Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Preconceived Notion of Time

When I landed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras I was under the impression that I was prepared. I had been coached by my family on what the living conditions would be like, the safety of the town we would be staying in, how the food would differ; I was young and na├»ve enough to think that I would handle the transition to living in a third world country for two weeks well. The culture shock that ended up jarring me was the Hondurans’ treatment of time. Time for me has always been a limited measurement. I create my day based on hours and minutes; twenty-four hours in a day, eight spent sleeping, two spent studying, I should do well on the hour long test, and so it goes until all my time is used up. Time is a system of numbers to live by and often times something to compete against. This idea of time simply does not exist in rural Honduras and I was forced to abandon it nearly as soon as I stepped off of the plane.
The passage of time in Honduras is not measured by hours or minutes, but rather progress. “How long” it takes to do something in the American sense of the word is unimportant. There isn’t a rush to accomplish things more quickly for the sake of saving time. Nor is there a scale of quality and time that means the Hondurans accomplish something of higher quality in ten hours than they would have in five. The pressure of breaking the day into neat boxes of time where certain things MUST be accomplished in/by/on is one that I was absolutely and forcibly liberated of when in Honduras and it drastically altered my experience there. I was rarely aware of what time of day it was exactly; I did not know what time I ate, how long we worked for, how long I slept, etc. It was painful for the first few days I was there, but after I embraced the new lens of time thrust upon me, I was able to view all of the Honduran culture in a new way.
The characters in Tales of the Tikongs that do not abandon their preconceptions of time before they land on the island of Tiko suffer as much as I did at first when I landed in San Pedro Sula. A system of one day working and six days resting is almost certainly going to differ from one’s own experience of time and attempting to view this system through one’s own experience is actually limiting in this instance. In Tales of the Tikongs, Mr. Dolittle turned an entire population deaf with his attempts to force the Protestant work ethic upon it. In his time on Tiko he never allowed himself to view time as anything other than what he had already preconceived and therefore was unable to impact the society in a meaningful way. In much the same way, had I attempted to force my views of time upon the construction crew of Honduran natives instead of embracing the culture, I would have failed just as miserably and missed out on widening my understanding of an entire culture and of myself.

That being said, the new lens that I ended up viewing Honduras through was not one I put upon myself. It was a lens that I was essentially forced to look through as I could not maintain my previous conception of time. While it was not a situation that I would have chosen for myself had I been offered the choice, I cannot say that seeing time through the eyes of the natives of Honduras was detrimental to my experience. The bounds of forced liberation can only be pressed so far though, as seen through the interaction of Mr. Lowe and Ika Levu in Tales of the Tikongs. Mr. Lowe forces Ika into taking out a loan to buy top-of-the-line fishing equipment and Ika ends up happy only after his new boat is deliberately sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Their interactions point out again the misunderstanding that occurs when a person neglects to view the culture they are entrenched in through that cultures’ lens. 

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