Thursday, October 1, 2015

If My Life Was Recorded Like the TV Show "24"

The clock in the TV show counts down the seconds...
A while back, my house was watching the TV show 24. It’s an action adventure show starring federal agents who are always trying to avert major disasters reputed to hit Los Angeles (remind me never to live there). The show’s quirk is that each hour-long episode is supposed to be in “real time” and so the entire season of 24 episodes is only 24 hours.  It’s a fast-paced show, where a clock continually ticks down the seconds and minutes left in the hour (which is filled with car chases, explosions and our intrepid heroes who never get stuck in traffic, never eat, never drink, never sleep, and never go to the bathroom).

One day, Rebekah, Jessie and I were discussing what if our lives were made into the show 24. I recall one particularly stimulating day a couple of years ago when I was concluding a workshop on the Rai Coast.

Waiting at the airstrip...
Episode 1: 6 am
Get up and get dressed. Eat some granola. Pack up last minute stuff.

Episode 2: 7 am
Walk to airstrip hauling luggage. Expected departure is at 7:30 am.

Episode 3: 8 am
Wait at airstrip. No sign of plane.

Episode 4: 9 am
Wait at airstrip.

Episode 5: 10 am
Wait at airstrip. 

Episode 6: 11 am
Wait at airstrip.

Episode 7: 12 pm
Wait at airstrip. Eat snack.
Hooray! It arrived!

You get the picture. The plane didn’t arrive until 1 pm (unavoidable delays), where it then took the first load of passengers to their village, while my team and I waited until about 4 pm, when we finallly boarded, flew back to Ukarumpa, got home, ate a quick supper, and was in bed by 9 pm.

Contrast this with my recent trip to Australia, where everyone not only wore watches and carried smart phones with alarms, but planned events down to the minute, packing more things into the day than I would have put into my entire week in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Efficiency, productivity, speed were key. People talked fast, walked fast, zipping from one thing to another, eating meals on the go, with barely a pause. Navigating the streams of racing passengers swarming over the Flinders Train Station in downtown Melbourne was definitely not a feat for the faint-hearted (I barely made it out alive!).

I’ve joked with my family that their one day in the US is equal to my one week in PNG at our centre (which in turn is equal to about one month in a village setting).  I don’t respond to your email in a week? Well, just pretend one day passed for me (also, similarly, our shortest measure of time that is really worthwhile is the day. Seconds, minutes, and hours just don’t have a lot of purpose...)

More waiting for the airstrip...
Life moves slowly here because it both takes longer anyway (remember my 42 steps to a dinner party?) and because PNG culture shows respect and value by spending as long as necessary with the person or event at hand (even if the person showed up at your door unannounced while you are walking out to go to a meeting). On the other hand, in Western culture, respect is demonstrated by the value you place on the next upcoming event or person you are planning to meet, so in the proposed situation, you’d be expected to respect the time of person you were meeting for the appointment and would not be late.

Both time orientations have their merits, of course, but the transition from one to another is always a bit of a shock, especially when I come from a place where an entire TV series could be spent waiting at an airstrip...