrase: “this is Africa,” which is lovingly referred to by its acronym T.I.A. and seeks to encapsulate the notion that time is flexible and not to stress when things don’t go as planned. It’s a concept that strikingly contrasts the following common Western point of view: if you are on time, you are actually late because time is money and money is the bottom line.
Yet, what I have come to realize, and what I often fail to remember, is that schedules are human made, selfishly created to keep our agendas in line. As a type A personality, I rely on it as an organizational tool, but often it becomes a mental framework that we trap ourselves within, convincing ourselves that it’s necessary to craft and order our days and is something we must live by.
Admittedly, this is often the initial mental landscape I found myself fall back into each of the days we went to our digging site and only made inches of progress instead of reaching the next phase of construction that was laid out by our schedule.
For context, our work site (lovingly referred to as Team RSF) ran into a bit of a challenge, to say the least. Our auger bit got lodged in a layer of rock somewhere between 15 and 18 feet beneath the surface, and despite our team’s, a car and many Ugandan’s best efforts to pull it out, we had to switch to plan b and hand dig a 6-foot wide pit.
On our last day of scheduled “work”, we were still chipping away at the hard rock and earth, which did not correctly correlate to our hopes and paper schedules, which listed that we should be cutting the ribbon allowing entrance to our wells, signifying that they are officially open. On this day, we had hoped we would be guests at a huge celebratory ceremony with singing and dancing, speeches of all lengths and gratitude to God for the work we had done.
While that was not the scene that unfolded for Team RSF, there was a sense of peace and a feeling that this was more than OK. I can’t deny that I was not a little disheartened, feeling like we didn’t finish our commitment to this community and all of our supporters back home, but I got a dose of reality in remembering that it’s not about our timing, or really timing at all. Often we get so preoccupied by following a particular path or timeline, expecting it to go as we had planned, however life experiences and this most recent instance, reminds me that true joy and true love knows no bounds, no space-time continuum. We are called to love. We are called to serve. We are called to care. Everything else? That’s icing on top.
Would I have liked things to turn out differently? Of course! But I truly think that many of the moments we experienced—dancing, laughing, shoveling side by side in this pit (often bumping bootys :D)—fostered greater laughter, relationships, camaraderie, respect for and understanding of each other than would have happened if things had gone according to our timeline. Because only two people could be in the pit at one time, the down time gave us the opportunity to seek friendship with each other and those in the community, to reflect, to serve in creative ways such as having dance parties and yoga class with the kids. My takeaway is that this path was not better or worse, but that all paths in this journey we call life are worthy and purposeful.
The well at Team RSF’s site did eventually get finished … about 3 weeks and 40 feet into the earth later :). Ultimately, the fact that this community is now able to enjoy water is all that matters, regardless of when it happened.
This was my third year returning to Uganda to work with Mission4Water and I’m so grateful for another unique year and experience. I’m beyond grateful for each of the other 14 people on our team who supported me and Team RSF during this journey. I only hope that as the team and I return to the US and reintegrate into living our lives that can so easily become polluted with insignificant things, that we remember to be present in each moment, to give thanks for all we have. I often fall victim of trying to control and create my own destiny, but the truth of the matter is, each day is a destiny, each moment.
We often seek success or the achievement of self-serving goals thinking and hoping that once we get there, we will find happiness. Recently I heard a counter perspective: happiness in the aforementioned scenario is virtually unattainable because we often set a new stretch goal once we reach the initial goal and thus we never reach happiness because the success is not attained, but a constantly moving target. Instead, the counter perspective argues that we should find contentment and happiness where we are and in doing so, it will redefine and shape our version of success.
So, now that I’m back in the US, for me, T.I.A. doesn’t stand for “this is Africa” anymore; it stands for “this is adventure.” It stands for “this is alive.” It stands for “this is all in.” I’m constantly seeking to throw my schedule out of the window (or out of a 15 foot hole :D) and remember what’s important in the big picture: to find happiness and appreciation for where I am now, to love and be a light in my community, to get out of my own head and my own way, and know and trust that He is good and He up there orchestrating the rest.
(#RSF Team Leader)